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

Wild Island, by Jennifer Livett

Reader, she did not marry him, or rather when at last she did, it was not so straightforward as she implies in her memoirs. Jane Eyre is a truthful person and her story is fascinating, but some things she could not bring herself to say. Certain episodes in her past, she admits, ‘form too distressing a recollection ever to be willingly dwelt upon’.

When Rochester and Jane Eyre are reunited after the fire that destroyed Thornfield, their love is definite but their future is not. soon, they decide they must embark on a journey to ascertain the real story of Anna, Rochester’s first wife. Harriet Adair, Anna’s carer, is invited to accompany them and soon they are bound for far away Van Diemen’s Land. Only Harriet and Anna reach Hobart where, they believe, they will find the answers to Anna’s past.

In Hobart, Charles O’Hara Booth, in charge of the Port Arthur settlement, is hoping that the secrets of his own past will remain hidden. Yet he may hold the key to Anna and Harriet’s quest. In the meantime, Harriet and a much recovered Anna have formed a friendship with Jane Franklin, the wife of the new Governor of the colony. For six years the pair live in Hobart, far away from Jane and Rochester and the story which inspired this one.

Wild Island is a curious, intriguing blend. Blending fictional characters, including those from Jane Eyre, with historical figures and events from the colony of Van Diemen’s Land of the 1800s, provides both an inside interpretation of the real events as well as an absorbing alternate history for Charlotte Bronte’s woman in the attic, and her carer.

Satisfying historical fiction.

Wild Island, by Jennifer Livett
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760113834

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

Tracy Lacy Is Completely Coo-coo Bananas! by Tania Lacy ill Danielle McDonald

Once upon a time …

Once upon a time …

Once there was a girl. She seemed like a normal girl living in a normal house …

It was a dark and stormy night …

Once upon a time …

 Once there was a girl. She seemed like a normal girl living in a normal house …

 It was a dark and stormy night …

Oh cheesey-cheeses! I’m going to cut straight to the chase. It’s late and I’m still up …

It’s almost the last day of primary school, and Tracy couldn’t be happier. It’s time to put her disasters of primary school behind her and head into high school with a clean slate. She has plans to make sure it happens. She’s determined to be a whole different person, and she’s going to make sure her best friends Ponky and Ag are as prepared as she is. What starts as a bit of a story, becomes a diary in which Tracy documents the last days of school and the summer holidays leading up to this new chapter in her life. Throughout, there are brief conversations with her brother, who is clearly not listening to her instruction to stay out of her diary! Each opening includes doodles, sketches, patterns and a variety of text sizes and fonts, as does the cover.

Decorated on the cover and throughout with doodle-extras, it’s clear that Tracy Lacy is no shy violet. She’s brash, outspoken, confident … and misunderstood. Her friends Ponky and Ag accept her for who she is, even when she is most trying to reinvent herself, and them. But not everyone else does. Her teacher, the school principal, the cool kids seem often to misinterpret her words and actions (at least, that’s how she sees it). Tracy’s story is full of humour and her observations of others help the reader to see beyond the words and understand what she doesn’t quite get. At heart, a story about coming to terms with who you are. Recommended for mid-primary + readers.

Tracy Lacy is Completely Coo-coo Bananas!, Tania Lacy ill Danielle McDonald

Scholastic 2016 ISBN: 9781760279820

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Skyfire, by Michael Adams

The girl knew she was going to die. Her heart thumped. Mouth dry, throat tight, she could barely breathe. She looked at the madman with the gun, who’d trapped her, on top of a train hurtling through the night. There was no way she could get out of this alive.

When a mysterious sponsor calls for entries from young people worldwide to have the chance to see their ambitions realised, entries come from everywhere. But there can only be seven winners – and Yasmin, Isabel, Andy, Dylan, J.J., Zander and Mila are all delighted to be the winners of the DARE awards. Each is from a different continent, and each has a very different dream, but together they will find out just what it means to be a DARE winner.

But none of them is prepare for what happens when they start receiving strange texts. None of them know what the symbols they receive mean, but it soon becomes apparent that they are being targeted to try to unravel a mystery which, if they can’t solve it, will have catastrophic consequences – not just for them, but for the whole world.

