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Mar 25 2019

Courting Darkness by Robin LaFevers

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His fair assassin, Counting darkness duology, book 1. Anderson Press, 2019. ISBN: 9781783448265.
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. Themes: Historical fantasy, France - History, Brittany, Assassins. After devouring the three books in the award winning His fair assassin series, I was thrilled to read the story of Genevieve, a young girl who has been undercover for so long, that she is no longer sure that she will be called up as a daughter of Saint Mortain by the convent. She becomes embroiled with a prisoner and manages to take matters into her own hands. Meanwhile Sybella from Dark triumph, returns and is accompanying the duchess on her way to be married to the King of France. She is surrounded by enemies and her only hope is to get help from the novitiates who had been hidden in the French court so many years ago.
Although Courting darkness could be read as a stand-alone, with the author giving enough information to set the scene, readers would enjoy the book more if they had read the first three books in His fair assassin series, Grave mercy, Dark Triumph, and Mortal heart.
The story is told from two points of view, that of Sybella and Genevieve. Sybella relates the travails of Anne of Brittany, who is trying to save her country. Sybella is terrified for the safety of her two sisters and is desperate for help. Genevieve's involvement with the unknown prisoner and her uncertainty about Saint Mortain, give another view of what is going on, and the mystery surrounding the prisoner is tantalising.
The world of medieval France is enthralling, with the descriptions of the intrigue, the power mongering, the fear and the prisons taking the reader right into this time in history. Peopled with real characters as well as the fantasy daughters of Saint Mortain, it makes for a fascinating read for lovers of historical fantasy.
A difficult wait for the second book in the duology is in store for the reader, who is left on a tantalising cliff-hanger. Readers who like Juliet Marillier's books, the Witchlands trilogy by Susan Dennard and the Lumatere chronicles by Melina Marchetta are likely to enjoy Counting darkness.
Pat Pledger


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Mar 25 2019

Little Badman and the invasion of the killer aunties by Humza Arshad and Henry White

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Illus. by Aleksei Bitskoff. Puffin Books, 2019. ISBN: 9780241340608.
(Ages: 9-12) Highly recommended. Themes: Family relationships, Pakistanis in Great Britain, Rap music, Friendship, Missing persons, Good and evil. Humza Khan is a typical 11-year-old who is prone to making up stories and mucking around in class, but he does not see this as a problem because he knows he will one day be the most famous Rap artist the world has ever seen. He and his friends notice something funny happening at school when, one by one, the staff disappear and are replaced with Pakistani 'aunties' who seem determined to fatten up the children. The great food seems wonderful at first but slowly Humza, his friends Umer and Wendy realize it must be part of an evil plan. The friends are brought closer together by their need to solve this mystery. Humza's uncle, who is called Grandpa because of his aged appearance, is also a character that features in their hunt to find the truth.
Many Primary school boys will identify with Humza's character and through the story he grows as a person to know and fully appreciate his family through his adventures at school. As he says '. . . there is nothing in the world like an alien slug invasion to make you appreciate your loved ones . . . ' It is a fast-paced, rollicking story that will keep the audience reading to the end.
Throughout the story we are given glimpses of the Pakistani culture that forms so much of Humza's life in Britain. This may not be easy for children in Australia to understand but it could bring about some great discussion about immigration and refugees. The book is written in first person and would be a good story to read aloud with an upper primary class.
The author Humza Mohammed Arshad is an English actor, comedian and writer of Pakistani descent. He is best known for his web series Diary of a Bad Man (2010-2013) and Badman (2015-2018). Henry White is a comedy writer who has written for TV, on-line and most recently in children's fiction.
Gabrielle Anderson


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Mar 25 2019

The blue bench by Albert Asensio

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Berbay Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9780648397304.
(Age: 4+) Recommended. Themes: Diversity, Friendship. First published in Catalonia, this evocative picture book reveals more of its subtle depths on rereading. A park bench is at the centre of the tale, surveying all it sees as life goes on through the year. As seasons come and go, different people use the bench, different animals appear in the trees' branches, and a variety of people walk past. Each is portrayed on the pages of this book, like a time lapse camera, revealing a parade of life and activities.
The bench is painted, a squirrel collects nuts, pigeons mess up the ground around, but the painter, Peter comes back to clean up the mess. Over the years children play together in the sandpit and eventually two fall in love, a variety of people and their dogs sit on the bench, watching the world go by, the young and the old, the boy and girl coming together, paralleled by the birds in the tree. A nest is built, eggs appear,and the couple still sit on the bench, but one day when it snows, she sits on the bench alone, and keeps on coming to that same bench week after week, smiling in her memories. And then someone else sits beside her, the bench again a witness to the continuance of life.
A charming witty tale of the continuity of life, of seasons and generations, of the old adage, 'life goes on', gloriously supported by softly rendered illustrations emphasising companionship and continuance.
Fran Knight


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Mar 25 2019

Bizz Buzz Boss by Natalie McKinnon

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Ill. by Margaret Tolland. Starfish Bay, 2018. ISBN: 9781760360566.
(Age: 3-6) Themes: Bees, Spiders, Animals, Respect, Behaviour Management. In Natalie McKinnon's picture book Bizz Buzz Boss a very bossy bee lords it over all the other garden creatures who are busy with their daily tasks. Little Spider loves to listen to the homely sounds as she rests in a curly leaf. She hears the 'drip, drip, drippetty-drip' of the tap and the owl family's twit-twoo (shouldn't they be asleep.) However, the bossy bee who has a strong sense of self-importance, explains that her job as pollen-collector is more significant than the worms, ladybugs and lizards.
Little Spider appeals to Bossy Bee's vain nature by suggesting the hard-working creature needs to rest, wrapped up in her silvery, sticky web. As the bee remains immobile, it observes the worm aerating and fertilising the earth, the ladybug nibbling the aphids off the lettuce and the lizard catching the pesky slugs. Humbled by these observations, Bossy Bee states,
Oh, Spider, I promise to stop being bossy.
I've learned a lesson today.
I'll respect other creatures and value their jobs.
We should work as a team every day!

There's the moral to the story, you need to value other's efforts and not brag about your own. Natalie McKinnon's simple rhyming verse spoken by each creature is overly wordy for the young readers this is targeted at. Margaret Tolland's colourful painted illustrations provide close-ups of each of the creatures working in their lush garden settings. Bizz Buzz Boss is a didactic tale suited for sharing with young audience.
Rhyllis Bignell


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Mar 22 2019

Kensy and Max Undercover by Jacqueline Harvey

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Kensy and Max, book 3. Random House, 2019. ISBN: 9780143791904.
(Age: 9-12) Highly recommended. Themes: Brothers and sisters, Spies, Mysteries, Missing persons. After a week's intensive training in spy craft, eleven-year-old twins Kensy and Max return to their London home to begin the new school term. Kensy's unsettled and distracted behaviour, thinking of her missing parents and grandparents, leads to an unfortunate explosion in the school laboratory. When a second blast destroys their grandmother's seven storey house, Kensy and Max are packed off to Sydney to escape the espionage.
Granny Cordelia sends the twins to far away Sydney, Australia from the danger; their new mission focuses on uncovering the troubles and problems their grandmother's best friend's family are facing. They are sent to infiltrate Van and Ellery Chalmers' posh private school and watch the children. With Song the butler and Fitz as their guardian and protector, Kensy and Max soon settle in to Sydney life. Secret coded messages from their parents encourage the children to keep on going. Fitz is disguised as the new PE teacher and the twins placed in Year 5 and 6, Van and Ellery Chalmers' classes. Counterpoint to this main story, we gain insight into the whereabouts of the missing grandparents and their captivity. Kensy and Max's spy skills come in to play, with the accompaniment of their affable next-door neighbour Curtis whose knowledge of transport and locations is very beneficial. Max's discovery of his cricket skills also proves valuable. The reasons behind Mrs Chalmers' secretive behaviour, hiding resources to help her escape with her children also become apparent.
Jacqueline Harvey's 'Undercover' delivers another fast-paced story. She is the master of creating exciting characters, set in the backdrop of her familiar home-town Sydney. She is not afraid to deal with bullying, industrial espionage, chemical warfare and domestic abuse. The author continues to develop significant themes of friendship, sibling loyalty, creative problem solving and personal growth.
Undercover is another brilliant read, complete with spy craft and code cracking, proving to be another winner for the preteen and young teen audience.
Rhyllis Bignell


