Zafir by Prue Mason

Zafir shivered, It was an icy morning in the city of Homs and the wind felt sharp enough to strip the skin from his body. Tetah, his grandmother, had said it might even snow. Zafir hoped it would, but he wished winter didn’t have to be this cold. Although he was wearing a scarf, long trousers and a sweater under his school blazer, he still had to sit on his hands to keep them from turning into icicles as he hunched on the front seat of the old yellow taxi.

‘Is it going to snow,’ Zafir asked Abu Moussa, the taxi driver who took him to school every day. There was no bus from Al Waer and after what had happened in Dubai, Mum didn’t want to own a car.

Zafir shivered, It was an icy morning in the city of Homs and the wind felt sharp enough to strip the skin from his body. Tetah, his grandmother, had said it might even snow. Zafir hoped it would, but he wished winter didn’t have to be this cold. Although he was wearing a scarf, long trousers and a sweater under his school blazer, he still had to sit on his hands to keep them from turning into icicles as he hunched on the front seat of the old yellow taxi.

Is it going to snow,’ Zafir asked Abu Moussa, the taxi driver who took him to school every day. There was no bus from Al Waer and after what had happened in Dubai, Mum didn’t want to own a car.

Zafir has moved with his parents from Dubai to Homs after the death of his maternal grandparents. While he used to like visiting his paternal grandmother, living in this small city is not as much fun as he thought it would be. On his way to school, he witnesses an act of violence, but no one else seems to want to admit that it happened. Zafir begins to discover that the unrest in Syria and is escalating into revolution. No one is immune to the troubles. His father is arrested, his mother is in danger. Everyone around him is affected and Zafir must develop his own resources to survive.

Zafir is a new title in the ‘Through My Eyes’ titles from Allen & Unwin. Each is the story of a conflict through the eyes of a child. Zafiris set in war-torn Syria. Zafir is a normal young teen for whom the normal interests of friend and skateboards, freedom and Facebook are disrupted by war. His parents are educated and tolerant but as the conflict worsens they too must decide how they will respond. Zafir discovers that there is much in his world that is not as it seems and now it is time for him also to decide on his responses. He has to learn who to trust, and how to stay close to his family and friends. He also discovers that no matter how he and others respond, war will affect them all. Recommended for upper primary readers.

Zafir: Through My Eyes, Prue Mason
Allen & Unwin 2015 ISBN: 9781743312544

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Run, Pip, Run by J. C. Jones

Pip Sullivan was expecting her tenth birthday to be the best day of her life. She had done everything she could think of to make it so. Instead it was on course to be the worst – except for maybe her actual birth day when she had been abandoned in an apple crate on sully’s doorstep. Of course, Pip didn’t remember her actual birth day, having been just a ‘skinny squawker’ of a baby at the time. This was according to Sully, who said it was mostly best to ‘call a spade a blasted shovel’. Sully didn’t believ in bulldust, or that unexpected events – like the sudden arrival of a loud and smelly newborn baby in his life – were anything to celebrate.

Pip Sullivan was expecting her tenth birthday to be the best day of her life. She had done everything she could think of to make it so. Instead it was on course to be the worst – except for maybe her actual birth day when she had been abandoned in an apple crate on sully’s doorstep. Of course, Pip didn’t remember her actual birth day, having been just a ‘skinny squawker’ of a baby at the time. This was according to Sully, who said it was mostly best to ‘call a spade a blasted shovel’. Sully didn’t believ in bulldust, or that unexpected events – like the sudden arrival of a loud and smelly newborn baby in his life – were anything to celebrate.

Pip’s life has been a happy if slightly unusual one. Despite being abandoned by her mother at birth and not being related to Sully, they have a strong loving bond. Sure, Sully is somewhat unorthodox as a parent-figure, more than a bit grumpy and more inclined to study the form guide than recipe books, but he’s Pip’s only family. Now Sully is sick and Pip knows that everything could change. Sully has instilled in Pip a very strong sense of optimism and instinct for survival. So she takes off, evading the police, other authorities, tricky situations and her teacher. Pip discovers she has more friends than she knew and meets new ones in her flight, including an unusual cat and a smelly dog. She is determined to save Sully, get him better and return to her old life.

Pip is a wonderfully engaging character, full of curiosity, drive, compassion and an ability to connect with people. Despite her beginnings and unusual childhood, she is a wonderfully grounded child, avid learner, an astute judge of character, practical, loyal and trustworthy. Sully has taught her to be suspicious, a trait that will get her both into and out of trouble. Run, Pip, Run is a wild adventure and Pip an intrepid adventurer. Reader will cheer her successes, call out warnings as danger approaches and hold their breath as Pip appears to fall. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Run, Pip, Run

Run, Pip, Run by J. C. Jones

Allen & Unwin 2015 ISBN: 9781743319222

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

S.C.U.M. By Danny Katz

… And in through the gates I go and now here I am in school. Lots of others are coming in through the gates with me and some are walking-talking …

angie got invited? /yeah epic party / angie? Y’serious?’

