I was ten years old when my parents were killed by pirates.
This did not bother me as much as you might think – I hardly knew my parents. They were a whirling pair of dancers in a photograph my aunt kept on her mantelpiece. There was a jazz band in the corner of that photo, and I’d always been more taken by the man playing the trumpet than my mother’s gauzy scarf or my father’s goofy grin.
When news comes that her parents have been killed by pirates, Bronte Mettlestone isn’t particularly moved. She doesn’t remember her parents, who abandoned her in her the lobby of her Aunt’s apartment building when she was just a baby. But when she is summonsed to the reading of her parents’ will, Bronte’s life changes dramatically. Her parents have left special gifts for each of her other ten aunts – and instructions for Bronte to deliver them. She must do this alone, following the very detailed instructions her parents have left, or something terrible will happen.
Armed only with her parents’ instructions, a chest full of strange gifts and her own wits, Bronte is soon travelling to visit her various aunts who are scattered far and wide and include one who is a veterinarian, another who is monarch of a small kingdom and two others who captain their own cruise ship. As she delivers gifts and follows instructions, Bronte finds herself having unexpected adventures, including rescuing a baby from drowning, inadvertently getting caught in an avalanche, and facing pirates and dragons. Before she reaches her final destination, Bronte begins to suspect that there is more to this quest than a simple delivery of gifts.
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventure of Bronte Mettlestone is a whimsical, adventure-filled novel which young readers will be swept away by. Bronte’s adventure is filled with twists and turns, and characters both odd and captivating. The illustrations (the work of Kelly Canby) scattered throughout the book and the sumptuous gold-embellished hard cover complete the experience, making the book a delight to own.
The Extremely Inconvenient Adventure of Bronte Mettlestone, by Jaclyn Moriarty, illustrations by Kelly Canby
Allen & Unwin, 2017
In the dead of night we run away.
Dad hoists the new pack over my shoulders. I rub at my eyes, drag sleep-flattened hair into a rough ponytail, then trail him out the door. It clicks softly behind us. Dad’s twitchy. I’m twisted in knots.
Mackenzie’s mum is missing. It’s been 114 days since she was last scene in remote Panama. Most people think she must be dead, but Mackenzie’s dad is convinced she is still alive. Without telling Nan, or anyone else, he wakes Mackenzie in the dead of night and takes her to Panama where, he is sure, they will uncover the truth. But, while Mackenzie’s Dad is desperate to find Mum, Mackenzie is desperate to make sure he doesn’t, and that they don’t uncover too much information.
Missing is an emotional, absorbing read. The blend of mystery, adventure and emotion make for an enticing combination which won’t let readers put it down. With chapters set ‘now’ , as Mackenzie deals with her Dad’s desperation and unbalanced approach to solving the mystery, interspersed with chapters set ‘then’, in the days surrounding Mum’s disappearance, and in the months since, as Mackenzie and her father and grandmother struggle to deal with the situation, the format allows readers to gradually piece together what has happened, and to travel with Mackenzie as she moves closer to the truth.
The balance between action and emotion is done well, making for a satisfying, if heart-churning read.
Missing, by Sue Whiting
Walker Books, 2018
Pepsi backed up slowly, away from Mum. She turned and darted behind Granny’s recliner chair. One sausage caught on the carpet and was left behind. Mum stood still, her hands on her hips.
Pepsi poked her head out. She looked at the last sausage still sitting on the carpet, and licked her lips. In a flash, Pepsi bounced out, grabbed the sausage and hurried backwards into her hidey-hole.
There was a loud slurp.
Then a burp.
Rosie has always wanted a dog, so when her dad brings home Pepsi, a rescue dog, she is really excited. the problem is – Pepsi is excited too. She is a young blue heeler, with lots of energy and not much training. From the moment Dad brings her home, she causes trouble – running around, knocking things over and eating whatever she can. But Rosie loves her. The trouble is, Mum isn’t very keen. Pepsi makes lots of mess, digs holes int eh garden, and is much bigger than Mum expected. Rosie needs to figure out how to train Pepsi, and fast, or Pepsi might be sent away.
