Sage Cookson’s Stormy Weather by Sally Murphy

‘Where are you going this time’ my friend Lucy asks when I tell her I will be away from school the following week.
‘Townsville,’ I say. ‘In Queensland.’
‘Is it near Crystal Bay?’ she asks.
I shake my head. Last year Lucy came with us when we visited Crystal Bay. It was a fun holiday, even though I was locked up in a storeroom by a mean lady called Nancy who thought I was spying on her.

Ten-year-old Sage Cookson accompanies her television chef parents whenever they travel to shoot an episode of their famous cooking show. It could be lonely, and she does miss her best friend Lucy, but each trip is full of adventure and often intrigue. This time, the family are off to Townsville in Queensland in search of sun, sand, sea and seafood. Just off the coast, headed their way is a cyclone. Their time in Townsville is nothing like they thought it would be, but Sage and her family manage to bring their own sunshine. And she nails her school assignment! Text is large, images accompany every chapter heading and as a bonus, there’s a recipe at the end!

Sage’s life is an unusual one. Mostly, it’s an adventure and she has caring parents who make sure she is safe AND completes her school work. She manages her social isolation by keeping in regular contact with her friend, Lucy. She can also rely on the long-time crew of her parents’ show. But she’s never experienced a cyclone from this close and this trip is more ‘exciting’ than she could have imagined. In the aftermath, she finds a way to help the helpers. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Sage Cookson’s Stormy Weather, Sally Murphy New Frontier Publishing 2018 ISBN: 9781925594263
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Keeper of the Crystals 7: Eve and the Rebel Fairies by Jess Black

Eve felt sleepy. She and Oscar had been out all day with Eve’s Dragon, Ingvar, enjoying the brilliant summer weather and celebrating school holidays. It was past their bedtime, but she and Oscar needed to get his bed sorted out before they could crash.
‘It was nice of your gran to let me stay for a few days while Mum and Dad are away.’ Oscar yawned as he helped Eve unroll the spare mattress.

Eve, her friend Oscar and Eve’s dragon, Ingvar are back in a new magical adventure. This time, it’s the fairies who need help. There’s only a finite amount of magic in the enchanted world and two rogue fairies are ensuring that it’s being used faster than is sustainable. If they are to help safe the tree of life, Eve and co will need to find the fairies and somehow convince them to change their ways. Illustrations accompany each chapter heading.

Keeper of the Crystals is a series of early chapter books. In each, Eve is able to access the worlds of magical creatures. In fact, she is called to help when other worlds are in danger. Although she can’t fly herself, she does have a companion dragon who is happy to carry her (and Oliver) if and when necessary. ‘Eve and the Rebel Fairies’ has a strong message about the effect humans are having on the planet and the consequences for other occupants. An adventure for lovers of magic and of our world. Recommended for newly confident readers.

Keepers of the Crystals 7: Eve and the Rebel Fairies, Jess Black New Frontier Publishing 2018 ISBN: 9781925594218

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

Little Stunt Riding Hood by Matt Cosgrove

Once upon a fine, fully sick, hotted-up motorcycle…
… there revved a little daredevil, making the loudest noise you ever heard!
‘Oh, he is so annoying!’ the neighbours would proclaim as he roared past on his motorbike.

In a new ‘Epic Fail Tale’ from Matt Cosgrove, Little Red Riding Hood gets a makeover. No character is safe. Little Red Riding Hood undergoes not just a gender change, but now he’s riding a motorbike and bringing mayhem. The neighbourhood will never be the same. Spreads are interspersed with illustrations, thought bubbles, puns and word subsititutions. There’s even a bonus Seven Ninjas graphic story at the end.

Don’t say you weren’t warned! ‘Little Stunt Riding Hood’ is the wildest adventure on two wheels, through the most windy, convoluted, gross, punny ‘forest’ you never imagined. This is no fairy tale. But it is a cautionary tale. Just not in any way you’ve ever been cautioned before. Recommended for newly independent readers, and those transitioning from fully illustrated texts. Pun for everyone.

Little Stunt Riding Hood, Matt Cosgrove Scholastic 2018 ISBN: 9781742992501
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Freaks on the Loose by Leigh Hobbs

Miss Corker was a brand-new teacher and she was about to meet 4F, her brand-new class.
The headmaster introduced the children one by one.

