Trouble and the Exploding House by Cate Whittle ill Stephen Michael King

We had a visitor the other day. Which is weird. We don’t usually get visitors. For one, we live way up in the mountains and we don’t even have a road that comes to our place. And, for seconds, we live with a giant green dragon with blue wings and dried scaly bits around his ears. Which puts most people off.

Life is always going to be interesting when you live with a dragon who can change size at will. But when the Government man arrives and tells you that it’s not possible for you to continue to live in your house because it is in a Wildlife Park, things become even more ‘interesting’. The house was carried there by a dragon (Trouble) and it’s going to be difficult to move it, so the government says it will have to be blown up. Very soon. The race is on, to save their home. In between, Georgia continues to navigate school and friends and keeping Trouble out of … trouble. Most openings include black and white illustrations.

Trouble and the Penn family met when Trouble relocated their home. In this, the fourth adventure with Trouble, they are more or less accustomed to living with a dragon. There are definite advantages including riding to school, work and shopping on Trouble’s broad back. But there are also challenges, just like with any pet, and in any family. Georgia, as first person narrator, simply tells it like it is when you live on a mountain with a dragon. Humour sits underneath every sentence, every outrageous situation, but each is presented as very normal in the life of Georgia and the Penns. Recommended for newly independent readers comfortable with a longer story, but who will still enjoy the extra richness that illustrations bring.
Trouble and the Exploding House, Cate Whittle ill Stephen Michael King Omnibus Books 2017 ISBN: 9781742990798
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

Girl In Between, by Anna Daniels

‘The new guy next door. That smile! His teeth are superb! And did you see his eyes? Who has eyes that blue?’ gushes Rosie…
‘You should go for him, Rosie,’ I say.
‘No, you should go for him! You’re the one who’s been mpoing around for a year,’ says Rosie. ‘I’ve got Trent the Tradie, remember?’
‘I haven’t been moping,’ I prtoest feebly.
Rosie and Mum exchange glances, then simultaneously pull identical hangdog faces at me. I scowl back at them.

Lucy is a girl in between – between jobs, between relationships, between cities. Now she’s moved in with her parents, and her ten year old dog, Glenda, and doing not much of anything, while she recovers from the break up her relationship. Her parents might be happy to have her, but they’re not happy with her sulking. Even her best friend Rosie – who makes everything fun – is getting sick of her mooching around. It’s time to get her life back in order – but that definitely doesn’t involve hooking up with the gorgeous son of her new neighbor, who has a girlfriend already.

Girl In Between is a funny, warm story about young thirty somethings figuring out who and where they want to be in their life. Lucy and Rosie are both still single, and although they are not racing to settle down, both know they want something more than they have. Adventures and escapades in their home town of Rockhamtpon, as well as in Japan and England could help them find clarity – and, if they don’t, they’ll have fun trying.

Girl In Between, by Anna Daniels
Arena Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760295301

Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile, by Jo Sandhu

‘Weakling child,’ Maija said. ‘He will never be the man Kalle is.’
Tarin clenched his teeth. All his life he had heard people mutter and wonder aloud: How coudl Kalle and Aila, the two strong leaders of Mammoth clan, have such a weak, sickly son? It must be the bad Spirits…

Tarin’s father is the clan leader and Tarin longs to be a brave hunter, just like him. But Tarin is sickly and has a deformed leg, and people either fear him or pity him. So, when he is responsible for scaring the mammoths away, leaving the clan with no food for the winter, Tarin volunteers to carry an offering to the Earth Mother so that she may change their fortunes.Soon he is travelling alone across wild, unknown lands, facing his fears and pushing his body and mind to their limits.

Kaija and Luuka are travelling too, forced to flee when illness ravages their clan and they and their healer mother are at risk of being blamed. When their new clan grows to include two wolf cubs, and both twins are seriously injured, Tarin must reach inside himself for answers and strength to continue on.

The Exile is the first in a brilliant new fantasy trilogy for younger readers, set in an imaginary Scandinavian land thirty million years ago. Readers will enjoy this look into prehistoric lives, societies and animals, and the adventures of Tarin and his friends and will be left eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Tarin of the Mammoths: The Exile , by Jo Sandhu
Puffin Books, 2017
ISBN 9780143309376

Beowulf The Brave retold by Oakley Graham, ill Emi Ordás

A long time ago, before you were born,
Lived a king with a golden drinking horn.
He ruled a cold land, that was peaceful and quiet,
Until a monster called Grendel started a riot!

Grendel hated laughter and one day, at a feast,
The king and his men were attacked by the beast!
The people were terrified, the hall stood silent,
What hero could stop the monstrous tyrant?

Beowulf The Brave’ begins with a father reading a bedtime story to his son. While Dad reads, the son visualises himself as the brave Beowulf, vanquishes Grendel, then his mother, then finally a dragon, before slipping into sleep. Illustrations begin with the bedtime ritual, continue with the action ‘centre stage’ until finally returning to the bedroom as the story ends. Illustrations are digital and fantastical, as any telling of Beowulf must be.