Pepsi the Problem Puppy is a junior novel about pets and families. Rosie is a dog-loving girl and part of a loving but busy family which includes her younger brother, parents and an elderly great-grandmother. Pepsi is recognisable to anyone who has ever met a young blue heeler – excitable, enthusiastic, but also very loyal. The story moves at a good pace, supported by humorous, warm grey-scale illustrations from the artist Aska.
Kids will love Pepsi and her adventures.
Pepsi the Problem Puppy, by Sandi Parsons, illustrated by Aska
Faraway Nearby Ink, 2017
The barrage was on.
Buildings, bricks, rocks and debris, in the air.
It is 1918, and the War is still going. While the Russians have withdrawn, it seems Germany remains strong, holding out against the allies across the Western Front. Ned and his tired soldier mates are sent into battle at the small village of Villers-Bretonneux. A win here, they are told, could help to turn the war around. But promises about the end of the war have been heard so many times, it is hard to know what to believe. All Ned wants is for the fighting to be over, and to be back home with his family. First he just needs to survive.
1918 is the gripping last installment in the Australia’s Great War series from Scholastic. Each book has seen a different author (disclosure: this reviewer wrote one of the earlier titles, 1915) tell a story set amidst key events of that year of World War One. 1918 brings the final year of the war to life through the eyes of Ned, who struggles with the horror of the war and with his concept of bravery. The role of nurses, and the behind the front treatment of wounded and sick soldiers is also explored, as well as the aftermath of the conscription referendum of 1917, providing lots of insight into the events and impact of the war on those who were there as well as on Australia as a whole.
1918 can be read a stand alone, but young history buffs might be inspred to read the rest of the series.
Australia’s Great War: 1918, by Libby Gleeson
I was eating Weet-Bix at the kids’ table not long after I moved to Pop’s, when I heard Pop and Dad talking.
You should have been more careful, Ray.
Yeah, and now I’m stuck with your bloody accident.
The table was so low it kept me at the height of their knees. If they didn’t look down they forgot I was there.
Since her mother abandoned her as a toddler, Justine has been raised by her Pop, a troubled survivor of the Burma railway. Her dad comes and goes, away for months at time. Her half brothers visit regularly and are sometimes allies, but their different mothers, and the manipulations of their father mean that their relationship is uneasy. School is also difficult for Justine. Not only does she lack the home environment of her classmates, but she also struggles to read, and is seen by teachers as lazy and disruptive.
Amongst so much neglect, Justine must make do. She finds solace in her Pop’s chickens, who she feeds and talks to, and in the Choke, a narrow opening in the Murray River at the back of their house. Brief glimpses of kindness from fellow humans are rare, but somehow Justine manages to survive again and again.
The Choke is a haunting story of poverty and neglect. Justine, as the youngest member of a broken family, has a life which readers will see is cruel and unfair, but which is portrayed with a frightening, heartbreaking realism.
A troubling, powerful read.
The Choke, by Sofie Laguna
Allen & Unwin, 2017
Tarin pushed his dark and troubled thoughts aside. Luuka was right. They were bruised and battered, they had lost much of the Offering, but they were alive. He touched the owl pendant at his throat.
Thank you Spirit of Owl for protecting us. Thank you, Spirit of Wolf, for defending us.
Then he focused once more on the churning water ahead.
With winter rapidly drawing in, Tarin’s quest to save Mammoth Clan by finding the Mother and presenting her with the Offering, is seeming increasingly unachievable. One of his travelling companions, Kaija, is badly wounded, and they are without medicine, food and shelter. When help comes, it is from an unlikely source, but even with safety and friendship, Tarin must figure out a way to overcome his own doubts and continue on his perilous journey.
Clan of Wolves is the second title in the Tarin of the mammoths series. Set in the stone age, with mystical elements including Tarin’s ability to connect with animal guides, the plot is strong and the world in which Tarin and his friends move is as intriguing as it is well-defined. In this book we see Tarin, who has been seen in his own clan as a weakling, becoming ever stronger as he uncovers his own strengths and learns to accept help and guidance.
Perfect for readers for middle primary and up, this is an outstanding series.
Clan of Wolves, by Jo Sanhu
Penguin Books, 2017
‘I…’ I begin to argue, but my dad stops me, leaning forward over the table.