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Mar 22 2019

Ivanhoe Swift left home at six by Jane Godwin

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Ill. by A.Yi. Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760631864.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: Adventure, Growing up, Independence. Ivanhoe is determined to see what lies over the hill, to travel to places unseen, to explore the world beyond his home. His parents are concerned as they watch him pack. But Mum sings him a song as he walks off, wishing him well on his journey but reminding him that home is always there.
He has many adventures and meets a new friend, Maisie Jane. Together they cross the fast flowing river, calm on top, but moving quickly beneath and find an apple tree where they can eat their fill. Maisie Jane discovers a little house and asks Ivanhoe to stay with her. He tells her he still has more of the world to see. He sings a song to himself as he walks through the dark forest and his kite is torn by a group of bullies, but still he journeys on.
He reaches the sea, a place of wonderment and awe. He sits down to mend his kite but the fierce wind carries it away. Cold and wet, he recalls his mother's song and falls asleep. He wakes to find Maisie Jane and together they walk up the hill until Ivanhoe recognises where he is, and invites Maisie Jane home to tea. He tells his parents of his journey, singing the new songs he has learnt, and settling down to sleep, telling them that his adventures are over for now.
The subtlety behind Godwin's simple story of gaining one's independence will not be lost on its audience, as they all try out new things everyday, stretching their worlds, pushing beyond what is known.
Ivanhoe's journey is most satisfying; he meets new people, avoids the bullies, can see for himself the dangers beneath the waters, learns to sing his own songs and knows that his home is always there for him to return.
Supported by the wonderful light touch of A. Yi's illustrations, readers will love exploring Ivanhoe's world with him, seeking to find out what lies beneath and over the hill as he does. Her illustrations are full of life, moving with the boy as he explores his world, taking him to places he has not seen before but evoking a solidity with his parents through the words of his mother's song, written across several pages.
Fran Knight


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Mar 22 2019

The Curses by Laure Eve

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Faber and Faber 2019. ISBN: 9780571328048.
(Age: 12+) Recommended. The Curses, sequel to The Graces, follows The Grace children and their recently resurrected friend, Wolf. Wolf is the first person who has ever been resurrected but something's off with Wolf, is it just that he'd been dead and come back or is he completely changed? No longer wary of the love he and Fenrin share, the pair grow closer and more reckless. Meanwhile, Thalia grows close to Nathaniel, their dead cousin's boyfriend who only seems to be encouraged by Thalia and Iona's resemblance. Is it only Summer that can see something's wrong? And how does the Grace family curse play into all this?
Strange things have begun to happen in town and it seems witchcraft is never far away. With River's power and the handful of other amateurs trying their hand at magic, it's up to the residence witches to reign in the magic before anyone else can be harmed. With the help of River, the wealth of Marcus' supernatural knowledge, and a great deal of initiative perhaps Fenrin, Thalia, and Summer can clean up their mess before their parents find out.
With magic and plenty of mischief, Eve's novel explores grief, greed, and making mistakes. This coming of age novel shows that everyone has a lot of learn, regardless of their age with not only the children but also the parents being shown as complicated and conflicted beings. I would recommend for lovers of fantasy twelve and up.
Kayla Gaskell


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Mar 22 2019

The Runaway by Jane Smith

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Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy book 7. Big Sky Publishing, 2018. ISBN: 9781925675894. 111p.
(Age: 8+) Recommended. Themes: Historical, Speculative. Francis is 'that' friend who has a knack of getting his mates into trouble. He wasn't even supposed to go on holiday to Carly's place in Queensland with Tommy and Martin, who had set aside their time-travelling cabbage-tree hat and boots for the time being. That is until Francis inadvertently sends Tommy back into history.
One good deed leads to another in the bushranging days, but Tommy is recognized by his enemy - Frank Gardner. Frank has turned over a new leaf as the proprietor of an Inn, in Apis Creek. Frank locks Tommy up to deal with him later but the mysterious old hat is on the blink. Trapped, Tommy settles down for the night. Frank has bigger problems as it seems the Police are closing in, without Tommy's help.
Tommy and Martin make several trips back into the past to find out what happened to Frank and his girlfriend, Kate.
The Runaway has the same printing hallmarks as Jane Smith's earlier books about the 'bushranger' boy. Smith has appended three additional sections after the last chapter: An Historical Note, Q and A with Archibald Craig (a minor character) and About the Author. No doubt there are more instalments to come as the author leaves the ending open for another adventure. Teacher's notes for all Jane's books, including relevant links to the Australian Curriculum English Language Arts are available.
Deborah Robins


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Mar 22 2019

Happy Camper! By Shamini Flint

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Ill. by Sally Heinrich. The Susie K Diaries. Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760528287.
(Age: 7 - 10) Recommended. Themes: Camping, Life skills, Problem-solving, Friendship. The idea of going on a school camping trip is very stressful for the main character, Susie K., who is much more comfortable sleeping in her own bed with her skeleton and the school goldfish.
She feels pressure from her mother to succeed on this trip and she uses her excellent problem-solving skills and her reading to help her out on this new adventure.
This is the fourth book in this series and a brief introduction of the main character at the beginning means it can stand alone as a good read for younger readers.
Written in cartoon style with predominantly pictures and speech bubbles telling the story, younger readers will find this an easy read that maintains a good pace.
Susie K. develops well as a character and assists the other students during the first part of the camp and an unlikely friendship is formed when she is separated from the group with a girl who is not usually in her circle of friends. The goldfish provides amusing comments that add to the story.
This book is not one that can be read aloud to the class as it relies on the illustrations to tell much of the story. It would be a good introduction to the Graphic novel genre for younger students. If read by a group, it could provide an avenue to discuss trying new things and expanding horizons for children who find it difficult to get out of their comfort zone.
Gabrielle Anderson


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Mar 21 2019

Love lie repeat by Catherine Greer

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Penguin Books, 2019. ISBN: 9780143791225.
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. All Annie wants is to be loved. By Trip. By Ash and Ruby. By her parents. Even by her dead aunt, Margaretta, who ruined everything.
Following the friendship ins and outs of Annie, Ash, and Ruby, three 'it' girls or 'sirens' in Sydney's rich Upper North Shore, Love lie repeat shows the addictiveness of lies and manipulation when you've got something to hide from everyone, including yourself. Following Annie and her budding relationship with Ash's step-brother Trip, a notorious fire-starter from Canada, the reader delves into Annie's mind and her past to discover just what has soured this beautiful and self-assured teenager.
Intoxicating and addictive, Annie, Ash, and Ruby's friendship is half dream half nightmare. With sweet lies, broken trust, and manipulation Annie keeps her best friends in line, carefully peeling them away from her unfaithful boyfriend with little lies, spilled secrets, and punishment. Meanwhile Trip romances each girl in turn in different ways. A flirt and a liar, Trip is made for Annie. But what is Annie protecting by endangering her friendships and her friends?
Love lie repeat will keep you on the edge of your seat as you try to uncover just what is driving Annie's need to be loved. Her tumultuous relationship with her parents and her memories of the aunt everybody loved are sprawled throughout the novel reminding readers that Annie's life and this story isn't just about Annie and her friends. Highly recommended for girls twelve and up. Teacher's notes are available.
Kayla Gaskell


