Trouble and the Exploding House by Cate Whittle ill Stephen Michael King

We had a visitor the other day. Which is weird. We don’t usually get visitors. For one, we live way up in the mountains and we don’t even have a road that comes to our place. And, for seconds, we live with a giant green dragon with blue wings and dried scaly bits around his ears. Which puts most people off.

Life is always going to be interesting when you live with a dragon who can change size at will. But when the Government man arrives and tells you that it’s not possible for you to continue to live in your house because it is in a Wildlife Park, things become even more ‘interesting’. The house was carried there by a dragon (Trouble) and it’s going to be difficult to move it, so the government says it will have to be blown up. Very soon. The race is on, to save their home. In between, Georgia continues to navigate school and friends and keeping Trouble out of … trouble. Most openings include black and white illustrations.

Trouble and the Penn family met when Trouble relocated their home. In this, the fourth adventure with Trouble, they are more or less accustomed to living with a dragon. There are definite advantages including riding to school, work and shopping on Trouble’s broad back. But there are also challenges, just like with any pet, and in any family. Georgia, as first person narrator, simply tells it like it is when you live on a mountain with a dragon. Humour sits underneath every sentence, every outrageous situation, but each is presented as very normal in the life of Georgia and the Penns. Recommended for newly independent readers comfortable with a longer story, but who will still enjoy the extra richness that illustrations bring.
Trouble and the Exploding House, Cate Whittle ill Stephen Michael King Omnibus Books 2017 ISBN: 9781742990798
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Pip and Houdini by J C Jones

Pip Sullivan’s middle name was trouble. At least that’s what people said.
She was the girl who’d gone on the run from the welfare in case they locked her up, broken into an empty house, bet on the horses, had the entire police force looking for her, brought down a very bad man and discovered why her mother had abandoned her as a baby – all in just a few days.
And she was still just ten (and a bit) years old.

Pip is back in a new adventure. After finding a new home with a new family, she’s trying to settle down and fit in, but somehow she always seems to be in trouble. This time the trouble is so big, she’s sure her new family will reject her and she will never find a place to belong. She and her dog Houdini sets out on a mission to find the mother who gave her up, Cass. The only clue she has is a postcard from Byron Bay. So that’s where she heads.

Pip and Houdini’ is the second instalment from J C Jones, about Pip. The first, ‘Run, Pip, Run’ introduced the reader to this feisty, independent character, Pip. Her early years have been unconventional, to say the least, but she has a very well-developed moral compass and an almost-inexhaustible store of openness, optimism and energy. Houdini is the perfect offsider: supportive and intuitive and up for any adventure Pip begins. ‘Pip and Houdini’ is a delightful and heart-warming novel. It introduces young readers to a world that may well be beyond their experience, and encourages them to look beyond first impressions to the heart of everyone they encounter. And it’s all wrapped up in a ripping yarn. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Pip and Houdini, J C Jones Allen & Unwin 2017 ISBN: 9781780296056

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Maybe by Morris Gleitzman

Maybe it won’t happen.
Maybe everything will be fine.
Maybe I should just stop thinking about the bad things and concentrate on the good things.
Like the beautiful countryside we’re walking through. Birds chirping and butterflies fluttering and not a single one of them being blown up.
And this dust on the road. It’s very good dust. Soft under our boots. Cushioning our cartwheels. Which is the best thing you could wish for when you’ve got a pregnant person in your cart. And another person walking next to you who’s nearly forty years old with sore feet.

Felix, Gabriek and pregnant Anya are heading home to Gabriek’s farm. The war is over and they are looking forward to a new life, and to the arrival of Anya’s baby. After years of war, it’s time to look forward. Maybe. The war may be over, but those who seek revenge do not give up easily and the trio must maintain their vigilance. Home is a concept, not a place and thousands are looking for new places in a ravaged world.

Maybe’ is the sixth instalment in Morris Gleitzman’s series featuring Felix. ‘Maybe’ details how Felix came to Australia at the age of fourteen. Although readers of the series will know both Felix’s past and his future, this novel also works as a stand-alone story. As in all the books in this series, there are themes of love, loss, revenge, survival, integrity and fallibility. But most of all, it is a page-turner, a time-swallower, an insight into unthinkable awfulness told with the deft touch of a master storyteller. Recommended for upper-primary, early-secondary readers.
Maybe, Morris Gleitzman Penguin Books Australia 2017 ISBN: 9780670079377
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Figgy Takes the City by Tamsin Janu

Nana was writing so quickly that he kept breaking the lead of his pencils.
But he didn’t sharpen them. That takes time.
To sharpen a pencil we have to go outside, because Principal Mensah doesn’t like pencil shavings on the classroom floor. Which is confusing, since chickens wander into the classroom and poo on the ground all the time and she never complains about that. We also have to sharpen pencils with little metal razors, which takes a lot of effort. And sometimes, when you are sharpening too quickly, the razor will cut your finger. So there is blood, and you have to go to the teacher for a plaster, and by the time you get back to your desk the test is nearly over and the cut on your finger hurts so much you cannot write anyway.
So Nana came prepared.

