Reviews

Bailey Finch takes a stand by Ingrid Laguna

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Bailey Finch is living an unrestricted life in the year after her mother’s death, her father so stricken with grief that he can barely get off the couch to wonder where she is or what she is doing.  She roams around the local creek with her dog Sheba, her best friend in the world.  Her mother, an avid birdwatcher, loved the nature that surrounds their house and Bailey recalls the wonderful way she taught Bailey to love it too.

After Sheba swallows some glass and is seriously injured internally, Bailey starts to notice how polluted the creek really is and begins to clean it up. Just as the job starts to seem overwhelming, she meets Israel, a shy boy who is passionate about the environment and begins to help her.  She learns a great deal from Israel about the creatures that live in the creek and how important it is to minimise the pollution in the water.  They hatch a plan to organize a Clean Up day with the local community.  Underlying all this activity is the tension surrounding the fact that Sheba may not recover from her injury and the frustration Bailey feels with her father's ongoing grief and depression.

This novel incorporates the important topics of grief, environmental activism, pets, and friendship so beautifully in a novel that is both gentle and hard to put down. It would make a great class novel for middle primary grades. Teacher's notes are available.

Themes Dogs, Water pollution, Activism, Friendship, Grief.

Gabrielle Anderson

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Rosie the rhinoceros by Jimmy Barnes. Illus. by Matt Shanks

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A heart-warming story, readers will fall in love with Rosie the rhinoceros and the book is sure to become a family favourite. Rosie is a little rhinoceros who is convinced that she is a unicorn. She is energetic and never wants to sleep in and when she looks at her reflection in the water all she sees is a unicorn. She is such a positive little creature. She asks Mr Giraffe if he had seen the glorious sunrise; tells Mrs Lion that is a stupendous day and Mrs Elephant that it is an exquisite morning. When all the animals she meets tell her that she is a little rhinoceros, she does not believe them – because she has a pretty horn, dainty hooves  and is sleek and makes friends easily. She then decides to get Mrs Elephant to gather all the animals together so that she can tell them that she is a unicorn. And because Rosie brings rainbows wherever she goes, the animals agree.

The story was inspired by rock star Jimmy Barnes’ granddaughter Rosie, who when playing with her Aunty and sister, refused to be Rosie the rhinoceros and insisted, very loudly, on being Rosie the unicorn. Really well written and flowing beautifully, the reader will fall in love with the happiness that Rosie brings and certainly will want to return to the book again and again. Its positivity makes it a must for the family and school library.

Matt Shanks’ illustrations are lovely and bring Rosie’s personality to life. I love the way he shows Rosie’s shadow as a unicorn and there are lots of little details, like a snake that looks like a rock and a little bird that follows Rosie, which will be fun for children to find. The clear black text with some words emphasised in colour and size also make it a book that emerging readers will enjoy. Teacher’s notes and activities can be found on the illustrator’s website.

Rosie the rhinoceros is a keeper for me, and a delightful and heart-warming story for everyone, encouraging all to be positive and caring.

Themes Positivity, Individuality.

Pat Pledger

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Who's a goose? by Scott Stuart

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Serious Bruce and silly-billy Bill are two geese with very different characteristics. A few minutes spent looking at the end papers before the book is read will encourage readers to pick out the differences between the pair. And set the tone of the book about to be read and enjoyed. And there is lots to enjoy.

The rhyming text asks the readers to predict the rhyming word, calling out what they think the word may be, involving themselves in the words of the story. They will learn lots of words about animals, singular and plural, and laugh at the idiosyncracies of the English language, where more than one goose is geese, where-as more than one mouse is not meese, but mice. Our language is full of contradictions and they will cause readers to be involved and alert to the differences.

We follow the antics of the pair of geese as they tell the readers what the plural term is for a variety of animals. But when they reach a fox, this animal turns around to look at the geese as his next meal. Flustered, the geese call on all their friends to help mollify the fox, and it is then the readers will learn the word for a group of geese.

