Edwina Sparrow Girl of Destiny, by Carol Chataway

If you are reading this journal, then chances are I am already dead. My name is Edwina Sparrow. I am fifteen years old and my mother is trying to kill me. My mother has always been odd, but since Gran’s accident, things gave got far worse. I have decided to start keeping a journal to document the progress of my deranged mother because there may be a murder inquiry. Someone needs to leave a line of evidence.

Edwina Sparrow’s mother has put the whole family (Edwina, brother Julian and Gran) on a cabbage-only diet. Edwina’s father is in Antarctica and not expected home anytime soon. Gran had a nasty incident with a pressure cooker and is now convinced she’s living through the Second World War. At school, Edwina and others are targets of bully Krystal Shard and her cronies. And this is only the beginning. Julian’s on-screen romance flounders, Mum moves from the Cabbage Diet to the Fruit Diet and beyond, Gran thinks Edwina is her younger sister Emily and at school girls are falling like ninepins to diet-related conditions. Even her best friend McKenzie seems to be avoiding her. Edwina knows she could fix everything, if only people would listen to her sensible suggestions.

Edwina Sparrow Girl of Destiny is a wonderfully idiosyncratic example of the unreliable narrator inherent in first person narrative. Edwina thunders through her life, unaware of any viewpoint other than her own. She is a likeable character with the subtlety of a bulldozer. The journal allows us to get very close to this main character and to read between her lines to some of the challenges she’s facing. McKenzie is a great foil, with his search for his place in his family of all boys. Julian copes with the vagaries of their family in a much quieter way, but it is Edwina who solves the mystery that occupies all his thoughts. Krystal Shard is a nasty piece of work, manipulating her so-called friends with disastrous consequences.

Carol Chataway provides the reader with a warm and affectionate look into the mind of an ostensibly prickly teenager and subtly urges them to look beyond the obvious.

Highly recommended for Year 7-9 readers. Readers who enjoy this novel might also enjoy works by Jaclyn Moriarty and Melina Marchetta.

 

Edwina Sparrow Girl of Destiny, by Carol Chataway
Lothian Books 2007
ISBN 9780734409874

The Boy Who Disappeared, by Wendy Milton

Twelve-year-old Rodney lived in Frogmore, an ordinary country town in northern New South Wales. He lived in a modest, two-storey house in Cane Toad Crescent. He had his own room, a stereo, a TV, a DVD player, piles of books and a computer with Internet access. He was in his final year at Frogmore Primary , an ordinary school. He had two ordinary parents, lived in an ordinary house in an ordinary street. Why, then, was something extraordinary happening to him?

Rodney Rowbottom is being bullied. Ben and his cohorts chase him to school and make his life miserable. His father ignores him, his mother babies him. Then Rodney begins to fade. He meets Mrs Strangeways who teaches him how to become invisible. Now he can travel to alternate worlds, Llandringodd and Llondieval. Both are terrifying. One world shows the perils of science unchecked with walking weeds and soul-less clones, while the other is a primitive and barbaric (and very smelly) place where cruelty is a spectator sport. Rodney discovers others affected by bullying of small and much larger scale. Travelling between these two worlds and his own, Rodney meets friends and foes and almost inadvertently discovers the solution to his own bullying experience.

The Boy Who Disappeared gives away little in its title. The front cover shows Rodney being pursued by weeds in an otherwise desolate landscape. Immediately, the reader is asked to speculate on the fate of this twelve-year-old boy. Rodney learns skills that help him find his own way. Around every corner is another corner as Wendy Milton’s story twists and turns back on itself. Each time the outcome seems inevitable, the story goes off on another tangent, building tension further. There are parallels between Rodney’s ‘home’ world and Llandringodd, showing the effect when science and commercial interests are not moderated by ethics. The other world, Llondieval, shows the peasants fearful and starving, while the rich feast. Rodney’s adventures in both worlds contribute to solving his problems in his own world. A rich and satisfying read, recommended for upper primary readers.

The Boy Who Disappeared

The Boy Who Disappeared, by Wendy Milton
Lothian Books 2006
ISBN 9780734408921

Strictly Stars, by Josie Montana

To cut a long story short, we won the national pop starlet auditions and here we are today. A little bit more than famous – the nation’s most well-known pop starlet group.

Strictly Stars is told from the point of view of Kiara, who with her friends Sam, Gardenia and Britney won a national pop starlet competition. Now they are back at school with their song ‘Wannabe’ at the top of the pop charts. Life is good, everyone wants to know them. Everyone except disgraced former Strictly Stars member Alithia, who tells them they will soon be has-beens, yesterday’s news. A mysterious new singer, Thailia appears and her song races up the charts. As Thailia’s song heads to Number One, the Strictly Stars are struggling to maintain their place. If they fall too far, their planned tour will be cancelled. Someone is sending the girls emails, nasty ones designed to cause trouble. After resolving their misunderstandings, the Strictly Stars girls work together to discover who is trying to destroy them.

