History Mysteries: Diamond Jack, by Mark Greenwood

Just then, Jack discovered a sodden parcel wedged between the plane’s ribs.
He tore off the string binding and red wax seals. Inside was a bloated leather wallet, bursting with small packages wrapped in tissue. He emptied the contents of one into his calloused hands. What he saw stole his breath away …

As a plane prepares to ferry Dutch refugees out of Java to escape war-torn Java, the captain is passed a valuable package to carry to safety. But the plane is attacked, and crash-lands, the passage temporarily forgotten in the quest for survival. When Jack Palmer, a sailor and beachcomber, comes across the abandoned wreck of the plane he can’t help but be curious about what he might find on board. What he does find is beyond anything he could imagine.

Diamond Jack, the first title in the new History Mysteries series by Mark Greenwood, is a junior novel exploring the events surrounding the crash of a Dakota aircraft and subsequent disappearance of a parcel of diamond on board. Using the known facts and people involved, interwoven with a fictionalised version of what might have happen, the story provides an intriguing glimpse into the past. Young readers will be drawn into the mystery as they also view and learn about a chapter of Australian war history.

With historical photographs, maps and notes including a timeline, this is history children can connect with.

History Mysteries: Diamond Jack, by Mark Greenwood
Penguin Random House, 2017
ISBN 9780143309260

One Keen Koala, by Margaret Wild & Bruce Whatley

ONE keen koala
ready for school.

One keen koala is ready for his first day of school. hH is joined by two perky penguins, three excited wallabies and so on, as they discover the fun of starting school. From posing for photographs, to meeting the teacher, to playing with paint and glue, having stories and, at the end of the day hurrying home to mum, the animals romp through the day.

With rhyming text by Margaret Wild and joy-filled watercolour and pencil illustrations by Bruce Whatley, this is an offering sure to be embraced by youngsters starting school, and their parents. It will withstand repeated rereadings, and the simplicity of the text will encourage children to join in on rereadings.

Lovely.

One Keen Koala, by Margaret Wild & Bruce Whatley
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781743629291

The Shark Caller, by Dianne Wolfer

I stared into the shark’s unblinking eye. The voices grew louder. It felt like they were calling me. I tried to understand, but the mako’s black eyes were frightening. I looked away.
The voices stopped. 

Isabel (Izzy) and her mother are returning home to the place she was born – an island in Papua New Guinea. Izzy loves her home, but this time, her journey is sad. They are taking the ashes of her much-loved twin brother home to be scattered.

On the island, Izzy and her mother start to heal, but Izzy also sees that the island is changing. The environment is changing, threatened by logging and modern technologies, and the sharks no longer answer the cries of the village shark callers. The clan needs someone to take an offering deep beneath the sea in a traditional offering to the shark god. The person must be a twin from the shark-calling lineage. Lizzie is the last twin. I will take great courage to even attempt the challenge.

The Shark Caller is a gripping, moving story of bereavement and courage, combining contemporary realism with fantasy elements. The issues of grief and of family obligations are combined with broader issues of environmental change and the impact of modernisation on traditional communities and ecocultures.

Suitable from readers in upper primary and beyond.

The Shark Caller, by Dianne Wolfer
Penguin Books, 2016
ISBN 9780143780557

Mopoke, by Philip Bunting

This is a mopoke.

So begins this delightful, understated picture book featuring (as the title suggests) a mopoke – or  bookbook owl. Each spread features just one line of text – or even a single word, as the mopoke becomes a poorpoke, a poshpoke, and a range of rhyming ‘pokes’ – slowpoke, yopoke, crowpoke and so on. By the end of the book, the mopoke begins to look bothered, before squawking (hooting?) in frustration and flying away. Apparently, what the mopoke wants – peace and quite – is not going to be found on this branch.

The illustrations, on black backgrounds representing the night sky, are simple, with the mopoke seated on a single branch, a few stars in the background, and occasional appearances from other animals, including other mopokes and – surprisingly – a wombat, the surprise of which will make youngsters laugh.

Adult readers should find the repetition and simplicity  of the text an opportunity to use expression and encourage child participation. Creator Philip Bunting has written about this on his website.

Lots of fun.

Mopoke, by Philip Bunting
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781742991658

Available from good bookstores or online.

Bronze Bird Tower, by Carole Wilkinson

Kai sighed. The dragon haven had been his home since he was a dragonling, yet he showed no pleasure in returning.

“Gu Hong selected this place to be the home of the dragons,” he said. “She chose well. It is not so high that it is wintry throughout the year round. And no creatures can scale the sheer cliffs – not a goat, not a rabbit and, more importantly, not a human.”

At last Tao and Kai have arrived at the Dragon Haven. Now Kai can resume his position as leader, and Tao can take on the role of Dragonkeeper. But there is no big welcome, and Tao wonders if he and Kai will be made to leave, and once again face the murderous warlord, Jilong.

Although their welcome is luke-warm, the pair do their best to fit in, and even have moments of something nearing harmony with the dragon cluster. But when Jilong finds out where they are, it seems their peace will be shattered. Not only does Tao question his own role at the haven, but also whether dragons will ever be able to live peacefully anywhere in the world.

The sixth and final title in the Dragonkeeper series, Bronze Bird Tower is fabulous fantasy for readers of all ages. Tao and his friends are endearing, and the other dragons, with their different personalities, make for an absorbing cast. The twists and turns as the dragons find a way forward, and Tao and Kai seek to establish their roles, are both exciting and satisfying.

Wonderful.

Bronze Bird Tower, by Carole Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, 2017