Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy 1: Shoot-out at the Rock by Jane Smith

Right from the start of the school day, things went wrong for Tommy Bell.

It began when Mrs O’Grady handed back their history tests and Tommy got a big fat two out of ten. She frowned at him and said, ‘Tommy, see me at lunch time.’

That was bad news. Mrs O’Grady was nice but she was strict. Tommy was dreading lunchtime.

‘But history’s boring,’ Tommy tried to explain later, when Mrs O’Grady kept him back. …

… ‘It’s only boring if you’re not using your imagination,’ said Mrs O’Grady.

Right from the start of the school day, things went wrong for Tommy Bell.

It began when Mrs O’Grady handed back their history tests and Tommy got a big fat two out of ten. She frowned at him and said, ‘Tommy, see me at lunch time.’

That was bad news. Mrs O’Grady was nice but she was strict. Tommy was dreading lunchtime.

‘But history’s boring,’ Tommy tried to explain later, when Mrs O’Grady kept him back. …

… ‘It’s only boring if you’re not using your imagination,’ said Mrs O’Grady.

Tommy is struggling to connect with history. It seems to be all facts and figures and that’s boring. His teacher suggests that he needs to connect more by using his imagination. As a consequence of his poor history test results, she gives him a book to read during lunch break. This is not how he planned to spend his lunch break and he’s a bit cross. He’s missing out on donuts! When his plan to get the last donut goes badly wrong, Tommy finds himself in more trouble than he imagined. And to make things even worse, he’s headed off to spend school holidays with his grandfather. Tommy is struggling to make sense of history, because it feels too boring. It also feels like he is being punished unjustly. But his trip to his grandfather’s farm  is wilder than he expects when he is transported back to gold rush times. Now he is living history and it’s anything but boring. There are occasional full-page illustrations scattered throughout. Titled chapter pages hint at the action to come.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy is a new series of early chapter books for independent readers. Part of each book is set in a contemporary country town, and part takes Tommy back to early times when bushrangers roamed the countryside. In this first instalment, Tommy is transported back in time and meets Captain Thunderbolt.  He experiences what it is to live the life of a bushranger. It’s certainly exciting but not necessarily anything like he might have imagined. There are moral and ethical challenges he must confront in the context of this historical world that link to his own life. Recommended for independent readers in lower-mid primary school.
Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy 1: Shoot-out at the Rock, Jane Smith
Big Sky Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925275940

The Kids’ Survival Guide by Susan Berran

Prelude

Ok, so one day I’m living in the city, surfin’, hanging-out with my mates, everything is totally awesome and then along comes one annoying, diarrhoea pants, little snot-nose sister, Miss Smelly Melly Poop Pants.

‘You’re a big brother now, Sam.’

‘We’re moving to the country, Sam.’

What the? Why? Do I get a say in this …

NOOO!

Prelude

Ok, so one day I’m living in the city, surfin’, hanging-out with my mates, everything is totally awesome and then along comes one annoying, diarrhoea pants, little snot-nose sister, Miss Smelly Melly Poop Pants.

‘You’re a big brother now, Sam.’

‘We’re moving to the country, Sam.’

What the? Why? Do I get a say in this …

NOOO!

Sam has moved to the country and he’s not loving it. But luckily for Sam, another former city kid arrives. They speak the same language, they get into the same trouble. And that’s where this story really begins. In the aftermath of a particular adventure-gone-wrong, Sam realises that all old people know exactly the same lectures. He and Jared decide to write a manual to help other kids decode these same lectures. The manual will also help other kids to get out of trouble, particularly if they have annoying little sisters. Black and white illustrations are scattered throughout.

Sam is full of helpful advice for his readers, offering translations and responses to those tedious stories from adults about how things were different in their day. From his first person perspective, he’s is the innocent victim in every action, every accidental disaster, every conversation. Readers will recognise the situations and enjoy Sam’s insights. He also offers the final, fool-proof formula for getting out of anything you don’t want to do. It’s in the International Rule book you know!  For newly independent readers transitioning to longer chapter books

The Kids’ Survival Guide, Susan Berran
Big Sky Books 2016
ISBN: 9781925520071

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Star of Deltora: The Hungry Isle, by Emily Rodda

She hurried to the porthole and looked out. The sky was filmed with cloud through which the sun glowed sullenly, casting an eerie yellow light. The sea was dull and oily-looking. At first she could see nothing unusual. And then she began to pick out dark shapes beneath the surface of the water, many, many dark shapes, and as she realised what they were, the hair on the back of her neck began to prickle.
‘Turtles!’ she whispered.

