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

The Outcast – An Anthology of Exiles and Strangers, edited by Nicole R. Murphy

‘Foxes and cat; rats and mice moved their legs and twitched their whiskers. Pigeons, seagulls, sparrows – not a single magpie – flapped their wings. They couldn’t speak – she sniffled – but they could understand. There were enough of them. Between them all, they held the memories of the City, the memories of everyone who’d thrown something away. “Now dig,” said the Witch. “Find anything that was once mine.” The Rubbish Witch

The Outcast is a themed anthology featuring twenty stories from Australian writers, edited by Nicole Murphy for the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild. All stories explore the notion of being an outsider, whether voluntary or involuntary. There are stories of women on a train, rural monsters, criminals, returned soldiers, conjurers, tribal curses and of spiritual awakening. There are stories that make comment on our world and those who would lead us; stories that warn us about the future and other stories which just make the reader laugh.

Works for inclusion in this themed anthology were chosen following a call for submissions. Stories range in genre from fairy tale and fable through fantasy and scifi to comedy. Each story is quite different although all explore aspects of loneliness and choice, individual and collective expression. From the sublime to the intentionally ridiculous, there is something here for all readers of spec fiction.

The Outcast, edited by Nicole R Murphy
CSfG Publishing 2006
ISBN: 0977509201

It’s True! Sports Stinks, by Justin Kemp & Damian Farrow

There are sports facts galore in It’s True! Sport Stinks, written by two sports scientists. If you think that keeping your eye on a fast-moving ball is almost impossible, you’re right. If you think that putting a crocodile in a pool will make you swim faster, meet the coach who agrees with you. From tennis, football, cricket to car racing and pro wrestling, learn the secrets of moving faster, jumping higher and surviving your favourite sport.

The titleIt’s True! Sport Stinks, combined with the cover art featuring a prostrate tennis player surrounded by balls, set up the expectation that this book will be about sport failures/accidents, sport smells. While there are some elements of both in this book, there is a lot more as well. All the popular sports are here, as are less well known sports like Paralympic skiing. There’s information about increasing performance and the ways some athletes cheat. The content is varied, informative and entertaining. Recommended for mid- and upper-primary readers.

It’s True! Sports Stinks by Justin Kemp & Damian Farrow, with illustrations by Heath McKenzie
Allen & Unwin 2006
ISBN: 1741148545

Team Challenge, by Bernadette Kelly

Annie is learning fast, but is she a good enough rider to join Ridgeview’s Team Challenge?

In this fourth title from the Riding High series, there is a new challenge for Annie. A team is being selected to compete against other Pony Clubs in games. Annie is not sure she’s ready – especially at sack races – but a challenge from Jessica impels her to try out. Competition seems to show different sides of everyone, including her friend Reesa. Annie is selected as emergency and has to train as hard as the others, even when she has little chance of competing.

This series combines the challenges of making new friends with learning a new sport. Annie is a gutsy main character who shows the mixture of bravery and reticence that is a feature of the age group. Horse-riding girls will enjoy the detailed descriptions of the Pony Club events as well as the ups and downs of owning a horse. This fourth adventure sees Annie advancing in skills and confidence. A fifth adventure is scheduled for early 2007 release.

Recommended for mid- upper-primary readers.

Team Challenge by Bernadette Kelly
black dog books 2006
isbn: 1921167260

Jack Brown and the Trail of the Python, by Greg Pyers

Jack looked outside, to the shrubs and the carpet of ivy in the office garden. He couldn’t see it, and he certainly couldn’t hear it through the glass, but somehow he knew. An animal was out there.

Jack Brown can communicate with animals. Not in a Dr Doolittle way, but he can sense their distress and they can sense his empathy. In this second adventure, Jack Brown and the Trail of the Pytho’, Jack is staying with his cousin Molly and his Uncle Frank in the City Zoo. He sees a python that can’t possibly exist and hears noises in the night. He and Molly investigate but there are many dangerous twists and turns before the mystery is solved.

This adventure is set mostly in a city zoo in Australia. Jack begins to understand his gift. Together he and Molly (a martial arts expert) form a formidable team. Their combined skills help them protect animals from money and power-hungry humans. They make mistakes and take wrong turns but still manage to solve the mystery with little or no help from the professional investigator or other adults around them.

Jack Brown and the Trail of the Python is the second adventure in the Jack Brown series. It reads well as a stand-alone title, but readers might be curious to learn more about Jack’s discovery of his talent. This is a fast-paced adventure with plenty of detail about animals and the inner workings of a zoo. It is sure to appeal to upper primary readers.

Jack Brown and the Trail of the Python, by Greg Pyers
ABC Books 2006
ISBN: 9780733317538

It’s True! Bushrangers Lost Their Heads, by John Barwick

Black Caesar, an enormous African, is credited with being Australia’s first bushranger. His bushranging life began because he didn’t have enough to eat, but didn’t last long when the Governor advertised a rum reward for his capture, alive or dead. From Caesar to Jessie Hickman, bushrangers live exciting lives. But their lives were usually quite short. They lived in an era where shooting a bushranger was rewarded and bumps on skulls of criminals were studied for clues to their behaviour.

Book 23 in the ‘It’s True!’ series from Allen and Unwin collects stories of bushrangers from Australian history and folklore. Barwick looks at famous and less widely-known bushrangers and their exploits. He leaves the reader to make their own judgements about whether they were worthy of sympathy or condemnation, or a mixture of both. There are details of their deeds and their deaths to entice the reluctant reader, and to stir the appetite of the reader wanting more. There are less ‘fact boxes’ than in other titles of this series. Stephen Axelsen’s illustrations show his customary wit and humour. Recommended for middle- upper-primary readers.

It’s True! Bushrangers Lost Their Heads by John Barwick, illustrated by Stephen Axelsen
Allen & Unwin 2006
isbn: 1741142989