Little Witch 1: Secrets and Spells by Aleesah Darlison

Courtney squeezed her eyes together, peering through the rain beating against the car window.
‘What a dog box,’ she moaned, staring at the cottage with its rusted tin roof and paint-peeling walls.
‘No, I take that back. That house is so ugly not even a dog would live there.
Dad twisted around to glare at Courtney. ‘I know this isn’t our idea of fun, Court.’
‘You’re right about that,’ Courtney said. This place is more like my idea of torture.’

Courtney Little and her parents have come to stay in Mixton Bay following the death of the grandmother she’s never met. Her father and her grandmother haven’t spoken in years, and Courtney isn’t thrilled that she’s being dragged to this small town to fix up and sell her grandmother’s house. But now she’s here, she’s curious. What happened here? Why did her father leave? Why is he so grumpy? What was her grandmother like? She discovers that although she never met her grandmother, her grandmother knew about her and has left a book for her. She meets Justice, surfer and potential friend. Life in Mixton Bay may be more interesting than first seemed possible.

Secrets and Spells’ is the first instalment in a magical new series from Aleesah Darlison and Big Sky Publishing. Courtney’s life until now has been a gypsy trail of moving from place to place as her architect father and decorator mother buy, renovate and sell houses. This house may be different, as there is history and mystery here, but Courtney is not convinced. Courtney’s friend-making reluctance and inexperience initially manifest as grumpiness but are overcome by the friendliness of Justice and others. Themes include family, forgiveness, magic and communication. Look out for more magic to come. Recommended for independent readers and lovers of magic.

Little Witch 1: Secrets and Spells, Aleesah Darlison
Big Sky Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925520101

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

Little Lunch Triple the Trouble by Danny Katz ill Mitch Vane

The Body Bus
A truck was parked in the playground.
It was parked behind a portable classroom.
On the side of the truck was a sign. The sign said “Body Bus”.

The Little Lunch crew: Melanie, Rory, Tamara, Battie, Debra-Jo and Atticus are back with three adventures in the classroom and the playground. The Body Bus has the six classmates trying to work out why the Body Bus is in the school yard. In The Band, it rains and Mrs Gonsha races out to rescue a school jumper. She leaves Rory in charge of the class while she dries off, and the classroom transforms then transforms again. In the final story, Kiss Chasey Oval, sees a revival of the game half the class seem to love, and the other half would rather avoid. There are illustrations on every opening.

School is a place for learning, but the learning doesn’t all happen in the classroom, or in scheduled lessons. The six characters in this series have individual strengths and challenges, worries and confidences. Together they represent a broad range of personalities likely to appear in any classroom. Young readers will recognise themselves, their friends and their dilemmas. Originally released as individual stories, Triple the Trouble presents three complete adventures in the same book. Funny and real, the stories in the Little Lunch series will appeal to newly independent readers keen to see themselves reflected in their reading.

Little Lunch, Triple the Trouble, by Danny Katz ill Mitch Vane Black Dog Books 2017 ISBN: 9781925381825

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

Attack of the Giant Robot Zombie Mermaid by Matt Cosgrove

Once upon a slime-covered planet …
… in the deep blue depths of outer space there lived a zombie mermaid.
The youngest and grossest of six annoying sisters, the zombie mermaid lived in the grand outer space palace of her father, the Meerkat. (She was adopted) He was a mean and flatulent ruler of the intergalactic kingdom, and a fast-food fiend!
The walls of the palace were made of french fries and the roof of hot dogs! It was a greasy sight to behold, and it’s making me hungry.

The zombie mermaid is waiting her turn to visit the fun park above their planet where humans went for holidays. Each of her sisters has visited and returned with tales of the wonderful time they’d had. Now, as soon as she turns fifteen years old, it will be her turn. Finally, she reaches her fifteenth birthday and sets out for the fun park, hungry for brains. She has a wonderful time then towards the end of the day spies the perfect brains. But before she can eat this tasty treat, the park closes and she retreats. When she returns home, instead of sharing stories with her sisters, she pines away in her room. Brains, all she wants is brains. Each spread is full of guts, gore, and gratuitous asides.

Attack of the Giant Robot Zombie Mermaid’ is the result of letting Matt Cosgrove near a fairy tale. Text is altered and added to, images are distorted and ‘revised’. It’s truly disgusting. And dreadful. And gory. And more. Readers will lap up the horribleness and laugh at the barely recognisable tale that sits underneath this multi-gory story. Indeed, readers may well be tempted to plunge elbow-deep into a fairytale, dismember and rebuild it in their own style, words and images. You have been warned. Recommended for independent readers.