The digitally created illustrations are luminous in their effect, the many hues exciting the imagination. And the funny characters on each page will cause gales of laughter as the readers recognise each animal and see what they re doing.

Themes Animals, Plurals, Words, Humour.

Fran Knight

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What do you do to celebrate? by Ashleigh Barton and Martina Heiduczek

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All over the world families and communities come together to celebrate the beginning and end of a year. What Do You Do to Celebrate? is a brightly presented picture book which showcases these celebrations from all over the world. Some of the events celebrated will be immediately familiar to the reader while others may not be easily recognisable. Fortunately at the end of the book the author has provided a very helpful explanation of each of the thirteen events, the country where they take place and some additional and informative facts. For example, Yonatan walks through Jerusalem’s Old City to see menorahs lit up in celebration of Hannukah, a Jewish Festival. Tala goes to the Giant Lantern Festival in the Filipino city of San Fernando. Thabo is part of a minstrel troupe who prepare all year to dance in the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival Parade. In Australia, Mae visits Sydney to see the Christmas decorations and displays.

Each celebration is presented on a double page spread with simple rhyming text to engage the reader and complemented by detailed and appealing illustrations. A very worthwhile resource for teachers in the Early Years when talking about the topic of celebrations.

Themes Celebrations, Diversity, Community, Family.

Kathryn Beilby

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Hometown haunts #LoveOZYA horror tales by Poppy Nwosu ed.

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Just in time for Halloween, or any time for fans of horror, comes this book of fourteen highly scary tales that will grip any reader – not to be read alone in the dark! With short stories from highly respected Australian authors from diverse backgrounds, there is sure to be something to appeal to everyone.

Books of short stories are great for people who are having difficulty settling into the often very long modern YA offerings, and there are some outstanding stories here. One that I will never forget is Stop Revive Survive by Sarah Epstein. If you ever see a mobile home parked in a rest area on your travels, I guarantee that you will not stop there for a break after reading this gritty, gory tale. Vikki Wakefield in her Heart-shaped stone, explores bullying and revenge, “when Arlo trades part of herself in exchange for belonging and vengeance”. Seek and destroy by Jared Thomas looks at the cover-up of the discovery of the remains of Aboriginal people on a mining site and the way the spirits come after the offenders – a frightening read indeed. Angel eyes by Alison Evans is about werewolves and angels, not to mention The EYES, eyes that appear on the bodies of the young adults who turn into wolves and hunt in the night. Do I see it all now? by Michelle O’Connell is an unforgettable graphic story about  ‘growing up being neurodivergent and undiagnosed,” while Best years of your life by Felix Wilkins brings out the horror of adolescence. Other stories look at lockdown: The Party by Wai Chim and the graphic story It’s quiet now by Emma Preston, where the monsters come out. And Poppy Nwosu’s theme of grief has an uplifting conclusion in Nature Boy.

This is a collection that is a worthy addition to any library and the stories would also be great to read aloud in class and camps. Readers who like horror might like to continue with Small spaces and Deep water by Sarah Epstein and Highway bodies by Alison Evans, as well as The woods are always watching by Stephanie Perkins.

Themes Horror.

Pat Pledger

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The accidental penguin hotel by Andrew Kelly. Illus. by Dean A. Jones

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The story of the new penguin colony at St Kilda in Port Phillip Bay is endearing as Kelly outlines the life of the little penguins, so well known for their habitat on Phillip Island off the coast of Melbourne. Visitors flock to see the penguin parade on the island, and now some 1400 have colonised the new breakwater inside the bay. In this richly illustrated book, the text rings with charm and warmth as Kelly postulates on how the penguins made the leap from their colony south of Port Phillip Bay to St Kilda.