‘Freaks on the Loose’ is two books in one, combining 4F for Freaks’ and ‘Freaks Ahoy’. In the first instalment, 4F have seen off another teacher and they see no reason that Miss Corker won’t soon follow. They have a reputation for awfulness and it’s well earned. Miss Corker consults The Teacher’s Handbook and makes it to the end of the first day. Just. Next day, though, there’s another new teacher, Miss Schnorkel. And Miss Schnorkel appears to have the measure of this legendary class. In the second story, Miss Schnorkel takes the class on an excursion aboard a boat. They visit a ship of retired teachers and of course mayhem ensues. Text is minimal and most of each page is filled with black and white images of the dreadful students and their appalling behaviour.

It’s difficult to decide whether this is a warning to aspiring teachers, or a manual for students. Either way, it’s full of giggles and guffaws as teacher and students get to know one another. Leigh Hobb’s iconic illustrations and monstrous characters are perfectly pitched at newly independent readers. Recommended for teachers and students alike.

Freaks on the Loose, Leigh Hobbs, Allen&Unwin 2018 ISBN: 9781780294311
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Off the Track, by Cristy Burne

Harry’s perfect life was straying way off track. he looked pleadingly at Mum. Surely she could see? Spending an entire weekend tramping around stinking-hot snake-filled scrub was a horrible mistake. But doing it without a phone? That was just brutal.

Harry is not happy. Not only has his mum moved him from his comfortable life in Sydney to live in Perth, but now she’s agreed to spend the weekend hiking in the bush with her old friend Ana, and her daughter Deepika. There are snakes, and spiders and insects in the bush – and, worst of all, no mobile phones allowed. Well, not for Harry, anyway. Mum seems to be the only one allowed to have her phone. She says it’s in case of emergencies, but Harry knows she’ll be using it every chance she gets. Out on the Bibbulmun Track, his worst fears are realised – there really are snakes and spiders. And every time they are in range, Mum has her phone out. Then, just when he starts to enjoy himself, Harry discovers that things really can go wrong out in the bush.

Off the Track highlights the Australian outdoors, and especially Western Australia’s iconic Bibbulmun Track, in a pleasing blend of adventure and self-discovery. Many young readers will relate to Harry’s dismay of being ‘forced’ to live without every day conveniences like flushing toilets, beds, and technology. Others will love the outdoors setting and the taste of hiking the story offers.

Gripping junior fiction.

Off the Track, by Cristy Burne
Fremantle Press, 2018
ISBN 9781925591743

Turtle Trackers by Samantha Wheeler

Three spine-tingling wails pierced the night air. ‘Beach stone-curlew,’ I murmured, huddling closer to Mum.
A warm, salty gust blasted my face and waves crashed on the shore ahead. The people in front of us whispered, their voices ghostlike in the dark.
‘Everyone ready?’ asked the ranger, Shane, as our group of twenty hurried after him along the track. Shoes shuffled across the coarse sand.

Ten-year-old Isaac and his mother live south of Bundaberg in Queensland, where his mum manages The Pines Holiday Village, a council-owned caravan park. Since Dad is no longer around, Isaac helps his mum as much as he can. In between, he’s a huge fan of the local wildlife, particularly the turtles. Now there’s a full moon and turtles are coming ashore to lay eggs on the beach where they were born. But as well as too much work and not enough time to spend with his friends or the turtles, there are grumpy bloggers, dogs and cats to contend with. Isaac has his work cut out to keep the turtle nests safe until the eggs hatch and a new generation of turtles can make their first journey safely to the sea.

Isaac is doing it tough. He’s lost his dad, his mum is working too hard and no one seems to appreciate how hard he’s trying to keep everyone happy. This is Samantha Wheeler’s third title featuring young characters working to save iconic Australian animals. Each includes a fast-paced adventure and information about animals and the challenges they face for survival in the environment they share with humans. The bright covers on these fictional but also informative novels are very engaging. Recommended for mid-primary readers

Turtle Trackers, Samantha Wheeler UQP 2018 ISBN: 9780702259951

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

The Endsister by Penni Russon

In the locked attic of the house on Mortlake Road in south-west London, near a bend in the River Thames, something stirs.
It shudders, a cobwebbed thing, tattered and dusty, so long forgotten, so long forgetting.
It is hardly anything, but it is almost something, disturbing the shadows, shrinking from the approaching light.

An Australian family inherit a grand old house in London and move from their rented farmhouse to live at Outhwaite House. There Else, Clancy, the twins and Sibbi, along with their parents adjust to a new life. Some settle in more easily than others to this old house – some begin to thrive and others succumb to the secrets trapped within the walls. Told from multiple viewpoints, this is a story of endings and beginnings, and of all things in between.