Beowulf, a story poem known for its complexity and drama, was over 3000 lines long. It is an oral tale, not written down for many years after its creation. This version introduces Beowulf and his adventures, in a much briefer form, for a young audience that may baulk at the full story. As the story is told, the boy casts himself as Beowulf. In his imagining, he is the brave hero. ‘Beowulf The Brave’ introduces not just this epic tale, but also the tradition of storytelling that predated written language and books. Recommended for early- to mid-schoolers.

Beowulf The Brave, retold Oakley Graham ill Emi Ordás
Big Sky Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925275933

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Gold Escort Gang by Jane Smith

‘So are you in?’ Francis demanded.
Tommy looked at his feet and shrugged. He didn’t have a good feeling about this.
‘It’s sort of stealing,’ he said.
Francis rolled his eyes. ‘It’s not stealing … it’s only borrowing.’
Martin had a brand new mountain bike and he was bragging about bringing it to school on Monday. Francis was planning to take the bike home to his own place on Monday afternoon.
Without telling Martin.
‘We’ll give it back,’ Francis went on.

Tommy Bell is facing a dilemma. If he wants to be part of Francis’ gang, he needs to do what Francis wants. But some of the things Francis wants to do make Tommy feel very uncomfortable. So far, Tommy has been able to reason his misgivings away, but this feels different. When he gets home from school, Tommy saddles up his horse, Combo. Then he puts on his hat, the one that takes him back in time. And with a dizzy, wobbly feeling, Tommy is back in the nineteenth century, and taking a swim in the lake are Frank Gardiner and a friend. Behind him, is a policeman. The policeman fills him in on what Frank and Co have been up to. But nothing could have prepared Tommy for what would happen next. Notes at the back sort the fact from fiction and a Q&A with a bushranger offers the reader a chance to learn more about individual bushrangers.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Gold Escort Gang is a Book 3 in this series for younger readers from Jane Smith and Big Sky Publishing. Each tells a fictional tale set both in the present and in the time of the goldrush. Each takes Tommy back in time where he meets up with bushrangers and others. There he finds himself caught up in their exploits and getting to know these men he only knows from stories. Slipping back in time also allows him time to think about his modern day worries. Young readers are offered a more three-dimensional picture of the times and the people of the times. Recommended for independent readers in lower- to middle-primary years.

Tommy Bell Bushranger Boy: The Gold Escort Gang, Jane Smith
Big Sky Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925520217

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

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

Thirst, by Lizzie Wilcock

Karanda crawled off Solomon and stood up, dusting herself off. ‘Well, you can’t stay here,’ she said, crossing her arms.
‘It’s not your desert,’ Solomon said, sticking his chin out.
‘No, it’s not my desert,’ she said. ‘But this is my escape. I’m running away. I’m doing it on my own. I won’t make you go back to the road, but you can’t come with me. It will be hard enough taking care of  myself – I don’t want to have to look after a little kid, too.’

Since her mother abandoned her, Karanda has been through a strong of foster homes, and has quickly learnt to rely only on herself. So, when a car crash on the way to her sixth foster home sees her stranded in the desert, she takes the opportunity to run. She is going to escape and start a new life of her own. What she doesn’t count on is pesky eight-year old Solomon wanting to tag along. If only he wasn’t so nice to her all the time, she could leave him behind.

Thirst is a story of survival set in the harsh Australian desert, a setting which is echoed in the harshness of fourteen year old Karanda’s life to date. As Karanda and Solomon set out into the desert, hoping to avoid being found following the crash which has given them freedom, they must battle the elements one would expect to find in the Australian desert – heat, thirst, flood, lack of shelter, hunger and dangerous wildlife. They must also battle their own demons and, at times, each other.

Young readers with an interest in survival stories and adventures will enjoy the story and the bush tucker, and as the characters develop will come to want to see them become friends and, ultimately, find happiness.

Thirst, by Lizzie Wilcock
Scholastic Press, 2015
ISBN 9781742839660&

Rescue on Nim's Island, by Wendy Orr

Walking on Shell Beach with their people was slow and strange. The jangle of voices filled Nim’s ears so she couldn’t hear the cry of birds or the shushing of the sea. Her toes didn’t notice the warm sand beneath them. But most of all her mind was too busy noticing what other people were doing to think her own thoughts.

Nim has always liked living alone on her island with her dad Jack, their writer friend Alex Rover and her animal friends Fred and Selkie. Visitors are not wanted, because they might want to damage the island. But Jack has invited some special visors – scientists who will work with him to try to find a a source of safe energy which might help the whole world. The scientists are bringing their children, and Nim’s friend Edmund, and Nim thinks it might be nice to have some company for a change. But when they arrive, Nim isn’t so sure. The twins Tiffany and Tristan think think the island is boring, and one of the pairs of scientists is not the couple they invited. Could they be up to no good?

Rescue on Nim’s Island is the third book featuring Nim and her unusual friends. The island is a magical, idyllic place, and in previous adventures Nim has had to fight to save it from tourists and developers. Now, it seems its treasures are attractive to would-be scientists. Nim has to use all her ingenuity – and the help of her friends, animal and human, to save the island and outwit the crooks.

As with instalments of most good series, Rescue on Nim’s Island can be read on its own, with enough back story given to keep a new reader abreast of what’s gone before, but reading the books in sequence will add to the experience.

 

Rescue on Nim’s Island, by Wendy Orr
Allen & Unwin, 2014
ISBN 9781743316788

Available from good bookstores and online.