Although the Star of Deltorahas managed to escape Illica, Britta is still in danger. She must stay in her cabin, safe from the moody distrust coming her way from the ship’s crew, who think she is a witch and the reason the voyage has been beset with problems. In spite of Britta’s protestations, the ship is being surrounded by turtles, seeming to want to steer the ship. Britta soon realises that the Staff of Tier has sensed her, and wants her to come to the Hungry Isle. Could it be that her secrecy has lead her and her friends, including Trader Mab, into terrible danger?

The fourth title in the Star of Deltora series, The Hungry Isle provides a gripping climax to the journey that Britta and her fellow would-be Trader’s apprentices have been on. Britta has managed to keep her true identity – as the daughter of the hated Dare Larsett – a secret, but when everything hangs in the balance, the secret is no longer hers to keep.

Best read after the first three titles, The Hungry Isle is a satisfying conlusion to the series.

The Hungry Isle, by Emily Rodda
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781742991337

The Great Barbie Disaster by Tania Ingram ill Christina Miesen

My family never owned a NICE barbecue bought from a shop like other people.

Dad thought shop barbies were for WIMPS.

Whenever we’d see a barbecue at the hardware shop Dad would shake his head.

‘Real Aussies don’t buy barbies,’ he’d say. ‘Real Aussies make their own.’

My family never owned a NICE barbecue bought from a shop like other people.

Dad thought shop barbies were for WIMPS.

Whenever we’d see a barbecue at the hardware shop Dad would shake his head.

‘Real Aussies don’t buy barbies,’ he’d say. ‘Real Aussies make their own.’

Sarah’s dad’s family have a long tradition of making their own barbecues, from the simple to the world-famous. So it comes as no real surprise when Dad decides he’s going to make them a barbecue. There’s only one problem. Unlike some of the barbecue-makers of the family, Dad’s not known for his building skills. Sarah and Mum try to talk him out of it, but barbecue-making is in his blood and he’s determined. What a disaster! Sarah watches (from a safe distance) as Dad builds and tests his barbecue. Finally, he’s sure he’s got it right. Now it’s time to test it. There are colour illustrations on each opening and a header and footer illustrations (sauce and mustard trails)

The ‘Mates’ series from Omnibus are early chapter books are tall tales and true from Australian back yards. Sarah narrates this story of her father and his recycling and building adventures. She is captivated by his building projects, even the ones that don’t quite work. ‘The Great Barbie Disaster’ is full of fun and sure to have young readers giggling. Recommended for newly-independent readers.

The Great Barbie Disaster, Tania Ingram ill Christina Miesen
Omnibus Books 2016
ISBN: 9781742991245

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

When the Lyrebird Calls, by Kim Kane

The sun had sneaked out from behind the clouds, and sparkles from the shoes bounded about the grass. Madeleine looked back up. the girl crossed her arms. ‘I was not enquiring after the shrubs, she said imperiously. ‘I want to know what you are doing in Bea’s dress slippers.’

Madeleine is not impressed at being sent to the country to stay with her eccentric grandmother for the holidays, while her big brother gets to stay with his best friend. Staying with Mum Crum means early mornings, yoga and hard work. But when she finds a pair of shoes hidden in the cupboard she is renovating, Madeleine is intrigued and wants to know more. Soon, she is finding out far more than she bargained for, when she finds herself transported back to 1900, to the home of the shoe’s owner.

Now Madeline is part of a family and time where women have no power or independence, as the Federation of Australia’s colonies nears. She witnesses the treatment of Aboriginals, staff and children, and is conflicted about both what she sees and how little she can do to change it. She also watches the family struggle through personal turmoil as she worries about how she will get back to her own time.

When the Lyrebird Calls is an absorbing time-slip novel for children and young adults, set in late colonial Australia, as well as in contemporary Victoria. While a number of issues are explored through the text, the action carries the story so that it does not become issue heavy. Young readers will enjoy being able to see aspects of colonial life through the yes of a contemporary narrator.

