The Pink Snowman, by Alan Horsfield

He twisted his head from side to side enjoying the wintry scene. He looked up to admire the falling snow, but then he made a ghastly gasp.
I couldn’t see anything even when I squinted. Nothing.
i turned. Our snowman had turned a very bright pink!

Stuck inside on a snowy day in the Blue Mountains, Krystal is bored. When her father end her out on a fool’s errand, Krystal decides to build a snowman. her friend Jasper helps but, when the snowman comes to life, he has a very odd problem: he has turned pink. Krystal and Jasper must figure out what is causing the problem, and how to fix it.

The Pink Snowman is a short chapter book posing a humorous, unexpected problem. Complemented with black and white line drawings with pink highlights, this is an entertaining read.

The Pink Snowman, by Alan Horsfield
Big Sky Publishing, 2017
ISBN 9781925520439

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

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

To the Moon and Back, by Dianne Bates

Seeing Claire’s anxious face, Mum added, ‘But I love you. And your dad loves you. It’s just that we don’t love one another. Now I’ve found Mac, someone I like more than your dad. And I want to live with my two favourite people – you and Mac. Do you understand?’
Claire nodded, but didn’t really understand. All she understood for sure, was how she felt. She wanted to live with Dad forever.

Claire loves both her parents, but her mum has been keeping secrets from her dad, and now she’s told Claire that they have to leave. Mum and Dad have had lots of fights, and Dad has even hurt Mum sometimes. But he’s never hurt Claire, and she isn’t happy about leaving him behind and going to live with Mum’s new friend, Mac. Hopefully, it will only be temporary and Mum and Dad will reunite so Claire can live with her ‘real’ family.

For younger readers, To the Moon and Back explores the issue of family breakup, and the impact of both domestic violence and new relationships on children. Claire faces problems which all too many young readers will be familiar with, either in their own lives or in the lives of their peers and Bates tries to make the issues accessible by showing them through the eyes of a child.

To the Moon and Back, by Dianne Bates
Big Sky Publishing, 2017
ISBN 9781925520293

Dinosaur Trouble #1 and #2, by Kyle Mewburn & Donovan Bixley

There is only one reason why Arg is bored:
1. He is never allowed to do anything exciting.
Arg is not allowed to go hunting with his dad. He is not allowed to explore the jungle, or play by the lava pits. Arg’s mum thinks everything is too dangerous.

Arg is bored AND hungry. He isn’t allowed to go hunting, or do anything else interesting. But when Mum brings home some eggs, Arg finds out this egg is more interesting that expected. There’s a cute dinosaur inside. Arg’s the only one who knows, and he wants to keep it that way so that his new friend isn’t eaten.

The Great Egg Stink is the first book in the new Dinosaur Trouble series, featuring cave boy Arg and his Stone Age family. the second book, The Lava Melt shake, shows Arg figuring out a way to stop lava from wiping out the village.

Both books are easy to read, short chapter books with black and white illustrations on every spread, and lots of humour mixed with action.

Suitable for newly independent readers, each book stands alone.

Dinosaur Trouble: The Great Egg Stink ISBN 9781775433668
Dinosaur Trouble: The Lava Melt Shake ISBN 9781775433675
By Kyle Mewburn & Donovan Bixley
Scholastic, 2017

Pippa’s Island: The Beach Shack Cafe

Outside, kids were running, shouting, playing and laughing. If I closed my eyes it sounded just like the playground of my old school back in London. But instead of cool and misty air, the sun shone down bright and hot. The air smelled different too. All sea-salty and spicy. And of course the biggest difference was that almost everyone was a stranger.

Pippa and her family might have moved to an idyllic island town, but that doesn’t make it easy. She has left behind friends she’s known since nursery school in London, and moved across the world to Australia, where everything seems different. On top of that, they are living in a caravan in her grandparents’ garden while Mum puts everything into renovating a run-down boatshed she wants to make into a cafe bookshop. Pippa isn’t sure it will work, but when she makes some new friends, things start looking up.

The Beach Shack Cafe is the first title in a new series following Pippa’s new life on Kira Island. Pippa faces the challenges of a new start with the help of her thoughtful, if slightly distracted, mum, and through trial and occasional error.

Young readers will love the island setting and will look forward to more installments.

