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

Charlie and the Karaoke Cockroaches, by Alan Brough

Three Things You Should Probably Know About Me (Charlie Ian Duncan)
. I am a digital orphan. (That means that my parents spend so much time on their iPhones they have forgotten I exist.)
. Last year I made a granny explode.
. I never want anything to crawl into the back of my nose, make a nest and lay thousands of eggs.

Charlie isn’t particularly brave or particularly clever, but things seem to happen to him. His new friend Vivienne appears at his front door in the middle of the night with a mysterious black box which she asks him to look after no matter what. Charlie isn’t so sure about this, but Vivienne disappears, and only Charlie’s other friend, Hils, has any ideas what they should do. Because a huge man, The Exterminator, is after Charlie and the things in the box – three karaoke-singing, talking cockroaches.

Charlie and the Karaoke Cokcroaches, the second book featuring Charlie’s fun-filled adventures, is silly, gross, and far-fetched: which is just why young readers will love it. From television personality and comedian Alan Brough , the text has lots of action, short sentences, dialogue and features including funny advertisements and signs, as well as font embellishments.

An easy read with plenty of fun for readers of all abilities.

Charlie and the Karaoke Cockroaches, by Alan Brough
Pan, 2017
ISBN 9781743548448

Miniwings: Whizz’s Internet Oopsie and Glitterwing’s Book Week Blunder

Let me tell you right now: the Internet oopsie was NOT OUR FAULT. The only thing Clara and I did wrong was to have a teeny, tiny moan to Mum about how we never got to buy anything online. We asked if she might like to give us her credit card number. She said: “Dream on.”
That was it. PROMISE.

When Nana gives Sophia and Clara six little winged horse toys for Christmas, they think they are just ordinary plastic toys. But when there are no adults around, the Miniwings come alive, to become a herd of tiny, talking, glitter-twinkly, flying horses. Which is pretty cool – except that they are also very mischeivous.

In Whizz’s Internet Oopsie, the miniwings are bored when Sophia and Clara are at school, so they use Mum’s credit card to order a few things online: first a footspa, then a cordless drill and, finally, a goat. Chaos ensues. In Glitterwing’s Book Week Blunder, they make such a mess that it looks like the girls won’t be able to dress up for the Book Week parade. Disaster.

Miniwings is a new, glittery, fun-filled series for younger readers. With colour illustrations, glitter, and of course sparkly horses, there is lots to appeal, and adornments including font effects and back of book glossaries of Miniwing-ese.

Cute.

Whizz’s Internet Oopsie ISBN 9781775434245
Glitterwing’s Book Week Blunder ISBN 9781775434238
Both by Sally Sutton, illustrated by Kirsten Richards
Scholastic, 2017

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