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Mar 21 2019

Baz and Benz by Heidi McKinnon

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Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760523688.
(Age: 3+) Highly recommended. Themes: Friendship, Visual literacy, Humour. A story promoting friendship despite the annoying behaviour of one, will find a place in every classroom as friendships and their resultant disharmonies take up a lot of classroom time. How opportune to have this book on hand which promotes friendship and in a humorous way lets readers know that we are all different and despite being the best of friends, a friend may some times be annoying. Baz in asking questions tests the boundaries of their friendship, and the things which make friends, friends.
With two owls sitting on a branch staring out at the reader, Baz asks Benz to confirm that they are the best of friends, and when Benz tells him that yes they are the best of friends, Baz then details a few things which might make a difference to their friendship. Will they still be friends when he is purple, or purple with spots, or if he says Meep all the time? Each time, Benz answers positively although the look in his eyes starts to question.
When Baz then says Meep all the time, Benz tells him that this is really annoying, and asks him to stop.
Baz then disappears, but returns to say that he may be a bat. Benz tells him that this would be scary, and that he would be afraid. Despite all this, Benz tells him that they would still be friends.
Told with humour, the look on both faces on each page will titillate the readers as they can easily see just how each is feeling, encouraging facial recognition.
McKinnon's bold use of blocks of colour, like screen printing, encourages the readers to focus on the action of the story, watching for visual clues on each page.
I laughed out loud at I just ate my friend (2017) and this one is just as funny, exploring the limits of friendship and encouraging visual literacy.
Fran Knight


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Mar 21 2019

Blabbermouth: Oops, I've done it again! by Chrissie Perry

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Illus. by Pete Petrovic. Scholastic, 2019. ISBN: 9781760660956.
(Ages: 8-11) Recommended. Themes: Personality, Communication skills, Reputation. What happens when you're nervous and you can't help blurting things out, even other people's secrets? Chrissie Perry's Blabbermouth is a fun, easy to read story with lively and amusing cartoon illustrations that chronicle Amelie Anderson's life as she starts Year 5. The author captures the school dramas and friendship highs and lows of this super sparkly, friendly girl.
Amelie is very aware of her biggest problem; she's a blabbermouth, she just can't help it, it's embarrassing for herself and her friends. In her friendship circle Pepper, Charlie and Sophie understand her ways, even when she sometimes goes a little overboard. Meanwhile, one of her friends from Year 4 camp has changed, Paris has become her frenemy, choosing to ignore and not include her.
Being a Year 5 student means more responsibility, helping out with the little buddies at play time and also has the privileges of sitting on the west benches. All the girls like to watch Magnificent Miles Lancaster, who's the state high jump champion and Sophie's especially keen on him. When he reminds the girls about helping out with the younger students, only Amelie replies, everyone else is tongue tied!
Amelie seeks out an opportunity to prove she can change and secretly becomes Ava the advice columnist for the school newspaper. She learns to write with compassion and understanding developing her responses from knee-jerk reactions to more considered and caring responses. Everyone at school is surprised when they read the paper and try to discover who Ava is.
Blabbermouth explores emotional resilience, friendships and finding your place in the upper years of primary school. With different font styles and sizes and Pete Petrovic's fun characters - Amelie with a real zip on her lips - this a great novel for hi-lo readers. Perry worked with students from Years 4-6 to inspire her and she presents a genuine understanding of Amelie's personal growth and her willingness to change.
Rhyllis Bignell


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Mar 21 2019

Queen of air and darkness by Cassandra Clare

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Dark Artifices book 3. Simon and Schuster; 2018. ISBN: 9781471116704. 880p; p/b.
In this third instalment in the Dark Artifices series of Shadowhunter novels, Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn must deal with the loss of Julian's sister and the Inquisitor, as well as the oppressive machinations of the latter's replacement. Even more so than usual for sequels, Queen of air and darkness is hard to get into at the start, being part of a well established series and spending a lot of time at the start dealing with the events of the previous book. However, once the reader's caught up and the new plot kicks into gear, there's plenty to like. While the antagonist's racist agenda is a bit one-dimensional and old hat, it's not the real focus, serving as a backdrop to explore troubled romances and the coping of loss, which it does well.
The prose is descriptive and engaging, and Clare proves she knows how to keep some levity in a grim situation without adversely affecting the tone. Fans of Clare's other novels will find this just as fantastic and enthralling as her other titles. The book makes use of a diverse range of character representations including transgender.
Some readers may be put off by the size of the book and due to the vast thickness of the novel, this is recommended for avid readers, lovers of Clare's other novels and bookworms. Although the sheer engaging and impossible-to-stop reading way Clare writes for her audiences, the story will seem like it is over quickly.
Vincent Hermann


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Mar 21 2019

Pearl the proper unicorn by Sally Odgers

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Illus. by Adele K. Thomas. Scholastic, 2019. ISBN: 9781760661854.
(Age: 6+) Themes: Magic, Unicorns. Sally Odgers continues her delightful magical series in Pearl the proper unicorn. Colourful pages, borders, and magical words, make this an easy-to-read and share story, just right for young unicorn fans.
Pearl loves making special treats for her friends, Tweet the Firebird and Olive the Ogre. Sometimes muddled combination of words accompanied by her head tossing and hoof stomping creates unique results. She's interrupted by an excited Tweet who flies in and lands on Pearl's horn announcing a special visitor to the kingdom. Pearl is surprised to meet Prince Percival the Positively Perfect Prancer with a sparkling horn and gorgeous long tail.
He's surprised by Pearl's magical spell casting. He stands perfectly still and doesn't wiggle or muddle up the words. Unfortunately, he's not impressed with Pearl's friends, a horrible noisy ogre and a small firebird. When stinky gobble-uns take over the pond turning it into a smelly place, the colour of pea soup, Pearl has to make a decision. Will she follow perfect Prince Percival's advice and try proper magic or will she use her hoof tossing, tail swishing and flicking song?
Problem solving, valuing friends and believing in yourself help Pearl to grow and believe in herself.
Adele K Thomas' fun, pink, grey and black pictures show both Pearl's magical world and add sparkle to Sally Odgers enchanting story. Pearl the proper unicorn is just right for young unicorn lovers stepping from picture books to early chapter stories.
Rhyllis Bignell


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Mar 20 2019

Gorski's Bitemare by Robert Favretto

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Illus. by Danny Willis. Gorski's Bitemare. Ford Street Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9781925804164.
(Age: 8+) Recommended. Themes: Humour, Family, Vampires, Adventure, School, Consequences. Gorski, his sister Drusella, and their parents turn into vampires when night comes. Both Gorski's parents work night shift in human jobs -his dad as a phlebotomist (someone who takes blood) and his mum as a photo developer who works in a dark room. While they are at work Gorski and Drusella go to the Belfry Academy which is a school for all kinds of bats.
After meeting their new teacher, the very scary Dr Acula, Gorski and his best mate, Bram decide to escape school to search for mosquitoes to feast on at the local swamp. While on their adventure, Gorski is bitten by an officious student fruit bat and it sets off a chain of events in motion including detention from Dr Acula as well as a devastating change to Gorski's bat body. Dr Stoker is called into treat Gorski but it seems that there is little hope unless they can find a miraculous cure.
Gorski is a mischievous character who is always planning his next adventure. He keeps the reader amused with his antics which will appeal to many younger students. The author has cleverly included bat facts and humorous bat language throughout this book. The detailed illustrations are spaced throughout the book and set the scene for this light hearted story.
Kathryn Beilby