He personalises the story, showing the penguins hunting in the bay, filling their bellies with fish before returning to their burrows to feed their partners and their chicks. The older pairs have built their own burrows in the safest spots on the island and the younger males have nowhere to build a burrow attractive enough to find a mate. But a breakwater has been built at St Kilda, the huge rocks revealing lots of  crevices, eventually filling with sand and small grasses. Just the spot for a new burrow. One makes the leap, staying at the breakwater, setting up a new burrow to attract a mate, after the others return to their island home.

The illustrations for this magical story are outstanding, revealing the penguins swimming beneath the waves, staying clear of the surfers above, fishing and nestling in their burrows.  The image chosen for the front cover make it a book that must be picked up and read. Each picture tells a story about the environment in which these little animals live, their habits and the way they survive. And despite all the intrusion we have made on their lives, they have adapted a man made shelter as their home. The last double page spread of the two penguins against the background of the Melbourne night skyline of buildings will impel readers to think about the impact we have had on our native animals. Turning the page reveals an outline of the penguin’s year, along with several paragraphs giving more information about the little penguins near Melbourne. Kids will be thrilled.

More about this new colony can be found here.

Themes Environment, Little penguins, Melbourne, St Kilda (Vic.), Phillip Island (Vic.), Port Phillip Bay (Vic.).

Fran Knight

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I lost my Granny in the supermarket by Jo Simmons. Illus. by Nathan Reed

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I Lost My Granny in the Supermarket, written by Jo Simmons is a story that will keep you entertained until the very last page. This novel will appeal to readers who love humour and wild adventurous fun. Simmons creates a vivid text that enables the reader to easily visualise and sense every minute of crazy fun-filled drama and antics.

Harry is an easy going eleven-year-old boy who loves animals and dressing up in costumes. He desperately wants to own a puppy, but since his little indiscretions with past animals, his mum has made him have to earn his way to getting a puppy with ‘puppy points’. He can receive these by doing chores and clearly showing he is responsible. So, when extra puppy point come up for grabs, Harry is very keen to try to get them. All he needs to do is look after his Granny and take her to a few appointments before heading to a special awards night function. That surely can’t be too hard! Unfortunately, his Granny isn’t your average slow, quiet and easy-going old lady. Mini (Harry’s Granny) is full of adventure and outrageous fun, and she has little desire to attend the awards night. Harry sets off on what he believes will be an easy 50 puppy points day, but within minutes he realises that this day is not going to go at planned. Will Harry be able to get his Granny safely to the awards night and collect his 50 puppy points or will Mini create more havoc and mayhem than anyone could ever imagine? Whatever the outcome, Harry is in for a day that he will never forget!

Jo Simmons has written many entertaining novels, and this one won’t disappoint. Combined with great illustrations by Nathan Reed, this book will engage readers with its witty humour and terrific clear imagery. I lost my Granny in the Supermarket would also make a great read aloud for a class to enjoy. This book is a definite winner with twists, turns and tales!

Themes Relationships, Problem solving, Rights and Responsibilities.

Michelle O'Connell

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Night lights by Inda Ahmad Zahri & Lesley McGee

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A bright enticing cover invites the reader into the world of fireflies in a traditional Malaysian village. Here the grandfather lights the lamp and takes his grandchildren on a journey around the garden where the fireflies light their world, hoping to attract a mate.

With bright, vivacious illustrations, readers’ eyes will be drawn across each page to take in the breathtaking detail, the lights attracting the exclamations of delight.

The value of family is unmistakable as the grandparents care for the group of children, encouraging their daytime play in the forests watching monkeys and playing, but at night when the shadows fall, they sit on the verandah listening to grandfather's stories of when he was a policeman. He scares them a little with his stories, but sometimes he takes them on a night walk where they see the fireflies, until Grandmother comes out with a lamp calling them to bed. And they fall asleep, contented.

A charming tale of life in Malaysia includes the many words for the granpdparents, nods to their food and its preparation, hints of a child’s life far from the city.

