Review Blog

Nov 25 2009

Nitty Gritty series

cover image

Pearson Education. 2008.
Suitable for 11-13 year olds. The Nitty Gritty series claim to have:
High interest, rich texts with themes relevant and of interest to young adolescents,
Stimulating and engaging discussion prompts, and activities focusing on key critical literacy areas including author purpose, power of language, characterisation, bias, point of view and more,
A range of genres: mystery, adventure, historical fiction, science fiction, fantasy and contemporary fiction,
Different social and cultural perspectives, strong themes and messages to spark discussion and encourage the questioning, challenging and deconstructing of texts,
Gatefold back covers with critical literacy discussion prompts for literature circles.

The Lost King by Scot Gardner
ISBN 9781869706449.
15 year old Kingy isn't impressed when he's forced into going on an outdoor-ed camp with his school. But after he and his 3 companions, a boy and girl who were once girlfriend and boyfriend and a girl to whom he is increasingly attracted, get themselves lost, Kingy makes some real, and positive, discoveries. While Sully and Bethany argue about which way they should go and make it clear they no longer like each other, Kingy finds an amiable companion in Emily. For 2 days and nights the 4 Year 10 students stumble through the rugged bush of the Wanoom Peninsula trying to find their way back to camp. Their inability to cooperate with each other doesn't help. I liked the fact that the author kept the reader guessing as to what would happen next. In the end the rescue is almost an anticlimax as each member of the group has come a long way on their own personal journey.
The book looks at themes including relationships, honesty, being positive and facing your fears. Survival is another theme and you get the impression that the four students all end up a lot stronger for their experience.
The book would suit students from Years 8 to 10 and would work equally well as a class novel - the questions at the back of the book are helpful - or as an addition to the library. The survival theme could lead to a number of activities including linking with the novel Hatchet.
Geoff Gardner

Date of Origin by John Lockyer
ISBN 9781869706470.
This strange sci-fi story is set in a mythical future where Earth has been colonized by aliens named Aggers. An ugly species, they have furry heads, yellow eyes and green tendrils instead of arms. They win approval by clearing up the mess humans have made of the planet. Then their real agenda appears - to enslave humans to work in the mines for mugatyl - a liquid metal used as intergalactic space travel fuel. Humans morph into Agger slaves by means of a virus, indicated by a wrist scar, which is fully operational by a certain date tattooed on the wrist. Hence the title. Also on that date a forefinger turns golden. However, some humans are immune to the virus and exist as rebels, seeking to overthrow the aliens, or as Unattached living on the fringes of Los Angeles.
Kesai, Rezza, Boyd and Mayer with their robot dog, Snake, are Unattached - scavengers, living on birds, wild foods and scraps in a disused building. They become involved in a rebel plan to disable the mines by means of a mugatyl by- product called neura which causes the Guards to collapse.
As weird and wonderful as this plot is, much of the actual story consists of the Unattached gang moving around the area, either escaping the Guards, meeting up with the rebels or capturing the neura. Although they have adventures there isn't enough real action or originality to maintain interest. The themes here are of exploitation and conquest. Abraham Lincoln's vision sustains the heroes, indicating this book hopes to capture the American market as well.

The Time Stealers by Glynne Maclean
ISBN 9781869706463.
Set in a futuristic city where everyone has access to everyone through a surveillance system, this should be an exciting book. As the first chapter describes it, surveillance made 'everything simple; nothing had to be remembered. You could just check the record, play it back and no questions remained.' (p1) You can observe others' meetings; only in the confines of your own room is there any privacy.
In the city of Tal teenager Neil dumps his girlfriend and idly follows a stranger into an old office building. Here he discovers she is a Timer, ie a person travelling to the present from the past, and she is on a quest to discover her family history and the true story of the founding of Tal. Taleena and Neil enjoy a hair raising ride propelled only by wind blasts through tunnels in the building, before accessing the data from an old computer. However, there is a sinister agenda to stop Taleena returning back to her past. It appears that the Drift-Ins, occasional vistors to the city, are not from other places but were the original occupants of the site of Tal.
The themes of this book are the obvious ones of displacement of rightful ownership of land and everyone owning the past: 'How can you know where you are going if you don't know where you come from?' (p104). Plus the disadvantages of being scrutinized at every step when you question certain power holders.
There is suspense and an escape scene but none of this rather confusing book is very gripping, despite, or because of, its worthy themes. Discovering your family history is not a topic teenagers are likely to be interested in. The protagonists do not take up the cause of the Timers or Drift-Ins and none of the characters are real enough for you to care much about. It has a contrived feel and I can't imagine middle schoolers discussing the questions at the back with any real enthusiasm.

Win Win by Diana Noonan
ISBN 9781869706456.
Phoebe is a 15 year old who runs away from home and hitches a ride to a coastal holiday town in time for Christmas. Her mum is distracted by a gambler boyfriend and neglects her. Phoebe has her pet rat, Alfie, for company and proves to be a plucky survivor. Naturally, she has a lot of luck, eg, discovers a vacant, unlocked caravan to stay in and befriends some nice kids. They train for the local triathlon. Her true identity is discovered and her mum makes some important decisions.
The themes of Win Win are the familiar ones of family dysfunction contrasted to stable, caring families, survival, trust and integrity. It's an easy read with believable and likeable characters. Alfie almost steals the show. A useful addition to the library.

Dogs of the Hinterland by Tina Shaw
ISBN 9781869706517.
This fantasy novel finds the teenage heroine, Vancy, volunteering to return to her evil tyrant father, Herit, at the Fortress in order to stop him destroying her adopted village. Lucky she has done this, as she discovers he has plans to destroy the village anyway, with the help of ghost dogs. Just how ghost dogs would kill is unclear as is how they achieve what they do in the climax.
The themes of loyalty, friendship, courage and tyranny are explored here, but not in any great depth or originality. The questions inside the back flap are too difficult or uninspiring for the age group likely to pick this book up.
A reader new to fantasy might enjoy this but to established fans of this genre there is little to excite.

River Rat by Alison Lohans
ISBN 9781869706418.
Scott Campbell, a fourteen year old boy visits his Uncle Doug and Aunt Rachel in California during summer holidays to help them in their farm. He hates to be away from his friends, online game 'Tallinn's Quest' and his computer. Slowly he adapts to his new environment, learns how to work in farm, work ethics and to make new friends Emily, Paige and Preston.
The river plays an important role in this story and the reason why his parents made him learn to swim. Throughout the story, the mystery of dead twins, Trevor and Tim haunts Scott and later he unveils the truth. He dislikes Uncle Doug for being uptight and always his way of doing things but eventually starts admiring him and wants to stay there. There is also a complete change of Scott's personality and gets direction in his life and values work more than play.
This book is aptly suited for Year 7-9 students and would work equally well as a class novel - and brainstorm questions at the back are helpful - or as a book for the library. It talks about the adaptability, sustainability, resilience, courage and transformation of young Scott to a mature person. It will fascinate teens as it has an online game theme.
Vandana Mahajan

In summary, the books in this series are an uneven bunch. The realistic ones dealing with relationships have the most appeal and are the best written. The discussion questions are fairly generic and are unlikely to stimulate thinking without teacher intervention. However, I believe only River Rats and The Lost King could aspire to becoming class texts.
Teenagers do chose books by their covers and these covers do not have enough 'pick me' appeal.
Kevyna Gardner

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