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Mar 20 2019

Enchantee by Gita Trelease

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Macmillan, 2019. ISBN: 9781509895977.
(Age: Young adult) Recommended. 8.5/10. Themes: Young Adult - Fantasy, Romance, France and Paris 1789. An exciting fantasy tale where the illustriously rich King Louis XVI, Marie Antoniette and the image conscious aristocrats living in their palaces or the inner courts of Versailles, are starkly presented against the diminished poor peasants and their hovels. Arrogance and disregard for humankind is contrasted against courage, persistence, fortitude and devotion to the well-being of loved ones.
Orphaned seventeen year-old Camille strives to care for her frail younger sister Sophie while learning to move away from an older, abusive brother Alain, addicted to glamour, money and position. So poor and desperate, Camille resorts to her limited knowledge of inherited maternal 'magic' (Magie - dark margic) in order to make money. After some surprises about her past and her abilities, Camille learns that the magie will offer hope of a future of security in terms of food, housing, health and safety. However, with this lure, Camille begins to pursue grander schemes for herself and her sister. Is she fast becoming addicted to gambling, like her desperate brother? Is she quickly becoming addicted to magic as she slowly loses herself?
Amongst all of this, Camille makes friends with aristocrats (a group of people who she resents). Camille finds unexpected romantic love, but is he attracted to the-true-to-herself Camille, or to her alter ego the Baroness de La Fontaine? Double identities exist and will slowly be exposed.
HOPE - is presented to her in the form of a new invention devised by a small group of forward thinking gentlemen - to fly and be free. Hope was instilled in Camille by her father who was a printer. He taught her about the importance of freedom of the press. She learnt the value of the word in print - 'It was a kind of magic. A magic to alter the World'. This hope is what France needs in order to bring about change, revolution - to begin to balance the massive divide between the rich and the poor, between those with positions and the common people.
Enchantee is a wonderful debut historical fantasy novel by Gita Trelease (who states that she is searching for a secret portal to take her back to Versailles). This novel has so many messages for readers who are looking for a story which enlightens while providing page-turning entertainment.
Maria Burford


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Mar 20 2019

Bloodwitch by Susan Dennard

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The Witchlands book 3. Tor, 2019. ISBN: 9781447288855.
(Age: 15+) Recommended. Themes: Fantasy, Witches and warlocks, Battles. Fans of the first two books in the Witchlands series, Truthwitch and Windwitch, will welcome the story of Bloodwitch Aeduan, who has joined the Threadwitch Iseult and the strange little girl, Owl to fight the raiders who are destroying the countryside. However he will have to come to terms with the actions of the Raider King, his father. Meanwhile the Windwitch, Merik, is held by the Fury and must try to save his friends' lives and Safi the Truthwitch is with the empress who is trying to uncover a rebellion in her kingdom.
The world building in the Witchlands series is fascinating: it is easy to believe in the court life of the empress that Safi serves as well as the bleak countryside, the awful slaughter and the strange monks and monastery. The cover too, will have instant appeal.
These books need to be read in order as each follows the other and builds on the motivations, courage and perseverance of the main characters. There is action aplenty in this complex series and the growth of the characters' understanding of what each stands for and believes in, stands out. The author brings the series to a satisfying conclusion, but not without some surprises and heartbreak. This series will have broad appeal to readers of fantasy.
Pat Pledger


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Mar 20 2019

Hop little bunnies by Martha Mumford

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Illus. by Laura Hughes. Bloomsbury, 2019. ISBN: 9781408892930.
(Ages: 0-3) Recommended. Themes; Bunnies, Lift the Flaps, Rhyming Story. This comes after the similar title We're Going on an Egg Hunt and is based on the popular Hop Little Bunnies song. UK illustrator Laura Hughes's work is delightful, making the book an instant visual winner. Her work is beautiful and young children will love lifting the multiple flaps on every second page to wake all the sleepy animals (they are sleeping on the front of the flap, then awake underneath). The same format, illustrative technique and text type was used for We're Going on an Egg Hunt and it works so well. 'See the little bunnies sleeping till it's noon. Shall we go and wake them with a merry tune? Oh how still, are they ill?' There is lots of repetition here, favourite animals of young children (sheep, chicks, bunnies, etc.) and animal sounds that they will love joining in with. At the end we sing the animals a happy bedtime song and they all go to sleep.
This will be a real favourite that can be read or sang at bedtime or any other time of the day. Little ones familiar with the song will probably even be up and hopping themselves!
Nicole Nelson


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Mar 20 2019

Ombria in Shadow by Patricia A. McKillip

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Fantasy Masterworks series. Gollanz, 2014. ISBN: 9781473205741.
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. Themes: Fantasy, Sorcerers, Princes and princesses. World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2003), Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature (2003). This award winning novel is a feast for the fantasy lover, one for those who wants a challenge and something different. Ombria is a strange place with a palace riddled with secret passages and rooms. Buried beneath the city is a shadow city, inhabited by ghosts and Mag, a waxling created by Faey, a powerful sorceress. When the Prince of Ombria dies he leaves only a very young son, Kyel, and Domina Pearl, a ruthless old woman, takes over the kingdom as regent. She expels Lydea, the Prince's mistress, leaving her to die. But Mag saves her and together with Ducon, the prince's bastard nephew, they try to overcome Domina Pearl's evil intentions and save Kyel.
Written in beautiful prose, Ombria in shadow brings to life a strange world on many levels. The reader is taken on a wondrous trip through dusty passages with strange doors in the palace, and on a further journey through the city with Ducon as he draws shadowy doors and eerie buildings. There is mystery about the worlds that McKillip describes; there is even mystery about the ending and the reader has to pause and reread to find understanding of the connectedness of the worlds and of Mag and Ducon's role in them. And the magic described is original and fascinating.
The love that Ducon and Lydea have for young Kyel is central to the book and glows throughout. It is refreshing to have the love for a child as the main theme rather than romantic love. The idea of loyalty to those who are loved is also one to explore and ponder over, especially that of Mag and Faey, who discovers love for her waxling.
It is easy to see why Ombria in Shadow is still in print after so many years. It is a perplexing, demanding and lyrical book that will keep the reader thinking long after it is finished.
Pat Pledger


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Mar 20 2019

Show Stopper! by Shamini Flint

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Ill. by Sally Heinrich. The Susie K Diaries. Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760523701.
(Ages: 7-10) Recommended. Themes: Performances, Friendship, Life skills, Schools stories. A talent show is always a source of stress for most ordinary children, but for Susie K. it means coping with a mother who has entered Susie and truly believes she will be the show stopper and win the competition. The story follows Susie's attempts to find her one true talent with funny results. Susie K. shows great tenacity in this story to solve the problem caused by her lack of performance skills and not disappoint her mother at the same time.
Written in cartoon style with predominantly pictures and speech bubbles telling the story, younger readers will find this an easy read that maintains a good pace. It is a good introduction to the Graphic Novel genre for younger students but is not one that can be read aloud to the class because of its structure.
This is the third book in this series but because there is a brief introduction of the main character at the beginning of the book this means readers can pick up this book without reading the first two books in the series - Life of the Party and Game Changer. However, I suspect they will be keen to read the whole series as this is a very likeable character and the stories will appeal to this age level who really enjoy following a series.
Gabrielle Anderson


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Mar 19 2019

Let me sleep, sheep! by Meg McKinlay

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Ill. by Leila Rudge. Walker Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781925381887.
(Age: 3+) Highly recommended. Themes: Sheep, Sleep, Humour. Young Amos is trying to get to sleep. He begins by counting sheep, but when he hears a thud in his bedroom, he is shocked to find two sheep on his floor, complaining vigorously. They were each in the middle of something, Felix eating his dinner, Walter being shorn, and it was inconvenient to be called into this bedroom.
Handling a pair of cantankerous sheep is not what Amos needs before bedtime, and to then be told their names and that several others are on their way is beyond belief. But Felix insists that they need a fence to jump over, and so Amos begins to design and then construct a fence for them to leap.
Of course, his attempts at building a fence causes more derision from Felix, until the right one is made. But when they demand music and a drink before the big leap, Amos is flummoxed, so much so that he lies down and falls asleep.
This book is an absolute stunner. A well known piece of advice on how to get to sleep is turned on its head. The story becomes a treatise on sleep and how to get there, a funny story about counting sheep, a laugh out loud look at the silliness of having a pile of sheep in your bedroom having a party. Readers will enjoy discussions about how they get to sleep, sharing tips on reaching the land of nod more quickly, and sharing ideas about their sleep patterns.
The mixed media illustrations are hilarious; the looks on the sheep faces amazingly playful, as just a small change in a hair line, ears or eyes, lip line or length of snout says so much! The detailed background of Amos' room will have eager eyes poring over each page, while the design and construction of the walls will entrance readers. Activities are available in Walker's Read to Us! Story Time Kit!
Fran Knight