Attack of the Giant Robot Zombie Mermaid, Matt Cosgrove
Scholastic 2017 ISBN: 9781743811702

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

A Dog’s Tale by Barry Jonsberg ill Tom Jellett

‘No,’ said Mum.
‘What do you mean?’ I asked.
‘I mean, no. Definitely not, it’s not happening, forget it, Buckley’s, not a snowflake’s chance in hell.’
Her mouth was a slit and her eyes were hard. ‘Now do you understand, Michael?’ She only calls me Michael when she’s angry.
‘Not entirely,’ I said.

Michael wants a dog. Really, really wants a dog. Unfortunately, neither his mum nor his dad share his enthusiasm. They articulate many reasons, and although he has an answer to every objection, the answer is still no. While he tries to change their minds, he sets about showing his parents just how responsible he is. There are colour illustrations on every opening.

A Dog’s Tale’ is a new title in the popular and engaging Mates series from Omnibus Books for young readers. Each tells a particularly Australian-flavoured story, full of humour. Michael is not the first child to want a dog, but his determination to prove his responsibility is unparalleled. No effort is too much, if it might change the decision about a dog. Love the illustrations from Tom Jellett, particularly the dog Michael takes for a walk. Recommended for newly-independent readers.

A Dog’s Tale, Barry Jonsberg, Tom Jellett
Omnibus Books 2017
ISBN: 9781742991399

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

Wombat Warriors by Samantha Wheeler

‘Look out!’ cried Mum as Dad braked to miss a large white duck waddling across the driveway.
I pressed my face to the window. I knew staying with Aunt Evie would be different, but I hadn’t expected an old sandstone cottage almost ready to collapse. Nor was I prepared for the raggle-taggle gypsy striding towards us. I swallowed hard. Tall and thin, with her dark curly hair tied up in a red scarf, Aunt Evie didn’t look anything like Dad. Plus, she wore socks with her sandals. Dad never wore sandals.

Nine-year-old Minnie, known as ‘Mouse’, is accustomed to being looked after by her loving but very protective parents. So when they tell her they are going to Ireland and she’s going to stay with the aunt she hardly knows, who lives in country South Australia, she’s understandably apprehensive. As if that’s not enough, she also discovers that the house is home to a wombat called Miss Pearl and a duck called Pumpkin. AND she has to attend school while she stays with Aunt Evie. Altogether, it’s not shaping up to be much fun. But Miss Pearl immediately befriends her, and despite a rocky start, school’s not all bad. But there’s a problem. While Mouse very quickly comes to love Miss Pearl, not everyone in the district is as fond of wombats.

Mouse is not used to independence, making her own decisions, and she’s a bit gobsmacked that she has to stay with her quirky aunt in the country. She’s not that excited about Aunt Evie’s neighbour either, and her neighbour’s not that thrilled about city girls. But she does find a friend in her neighbour’s son Harry. Quiet Mouse discovers her voice here in the country where not everyone loves all the wildlife. Her stay with Aunt Evie tips her world upside down in ways she could never have predicted. Themes of friendship, compromise, family and wildlife. Recommended for independent readers.

Wombat Warriors, Samantha Wheeler
UQP 2017 ISBN: 9780702259586

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

May Tang: A New Australian by Katrina Beikoff

If I were a bird, I’d want to be a bird in a cage. Birds that sing with happiness are in cages. They are looked after, they are loved and they belong to a family. I think that’s the best life for a bird.

Eleven-year-old May Tang lives with her extended family in Shanghai. Her brother is in Australia learning English, but otherwise she’s happy with her family and her friends and their lives. But it is 1989 and change is coming to China, whether she realises it or not. Almost before she can imagine it, her family is split, and she and her mother are travelling to Australia, with no plans to return. May is not happy, despite assurances from her family that this is a good outcome for them all. Her arrival in Sydney is confronting, particularly when her beloved brother greets and then leaves them. May realises that no matter how she feels, this is reality and her mother needs her help. Slowly, May adjusts to this very foreign new world.

Australia’s migrant story is an ongoing one, with new arrivals every day. There are many reasons that families come here, making great sacrifices to do so. May Tang has been relatively protected from the political atmosphere in China, but events in Tianenmen Square in 1989 herald a change for her. This is a story of family, of growing up, of finding ways to survive and thrive when your world is turned upside down. Mei Li, her grandfather’s protected and loved bird in a cage, sings a beautiful song. May discovers that there is life beyond the safety of her family home and that there are many songs to be sung in freedom. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

May Tang: A New Australian, Katrina Beikoff

Omnibus Books 2017 ISBN: 9781742990743

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

The Boy and the Spy, by Felice Arena

‘I’m a spy,’ the man adds bluntly. ‘But I guess you’ve already figured that out – why else would an American be in Italy? And because of this unexpected twist of circumstances, my life is now in your hands. So it’s up to you to decide whether you owe me and will save my life. What’s my fate? Are you going to turn me in?’
The boy sighs heavily and shakes his head.