When the Lyrebird Calls, by Kim Kane
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781741758528

Ginger Queen Play Date Queen: The Only Friend by Kim Kane & Jon Davis

My name is Ginger Green.

I am seven years old.

I am the Play Date Queen.

Today my friend Maya is coming over after school.

My name is Ginger Green.

I am seven years old.

I am the Play Date Queen.

Today my friend Maya is coming over after school.

Ginger Green has invited Maya to come and play after school. Maya is excited too and things start well, despite Ginger’s younger sister’s antics. But things soon start going wrong. Ginger is accustomed to being in control of play dates, but no matter what she tries, this time things seem to be going wrong. For the first time, Ginger feels left out. There are black white and purple illustrations on every opening.

Ginger Green Play Date Queen is a series for newly independent readers transitioning away from fully illustrated text to first chapter books. Ginger and the rest of the ‘cast’ are anthropomorphised foxes, but the stories will be recognisable to young students navigating the everyday challenges of school and home life.  Each episode/instalment presents a realistic dilemma and offers solutions that restore harmony. Recommended for newly independent readers.

Ginger Green Play Date Queen: The Only Friend, Kim Kane Jon Davis
Hardie Grant Egmont 2016
ISBN: 9781760127855

Countdown to Danger: Shockwave by Jack Heath

30:00

A dark shape wobbles beneath the water, getting closer to the beach. You’re ninety-nine percent sure it’s just seaweed drifting on the currents – but what if it isn’t?

What if it’s one of those big saltwater crocodiles Harrison warned you about?

You look up and down the beach. There are crushed shells, dead jellyfish and a shapeless mountain which might once have been an epic sandcastle – but no people.

No one to ask for advice. Nobody who will call for help if something happens to you. You didn’t even tell anyone you were going surfing, which now seems like a mistake.

30:00

A dark shape wobbles beneath the water, getting closer to the beach. You’re ninety-nine percent sure it’s just seaweed drifting on the currents – but what if it isn’t?

What if it’s one of those big saltwater crocodiles Harrison warned you about?

You look up and down the beach. There are crushed shells, dead jellyfish and a shapeless mountain which might once have been an epic sandcastle – but no people.

No one to ask for advice. Nobody who will call for help if something happens to you. You didn’t even tell anyone you were going surfing, which now seems like a mistake.

The clock is ticking. In the 30 minutes from the time you notice the shape in the water life as you know is over. You are on your own. Your decisions will be life and death ones, and not just for you. Get it wrong and at the very least, you die. Get it right, you may save lives, save livelihoods, be a hero. But this is no game. This is deadly serious. There are multiple possible endings – which will you choose?

Jack Heath is known for action-packed stories and this series of Choose Your Own Ending stories is no exception. Who know there were so many ways to die? Or live? Full of extreme options, every horrible ending man-made and ‘natural’ element seems to have you in the crosshairs. The stories are told in second person and present tense and the pace is fierce. Recommended for mid-primary readers looking for some choice in how the story ends. Will also appeal to older fans of wild adventures.

Countdown to Danger: Shockwave, Jack Heath
Scholastic 2016
ISBN: 9781760159634

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Born to Sing by Sally Morgan ill Craig Smith

I’m a singer!

I make up songs in the shower, while I’m doing my homework, when I’m bored, and even in my sleep!

Dad says I was born to sing. ‘One day you’ll be a famous rock star, Maddie!’

Who cares about fame? I just want to sing, sing, sing!

I’m a singer!

I make up songs in the shower, while I’m doing my homework, when I’m bored, and even in my sleep!

Dad says I was born to sing. ‘One day you’ll be a famous rock star, Maddie!’

Who cares about fame? I just want to sing, sing, sing!

Maddie loves to sing. No matter what she’s doing, singing is part of her day. She also loves whales and when she, her mother and her grandmother set off north to do some whale watching  she spontaneously composes and performs a new song about whales. It’s a long car trip and there’s plenty of time to sing together. Everything is perfect until the car stops and can’t be started again.  Maddie worries that they will miss out on seeing the whales. Black and white illustrations appear on every opening and each page has a border that could variously be interpreted as pattern, path or more.