Strictly Stars is the sequel to Pop Starlets. While Strictly Stars reads well as a stand alone, readers who enjoy this book might well be tempted to look out for Pop Starlets. Kiara and her friends are a diverse bunch, living the dream of many young girls. Alithia and her mother are nasty villains, yet they do help to highlight the transience of fame and the lengths some will go to in achieving it. There is also a message about the work involved in being a pop star. This is a quickly moving story, suitable for 8-11 year old girls.

Strictly Stars

Strictly Stars, by Josie Montana
Lothian Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780734404466

This book is available online at Fishpond.

Peril Space Tours, by Richard Morden

My name is Captain Peril. When touring with us you’ll encounter many strange and possible dangerous puzzles.

Peril Space Tours offers a tour around the galaxy and is chock-a-block with unusual creatures on even more unusual planets. There are ‘flappadons’, ‘null masters’ and ‘wuffers’ for readers to meet as they complete mazes, number, pattern and visual puzzles. Not even the crew are safe as the space tour flips from planet to planet.

Space travel should be this much fun! Humour and maths blend in outrageous colours across the universe we have never known. Puzzle books have ceased to just be a collection of activities and have become a genre of their own. Another high quality puzzle book from Little Hare Books, Peril Space Tours is certain to find new space fans. Fun for early-mid primary readers.

Peril Space Tours by Richard Morden
Little Hare Books 2006
ISBN: 9781921049545

This book is available online at Fishpond.

Finding Heroes, by Dr Jon Carnegie and Jim Stynes

Whenever you fail a test you can bury your head in the sand and pretend it never happened. Or you can get up and try to do something about it.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and from all around us. Finding Heroes begins with the ordinary world and explores the notion of its safety in both positive and negative aspects. The authors encourage young people to venture beyond their ordinary world to see what they can discover about themselves and their world. Along the way, they discuss failure and mistakes and encourage readers to see the opportunities in their situation. This book facilitates considered decision-making and personal growth. Carnegie and Stynes have drawn examples of heroic behaviour from history, politics, sport, fiction and movies.

Finding Heroes is a magazine-styled book which intersperses information with anecdotes and first person reports. Information is in manageable bites and is reinforced using a wide range of examples. There are quotes from current sporting heroes like netballer Liz Ellis and swimmer Ian Thorpe and well-known international figures like Nelson Mandela, Anne Frank and Martin Luther King. There are personal stories from real people who share their mistakes as well as their triumphs. But what gives this book something extra is the use of fictional heroes like Charlie from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, Simba from ‘The Lion King’ and Frodo from ‘The Lord of the Rings’. They allow the serious subject of building resilience in our youth to be explored in an entertaining, accessible way. Each chapter is summarised at its end, reaffirming the messages throughout. Finding Heroes has wide application for 9-14 year olds. A wonderful resource.

Finding Heroes, by Dr Jon Carnegie and Jim Stynes
Allen & Unwin 2006
ISBN: 9780741147575

Al Dentay and the Incredible Spaghetti Machine, by Bruce Atherton

Something bad’s going to happen. I can smell it in the air like a whiff of rotten garbage. I’m washing the dishes as fast as I can but the plates are piling up so high I’m surrounded by the great wall of china.

Al Dentay washes dishes in his uncle’s famous pasta restaurant. Then Al and his uncle. Lorenzo, are injured in a freak kitchen accident. In the ambulance on the way to hospital, Lorenzo gives Al his ring and pleads with him to destroy the spaghetti machine. Al and his friends Tubsy and Snotty are pursued by the evil Gorgonzola and his thugs as they race to find Lorenzo’s secret machine. They discover that wonder-chef Lorenzo was also a scientific genius who has built the most incredible machine…so mind-blowingly valuable to Gorgonzola’s bosses that the boys’ lives are in danger.

Al Dentay and the Incredible Spaghetti Machine is super-paced and action-packed. There are plenty of puns along the way and some truly awful nicknames. Al is browbeaten by his father and the restaurant manager Gorgonzola. Tubsy has more techno-gizmos than 007, and Snotty is as tough as anyone called ‘snotty’ needs to be. The stakes are high and keep getting higher as Gorgonzola pursues Al and his mates. Most of the adult characters are unpleasant and deserve the misfortunes that they encounter. Upper-primary readers, especially boys, will revel in the action and the technology.

Al Dentay and the Incredible Spaghetti Machine, by Bruce Atherton
Lothian Books, 2007
ISBN: 9780734409829

Mokie and Bik, by Wendy Orr

‘When I am big,’ said Mokie. ‘I’ll sail right across the harbour.’
‘When I am bigger,’ said Bik. ‘I’ll sail right across the world!’