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Mar 19 2019

Brindabella by Ursula Dubosarky

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Illus. by Andrew Joyner. Allen and Unwin, 2018. ISBN: 9781760112042
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. Themes: Single parent family, Friendship, Australian bush, Farm life, Australian animals, Hunters, Adventure. Pender and his father live in an old farm house hidden in the Australian bush. Pender's father is unwell and spends his days painting in a small hut with his loyal dog, Billy-Bob by his side. Pender is free to roam the bush and while he is alone, he does not feel lonely.
On one particular day Pender hears the sound of guns from hunters who are illegally shooting kangaroos. Pender creeps towards the noise and discovers a joey in a dead mother's pouch. He rescues the joey and takes it home to his father. Pender persuades his father to let him look after the joey, Brindabella, and raise it in the farmhouse.
However Brindabella is no ordinary kangaroo. She has the ability to communicate with the other animals and the reader is drawn into these dialogues particularly between Billy-Bob and Brindabella. She eventually returns to the bush to have her own adventures. While in the bush Brindabella meets other animals, although she does not listen to their advice and has many close encounters with danger.
Pender is a quiet, yet brave character who thoughtfully cares for his father, the animals and the bush. He is in complete contrast to Brindabella, a strong-willed and impulsive character. The chapters move between Pender and Brindabella which gives an interesting outlook for the reader. Throughout the story, the author gives the reader a wonderful image of the bush through the clever use of descriptive imagery. Andrew Joyner's creative yet simplistic illustrations provide a balance with the text.
Kathryn Beilby


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Mar 19 2019

The Dyasters by P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast

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Pan Macmillian, 2019. ISBN: 9781760554163. paperback, 308 pg.
(Age: 11 - Young adults) Teenagers who can control the elements (air, water, fire and earth) are being hunted down by a mad scientist that genetically engineered them to do this while in their mother's womb. What is there not to like in a paranormal book?
The story is about Foster and Tate and how they are drawn together with their element of air which they never knew they had until they turned eighteen. Their relationship and bond grow as they learn to live together in hiding because they are being chased by the Core Four of Eve, Luke Matthew and Mark. The Core Four are sent by Dr Stewart the mad scientist. Foster and Tate are two of eight teenagers that the Core Four are hunting down. It was good to meet Charlotte and Bastien with the element of water.
It is definitely a YA (Young Adult) novel with some action but mainly relationship stories. I found some cheesy but did enjoy reading the book. The graphic pictures were good and helped you visualise what happening.
Overall, I think readers are going to enjoy reading this series with the quirky characters and romance. The paranormal aspects of the elements add some action into the story. Looking forward to meeting the next four teenagers with the elements of fire and earth and what will happen to the Core Four with Dr Stewart.
I think it's aimed at females 11 to young adults.
Maria Komninos


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Mar 19 2019

Grace on the court by Maddy Proud

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Piccolo Nero, 2018. ISBN 9781760640330. 228 pages, paperback.
(Age: 9-14) Grace on the court is a story about Grace Parker, a netball nerd transitioning from primary school into high school. She is very passionate about netball and her aim is to make it onto her high school team. But that isn't going to be as easy as it seems. A new rival Amber Burns is trying out for the team as well. Her twin brother Gus didn't make his team and is devasted, Grace's older brother Tyler is now ignoring her too. And to top it all off a certain boy is now suddenly paying attention to her.
Maddy Proud herself is a professional netballer and is currently the youngest player ever contracted into the Adelaide Thunderbirds at sixteen. With netball being her main theme, Proud focuses on the other topics of friendships, crushes, high school rivalry, sibling issues and family. With this being very netball focused, Proud has written things in a way that makes it easy for the reader to follow along with. I found this very helpful as someone who knows little about the sport. But with that being said the flow of the story is still balanced with Grace's day to day life and the issues she faces.
The target audience for this book is 9 to 14 years of age, perfect for new highschoolers into netball or sports.
Kayla Raphael


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Mar 19 2019

Bright young dead by Jessica Fellowes

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Mitford murders series. Hachette, 2018. ISBN: 9780751567205.
(Age: Older adolescent - Adult) This is undoubtedly a book set firmly in the era of The Wealthy and The Rest of the World. The children of The Wealthy are educated, erudite and spoiled, yet they also expect that they will contribute, in an intellectual sense, to something as exciting and challenging as 'solving a murder'. So, reading this book demands, of the ordinary reader, a certain positioning that forgives the idea of the wealthy as deserving of their status and their intellect when it comes to something as exciting as a murder, particularly when it happens in their large residence.
Interestingly, there seems to be little feeling for the loss of a human being, but plenty of interest in solving the murder. So, forgiving them their sense of entitlement is necessary if one is to enjoy the book, and it is quite a good murder mystery. The events are credible and the interactions well-explored, giving us a clear sense of the situation and living arrangements of the time and how people felt and lived in England in that era.
This book would be suitable for older adolescent and adult readers as Jessica Fellowes has constructed a good, strong and intriguing storyline as well as believable situation and characters. In fact, her characterization is deft, interesting and credible.
Elizabeth Bondar


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Mar 18 2019

Queen Celine by Matt Shanks

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Walker Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781760650346.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. Themes: Beach, Power, Environment. Celine loves coming to the beach. Here she can be the queen of all that she surveys, wanting to build a rock wall to protect and keep safe all the animals that she sees in the rock pools. She builds the wall, and helps the little creatures come inside. Here they are safe from the vagaries of the sea, safe from the other creatures who may want to eat them, safe from the marauding seagulls always hovering overhead.
She surveys her kingdom, stunningly shown in soft watercolours, insisting that she is the best leader the world has ever known, and pleased that in her world things will never change.
But the water becomes murky, the seagrass no longer waves, some of the creatures move out.
Queen Celine looks at the other kingdoms on the beach. The leaders are happy and joyous, their subjects happy and laughing and she notices they do not have a wall or fortress, hers is the only one. She begins to demolish her fortress, pulling down the stones, and is surprised to see many creatures coming along the beach towards her kingdom. She welcomes them all, and as other children on the beach come to play with her, she welcomes them as well.
When she returns home she leaves a sign on the beach saying that everyone is welcome.
A cautionary tale of the perils of isolation, the building of the wall on the beach actually harms those inside the wall, not only repelling people outside the wall, but by stopping change within undermines life for those inside.
A wondrous parallel for the isolationist policies seen around the world, readers will recognise the ideas of openness and being welcoming to people coming to their shores, and be aware that some countries are building physical walls, while others have more subtle restrictions about their borders.
Readers will love looking at the range of creatures illustrated on each page, recalling their own adventures when visiting the beach. Scroll down for activities from the publisher.
Fran Knight