It takes skill to write a cohesive story from multiple (different-aged) viewpoints without sacrificing the building tension and keeping the reader connected. Penni Russon nails it. Each dweller in Outhwaite House is given a voice and their own story, and together they weave a wonderful, mysterious story that will keep the reader page-turning to the very last. Highly recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

The Endsister, Penni Russon Allen & Unwin 2018 ISBN: 9781741750652
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Sam’s Surfboard Showdown by Allayne L. Webster and Amanda S. Clarke

The day Finn Hester walked into my classroom was officially the worst day of my life.
For starters, Finn was good-looking Superhuman good-looking. With curly black hair, neon-white teeth and the brightest blue eyes you ever saw. Me?
Well, I don’t want to toot my own horn (that’s what my mum calls it when I say something good about myself), but actually happen to be quite handsome. All my Aunties tell me so. Even Aunt Molly, and she’s practically blind.

Ten-year-old Sam is used to being the best at pretty much everything in his world, particularly sport. Just like Sam’s mum is used to being the best cook. Then Finn and his family arrive. Finn is also good at everything, including Sam’s favourite Nippers. Before he realises it, Finn is impressing all Sam’s friends. Sam begins to feel left out and ramps up the competition. As does his mum. But when the ultimate competition goes wrong, Sam discovers that winning isn’t everything. Text font is large and there are scattered motifs throughout.

It’s difficult for Sam to adjust when his position with his friends and at school is challenged by a newcomer. No one else seems to be worried when Finn arrives and that makes Sam even more determined to win. At all costs. It takes an incident in the ultimate competition for Sam to realise that winning isn’t everything. A contemporary story featuring indigenous characters. Recommended for newly independent readers ready for a longer chapter book.

Sam’s Surfboard Showdown, Allayne L. Webster and Amanda S. Clarke Omnibus Books 2018 ISBN: 9781742991894
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Bush and Beyond: Stories from Country by Tjalaminu Mia, Jessica Lister, Jaylon Tucker and Cheryl Kickett-Tucker

I’ve got a secret and I’m so excited!
Actually, I’ve got two secrets and that makes me feel really happy inside.
‘What are you grinning at, Debbie?’ my brother Billy asks.
‘Nothing.’ I don’t want him guessing my secrets.

Bush and Beyond is a collection of stories from Country. The four stories were originally published as individual books. ‘Bush Secrets’ is the story of Debbie and Dada Keen who share a bushwalk and in ‘Yippee! Summer Holidays’ they spend more time together. In ‘Barlay’ Nan tells Sarah and her siblings about a traditional bush protector. ‘Lucky Thamu’ sees Eli and Thamu take a trip into the bush near Kalgoorlie. Each story is accompanied by black and white illustrations on most openings.

Bush and Beyond celebrates the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren, from the perspective of individual grandchildren. It also offers an understanding about the importance of passing knowledge between the generations. This collection offers Aboriginal children an opportunity to see their world reflected in literature, and everyone else a peek into what it means to be indigenous Australian. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Bush and Beyond: Stories from Country, Tialaminu Jia, Jessica Lister, Jaylon Tucker and Cheryl Kickett-Tucker
Fremantle Press 2018 ISBN: 9781925591132

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

The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby

They were met with a view of a large garden, but unlike the welcoming front of the house, now flowers bloomed and no bumblebees buzzed. Everything was dark and drenched in shadow because of what lay to the left – a gigantic tree that loomed over the entire garden and the house itself. Immy’s breath caught in her throat and her heart began to race as her eyes slowly travelled up its thick, gnarled trunk.

When Immy and her parents travel to England for a fresh start, they desperately want to rent a country cottage with a garden. But the only house that meets their brief has a downside: a mysterious mulberry tree in its backyard. Village lore has it that the tree is responsible for the disappearance of two girls, each of whom vanished on the eve of her eleventh birthday. Although the two disappearances were almost two hundred years apart, the legend surrounding the tree is such that the whole village mistrusts the tree, and girls are kept well away. But Immy’s parents don’t believe the tales, and Immy herself feels drawn to the cottage and to the mystery of the tree, and soon the family is trying to rebuild their lives in their new home. Still, as Immy’s eleventh birthday draws close, and Immy hears and sees things that aren’t really there, she wonders if she can solve the mystery or if she, too, will fall victim to the tree.

The Mulberry Tree is an engaging, but eerie novel for younger readers, who will love th supernatural elements. The blend of creepy, frightening moments with realistic, everyday problems and warm moments is a satisfying mix, suitable for middle and primary aged readers. The English setting will also appeal, adding tot he sense of displacement felt by the protagonist and adding interest for the reader.

The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby
Walker Books, 2018
ISBN 9781760650292