Saw Cutsy riding his bike around near the pool / Bullcrap / Nah bull-true bro

None of them is Sarah. Why isn’t Sarah here now? This is the gate she always goes through, this is the time she normally goes through the gate.

she asked why I dyed my hair blonde / I would take that as an insult

Always 8.43. Every now and then it might be earlier if she walks quick or gets dropped off by her dad, but I am the international expert on Sarah-school-arrival-times, …

… And in through the gates I go and now here I am in school. Lots of others are coming in through the gates with me and some are walking-talking …

angie got invited? /yeah epic party / angie? Y’serious?’

Saw Cutsy riding his bike around near the pool / Bullcrap / Nah bull-true bro

None of them is Sarah. Why isn’t Sarah here now? This is the gate she always goes through, this is the time she normally goes through the gate.

she asked why I dyed my hair blonde / I would take that as an insult

Always 8.43. Every now and then it might be earlier if she walks quick or gets dropped off by her dad, but I am the international expert on Sarah-school-arrival-times, …

S.C.U.M. is short for Students Combined Underground Movement, a loose collective of students who don’t fit into any recognised social grouping at school. Tom Zurbo-Goldblatt narrates this journey of the educational and social life of a public school teenager. Every student has a history, and if they don’t Tom and his friends will happily invent one. Every teacher has a nickname and if they are female, a position on the ‘hot’ scale. Tom has a crush on Sarah and knows as much about her as it is possible to learn without actually speaking to her. He has a best friend and they communicate via insults. This is the inside story, Tom-style.

Tom Zurbo-Goldblatt is 14 years old. Schoolwork seldom keeps his focus for more than a few seconds before other important matters flood in. He has to maintain an awareness of the school bully and what he might do next, chase the girl he likes, avoid the girls he doesn’t like, maintain friendships and communicate non-verbally. It would hardly be reasonable to expect him to keep track of what the teacher is saying. But he does somehow navigate through the day. Readers will recognise the various hazards of school life and empathise and chuckle at his lurch from crisis to crisis. From the scruffy cover to the sketch illustrations and variety of text size/type, this is teenage boy up close and personal. Thank goodness there’s no scratch and sniff! Recommended for upper-primary and early secondary readers.

S.C.U.M.

S.C.U.M., Danny Katz
Allen & Unwin 2012
ISBN: 9781742379241

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Available from good bookstores or online.

Louis Beside Himself by Anna Fienberg

‘Come on, Louis, didn’t you hear me?’ yelled Dad from the living room.

I sighed. Dad was singing The Undertaker’s entrance theme.

‘Remember to tighten your abs, and spring up with your knees!’

‘But I’m nearly up to the last page. The best part.’

Dad was standing on the wrestling mat, cushions carefully strewn around to break our falls. ‘Get ready for The Tombstone!’ he called. He was working on his shoulder deltoids. His eyes were wide and enthusiastic, instead of dead, which was how you’re supposed to look for The Tombstone.

‘Come on, Louis, didn’t you hear me?’ yelled Dad from the living room.

I sighed. Dad was singing The Undertaker’s entrance theme.

‘Remember to tighten your abs, and spring up with your knees!’

‘But I’m nearly up to the last page. The best part.’

Dad was standing on the wrestling mat, cushions carefully strewn around to break our falls. ‘Get ready for The Tombstone!’ he called. He was working on his shoulder deltoids. His eyes were wide and enthusiastic, instead of dead, which was how you’re supposed to look for The Tombstone.

Louis and his dad get along fine. Fine that is, except with Dad’s obsession with wrestling. And even that would be fine, if he didn’t insist that Louis master all the moves. And really, Louis would rather read. His friends think Dad is fabulous, but Louis can’t imagine ever needing the skills that Dad insists he develop. Words are Louis’s thing and he peppers his conversation with them. This summer, however, Louis is challenged by broken mirrors, runaways of all ages, his father’s new romance, and oversized burglars. Surviving intact will need all the skills Louis can muster.

Louis is not your stereotypical hero. He would be the first to admit it. But heroes come in all sizes, and appear at the right time. Louis Beside Himself includes all Anna Fienberg’s trademark humour and championing of the apparent underdog. She suggests that there is a hero in all of us and that being true to yourself is the first step in being able to be true to others. The relationship between Louis and his father is a lovely one and this adventure allows it to strengthen. Friendships and family relationships are all drawn realistically, allowing for individual differences and strengths. But before all that, Louis Beside Himself is a humourous adventure through a familiar landscape. Recommended for confident readers from mid-primary on.

