Pepper Masala series by Rosanne Hawke. Illus. by Jasmine Berry

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Pepper Masalah and the Flying Carpet. ISBN 9781761111105.
Pepper Masalah and the Temple of Cats. ISBN 9781761111143.
Pepper Masalah and the Giant Bird. ISBN 9781761111204.

Nine year old Zamir lives with his father and grandmother on an olive farm in Australia with his cat Pepper Masalah (who looks like a mini panther). Although Pepper Masalah prefers to spend her days sleeping in front of the fire on a red and blue carpet, one that Zam's grandmother brought with her from Kashmir and which she believes can fly even though it hasn't done so for many years. But one night during a storm, Sam and his cat discover discovered that the rug does have magical powers and they find themselves flying off on all sorts of adventures that take them to all sorts of places, particularly those in the mysterious Middle East.

Inspired by Hawke's own circumstances, this is a new series for newly independent readers sharpening their skills, particularly those who love cats and adventures and have dreams of flying off on their own magic carpet. But underlying this, the books also introduce the reader to various cultures, stories and beliefs that they may be unfamiliar with and, in an age-appropriate way, some real world issues, particularly those relating to children.

As well as taking the reader to a region that is in the news but of which little is generally known by the target audience, the series offers the opportunity for the reader to think about where they might go if they had their own magic carpet, perhaps even sparking a way to celebrate all the nationalities represented in the classroom. Students could design their own magic carpet and then create a display of the important things about their country of birth or ancestry.

While there are many series written for this age group, this one combines the fantasy of a magic carpet ride, the friendship between a boy and his pet, and the familiarity of the personalities of cats in situations that may offer cause for consideration. Each story has some information pages at the end as well as a glossary of local words and their pronunciation, grounding the stories in reality.

Something out of the ordinary that will open readers' eyes to new places and introduce them to children who live different lives from them.

Barbara Braxton