Mokie and Bik are twins who live on the family boat, Bullfrog. Their father is sailing ‘his ship-at-sea’ and their mother is ‘Arting’ so the boat remains tied to the wharf. Mokie and Bik spend their days falling off the boat and being rescued, helping Erik with his fish catch, licking police creams from the police boat and conversing in their own language. They play with their old dog and new, and feed ‘Tortle’. Then Dad returns home, Mum has an exhibition and finally, it’s time for Bullfrog to go to sea.

Mokie & Bik is about a boy and girl who are as inquisitive and mischievous as young children should be. Add the sea and their unique language and the adventures are even richer. Wendy Orr’s characters are sparky and engaging. From such freedom, independence and strong character grows. This is a delightful tale of the special world that is childhood. Mokie and Bik will suit newly independent readers and would also work well as a first read-to chapter book for younger children.

Mokie and Bik

Mokie& Bik, by Wendy Orr and Beth Norling (Ill )
Allen & Unwin, 2006
ISBN: 9781741145503

This book is available online at Fishpond.

The Twelve Tasks of Hercules, by Dion Hamill

Hercules was one of the most famous characters in ancient Greek mythology. He was the son of the great god Zeus and the mortal woman Alkmene.

Beginning with an outline of the story of Hercules, this puzzle book presents some innovative alternatives for readers to help him achieve each of the twelve tasks. It introduces the tasks set Hercules, but instead of the often violent solutions evident in the traditional myth, it offers puzzles. There are mazes and clear thinking exercises.

Myths and legends are a rich source of learning and entertainment for each new generation. Hercules is a popular figure who continues to attract new fans. Puzzle books like The Twelve Tasks of Hercules introduce younger readers to age-old stories in an engaging format. These are quite sophisticated illustrations and puzzles designed for a mid-primary reader, but could also be read to a younger child as an introduction to both myth and puzzle books.

An enjoyable addition to the strong collection of puzzle books from Little Hare Books.

The Twelve Tasks of Hercules by Dion Hamill
Little Hare Books, 2006
ISBN: 9781921049538

Red Haze – Australians and New Zealanders in Vietnam, by Leon Davidson

The soil in our area is Red Mud, RED-BLOODY-MUD. It drives me mad…It’s the only place in the world where you can be bogged down in mud up to you neck and get dust in your eyes.Douglas Bishop, 5RAR, letter to family, October 1966

Leeches, mosquitos snakes and more. Dust, mud, rain, rain, rain. Red Haze looks at the circumstances that brought Australian and New Zealand soldiers to the experience that is called ‘The Vietnam War’. Many people believed that if communism was allowed to spread in Vietnam that it would eventually ‘infect’ countries all the way to Australia and New Zealand. While the political battles waged at home, soldiers fought an intractable foe on hostile ground. Red Haze tracks the war from the political impetus for its beginning, through many of the well-known and less well-known battles, to the 1973 ceasefire.

Nothing could have prepared Australian and New Zealand soldiers for the environment in which they were to be asked to fight. Red Haze uses personal experiences to bring the reader close to the action and uncertainty. Davidson doesn’t pretend to have the whole story, but shows the brutality and compassion, the confusion and violence that accompanies war. The use of letters and recollections from soldiers from both sides and from protesters at home gives some understanding of how difficult a time it was. Though today’s children have little direct experience of the Vietnam war, this book can help them understand some of the issues of the wars of their time. For upper primary and early secondary readers.

Red Haze: Australians and New Zealanders in Vietnam, by Leon Davidson
black dog books 2006 ISBN 876372958

Gold Fever, by Susan Coleridge

‘Tonight, like all the other nights, it had started with the hands. Dirty, bent hands feeling around in the darkness. And behind the hands were faces – shadowy faces, with dark, watching eyes.
Then came the voice.
It was always a man’s voice – low and muffled like it was coming from underground – deep underground.

Robert’s class is going on excursion to the ‘fake gold mining town’, Sovereign Hill. It’s nearly a year since Dad died and Robert and his family are having trouble coping. It’s an effort to be enthusiastic about anything. Then, once he gets to Sovereign Hill, strange things begin to happen. A wax statue moves, a dog follows him and then disappears. Robert falls into an impossible hole dug by the dog and the mystery begins. He experiences some of the reality of living in a working gold mine town – and it is very different from visiting a recreated town. He doesn’t understand how he got there or why and wonders what he must do to return home again.

Gold Fever is set in Sovereign Hill, a replica town, where every effort is made to reproduce life on the gold diggings. The story is well-paced and features many well-drawn cameo characters. There is plenty of adventure to keep the pages turning. The reader is given an opportunity to see the difference between the fun of visiting Sovereign Hill as a modern day visitor and of living in a time where people die of minor ailments and thirteen-year-olds work in dank, dark, dusty mines. Twelve-year-old Robert learns that suffering, death and survival are part of every life. There are many themes to explore in this first novel from Susan Coleridge. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Gold Fever by Susan Coleridge
Lothian Books 2006
ISBN: 0734409605