Figgy is back and in this third Figgy (and Nana story), the friends both win scholarships to the high school in Accra. Figgy is initially very nervous but quickly settles in and is keen to absorb all the experiences that a city can offer. Nana, however, has more trouble and Figgy can’t make him talk about what’s worrying him. Or where he disappears to. Cities are strange and wonderful, dangerous and sad. This year is going to change them forever.

Figgy Takes the City’ follows ‘Figgy in the World’ and ‘Figgy and the President’ and continues the story of Figgy, a Ghanian village girl with a big heart, a wonderful imagination and enough love to wrap the whole world. These adventures introduce the reader to Ghana, village and city life, to dilemmas unimaginable and familiar. The definition of ‘family’ expands and then expands again. What is family after all but individuals looking after others? Figgy and her friends are warm, fallible, true-hearted and brave. This is another adventure that should find a home in every heart. Recommended for mid-primary readers.
Figgy Takes the City, Tamsin Janu Scholastic 2017 ISBN: 9781742992006
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Exchange of Heart by Darren Groth

Brisbane
Have you always wanted to travel to other FAB parts of the world?
Not so much.
Do you want to immerse yourself in an AWESOME new culture?
If it helps.
Are you ready for the RAD adventure you’ve always dreamt about?
Not my dream.
Then YOU are srsly the sort of student YOLO Canada is looking for!
I srsly doubt it.

Munro Maddux is stuck. Stuck in a destructive and seemingly inescapable loop of ‘if only I had …’ He agrees to go to Brisbane from Canada on a six-month student exchange, hoping that the voice in his head will finally shut up. Never mind that by going, he’s living his little sister’s dream. But although his host family is great and the school welcoming, the only place the voice is silent is at Fair Go, an assisted living residence, where his new school sends him to complete compulsory volunteer hours. His ‘team’ decide they will help him get to know their town, their world.

Exchange of Heart’ sees Munro fly half way around the world, desperate to escape his grief at his sister’s death. But of course, grief doesn’t work that way. It travels with him and no matter how he tries, it grabs at his heart and stops him. Stops him sleeping. Stops him developing friendships and relationships. Stops him functioning like a ‘normal’ 16-year-old teenager. Whatever ‘normal’ is. His volunteering at Fair Go is his lifeline, his safe place, his refuge from and journey back to living. His ‘team’ mentor as much as are mentored, accept him, challenge him. ‘Exchange of Heart’ doesn’t miss a beat. Recommended for secondary readers.

Exchange of Heart, Darren Groth, Random House Australia 2017 ISBN: 9780143781578
review by www.clairesaxby.com, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise by Mark Carthew ill Simon Prescott

On the first of December, Marigold Mouse
found a rather large box at the front of her house.
Ms Marigold Mouse
Busselton Road
Mouseville
FRAGILE
*Do not bend*
Sender: Mrs M. Mouse (Snr)

It’s Christmas and Marigold finds a box on her doorstep. She opens it to find a letter from her mother and a box full of tree and Christmas decorations, a memory in each one. From her window she spies her neighbour Marvin. His aloneness and loneliness radiates through the window, and she invites him to join her. Together they decorate the tree, share Christmas memories and celebrate the spirit of Christmas. Illustrations show a snowy Christmas, teddy bear-like mice and gingerbread-like houses.

Marvin and Marigold live side-by-side. When her parcel arrives, Marigold is happy to invite her friend to share the decorating of the Christmas tree. He brings a snack to share. Gentle rhyme details the friendship and the sharing of Marigold’s family tree tradition. Inherent in the rhyme and the illustration is the reminder that Christmas is about sharing with those around you. The final image shows the friends sitting by the fire, with both stockings hung together as they share a meal and more chat. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Marvin and Marigold: A Christmas Surprise, Mark Carthew ill Simon Prescott
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925259991

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Sage Cookson’s Literary Launch by Sally Murphy

‘Come on Sage, it’s not that bad,’ my friend Lucy says, one hand on my shoulder. Í know you can do it.’
Tears spring to my eyes. ‘I don’t think I can, Lucy. I think I’d rather fail!’
I look around the room at the rest of our classmates, all busy working on their task, or talking about it, or trying to get away with doing other things without the teacher, Mr Duke, noticing. I wonder if any of them feels as bad as I do about our assignment.

Ten-year-old Sage Cookson spends a lot of time travelling with her TV chef parents. It’s an exciting and varied life but Sage is often absent from the school she attends with best friend, Lucy. While she stays in touch with Lucy when she’s away, she doesn’t know her other classmates that well. When Mr Duke sets them an assignment to deliver a three-minute no-notes presentation to the class, Sage is terrified. Her normal sunny confidence vanishes. She has no idea what to talk about and she is convinced she will never be able to speak in front of the whole class. At home, everyone is excited about the impending launch of Mum’s cook book, so she keeps her worries to herself.

