Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix and Sean Williams

Odo and Eleanor did not set out to find their destiny. At best, they were hoping for eels.
‘I’ve never seen the river so low before,’ said Odo as he climbed down the banks and began to trudge through the thick, reddish mud. He’d walked along and waded in the same stretch of the Silverrun for what felt like every single day of his life. Like his days, the river was always much the same. But now, there was a lot more mud and a lot less river.

While searching for eels, Odo unearths a sword in the mud beside the river. He can’t believe that he is the sword’s ‘true master’. Neither can Eleanor. It’s HER dream to be a knight, not Odo’s. But the sword is adamant – Odo is now Sir Odo, and before long, the trio are off on a quest. This makes the sword, called Biter, and Eleanor very happy. Odo’s still not convinced, but gives in to the entreaties of the other two. And a big quest it is too, destined to take them to many places and into many dangerous adventures.

Have Sword, Will Travel’ is Book 1 in a new series from Garth Nix and Sean Williams. It follows the adventures of two young friends who learn a lot about themselves as they travel far from their homes. Biter, the sword, has a very traditional notion of what it means to be a knight, and is keen to impose these notions on every situation they encounter. But, although Odo and Eleanor are young, they are very good at working together and solving problems. There are additional mysteries throughout that will surely surface in subsequent titles. Ideal for introducing young, competent readers to fantasy, ‘Have Sword, Will Travel’ is also jam-packed with humour. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Have Sword, Will Travel, Garth Nix & Sean Williams
Allen & Unwin 2017 ISBN: 9781742374024

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

First Day by Margaret Wild, ill Kim Gamble

Before school
Salma gets out the ham, salad and cheese. She’s making her own lunch because her mum is busy with the three little ones. Salma makes the biggest, fattest sandwich ever.
Khalil puts on his shiny new shoes. He is excellent at tying his shoelaces. He can do double bows, even triple bows! He likes tying shoelaces more than anything in the world.

It’s the first day of school for 6 children and the first day back at school for one of the mums. Each child and family is introduced separately, with telling details about their personality and home structure. They travel to school and meet their teacher and the pages are crammed depictions of this first school day and the responses of individuals to the class and to each other. Alex’s dog visits and she has a brilliant idea. When their day is done, the children (and dog) all return home. Watercolour and pencil illustrations begin simply, then as the children move through their day, the images become a combination of group ‘shots’ and vignettes.

‘First Day’ was initially published in 1999, but loses none of its relevance in 2017. The children, from diverse homes, carry all the innocence, anticipation, trepidation and bravery that are displayed in any first day classroom. It’s a delight to see the classroom through the eyes of these young children and to remember that first days don’t ever stop. It’s Alex’s Mum’s first day back at ‘school’ and she carries many of the same emotions and fears as the children – a lovely thing for young children to understand. The illustrations invite empathy and model gentleness. Ideal for use at home and in the classroom. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.
First Day, Margaret Wild ill Kim Gamble Allen & Unwin 2017 ISBN: 9781760293918

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

48 Hours: The Vanishing by Gabrielle Lord

‘Thank you, Chief,’Jazmine murmured to herself as she walked along a tree-lined street on her way to school. She tucked a stray lock of thick blonde hair behind her ear.
‘Earth to Jazmine, hello?’
‘Huh?’ Jazmine snapped out of her daydream and turned to find her friend Mackenzie glaring at her through narrowed dark eyes.
‘Aside from that mumbling, you haven’t said a word since we started walking to Anika’s!’ Mackenzie fumed, flinging her loose, long black hair over her shoulder in a huff. ‘Jazz, it’s bad enough with Anika going on about that old journal she found, and now you won’t even talk to me because you’re busy solving crimes in your head. Plus you nearly walked into that tree!’

Jazz’s best friend has disappeared, kidnapped. Phoenix has been suspended from school. Jazz and Phoenix are most definitely NOT friends. Even though Jazz loves to solve crimes and mysteries, and Phoenix knows heaps about forensics. But if they are going to find Anika in the next 48 hours – and they both know this is crucial – then they are going to have to find a way to work together. So begins an uneasy alliance as they race the clock to find Jazz’s friend.

‘48 Hours’ is the first in a new series from Gabrielle Lord, with two further titles currently underway. Jazz and Phoenix are the crime-solving duo with complementary skills, though at first they struggle to work cohesively. As well as chasing clues, they must evade parents who are 1. worried about them, 2. cross with them for hacking 3. distressed because their daughter is missing. This is a fast-paced action thriller for crime aficionados in mid- to upper-primary years.
48 Hours: The Vanishing, Gabrielle Lord Scholastic Australia 2017 ISBN:9781743629758

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

Kizmet and the Case of the Pirate Treasure by Frank Woodley

From the outside the IMPACT headquarters looked like any boring office building.
But inside was a hive of activity. Detectives rushed from room to room, carrying documents. A scientist peered into a glass cabinet full of large hairy spiders, while in the back ground her colleague tested the strength of a cable made from synthetic spider silk. All this was going on around us as we sat in the meeting area of the Central Command Hub.
When I say ‘we’ I mean me and Kismet, and her dad, Spencer Papancillo. We work together solving mysteries.

Kismet and the Case of the Pirate Treasure’ is Kismet’s third adventure. All are told from the perspective of Gretchen, her Currawong. The mystery-solving trio of Kismet, her hapless dad and Gretchen are early to a meeting and catching up with friends at IMPACT when the roof explodes and their friend is kidnapped. Kismet finds a clue, Chief Wodjet gets a phone call and the trio are off on a world-wide hunt for Gita, and a solution to a 300-year-old mystery. High drama ensues. Each chapter, and many openings include black and white illustrations.

Kizmet and the Case of the Pirate Treasure’ is high camp drama, no surprise really when the viewpoint character is a currawong. Fortunately, the decisions are mostly made by Kizmet, who is much calmer and more clear-headed than her pet or her father. There are plenty of chuckles to be had as disasters and mis-steps beset the ‘goodies’ along the pathway to solving their mystery. Suited to independent readers who enjoy a mystery and still like  an illustration or two to break up the text.

Kizmet and the Case of the Pirate Treasure, Frank Woodley, Puffin Books 2017 ISBN: 9780143783282

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

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