Since he was abandoned as a baby, Antonio’s life has never been easy, though his adoptive mamma loves him with her all her heart. Now, though, war has arrived and life is harder than ever. His only joy is drawing cartoons of the German soldiers, a joy which lands him in trouble. When he is rescued by an American spy, he finds unexpected pleasure in helping the man, even though it means putting his own life on the line.

The Boy and the Spy is an action packed adventure set against the backdrop of World War Two in rural Italy. As well as action, there is a a heart warming story of a boy’s struggle to belong. Young readers will be fascinated by this insight into wartime life, and the treatment of illegitimate children, worked into an absorbing adventure story.

Good stuff.

The Boy and the Spy, by Felice Arena
Puffin Books, 2017
ISBN 9780143309284

Too Many Friends, by Kathryn Apel

I like my friends.
I like to be with ALL of my friends.
But sometimes my friends
aren’t friendly with
each other.

Tahnee has lots of friends, and she likes to do different things with them. But it isn’t easy having so many friends – some of her friends don’t like each other, or like doing different things, so it gets hard to be a good friend to everyone. Luckily, Tahnee has a big heart, and wise, loving support from her parents and her teacher, Miss Darling.

Too Many Friends is a delightful, warm-hearted verse novel about friendship. Like most classrooms, Tahnee’s year two class is populated by kids with a range of interests, problems and personalities. Miss Darling is energetic, enthusiastic and loves her job. Tahnee loves Miss Darling and she loves school, but she finds it hard to know how to keep her friends happy, and still do the things she loves, and when one of her friends stops talking to her, she needs to figure out what to do. Her solution is lovely.

This is Kat Apel’s third verse novel, and shows the same tender touch as her previous work.

Lovely.

Too Many Friends, by Kat Apel
QUP, 2017
ISBN 9780702259760

The Beast of Hushing Wood, by Gabrielle Wang

Water swirls around my body, dragging me down as if I’m a sack filled with rocks.
Weeds hold me, wrap their feathery arms around me. I kick to get free and my legs scrape against sandpaper boulders.
Bubbles fizz, rise, gurgle, bloody like raspberry lemonade.
‘You will soon be mine, Ziggy,’ the river says lovingly.
A huge shadow swims alongside me. Fur like quicksilver. Yellow eyes glinting.
I fight for air, for life.

Ziggy Truegood is worried. Her father and brothers have moved away, her grandfather is losing his memory and everyone in her tiny town is growing angry. Her beloved Hushing Wood is changing, too, growing dark and scary. And every night Ziggy dreams of her death; drowning on her twelfth birthday. then a strange new boy arrives in town. Ziggy is strangely drawn to him, but she can’t be sure if he is there to help her, or if he is the cause of all the troubles.

The Beast of Hushing Wood is a finely woven blend of magical realism and adventure, set in an at once familiar yet fantastical world, much of which is modern, yet is quaintly different. Ziggy, who loves nature, can see and things which the other townspeople can’t, and this is what puts her in danger.

With the added touch of Wang’s fantastical grey-scale illustrations, The Beast of Hushing Wood is beautiful.

The Beast of Hushing Wood, by Gabrielle Wang
Penguin, 2017
ISBN 9780143309178

The Blue Cat, by Ursula Dubosarsky

A few streets away, a car putting down the twisted hill. It halted outside a block of mulberry-brick flats. A small boy emerged from the back seat, out onto the pavement. He was carrying a suitcase. He stood there, looking upwards. His skin gleamed like snow.
in the middle of the road a sleek cat lay stretched out, absorbing the sunshine.

It is 1942, and Columba (who was named after a nun) is growing up in war time Sydney. A new boy – a refugee from ‘You-rope’ – appears in the neighborhood, at about the same time as a strange blue cat. Columba is intrigued by the new boy, Ellery, though he doesn’t speak English and Columba struggles to understand where he has come from and why he is here. This isn’t the only thing she struggles to understand. Why are the cloaks being put forward for an hour? Why do the adults talk about ‘taking people’s minds off things? And, with Singapore falling, and regular air raid practices, will they be safe here in Sydney?

The Blue Cat is an enchanting piece of writing. Historical fiction with just a tiny twist of magical realism, it is a gentle story of the confusion of a child faced with frightening, not-quite-understood events. With an insight into how the childhood experiences of Australians during the war years, and to harbourside Sydney life, this is an entrancing read.

The Blue Cat, by Ursula Dubosarsky
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760292294