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