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Mar 18 2019

52 Mondays by Anna Ciddor

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Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760523480.
(Age: 9-12) Recommended. Themes: Family life, Jewish peoples, Dolls. Anne Ciddor's 52 Mondays is a gentle evocative middle-grade novel set in the 1960s. She reminisces about her childhood, her family's Jewish heritage and celebrations and everyday life with her three younger sisters. Central to the story is Anne's desire to own an antique doll and her mother's willingness to fulfil her wish. Ciddor's memories draw from the sights, sounds and smells of her youth; she vividly paints school and home life, scorching summer days, sliding across the hot car seats without seatbelts, warm bottles of milk at recess, and days filled with simpler pleasures.
Annie's love of antique dolls comes from being enthralled with 5Hitty, Her First Hundred Years, an historic book told from the little wooden toy's point of view. The idea for visiting the auction house weekly stems from the final chapter of the 1920's story. Each Monday, Anna's mother bundles up the three sisters and off they go. Anna's anguish, desperation and desire to own her own doll drives the narrative.
High days and holidays, Friday night meals, families sharing the Passover story, Anna lovingly describes her religious upbringing. The glossary explains the Hebrew and Yiddish words and phrases used throughout. Buying ice-creams for half a penny, and trying Deb instant mashed potato bought from a big supermarket instead of a local store are fun new experiences. Even Nana Nomi's Shabbat meal cooked with kosher chicken sold plucked and cut in pieces and served with packet noodles show the changing times.
Anna Ciddor's semi-autobiographical novel is an enjoyable and gently-paced read, sharing her insights into ordinary family life, schooling and after school activities. Gorgeous sensory descriptions of preparing and sharing meals, hairstyles and clothing, sibling fun, birthday parties, even the effects of the mumps is creatively presented. 52 Mondays opens up the history of Australian life in the 1960's to a new generation. It also gives opportunities for older family members to share and reminisce about their childhoods.
Rhyllis Bignell


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Mar 18 2019

Liars: No survivors by Jack Heath

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Scholastic, 2018. ISBN: 9781742761930. Paperback, 235 pg.
(Age: 8-14) Highly recommended. Wow! What an action packed book right from the opening page where a plane crashes into a house in the little known town of Kelton. The accident is a mystery and there are no passengers aboard the plane. What an amazing way to start a book that is aimed for reluctant readers between the ages of 8 to 14. Mind you, everyone who picks up this book would love this adventure. No Survivors is part 2 of a 5 book series.
Jack Heath manages to take you on a modern day, tech-savy, STEM and danger-filled adventure which any reader will lose themselves in. It was filled with action and many plot twists which kept me reading till the end and now am so hanging out for part three of the series.
The main character Jarli is a very likeable boy. He invented the Truth app in the first series. Everyone has downloaded the app and many do not like, that people are using it everyday. Jarli's life has been in danger since the app went online especially from an unknown villain called Viper who is out to get Jarli. There are many likeable characters but I must say that Bess, Jarli's best friend, is one of my favourites especially since she doesn't let her disability slow her down. In this series both kids befriend Doug who is another STEM-savy genius.
I found No Survivors a very easy read that I couldn't put down. I just had to know what would happen next. I would highly recommended it to school kids.
Maria Komninos


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Mar 18 2019

Fish Kid and the Lizard Ninja by Kylie Howarth

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Walker Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781760650810.
(Age: 7+) Recommended. Themes: Humour, Marine Biology, Environmental Issues, Ocean Life, Adventures, Friendship, Problem Solving, Fish facts. Young Bodhi lives an enviable life on a boat with his parents, a marine biologist and an ocean photographer, who are passionate about saving the marine environment. Unfortunately for Bodhi he has an aversion to the ocean and the creatures that dwell below the surface. He is home schooled but would much rather be in a traditional classroom on land.
This trip, Bodhi's parents are researching and studying slimy sea cucumbers. Emely, the skipper's daughter, in yet another prank, decides to introduce Bodhi to sea cucumbers disguised in a green smoothie. What happens next is highly entertaining as Bodhi succumbs to illness but in the process gains secret powers. Bodhi and Emely eventually find themselves alone on a desert island in the company of Guapo, an intelligent marine iguana, who joins the children on their quest to safety.
Bodhi is initially a quiet, nervous and mild character while Emely is the feisty one. However with Bodhi's newly developed secret powers he is able to lead both himself and Emely out of their predicament and save Guapo. Throughout the book Kylie Howarth has included clever illustrations and fish facts which help create a visual context for the reader. The story is a fast moving and an enjoyable read. Teacher's activities are available and there is a second book coming soon in this series, Fish Kid and the Mega Manta Ray.
Kathryn Beilby


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Mar 18 2019

The great Shelby Holmes and the coldest case by Elizabeth Eulberg

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Illus. by Matt Robertson. The Great Shelby Holmes series, Book 3. Bloomsbury Children's Books, 2018. ISBN: 9781408871515.
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. Themes: Friendship, New York, Family Issues, Separated parents, Mystery, Detectives, Problem Solving, Figure Skating Champions, Diabetes. The newspaper calls them 'Harlem's Smartest Sleuths' and so enters 9 year olds Shelby Holmes and John Watson on their next exciting case to solve.
After being contacted by Tatiana, the coach of a world famous figure skater Jordan Nelson, Shelby and John are drawn into a highly complex case involving difficult codes and intimidating characters. Both of these young detectives must go undercover to earn the trust of the champion figure skaters. Neither Shelby nor John can figure skate and this provides some entertaining moments as they avoid getting on the ice or spending as little time as possible going through figure skating routines. Through deductive reasoning and the deciphering of clues, the two friends eventually solve the case.
Throughout the story, Shelby's addiction to sugar and the fact her parents have banned neighbourhood shops from selling it to her, creates some light-hearted moments as Shelby thwarts this ban with clever solutions. John, on the other hand has diabetes, and is very careful with his diet. John is also dealing with his father visiting from out of town and his passionate wish that his parents would reunite. At times Shelby's whirlwind and single focused nature seems insensitive to John's angst and naturally cautious disposition but she surprises the reader with thoughtful actions in the end. There are clever illustrations dotted throughout the book which complement the fast paced action and enjoyable storyline.
Kathryn Beilby


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Mar 18 2019

The house on the mountain by Ella Holcombe and David Cox

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Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760636968.
(Age: 7+) Highly recommended. The House on the Mountain is a deeply atmospheric story that follows a family's journey as they rebuild their lives after the devastation of the Black Saturday bushfires. Ella Holcombe draws on her most difficult memories, the loss of her parents at Kinglake, Victoria on the 7th of February 2009. The build up to the bushfires and the aftermath of the harrowing events is told in a beautifully lyrical style: there is a rawness and honesty portrayed. Sights, sounds, smells are realistically portrayed. 'The sky looks strange, dark and glowing, and there is a distant roaring sound, like an aeroplane approaching.' The author writes of hope rising from the ashes as the family slowly rebuilds their lives. She explains the range of emotions, the rawness and numbness at times, as the little girl experiences grief, loss, anger, wonder and despair.
She begins simply with the children playing in the bush, splashing each other in a cold bath, while the parents quickly prepare and pack their essential emergency items. Fleeing to safety as the smoke surrounds them and debris hits their car, the family watches from the safety of the oval as the mountain is covered in fire. Photos of teachers and students who lost their lives, displayed in the school corridor are constant and confronting reminders for the other students. Community and state supportive services, art therapy, music sessions, counselling, well-wishers from near and far provide comfort as well.
Life goes on, the family lives with their nana in her little white house, where her brothers fight more often, Mum and Dad argue and Ruby the dog follows them everywhere. This a new kind of normal, nothing will ever be the same. Day by day as the plants' green shoots appear and their mud brick home is built, hope rises from the ashes.
David Cox's evocative illustrations capture the family's life in small vignettes and then the power of the raging fire as they travel down the mountain, surrounded by smoke. He captures the emotions of Emma's story with dark earth tones of brown, black, greys and purples. Light shines in the darkest times, the camp lantern's glow and the yellow moon and twinkling stars representing hope.
The story concludes with Emma Holcombe's personal recount of losing her parents, her dog Brittany and their home on that fateful day. The House On The Mountain is an inspirational picture book, an important one to share with families and classes with readers from seven plus; opening up dialogues about life and death, hope and despair, natural disasters and the power of the human spirit to rebuild.
Rhyllis Bignell


