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

Ninja Kid: From Nerd to Ninja, by Anh Do

Grandma looked at the cake … and all the stuff on the ground. ‘You’ve got a long way to go before you know how to use your skills properly,’ she said, ‘and I’m here to help. But your mum’s right. There is no doubt about it, Nelson…you are a NINJA!

Nelson is am awkward uncool nerd, who lives in the junkyard with his mum, grandma and cousin. So when he wakes up on his tenth birthday and can suddenly do things he never could before, he is more than a little weirded out. When he learns that he is, in fact, a ninja – perhaps the last ninja on earth – he thinks there must be a mistake. He can’t even get his undies around the right way, let alone save the world.

From Nerd to Ninja is the first offering the new Ninja Kid series from much loved comedian and children’s author Anh Do. Combining humour with a fast moving story and an unlikely, though likable, hero, the story is sure to impress young readers who will keenly await the next installment.

From Nerd to Ninja, by Anh Do
Scholastic Australia, 2018
ISBN 9781742993263

The Dog With Seven Names, by Dianne Wolfer

On Christmas morning the Boss lifted me by the scruff of the neck and dumped me in an old kerosene tin. he carried me from the outside kennel and tucked me under a strange sparkly tree. When Elsie saw me, she danced and I smelt her joy.

When a tiny puppy is born on a remote cattle station, her survival is unlikely. The runt of the litter, and with a mother who dies soon after delivering her latest litter of pups, only the station owner’s daughter has any time for her. When Christmas comes, the pup is gifted to the daughter, Elsie, cementing their bond, and Princess gets a name.Girl and dog are inseparable until war arrives, and they are separated. In the years that follow the dog has adventures around the Pilbara region as war causes turmoil to all around her and, as she helps and bonds with a range of new people, she also acquires a series of new names. But she never forgets her Elsie, and dreams of being reunited with her.

The Dog With Seven Names is a warm, tender tale of one little dog, set against the historical events of Word War Two in rural Western Australia. Told from the perspective of the dog, the narrative is both childlike and perceptive, offering a unique insight into the impact of war and the bonds between dogs and humans.

Dianne Wolfer has a knack for delivering historical fiction in a form which at once palatable, well researched, and engaging, doesn’t disappoint with this warm-hearted, loveable book.

The Dog With Seven Names, by Dianne Wolfer
Random House Australia, 2018
ISBN 9780143787457

Lucy’s Dawn, by Juliet Blair

Today has been the most important day of my life. I still don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
This is how it all began…

Lucy wants nothing more than to to work in the printing industry, like her father, but because she’s a girl, her dream seems unattainable. When an opportunity arises to work in Louisa Lawson’s Printery, she is delighted. She’ll be working in the office, but she hopes that, one day, she might be promoted. In the meantime, she loves working in the printery, where all the staff are female except for the owner’s son, the young poet Henry Lawson.

Lucy’s Dawn is the diary format story of a fictional girl set amidst the historical lives of Henry Lawson and his mother, and events in Sydney in 1889, particularly those surrounding the printer’s union and the rights of women to work in the printing industry.

Giving an insight into the lives and rights of women, and daily lives in Australia prior to Federation, the story will be of interest to young history enthusiasts.

Lucy’s Dawn , by Juliet Blair
NLA Publishing, 2018
ISBN 9780642279170

The Extremely Inconvenient Adventure of Bronte Mettlestone, by Jaclyn Moriarty

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
ISBN 9781760297176