Confident people always seem that they can do anything, and it can be hard to believe that they ever experience nerves. But often, they have worked hard to be able to overcome the same nervousness that first-timers experience. Sage doesn’t want to disturb her parents when they are so busy. Her parents might be busy but they can also ‘read’ Sage and they want to help her. They, Lucy, and new family friend, Tori, offer a number of strategies, but in the end Sage has to make her own decisions, and to make her own presentation. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Sage Cookson’s Literary Launch, Sally Murphy
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925594010

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Sage Cookson’s Christmas Ghost by Sally Murphy

‘You stay safe,’ my friend Lucy instructs me. and have a wonderful Christmas. I’ll miss you!’
‘I’ll miss you too!’ I say. Have the best Christmas ever.’
Lucy climbs into her dad’s waiting car, clutching the Christmas present I’ve given her.
‘And no pressie-poking!’ I call.
‘Same to you,’ she says, grinning as I hold up the gift that she has given me. ‘Bye Sage!’

It’s Christmas time and Sage and her TV chef family are flying to Western Australia to film a world record attempt at making the largest ever pavlova. The film crew are already there, now it’s time for Mum, Dad and Sage to meet Myra, who will be making the pavlova record-attempt at an old brickwork factory. There are rumours of a ghost at the brickworks, and when things start to go wrong, Sage begins to wonder if the rumours might be true. There’s nothing Sage likes more than a mystery. Since everyone else is busy, she’ll just have to investigate by herself.

Sage has an exciting life accompanying her parents and their crew around Australia. This year has been particularly exciting with several dramatic episodes. Her parents are busy setting up the event and Sage has time to notice things that others may not. Her sleuthing always ends well, though there are often some tense moments. She doesn’t always get things right but she keeps trying. Sage’s adventures are always exciting as she visits different regions of Australia. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Sage Cookson’s Christmas Ghost, Sally Murphy
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925594058

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Pretty Girls Don’t Eat by Winnie Salamon

Call me old-fashioned, but there’s nothing quite like a department store in the middle of the week. Quiet, shiny, anonymous. You could spend an entire day in the lingerie section, surrounded by lace, elastic and padded inserts and nobody would consider you a pervert because they wouldn’t even notice. Watching the flat screens in electricals, trying out mattresses in bedding, browsing through racks of dresses that cost $2000 each. Applying hand cream, perfume, lipstick. All without a single, ‘Can I help you?’

Winter seems to know exactly what she wants from life. She loves fashion and design and has an enviable talent in making her designs translate from the page to wearable art. She has great friends and a supportive family. But at sixteen years old, she’s starting to wonder if things might be better, if even her best friends and her family might love her better, more, if she wasn’t quite so fat. It might also help in the ‘never been kissed’ department too. Scratch the surface of any ‘perfect’ life and there’s plenty of non-perfection to be found. Although it can be harder to believe, non-perfection can be more interesting.

Everyone has secrets. And secret thoughts. Particularly in adolescence. It’s a time of discovery, of working out who you are, and also of looking at others around you in new ways. Hormones play their part in realigning understanding of friendships and family. ‘Pretty Girls Don’t Eat’ offers an opportunity to unstitch and refashion beliefs of self and others. There’s plenty here for discussion. How does a seemingly together teenager start believing negative self-talk? How perfect are the ‘perfect’ lives of everyone else? There are some great role models here – not perfect ones – and a hopeful future. Recommended for early- to mid-secondary readers.

Pretty Girls Don’t Eat, Winnie Salamon
Ford St Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925272772

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Paper Cranes Don’t Fly by Peter Vu

I wake up in the bed that isn’t really mine. What have I done to deserve being stuck in this place again? I ask myself despite the fact that I don’t believe in the concept of karma and its spiritual principles of cause and effect.
Even if karma actually exist, I’m pretty sure I haven’t done anything to deserve seeing its bad side. But I once read – I don’t remember where – that everything that has happened in our lives has been preparation for moments that are yet to come. Maybe that is true. Or maybe it isn’t.
Or maybe it’s just too damned philosophical for me to understand. I don’t know.
I gaze out the window. From five storeys up, the view is surprisingly cheerful considering that I’m looking at the outside of a children’s hospital.

Seventeen-year-old Adam is back in hospital for more surgery. Despite surgery, chemo and radiotherapy, he’s here again. Treatment for his brain tumour has meant that his schooling is interrupted and friendships are difficult to initiate and to maintain. It’s lucky then that he has two enduring friendships from his childhood and a new friend who is also a frequent hospital visitor. Adam starts writing down his story to show that he is more than the illness that is recurring. He continues it, including flashbacks, as a way of getting through long days in hospital.

Friendship is important to most people, but it’s especially important to teenagers and Adam is no exception. He’s lucky enough to have a family, parents and a brother, but it is his friends who keep him going. Through them he has a link to the world beyond the hospital walls, and some semblance of normalcy. Their friendship allows him to be a teenager, who is much more than just a medical diagnosis.

Paper Planes Don’t Fly’ is a portrait of a teenager who just happens to also be sometimes unwell. Recommended for mid-secondary readers.

Paper Cranes Don’t Fly, Peter Vu
Ford Street Publishing 2017 ISBN: 9781925272765

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com