Chook Doolan: Books 5-8, by James Roy

My other name is Chook. People call me that because chickens are sometimes called chooks, and I’m a bit of a chicken. That means I’m scared of hings, which is true. I do get scared of things. A lot.

Chook – also known as Simon Henry Doolan – is scared of a lot of things. Holidays away from home, school camps (they’re might be snakes!), talking to new people, and crowds. Luckily, deep down he is pretty brave, and with support from those around him he manages to find ways to confront his fears.

The Chook Doolan series features a likable, everyday kid, with lots of worries. Chook is honest about his failings, but also draws on everything he can to confront his problems and to find a way forward. Young readers will relate to many of the things he fears, as well as to the gentle humour of the stories.

The text is accessible to early readers, and is supported by illustrations on most spreads. Each book stands alone, meaning that these four new i=offerings, plus the previous four, can be read in any order.

Chook Doolan: On the Road (ISBN 9781925381566)
Chook Doolan: Un-happy Camper (ISBN 9781925381573)
Chook Doolan: Up and Away (ISBN 9781925381580)
Chook Doolan: Let’s Do Diwali (ISBN 9781925381597)
All by James Roy, Illustrated by Lucinda Gifford
Walker Books, 2017

Polly & Buster: The Wayward Witch & the Feelings Monster, by Sally Rippin

Buster shrugs. ‘Not every witch can be a Black Witch,’ he says. ‘But you’ll be special at something, I just know it! And even if you never find that thing you are good at, you will always be special to me.’
Polly feels her heart squeeze with love for Buster. She throws her arms around his big, thick waist. ‘You are the loveliest friend a witch could ever have.’

Polly and Buster have always been friends – but their friendship has to be a secret, because witches like Polly are not supposed to be friends with monsters like Buster. Being secret friends isn’t their only problem. Polly is struggling at school, because none of her spells ever work, and Buster is hiding a secret: he gets bigger or smaller depending on his emotions, which is very un-monsterlike. When their classes cross paths on a school excursion, their secrets are in danger of being revealed, and Polly has to choose between being suddenly popular, or being true to herself – and her friend.

The Wayward Witch and the Feelings Monster is the first title featuring witch Polly and monster Buster, and young readers will adore the characters, the story and the format: hard cover with gold trim and black and white illustrations. While the story is self contained, readers will be keen to know what happens net and will eagerly await the next installment.

Polly and Buster: The Wayward Witch and the Feelings Monster, by Sally Rippin
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2017
ISBN 9781760129019

Super Con-Nerd, by Oliver Phommavanh

My name is Connor and I’m a nerd, so my friends call me Con-nerd. Well, my old friends did, back at Green hill Primary. I’ve only been here at Kentsworth High School for a week, so nobody has called me Con-nerd. They don’t even call me a nerd.
That’s because this place is full of nerds.

In primary school, Connor had a great group of friends. They thought he was a nerd, but that was one of the things they liked about him. This year, though, Connor is at highschool, and his friends are at different schools. He’s at an academic selective school, and everyone there is smart. Suddenly, Connor isn’t the smartest one in his class. In fact, he isn’t anywhere near the top.  With no friends to talk to, and everyone around seemingly super-smart, Connor isn’t sure if he’ll survive his first term of high school, let alone make his family proud, or have time to follow his true dream – of being a comic book creator.

Super Con-Nerd is the second story featuring Connor, who is smart, funny, loyal to his friends and an entertaining narrator. This installment stands alone satisfactorily, but it will be especially enjoyed by those who have already met Connor in the first book.

Suitable for readers of all abilities, Super Con-Nerd is a satisfying read.

Super Con-Nerd, by Oliver Phommavanh
Puffin Books 2017
ISBN 9780143306535

Our Race for Reconciliation, by Anita Heiss

I hear Mum again, and almost wish I had a different name, like Cathy. And then I see her, my hero, Cathy Freeman. In my mind she is running gracefully on the track; she is smiling and isn’t even showing any effect of the heat of the sun. She’s breathing at the correct pace, not like me, panting away. And then I imagine I am her, turning my legs over in smooth rotation, faster and faster, focusing on the finish line, and before I know it, I’m there. I’ve overtaken the two girls who were ahead of me.

Mel Gordon loves to run. Her idol is Cathy Freeman, Australia’s best sprinter. Mel wants to be as good as Cathy one day – and represent Australia in the Olympics. First, though, she wants to see Cathy run at the Sydney Olympics, and win gold.

The year 2000 turns out to be a big one for Mel, as for many Australians. As well as the looming Olympics, a letter to Cathy Freeman leads to her promising to visit the school during Reconciliation Week. And before that, Mel’s family are planning a road trip to Sydney to take part in Corroboree 2000, a landmark march to celebrate Australia’s indigenous heritage, and push for reconciliation and, particularly, an apology for the stolen generation. Mel’s Nanna is a member of the Stolen Generation, making the march especially significant and, while Mel and her twin brother Sam love sport and school, there are times when they have to educate their non-Murri classmates about issues surrounding race and equality.

Part of Scholastic’s My Australian Story imprint, Our Race for Reconciliation explores major events of the turn of the millenium in Australia, with a special focus on the issue of Reconciliation, a topic which is always important in Australia, but is particularly significant in 2017, being the 50th anniversary year of the 1967 Referendum, which saw Australians vote for recognition of Aboriginal people. Mel’s story of wanting to emulate a role model is one which many children, from varied backgrounds, will connect with, and Heiss weaves the various issues and historical events into the story in a wonderful blend of entertainment and education.

A must-read for middle and upper primary children.

Our Race for Reconciliation, by Anita Heiss
Omnibus Books, 2017
ISBN 9781760276119

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