Louis Beside Himself

Louis Beside Himself, Anna Fienberg
Allen & Unwin 2012
ISBN: 9781742379944

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Available in good bookstores or online.

Mice by Gordon Reece

My Mum and I lived in a cottage about half an hour outside town.

It hasn’t been easy finding a home that met all our requirements: in the country, no neighbours, three bedrooms, front and back gardens; a property that was old (it had to have character) but at the same time had all the mod cons – a modern central-heating system was essential, as we both hated to be cold. It had to be quiet. It had to be private. We were mice, after all. We weren’t looking for a home. We were looking for a place to hide.

My Mum and I lived in a cottage about half an hour outside town.

It hasn’t been easy finding a home that met all our requirements: in the country, no neighbours, three bedrooms, front and back gardens; a property that was old (it had to have character) but at the same time had all the mod cons – a modern central-heating system was essential, as we both hated to be cold. It had to be quiet. It had to be private. We were mice, after all. We weren’t looking for a home. We were looking for a place to hide.

Shelley is nearly sixteen, and home-schooled by tutors paid for by the education system that failed her. She and her mum have fled the city to live in an isolated English country cottage to escape horrific bullying. Surely now they can relax in the safety of their new home. But the isolation of their cottage proves both a blessing and a burden. When they encounter an intruder, Shelley’s response is spontaneous and has far-reaching consequences. She has had enough of being a mouse. But nothing in her past could prepare Shelley for what happens next. She and her mother are unalterably changed by this random encounter.

‘Mice’ tells Shelley’s story in first person, so it’s not always clear how flawed her perceptions are of what’s happening around her. But the reader can feel her confusion, fear and shame, and quickly empathises with her and her mother. Mice doesn’t draw a pretty picture of the confident, the ‘successful’ characters. They are cruel and manipulative, secretive and vindictive, all the while managing to convince most of their peers that they are innocent of any wrong-doing. Mice shows how easily bullies can escape the consequences of their actions. ‘Mice’ is a gripping novel that will have readers holding their breath as they turn each page. Recommended for mature middle- and upper-secondary readers.

Mice

Mice, Gordon Reece Allen & Unwin 2012 ISBN: 9781742379173

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Available in good bookstores or Mice.

The Secret of the Swords, and The Poison Plot, by Frances Watts ill Gregory Rogers

Meet Thomasina, kitchen hand who would really rather be a knight-in-training.

‘Thomasina?’

Tommy ignored the voice calling her. ‘Go, Sir Benedict!’ she whispered.

Tommy knew it would be Mrs Moon, the cook, angry because she wasn’t standing at the long table peeling mountains of potatoes with the other kitchen girls. Instead, Tommy was standing at the kitchen doorway, watching the knights practising in the great courtyard.

The Secret of the Swords introduces Thomasina, or Tommy, who would much rather be in the courtyard learning to be a knight. But it seems her destiny is to be at the mercy of the cook, Mrs Moon, endlessly peeling potatoes and other horrible kitchen jobs. But a chance encounter with an uppity boy leads to a new job. She is now Flamant’s Keeper of the Blades. It may not be knight-training, but at least she’s working with swords. And these are very special swords.

There’s to be a banquet at Flamant in instalment two of ‘Sword Girl’: The Poison Plot. Tommy is loving her new job learning the history of the swords in her care and getting to know her way around the castle and the village. When she overhears a plot to poison Sir Walter, she has to act. She has to think quickly, or the consequences will be awful. Luckily she’s as sharp as the swords she looks after, although the solution is somewhat unexpected.

‘Sword Girl’ is a new series from Frances Watt, featuring Tommy and set in medieval times. Black and white illustrations throughout the text take the reader into the past and into the castle. Tommy makes friends with many of the castle inhabitants, but a few enemies too. Enough that she can’t completely relax into her new job. Luck may have landed her in a much better job than her old kitchen one, but quick thinking is going to keep her there. And she’s a resourceful character in a tough but magical world. There’s plenty of humour here as well as page-turning stories. Recommended for middle-primary readers.

The Secret of the Swords (Sword Girl)

The Secret of the Swords (Sword Girl), Frances Watts ill Gregory Rogers Allen & Unwin 2012 ISBN: 9781742377285

The Poison Plot (Sword Girl)

The Poison Plot, Frances Watts ill Gregory Rogers Allen & Unwin 2012 ISBN: 9781742377926

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com