Maddie and her family have split up to holiday, boys going to Tasmania, the girls going to see whales. Maddie tells her own story and that includes the challenges of having brothers, and worries about their aging car and caravan. Maddie shares her (extensive) knowledge about whales on their journey, her mother and grandmother shaping their holiday around her interests. Text is large and illustrations appear on almost every page, making ‘Born to Sing’ ideal for newly independent readers.

Born to Sing, Sally Morgan ill Craig Smith
Omnibus Books 2016
ISBN: 9781742991511

400 Minutes of Danger by Jack Heath

The lump of ice slipped from beneath Nika’s fingers, and suddenly she was falling.

The climbing rope wouldn’t save her. The nearest anchor point was too far below. She would fall until the rope went taut, and then she would slam sideways into the wall of ice. Even if she survived the impact, she wouldn’t be able to clamber back down with broken arms and legs

She flung out a desperate hand –

And caught a narrow crack in the glacier.

The lump of ice slipped from beneath Nika’s fingers, and suddenly she was falling.

The climbing rope wouldn’t save her. The nearest anchor point was too far below. She would fall until the rope went taut, and then she would slam sideways into the wall of ice. Even if she survived the impact, she wouldn’t be able to clamber back down with broken arms and legs

She flung out a desperate hand –

And caught a narrow crack in the glacier.

‘400 Minutes of Danger’ is a collection of ten short stories, each taking approximately 40 minutes to read. There are countdown markers along the side of each page, so it’s clear just how much – how little – time there is before disaster strikes. In some stories, eg ‘Mosquito’, the main character is on a mission, but in others, eg ‘Kill All Humans’, the hero is unexpectedly called to counter danger, either alone or with the assistance of another character. All stories, whether set in contemporary or fantastic worlds, are full of action.

Adults don’t fare well in these stories. The protagonists are all teenagers – a range of ages – and they are much smarter, faster, better people. Baddies are truly bad, and technology is not always helpful. These short stories will be great for readers who like their action fierce and pacey. The time markers on the page help the reader keep track of the remaining time and help monitor the tension. There’s a good balance between male and female protagonists, working alone and working together. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers, and secondary readers looking for a quick and accessible read. Young writers might also look at the time markers to see how pacing is used to progress the plot.

400 Minutes of Danger, Jack Heath
Scholastic 2016
ISBN: 9781760158798

Review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Frieda: A New Australian by Marianne Musgrove

31 December 1913, Silvester (New Year’s Eve)

Heidleberg, Germany

‘Don’t fall,’ whispered Oma, standing at the bottom of the ladder. She glanced over her shoulder then back up at Frieda. ‘Make haste, Liebschen, my dear. If your mother catches us, there’ll be trouble.’ …

Moments later, a very dusty girl emerged from the attic, an old blue box with gold trim tucked under her arm.

31 December 1913, Silvester (New Year’s Eve)

Heidleberg, Germany

‘Don’t fall,’ whispered Oma, standing at the bottom of the ladder. She glanced over her shoulder then back up at Frieda. ‘Make haste, Liebschen, my dear. If your mother catches us, there’ll be trouble.’ …

Moments later, a very dusty girl emerged from the attic, an old blue box with gold trim tucked under her arm.

Frieda and her parents leave Germany in 1913 for Adelaide, Australia. Her father is keen for adventure, her mother will hopefully be more well. Frieda is in two minds, sad to be leaving her grandmother behind, nervous and excited about the unknowns of moving to a new country. But the world is changing and their initial welcome turns to suspicion. Frieda doesn’t understand all the nuances, but she’s aware of the growing tension. Germans are not as welcome as once they might have been. Her mother’s illness both restricts Frieda and allows her an unexpected freedom as she navigates this new and constantly changing world.

Frieda’is part of a Scholastic series about new Australians. Previous titles have explored early Irish migration, and more recent Maltese arrivals. Each focuses on a different culture/reason for coming to Australia. Frieda’s story offers insights behind the decisions made by a German family just before the advent of WWI. It’s also a portrait of a young girl heading into adolescence and trying to walk the path between childhood and adolescence in an uncertain time. Recommended for upper-primary readers and anyone interested in history told from the perspective of young people.

Frieda: A New Australian, Marianne Musgrove

Omnibus Books 2016 ISBN: 9781742991146

Review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com