I love the images of light represented: city lights with a mobile phone shown, to those in the country where the house relies on a spluttering generator which causes the house lights to flicker and eventually stop. Then Grandfather brings out the oil lamps by which light they travel into the garden, there to spy the fireflies, the older ones with white light, while the younger ones colours. And beneath it all is the warmth of fmaily, the grandparents caring for their five grandchildren, allowing them freedom to play in the forests, but calling them in at night.

Little Pink Dog Books is a newish publishing venture from Armidale (NSW) and began in 2016 to encourage new and emerging authors. See more about them here.

Themes Malaysia, Grandparents, Shadows, Light, Fireflies.

Fran Knight

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Goldilocks: Wanted dead or alive by Chris Colfer

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Goldilocks in this graphic novel is a tough, outlaw living in the western part of the fairy tale world, the Dwarf Forests, where criminals and outcasts can live freely. The reader learns this in a page of dense text with a simple map at the start of the book. This is followed by ‘Prologue - The Brothers Charming” with a convoluted discussion between the 3 brothers about fulfilling their father’s ambition to rule all the kingdoms of their world by driving out the people of the Dwarf Forests and claiming the territory. They trick their wives into giving them the power to invade the territory. Chapter 1 finds four well-armed men hunting the legendary Goldilocks in the Dwarf Forests, they are defeated easily by Goldilocks and her horse with lots of violent action and supernatural power. Chapter 4, distinguished by a black background, takes us back twelve years to Goldilocks’ back story which involves porridge and bears, betrayal and finding help where she least expects it. Back to the present day, Goldilocks is asked to help save the Dwarf Forests and she, with a rag tag band of outcasts including wolves, witches and other fairy tale characters set out to defeat the armies of the Charming brothers. The story is fast paced and a quick read which will be popular with readers already familiar with The Land of Stories series by this author but the characters here seemed one dimensional. The queens appear weak and easily influenced and their change of heart at the end was unconvincing. Their images, and that of others, owe a lot to Disney animations and the limited range of expressions on faces and mostly fixed point of view failed to add much to the story. A more exciting graphic reimagining of a classic story in a similar style would be Wonder Woman Tempest Tossed by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Themes fantasy, adventure.

Sue Speck

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Peanut Jones and the illustrated city by Rob Biddulph

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Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City by Rob Biddulph is the first novel in what will undoubtedly be a fabulous new series. This brand-new adventure is one like no other, with characters that are endearing and relatable. The storyline is full of adventure, suspense and creativity with an underlying thread of determination, teamwork and grit.   

Peanut Jones is a twelve-year-old girl who loves art and creativity, just like her father. Life was good and she was happy at Melody High. But after her father mysteriously left the family a year ago with a postcard message, things began to change. Peanut strongly believes that something has happened to him, but no one will listen to her. Her whole family life has never been the same since he left, her brother doesn’t really talk much now, and her mother has sent her to a new school that she hates. She also has a new school study buddy named Rockwell who desperately wants to be her friend, but she is not interested. Life is miserable!

When Peanut discovers a magical pencil hidden in a special box made by her father, things in Peanut’s life dramatically change. This pencil is not your average pencil that draws and erases! After sharing her findings with Rockwell, soon they are on an adventure into another world, with her little sister Little-Bit. Peanut believes she can potentially find her father and bring him back to the family, so that everything will be right again. As Peanut, Rockwell and Little-Bit begin their adventure, they are entering into a world of the unknown, where life is different, rules have changed, and things are not as they seem. Can Peanut and her friends conquer the evil, and bring back creativity and imagination to a world that is hanging by a thread of colour?

Rob Biddulph has once again created a highly engaging and inspiring novel. This story will appeal to both boys and girls who enjoy adventure, suspense and fun. Biddulph’s illustrations fill pages with further engagement and coolness. A truly talented author and illustrator, he has created a novel that will be enjoyed by many!

Themes Adventure, Problem solving, Creativity, Art.