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Mar 15 2019

A great escape by Felice Arena

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Penguin Random House, 2019. ISBN: 9780143794042.
(Age: 9+) Highly recommended. Themes: Berlin Wall; Freedom; Escape. Felice Arena has created a story about life for a young person at the time of the separation of West Germany from East Germany during the Cold War era. With the creation of the Berlin Wall, families were separated and with no way to get back together, many East Germans chose to prepare escape plans at the risk of their life. For Peter, the young boy left behind while his family went to the Western region of Berlin, the risks are high. With the only family left in the East with him, his Oma and his stroke-impacted Opa, the pull of his immediate family and the brief glimpses of his parents and sister through the barrier create incredible tension for him. If only he could fly over the barrier. This is a sad story about a period of history that many Australian children know very little about.
Written simply and with very short chapters, this book is accessible for young readers who enjoy history and adventure. Even older readers will be able to connect to the difficulties faced by the young boy and the struggles of the friends around him. This is certainly a book that could be recommended to readers that have enjoyed Felice Arena's other historical books Fearless Frederic and The Boy and the Spy, but also readers who have enjoyed The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. The naivety of young Peter and the unfathomable circumstances of the times reminds current readers of the difficulties that children have faced in the past.
Highly recommended for readers aged 9+.
Carolyn Hull


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Mar 15 2019

TC and the stinkiest story ever (in the history of the Universe) by Dave Hartley

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Illus. by Peter Baldwin. Scholastic Australia, 2019. ISBN: 9781742991870.
(Age: 7+) Recommended. Themes: Friendship, Aboriginal culture, Family, Bullies, Mystery, Humour. Set in a country town in Australia, this light-hearted story covers the mystery of a missing dog, daily issues children face such as earning pocket money and bullies, all intertwined with aspects of Aboriginal culture.
TC and his best mate Lockie go in search of a missing dog, Polpetta, owned by Mrs Mucci, the champion pizza maker of Warner Creek. In order to track down the missing dog, the two friends use the most obvious clue - stinky poo! The reward for finding the missing dog is free pizza for a year! With a suspect in mind, the two boys spend their time searching for clues and trying to solve the mystery. On their journey they are chased by the school bullies and outwit them along the way.
Younger readers will enjoy the reference and use of technology during the course of the story. These include the x-box, iPad and a very useful drone. Some of this technology is put to good use by the boys and is vital in solving the mystery with the support of their mob. Interwoven throughout this story is information regarding aspects of Aboriginal life which is described sensitively and gives the reader a further understanding of their history and culture. The simple illustrations strategically placed throughout the story add to the story and creates visual images to support the younger reader. This is an enjoyable read, fast paced and action packed and will appeal to younger readers, in particular boys.
Kathryn Beilby


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Mar 15 2019

Superman : Dawnbreaker by Matt De La Pena

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Random House, 2019. ISBN: 9780141386867.
(Age: 10+) Recommended. Themes: Science fiction, Superheroes, Good and evil. Having grown up with superman movies and comics set in the 50s, I found this version very refreshing as it is set in current times. Mobile phones and laptops are common and there is no mention of phone boxes anywhere.
Clark Kent is 17 and still discovering what he is capable of. New powers seem to manifest themselves during times of need or stress, though he sometimes lacks complete control over them.
In this well written and easy to read novel, Clark learns that he is not of this world and while he wrestles with the implications of being an alien and the super powers he possesses, he comes to realise that he has a purpose and responsibility to earth and its people. All this as he deals with the normal teenage issues of first love, friendships and High school. He and his close friends uncover an evil plot to take control of the most vulnerable in his town and turn them into monsters against their will. This ends with Clark having to show his true self in front of the people of Smallville to save his friends and the day; an exciting fight ensues including bombs, guns and taking control of a helicopter all described in vivid detail.
In this book you will learn about some of his special powers and how he discovers them. What his costume and cape is made of, its own special powers and why he definitely needs it. He meets Lex Luther for the first time in this novel, although Clark is always suspicious of his motives they are working together in this story. But Lex is destined to become one of Clark's most formidable adversaries.
I enjoyed reading this story as I learned a lot about Superman and what he can do and how he came to adopt his principles of trying to avoid killing anyone at all costs. It kept me interested and entertained and I would recommend it to anyone 10 years and older.
Joyce Crawford


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Mar 15 2019

The Genius Experiment by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

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Max Einstein book 1. Hachette, 2019. ISBN: 9781784759827.
(Age: 10-14) Highly recommended. Themes: Orphans, Gifted children, Inventions, Heroes and villains, Problem solving, Albert Einstein. James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein's The genius Experiment introduces twelve-year-old orphan Max Einstein, an amazing girl who lives by her own rules. She's squatting above the Central Park horse and carriage stables, attending college classes at NYU and supporting the homeless people who live in the building with her. She's used her home-made computer built from discarded parts to hack into the college's systems and add her name to classes she wants to attend. Max relies on Albert Einstein's wisdom to guide her decisions, and all her possessions are carried in a little suitcase filled with her mentor's quotes and memorabilia.
Two organisations are watching her every move, CMI - Change Makers' International and The Corporation filled with shadowy sinister people keen to use Max's genius skills for evil purposes. Typically, they are dressed in black and out to capture and control Max. After a brief time at a foster care facility, Max is rescued by her chess buddy Mr Weinstock and two CMI handlers and whisked off to Jerusalem. Before the flight, Max's able to rescue her suitcase, feed all her friends at the stables and is pleased when she learns they are to be taken to safe houses.
Max is guided by Einstein's wisdom, without any parental advice, she continues a constant inner dialogue seeking answers and advice. 'Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.' The mission of the CMI Institute is to solve some of the world's most serious problems using science. Eight other young geniuses and Max compete against each other to become the one chosen to lead a team tasked with solving these problems. What shines through is Max's ability to face new situations, creatively problem solve and see the world through her scientific understandings. Ever-present are the evil minions of Dr Zimm ready to capture the young girl.
The team's first mission involves a dangerous trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to rescue children forced to work in the cobalt mines. Max and her friends plan to set up solar energy panels in a village setting up an alternate industry. When the Corporation comes in to destroy their work, the young geniuses and their adult helpers stand up and save the day.
The Genius Experiment is jam-packed with exciting adventures, twists and turns, humour and empathy. Max Einstein is a wonderfully resilient individual who faces challenges head on, relying on her own abilities and forward thinking, making the most of her life. Endorsed by The Albert Einstein Archives, the authors have created a tremendous beginning to a new series.
Rhyllis Bignell


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Mar 15 2019

Muhammad Ali by Isabel Sanchez Vegara

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Ill. by Brosmind. Little People, Big Dreams series. Frances Lincoln Children's Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781786037336.
(Ages: 5-9) Recommended. Themes: Determination, Persistence. This is just one title in a huge collection of the Little People, Big Dreams series (including Stephen Hawking, Ella Fitzgerald and Coco Chanel). It is a great introduction to the life of Muhammad Ali, told simply but with honesty. It doesn't skirt around the controversial issues or provide a commentary on whether his choices were wrong or right. It just presents the facts of his life and the way he chose to live his life. It does present him as a champion, but not for because of what he stood for but simply because he stood up.
The biography is chronological, beginning with Ali's childhood in Kentucky and his motivation to learn boxing (someone stole his brand new bicycle) then progressing to his boxing career, his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War and his work for charities. We see as he takes his success in boxing and keeps dreaming bigger (from an Olympic gold medal, to world heavyweight champion). His incredible self-belief is illustrated through his rhymes (Float like a butterfly and sting like a bee).
The cartoonish illustrations work really well, especially in the boxing scenes, however, there is one double-page spread that cuts Ali's face in half and ruins what is otherwise a very poignant illustration. The bright colours keep things interesting and fun and the text is a perfect length: short enough to keep young ones engaged but with enough detail to be useful for school research for older children.
The real message in Ali's inspirational story is that he stood up for his beliefs no matter what it cost him personally and that comes through perfectly in this book. It also highlights that one can have a strong sense of self while also being self-sacrificing. This is a difficult to understand but important message for any young person today. Included in the back is a short photographic timeline and slightly more detailed biography.
Nicole Nelson


