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.

The Last Thirteen, by James Phelan

‘I click my fingers,’ the deep scratchy voice says, ‘and everyone around us dies.’

Since his best friend died Sam has had regular nightmares. But the day after a particularly vivid one, a chain of frightening events begins when he’s wide awake. A helicopter lands at his school, and men in camouflage storm the place – looking for Sam. With two other teenagers, Sam is being kidnapped, and it his dreams which have him tagged as something special. Just how special he is, Sam learns in the days which follow. He and his ability to true dream are linked to an ancient prophesy. If he’s to believe what he’s told, he could be the key to saving the whole world.

The Last Thirteen is an action packed new series set in a near-future where mysterious opposing forces battle for control of knowledge and power, and the solution may rest with a group of teens who have never met. There are twists and lots happening, along with a chance to get to know the main character, Sam, and some of the supporting cast who we sense may feature more in future instalments of the series.

Well paced and intriguing, this is a series which will appeal to upper primary and lower secondary aged readers.

 

The Last Thirteen: Book One, by James Phelan

Scholastic, 2013

ISBN 9781742831848

Available from good bookstores and online.

The Pirate Company: On the Trail of the Golden Toucan by Susan Cason

Tom Applecross paused at the bottom of the gangplank to the French vessel, Marie-Galante, moored at the dock at Port Pandora. The air in this part of the port city smelled of sweat and squashed bananas, of salt and freshly scrubbed wooden decks and a strange, bitter odour that Tom suspected was his own overwhelming sadness.

He turned to face his stepmother, Evlynne. He knew he had to ask her again, to plead with her one more time. He willed his bottom lip not ot quiver and took a long, slow breath.

‘Evlynne, please, please, let me stay,’ he said hoarsely. ‘I promise I won’t be any trouble. Don’t send me to Boston.’

Tom Applecross paused at the bottom of the gangplank to the French vessel, Marie-Galante, moored at the dock at Port Pandora. The air in this part of the port city smelled of sweat and squashed bananas, of salt and freshly scrubbed wooden decks and a strange, bitter odour that Tom suspected was his own overwhelming sadness.

He turned to face his stepmother, Evlynne. He knew he had to ask her again, to plead with her one more time. He willed his bottom lip not ot quiver and took a long, slow breath.

‘Evlynne, please, please, let me stay,’ he said hoarsely. ‘I promise I won’t be any trouble. Don’t send me to Boston.’

Tom’s father is missing, believed dead and his stepmother sends him away from his loved home in the Caribbean. She tells him he is very lucky to be going to stay with family in Boston, but he is not convinced that’s the whole story. She seems much too gleeful. Not long after they set sail, they are set upon by pirates and the Marie-Galante is scuttled. Can Tom’s life get any worse? He is set adrift in the Atlantic Ocean. He reaches shore and assesses his options. He can try to return to his home, live forever on an uninhabited island, or join the pirates. None of these options are looking very promising, particularly the last. The pirates have more superstitions than seems possible and somehow, Tom seems to be responsible for all their bad luck. At least in the short term, Tom must convince them he can be useful on a pirate ship. If he can’t, he may have to walk the plank. Chapter headings include definitions of pirate words or clues about the Pirate Code.

On the Trail of the Golden Toucan is an adventure set (mostly) on the ‘high seas’.  The pirates are a ragged collection of rascals with a fierce instinct for survival. They have a pirate’s code to guide their behaviour but the code seems to be flexible in its interpretation. Poor Tom struggles to make sense of it, perhaps because most of it is based on superstition. But Tom has had the advantage of an education and is able to apply logic and clear thinking to ensuring his own survival. There are ratbags and rotters everywhere, and not just on the pirate ship. There are themes of integrity, honesty, community. But first and foremost, this is a rollicking yarn about a boy thrust into an alien world who must adapt to survive. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

The Pirate Company: On the Trail of the Golden Toucan, Susan Cason Omnibus Books 2013 ISBN: 9781742990026

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Missing, by Gabrielle Lord

I looked out the window from my desk, trying to stop my mind from worrying. It was getting late and the house was breathlessly still. I was the only one awake, wasting my time trying to study. As if the strange message wasn’t enough to take my mind off my already overdue physics assignment, almost a week had gone by since anyone had last seen Ryan and I was finding it hard to concentrate.

Cal has received a strange message, indicating he has 90 days. But 90 days for what? He is sick of riddles. But his identical twin, Ryan, seems to be missing, and when Cal is asked to go undercover to investigate an island retreat for troubled teens, he realises it may also be an opportunity to find Ryan. Soon he is in once again in the thick of heart stopping adventures as he races the clock.

Missing is the first in a new trilogy, Black Ops featuring Cal Ormond and his friends from the Conspiracy 365 series. For mystery and adventure loving tweens, the book offers a fast paced adventure, with plenty of action and twists and turns. Spanning a month in time, the book takes Cal from home, to secondment to an covert surveillance group, and on to the island where he switches places with Ryan to try to unearth what is happening to missing teenagers – and what this might mean for the world beyond the island. The cliffhanger ending will leave them eager for the next instalment.

A knowledge of the earlier books is an advantage but readers new to the series will find plenty to engage them.

Missing (Conspiracy 365 Black Ops)

Missing , by Gabrielle Lord
Scholastic, 2013
ISBN 781742835181

Available from good bookstores or online.