‘Miri, it would be unwise of me to say too much for both our sakes, but I will say this: there are things I used to be involved in – that I used to believe in – that I am no longer involved in or believe in. If you proceed with your current course, there are things I cannot help you with. Matters in which I would be more of a hindrance to you than a help if you were to call upon me. Do you understand what I’m saying?’
Miri should be in high school, but her brilliance and aptitude for medicine have seen her placed in an elite college program and invited to be part of an international secret society. She is thrilled to be part of the Society,and eager to engage in the opportunities it offers – especially the chance to do her own research, unhampered by the need for ethics approvals. But when her research proposal is accepted, she finds herself whisked away to a secret location where she must compete with other young researchers. Miri’s experiment means she is awake night after night , giving the opportunity to see that not everything at the research centre is at it seems. As her doubts grow, she isn’t sure who she can trust, or even if she’ll get out alive.
The Fifth Room is a blend of mystery, romance and psychological thriller. A fairly easy read, it explores concepts surrounding moral dilemmas in an intriguing setting.
The Fifth Room, by A. J. Rushby
That was when he noticed the water. It was all around him as big and deep as the sea Mr Nadeem spoke about. It splashed at the trunk of the tree just below his charpai.
‘Hei! I’m going to drown.’
Jehan closed his eyes to pray, then opened them again.
It wasn’t a dream.
Jehan’s life is uncomplicated. he goes to school, plays cricket with his friends, and helps with the chores his parents give him. His little brother might annoy him sometimes, and others he wishes someone else could fetch the water, but really he is happy with his close knit family. But when the monsoon comes early and causes a massive flood, Jehan is swept away on his bed – his charpai – and finds himself stranded in a tress, with the waters all around him.
As the days stretch by, with no rescue, Jehan has to use all his resources to figure out how to stay alive. Then he rescues a dog who has also lost her family and the pair offer each other hope as they struggle for survival.
Jehan and the Quest of the Lost Dog is a charming story of survival, set in flood-torn Pakistan. Hawke gives an insight into life in rural Pakistan and to the impact of natural disasters, with the events based on the real-life floods which ravaged the country in 2010.
As well as being an intriguing read on its own, Jehan and the Quest of the Lost Dog is also a companion book to Kelsey and the Quest of the Porcelain Doll.
Jehan and the Quest of the Lost Dog, by Rosanne Hawke
This time there’ll be no hiding at the back of the classroom, hoping no one notices me. No pretending to have a stomach ache or locking myself in the toilets to cry. In just nine hours I’ll be standing in front of a while class of the little monsters, trying not to make some kind of terrible mistake. Although I think I’ve already made one, taking this job in the first place.
Every teacher is nervous when they start their first job. But Zelda Stitch has an extra thing to worry about: how to keep the fact that she’s a witch secret from her students. especially when she isn’t even good at being a witch. When term starts she soon realises that it isn’t going to be easy. When the children play tricks on her, she struggles to keep her magic hidden. And it seems she isn’t the only witch in the room. One of her students seems to developing witch skills. And someone in the school has put a hex on the principal.
The Cursed First Term of Zelda Stitch is a humorous diary-format novel, complemented by equally humorous illustrations by the author. Zelda is bumbling but likeable, and supported by an interesting cast including her seemingly objectionable cat, Barnaby.
An easy read, with plenty to keep readers turning pages.
The Cursed First Term of Zelda Stitch, by Nicki Greenberg
Allen & Unwin, 2017
Mum went out to buy a new pair of gumboots,
but came home with a rabbit.
I named him Gumboots.
Gumboots the rabbit is a much loved pet, but the thing he does best is escape. Today, he chooses the moment Mum is in the shower and the narrator’s friend Norman is at the door to escape. Soon Mum (wrapped in a towel) and the two children are in pursuit. As they move through the town,more people join in the chase – a neighbour with a plate of cakes,a man with shiny black shoes, even a mum with a crying baby. Finally, Gumboots leads them to a park, where everyone feels more rested, and Gumboots has a surprise.
The Great Rabbit Chase is an adorable picture book about happiness, slowing down -and rabbits. Blackwood, best known for her gentle, life-filled watercolour illustrations, shows that her creative talents extend to writing with a similar touch of gentle whimsy.
The Great Rabbit Chase, by Freya Blackwood