Pippa’s Island 1: The Beach Shack Cafe, by Belinda Murrell
Random House Australia, 2017
ISBN 9780143783671

Sage Cookson’s Literary Launch by Sally Murphy

‘Come on Sage, it’s not that bad,’ my friend Lucy says, one hand on my shoulder. Í know you can do it.’
Tears spring to my eyes. ‘I don’t think I can, Lucy. I think I’d rather fail!’
I look around the room at the rest of our classmates, all busy working on their task, or talking about it, or trying to get away with doing other things without the teacher, Mr Duke, noticing. I wonder if any of them feels as bad as I do about our assignment.

Ten-year-old Sage Cookson spends a lot of time travelling with her TV chef parents. It’s an exciting and varied life but Sage is often absent from the school she attends with best friend, Lucy. While she stays in touch with Lucy when she’s away, she doesn’t know her other classmates that well. When Mr Duke sets them an assignment to deliver a three-minute no-notes presentation to the class, Sage is terrified. Her normal sunny confidence vanishes. She has no idea what to talk about and she is convinced she will never be able to speak in front of the whole class. At home, everyone is excited about the impending launch of Mum’s cook book, so she keeps her worries to herself.

Confident people always seem that they can do anything, and it can be hard to believe that they ever experience nerves. But often, they have worked hard to be able to overcome the same nervousness that first-timers experience. Sage doesn’t want to disturb her parents when they are so busy. Her parents might be busy but they can also ‘read’ Sage and they want to help her. They, Lucy, and new family friend, Tori, offer a number of strategies, but in the end Sage has to make her own decisions, and to make her own presentation. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Sage Cookson’s Literary Launch, Sally Murphy
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925594010

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

Sage Cookson’s Christmas Ghost by Sally Murphy

‘You stay safe,’ my friend Lucy instructs me. and have a wonderful Christmas. I’ll miss you!’
‘I’ll miss you too!’ I say. Have the best Christmas ever.’
Lucy climbs into her dad’s waiting car, clutching the Christmas present I’ve given her.
‘And no pressie-poking!’ I call.
‘Same to you,’ she says, grinning as I hold up the gift that she has given me. ‘Bye Sage!’

It’s Christmas time and Sage and her TV chef family are flying to Western Australia to film a world record attempt at making the largest ever pavlova. The film crew are already there, now it’s time for Mum, Dad and Sage to meet Myra, who will be making the pavlova record-attempt at an old brickwork factory. There are rumours of a ghost at the brickworks, and when things start to go wrong, Sage begins to wonder if the rumours might be true. There’s nothing Sage likes more than a mystery. Since everyone else is busy, she’ll just have to investigate by herself.

Sage has an exciting life accompanying her parents and their crew around Australia. This year has been particularly exciting with several dramatic episodes. Her parents are busy setting up the event and Sage has time to notice things that others may not. Her sleuthing always ends well, though there are often some tense moments. She doesn’t always get things right but she keeps trying. Sage’s adventures are always exciting as she visits different regions of Australia. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Sage Cookson’s Christmas Ghost, Sally Murphy
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925594058

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

Keeper of the Crystals 6: Eve and the Hidden Giant by Jess Black

There’s nothing like being out in the bush, thought Eve.
Eve loved hearing the bellbirds chiming and the cicadas humming. Most of all, though, she loved it when everything was silent, and all she could hear was her own breathing as we walked, the crunch of hiking books on the rough ground … and, of course, the flap of a dragon’s wings.

Eve, her friend Oliver, and her dragon Ingvar are on a bushwalk. She’s glad it’s school holidays because sometimes it’s tiring to be a Keeper of the Crystals as well as a normal 10-year-old school girl. Even so, when a mythical creature needs her, calls her, she’s more than happy to help. This time, the trio are whisked (blown) away to an island where giants live. The giant who has called Eve and her friends needs her help to bring stability back to the island where ‘creator’ and ‘rogue’ giants are fighting one another.

Eve and the Hidden Giant is the sixth in this fantastical series from New Frontier Publishing. This instalment features earthquakes and tsunamis, and warring adult giants. It’s up to the younger set, both giant and human (and with the help of a dragon) to smooth over old wounds, and forge a new peace. Trotag, a shy young giant, wants to move beyond long-held animosities and show that with some goodwill, all giants can again live in harmony. The real world bookends the fantasy, making these stories suitable for gentle souls. Recommended for newly independent readers ready for non-illustrated texts.

Keeper of the Crystals 6: Eve and the Hidden Giant, Jess Black
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925594003

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