Michelle O'Connell

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Lily takes a walk by Satoshi Kitamura

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Originally published in 1987, this tale of a girl and her dog walking home will bring explosions of laughter from readers as they see the walk from each perspective. Lily has no qualms walking home though the streets, she feels perfectly safe, knowing many of the signposts along the street, recognising places and street furniture that she knows. But Nicky the dog, is not so sure: he sees monsters at every corner.

Lily and Nicky walk for hours, but when the sun begins to go down, she heads for home, confident because Nicky is with her. But from the start the reader is aware that the little dog is scared because he sees things that Lily does not see. On the hill as she strides confidently onward he sees a snake in the tree, on the footpahth, a bear seems to be lounging in the branches, at the market stall where Lily buys some goods for her mother, Nicky sees a monster come out of the post box. As it becomes darker, streets and everything Nicky sees turns into a monstrous shape. Even the light poles have eyes, a monster watches them from the canal, and more fall out of the rubbish bins. Nicky is so pleased to be home, and listens while Lily tells her parents all the things she has seen on her walk, while Nicky cannot tell of the awful things he saw. At night Lily goes to bed happy and content after her long walkout but Nicky is wide awake, still thinking of all the fearful things he saw.

A wonderful read aloud, this book will delight younger readers as they call out the monsters that Nicky sees on the walk, noting that Lily sees something else entirely. A wonderful discussion starter, the book encourages children to be more aware of their surroundings and not to be frightened by shadows.

Publishing distinctive, amusing and quirky books is the aim of Scallywag Press setup in London in 2018, and this fits their aim easily.

Themes Bravery, Confidence, Monsters, Walking, Fear.

Fran Knight

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Show us where you live, Humpback by Beryl Young. Illus. by Sakika Kikuchi

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Vast expanses of different shades of blue urged me to open this book detailing the life of a humpback whale and her calf as they trawl the ocean. The calf hugs close to its mother, sheltering under her flipper, the mother alert to any possibility of danger. As the pair glides through the water looking for food, they swim and dive together, splash, breach the surface and sleep, their behaviour paralleling that of a mother and child on land.

The bond is warm and loving, reflecting that of the human child and her mother, holding hands as they run along the beach, play with the water, eat cake and hug each other close.

Each page shows a different example of the bond between mother and child. A human mother and child stand hand in hand on the hilltop overlooking a sheltered bay where the whale and her calf live while the calf is newborn. The calf hugs close to mum as she shelters the calf with her flippers, the animal as big as a school bus. The calf drinks milk from mum, growing bigger and stronger every day, just as the child is growing taller to reach the tree where her hat has become lodged. The whale and her calf play in the water splashing and beating, hitting the water with loud beats of their flippers. The child too plays in the water, splashing and the whale and her calf blow water from their blowholes, sending a plume of bubbling water into the sky, just as the child blows bubbles. The whale sings and the calf sleeps close under her flipper. And the mother and child snuggle together in bed.

Each new piece of information about the whale and her calf are duplicated by the mother and her child, showing the bond between mothers and their offspring that are replicated across the whole animal world.

The text gives snippets of information about the Humpback whale within the context of a story, adding new words to the vocabulary of the reader, reiterating the correct terms to use when talking about whales. Young children will assimilate these new words with ease.

Two pages of information support the story at the end of the book.

A beautiful offering, stunningly illustrated, presenting non fiction to children in an evocative way.

Themes Whales, Ocean, Mother and child, Parenthood.

Fran Knight

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Drum roll please, it's Stevie Louise by Tanya Hennessy

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A great laugh-out-loud read. I can see kids reading this one with a smile or laugh on their faces at home or during silent reading lessons.

Drum Roll Please It’s Stevie Louise is a funny and light read by Australian much loved comedian, writer and media announcer Tanya Hennessy for middle years and beyond readers. Illustrations by Leigh Hedstrom are a great addition to the story which helps you visualise the scene.