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Mar 14 2019

You must be Layla by Yassmin Abdel-Magied

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Penguin, 2019. ISBN: 9780143788515.
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. Themes: Identity, Diversity, Resilience, Moral values, Bullying, Humour. Layla is a very loveable character, full of fun and enthusiasm, highly intelligent, but a person who sometimes lets her spoken words run faster than her thoughts, and then she finds herself in trouble for being too brash. It's hardly a good thing on the first day at a prestigious new school, to put your teacher offside, apologising for yelling because you're used to deaf people, and going on to say elderly people could still be beautiful! Her first day is a disaster, and it ends up with her being suspended before she's even started, because she head-butts the school bully who happens to be the son of the Chair of the school board.
Layla's dreams of being an adventurer and amazing inventor, look doomed from the start. But she is not a person to give up at the first set-back. She knows that she can come up with a brilliant idea that will win the Grand Designs Tourismo competition and re-affirm her scholarship status.
There are some really lovely positive messages in this book: the value of an encouraging teacher, warm and loving parents who provide sound moral and spiritual guidance, the importance of standing strong with true friends, sharing laughter and fun. Layla continually strives to find the right path, find her inner strength, and respect the values of her Muslim religion. Amid the jokes and funny situations, there are some very poignant moments - of an Aboriginal teacher describing the oppression of her people, Layla's own Sudanese family facing racial discrimination, and the sadness of another child struggling with their sexual identity. The way that Layla thoughtfully considers these issues and tries to develop her understanding leads to overall messages that are very positive and life affirming, embedded in a fun easy to read novel.
The novel provides insight into the lives of migrants trying to fit into the dominant culture but still retain the cultural values and beliefs important to them. The daily Muslim prayer rituals are just a natural part of the events of each day, favourite traditional meals are relished, and common Arabic words and sayings are a part of the day-to-day family conversation, supported by a glossary at the end. These things are not the focus of the novel, they are part of the ordinary backdrop, the focus is the issues that all teenagers grapple with, dealing with problems and embarrassments, finding personal values, and trying to work out what they want to do in life. It is a really worthwhile book to offer young readers.
Helen Eddy


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Mar 14 2019

Circle by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

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Shapes trilogy, book 3. Walker Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781406384222.
(Age: 3+) Highly recommended. Themes: STEM, Circles, Friendship, Humour. Inventors of the quirky books, Square and Triangle, this Californian duo have collaborated on another book, Circle. As with the others the simplicity of the tale is beguiling; a circle watches on each page, the size and shape of the eyes and the positioning of the iris giving clues as to how Circle is feeling.
He and his friends, Square and Triangle are playing hide and seek together. Circle outlines the rules, and warns them not to go behind the waterfall. Triangle is curious and asks why. They are told that it is dark in there, but Triangle asserts that he is not afraid of the dark. Readers will know that Triangle will not do as he is told, and eagerly prepare themselves for something a little scary to happen. Circle turns her back and counts to ten but when she turns around, Square is still there but no Triangle. Square reports that Triangle has gone behind the waterfall. It is then up to the brave Circle to follow Triangle and rescue him.
The following pages follow Circle's tentative search of the area behind the waterfall. It is dark and gets darker, and Circle calls out for Triangle in the gloom. Eventually they find each other, after bumping into something else in the dark, and they escape, meeting square at the entrance. All is well, a lesson is learnt.
Klassen's illustrations are pared back, using few colours to create the background of the game with friends. His delightful shapes with their big eyes and roaming irises distil the feelings of each of the three friends to the simplicity of the position of the iris. Readers will watch the iris with satisfaction able to tell exactly what the shapes are feeling and compare these with their own feelings as doing something they are told not to do, or being lost in a strange place or having a friend rescue you and welcome you back. Readers will marvel at the pages of black simply showing two pairs of eyes in the dark, laughing with recognition at their own fear of the dark.
Quirky and funny, Circle will be a hit with younger students, and initiate discussions in the classroom about following rules, mathematical shapes, fear of the dark and friendship. An activity kit for the series is available.
Fran Knight


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Mar 14 2019

The secret of the youngest rebel by Jackie French

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The Secret Histories series book 5. Angus and Robertson, 2019. ISBN: 9781460754801.
(Age: 8+) Highly recommended. Themes: New South Wales (1804), Australian history, Convicts, New South Wales Corp, Irish convicts, Castle Hill Rebellion. Young orphan, Frog, is barely surviving on the streets of Parramatta in 1804. Life for this orphan is spent stealing from wealthier inhabitants and giving those spoils to old Ma Grimsby. Ma Grimsby runs a shanty tavern where orphaned children sleep on straw and spend their time stealing from patrons who visit the tavern. If they do not bring home stolen items they do not eat. Life is tough until one day after stealing an apple pie, Frog is followed to a hiding spot and meets Irish rebel Mr Cunningham who talks of freedom from the corrupt and cruel New South Wales Corps. His passion enthuses Frog to join the rebels and follow them to Castle Hill. Unfortunately the rebels are betrayed and the resulting battle is a massacre. Frog manages to escape the soldiers by climbing a tree and is taken in by Barney Bean and his wife. There they discover the truth about Frog and after recuperating and learning to trust, Frog remains in the home of the Beans.
Jackie French has interwoven fiction into a period in Australia's history that has had limited recognition. It was a time when corruption, cruelty and poverty was rife. The Castle Hill Rebellion is not one of the well-known battles in Australian History and to this end the story gives the reader a powerful insight into the desperation faced by the oppressed.
Kathryn Beilby


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Mar 14 2019

Four dead queens by Astrid Scholte

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Allen and Unwin, 2019. ISBN: 9781760524418. 418p; p/b.
In a divided world where citizens of each quadrant must conform to strict societal expectations, outcast pickpocket Keralie accidentally uncovers a plot to assassinate the queens of the realms and must try to stop it. Scholte does an expert job of keeping the reader engaged, with compelling pacing and clever little tricks, for example a unique use of chapter titles.
As characters deal with the burden of upholding and enforcing outdated traditions, struggle to keep their secrets and hide their regrets, there's plenty for readers to relate to, especially younger readers dealing with expectations they're born into. The novel is appropriate for a variety of ages, with the only potentially worrisome content being mildly graphic depictions of violence. This does not mean more mature readers will be bored however, with a complex political plot to get absorbed into.
Fans of crime and suspense novels will find this one intriguing. It has new twists and turns leaving the reader hooked to the very end.
Vincent Hermann


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Mar 14 2019

The Skylarks' war by Hilary McKay

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Macmillan Children's Books, 2018. ISBN: 9781509894949. 305 pages.
(Age: 10+) Recommended. Costa Book Award 2018. This book brings to mind the stories from earlier times. With shades of Jane Gardam's wonderful evocations of childhood, Sonya Harnett's The children of the king and Philippa Pearce's Tom's midnight garden, this wartime story tells of the loving relationship between three cousins growing up in Cornwall. Their summers leading up to the war are spent with fairly privileged grandparents; every day is a wonderful country experience. Once war comes, everything changes around them, and there is that deep sense of loss that now shadows their days. In particular, the reader learns so much about life at this time - domestic arrangements, boarding school accommodation, wartime communications, war service and essential volunteer work. Family dynamics are interesting with absent parents who still have high expectations of their children, and the young ones live with this day to day.
I really enjoyed this book. It is easy to connect to the children; their lives offer much to consider and Hilary McKay writes with a great understanding of childhood, aging and wartime Britain. She has previously won the Guardian Fiction Prize with The Exiles and the Smarties Prize for Exiles in Love.
Julie Wells


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