Skyfire is the first in the new series for young readers.Filled with action and mystery, there is lots to love, though the need to set up the cast and premise slows it down a little.

Set in a near-future world, adventure fans will eagerly await the next installment.

Skyfire, by Michael Adams
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781743628010

Brobot, by James Foley

That is my brother, Joe.
I never asked for a brother, but if I had …
I would have asked for a better one.

Sally Tinker is not impressed with her baby brother, Joe. He is messy, smelly and is always breaking things. So Sally, the world’s foremost inventor under the age of 12 (she has a trophy to prove it), has invented a Brobot. Much better than a brother, this robot can clean up messes, fix broken machines and is never sticky or smelly. But what happens when things go wrong?

Brobot is a hilarious graphic novel for younger readers. The illustrations, in grey scale, are filled with humorous detail. Sally speaks directly to readers, and the brobot also speaks, with an LCD type font, and boxes showing his internal ‘computations’. Readers will like Sally, but will probably feel more empathy for Joe in the early pages. As the novel progresses, they will see the relationship develop through the humorous turn of events as the Brobot becomes out of cotnrol.

Lots of laughs to be had.

Brobot, by James Foley
Fremantle Press, 2016
ISBN 9781925163919

Freedom Swimmer, by Wai Chim

Ma is gone. I fought back tears, gripping the handle of the wheelbarrow tighter so her body wouldn’t tip out too soon. I was taking her to the river to join the other villagers who had passed. I didn’t dare look around – what if one of those bodies had surfaced, caught on a rock instead of being swept away by the current after the last rains? I could almost picture the head of some weeks-dead villager bobbing up beside me, all sunken cheeks and lifeless eyes behind paper-thin lids.

Having watched his parents die in a famine during the ‘Great Leap Forward’, Ming is left orphaned. Sharing a house with other village orphans, he must work hard to grow crops for his village and for the Communist government, with little time for himself. When the Party brings a group of city boys to work in the village, Ming forms an unlikely friend with Li, a charming, likeable city boy. Ming, taught to swim by his father, now teaches Li to swim and as they exchange their stories and their dreams they also start to wonder if there is a chance for freedom.

Freedom Swimmer is a tale of friendship set in 1960s China. Told from the dual perspectives of the two protagonists, the story explores both the effects of living under the fledgling regime, and the efforts of the freedom swimmers, people who attempted to swim from mainland China to Hong Kong, where they would find freedom.

Based on the experiences of author Wai Chim’s father, who made the freedom swim in 1973, Freedom Swimmer is a moving story.

Freedom Swimmer, by Wai Chim
Allen & Unwin, 2016
ISBN 9781760113414

Where are Our Boys, by Martin Woods

Where are Our Boys? : How Newsmaps Won the Great War - Martin WoodsBy mid-October 1914, Pacific war maps were popular souvenirs, and a reminder of the main game. As the editorial referencing a new map issued by Melbourne bookseller George Robinson and Co. claimed, ‘one sees the extent of the penalty Germany has suffered in these seas by her wanton aggression, and the prizes that have fallen to the lot of Australia’.

When the Great War broke out in 1914, Australians grew increasingly interested in what was happening not just in England, to whom the country’s declared allegiance lay, but in places few had heard of and even fewer had visited. They relied on maps to see where these places were, their closeness to England and, importantly, Australia, and as the war rolled on, where battle lines lay and how they shifted.

Recent advances in printing technology meant the ability to produce maps in newspapers, and for distribution, was easier, so that the average Australian had access to maps and could track the war visually, and discuss the war in schools, homes, pubs and churches, growing an understanding of where Australians were fighting and how the war was playing out.

Where Are Our Boys provides detailed look at the role that maps and other visuals played in public understanding of the war. Filled with maps, news clippings and other visuals from the time, the book details the course of the war, and the information which was available ‘back home’ through these items.

Suitable for history buffs or anyone with an interest in the role of the media before electronic communication.

Where Are Our Boys, by Martin Woods
NLA Publishing, 2016
ISBN 9780642278715