In the book we get to meet and follow the adventures of eleven year old Stevie Louise Mason with her special bravery gold boots. She loves reading and watching musicals. Today she has come up with a great plan on how to make some money but needs the help of her Brooke Street kids gang. She decides to hold a show and she puts a theatre troupe together which she will have the starring role but wait…… a new neighbour, Addison moves into the street and threatens to derail her plans for the troupe.

Stevie takes us on a journey on how she is outgoing and full of confidence at home and with her friends but totally different at school. We read about her home life and friendship group that she wants to continue with at high school. We discover her insecurities and how she copes. There is a clear message at the end of the book that we and Stevie should just believe in ourselves and our abilities and accepting new and old friends and the importance of included people.

Definitely a great read for any school kid that will find the story relatable. Oh yeah, I loved Stevie’s mum and her crazy cooking abilities, thinking about trying some of them out on my family.

Themes Personality, Entertainment, Business.

Maria Komninos

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Sky dragon : Ride the wind by Anh Do

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SkyDragon: Ride The Wind written by Anh Do is the third book in one of the author’s latest series for middle grade and reluctant teen readers. The story begins where the second book Fly Free ended with Amber fighting to evade the clutches of the evil Agent Ferris. She has been knocked out but comes to and with support from her loyal friend Justin is able to escape. Amber hurries to the home of her kind-hearted carer Irene and fills her in on her adventures. Irene is ready to move away in order to keep Amber safe but Amber refuses as she desperately wants to find out if her nemesis Firefighter is her beloved brother. She heads back to her isolated cabin in the woods and fortunately her insect friends warn her of imminent danger and she is able to avoid capture again. Sadly, her cabin is torched, she is homeless once more and retreats to Irene’s house. They leave the town and head to another bigger city. Here they encounter Money Man, a greedy villain from the E-Boy series, as well as a new evil character known as Trouble, who combines forces with Money Man to wreak havoc on the city. Amber steps in to help the residents, E-Boy joins her and they try to outwit the villains.

This third book is full of excitement, nasty villains and quite physical confrontations.  Book Four is coming soon and readers will continue to be intrigued by the growing connections between Skydragon, Firefighter and E-Boy. The graphic images by James Hart add to the appeal and engagement of the story.

Themes Insects, Fantasy, Conflict, Danger, Mystery, Evil, Violence.

Kathryn Beilby

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The exploding life of Scarlett Fife by Maz Evans

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What kid would not read this book with an opening line “I AM SO ANGRY I THINK MY BUM MIGHT FALL OFF”.

The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife is an awesome, hilarious read, exploding with humour and very, very BIG FEELINGS. Scarlett Fife will quickly become a friend of all readers. If you’re a fan of Roald Dahl’s Matilda you will absolutely become a fan of Scarlett Fife.

Maz Evans the author of some of the funniest books I’ve read like Who Let The God’s Out? series has managed to bring us a modern day Matilda called Scarlett. Scarlett uses her own feelings of anger to affect things. She has no control over her feelings and mostly explodes things up instead of controlling them.

Scarlett gets into big trouble after her BIG FEELINGS episode at her auntie’s engagement when she makes a hamster run into the vicar’s trousers. You can just picture what happens. She is told by her mum that if she loses her temper one more time she will miss out her trip to Mega Awesome Sicky Fun World which is the best theme park on the planet.

From here, Scarlett tries very hard to control her temper and discovers that every time she bottles up her feelings inside of her things start to explode. Like, really explode. It’s hard for her to control her feelings especially when there is a bully around and family thing issues.

I found when reading we encounter real problems and frustrations that children experience. Both boys and girls will relate to Scarlett. The book is very diverse and readers will probably find situations they have experienced. Characters are great, my favourite was Scarlett and her friend Masie. Also, Chris Jevon's illustrations throughout the book were awesome to look at.

If you want a good laugh I highly recommend The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife. Just remember that you won’t want to put it down.  

Themes Emotions, Anger.

Maria Komninos

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