Bronze Bird Tower, by Carole Wilkinson

Kai sighed. The dragon haven had been his home since he was a dragonling, yet he showed no pleasure in returning.

“Gu Hong selected this place to be the home of the dragons,” he said. “She chose well. It is not so high that it is wintry throughout the year round. And no creatures can scale the sheer cliffs – not a goat, not a rabbit and, more importantly, not a human.”

At last Tao and Kai have arrived at the Dragon Haven. Now Kai can resume his position as leader, and Tao can take on the role of Dragonkeeper. But there is no big welcome, and Tao wonders if he and Kai will be made to leave, and once again face the murderous warlord, Jilong.

Although their welcome is luke-warm, the pair do their best to fit in, and even have moments of something nearing harmony with the dragon cluster. But when Jilong finds out where they are, it seems their peace will be shattered. Not only does Tao question his own role at the haven, but also whether dragons will ever be able to live peacefully anywhere in the world.

The sixth and final title in the Dragonkeeper series, Bronze Bird Tower is fabulous fantasy for readers of all ages. Tao and his friends are endearing, and the other dragons, with their different personalities, make for an absorbing cast. The twists and turns as the dragons find a way forward, and Tao and Kai seek to establish their roles, are both exciting and satisfying.

Wonderful.

Bronze Bird Tower, by Carole Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, 2017

 

 

Little Lunch: The Off-Limits Fence by Danny Katz ill Mitch Vane

Amba was sitting beside Battie on the bench that goes in a circle around the big old tree. She said, ‘Hey Battie, did you hear what happened this morning?’

Battie was chewing on a chewy muesli bar. He had to take a big chewy blob out of his mouth and hold it in his hand so he could talk.

‘No, Amba, what happened this morning?’

‘Well,’ said Amba, ‘Max and Elsa had to go home from school early. Their dad came and picked them up from the front office and nobody knows why.’

Amba was sitting beside Battie on the bench that goes in a circle around the big old tree. She said, ‘Hey Battie, did you hear what happened this morning?’

Battie was chewing on a chewy muesli bar. He had to take a big chewy blob out of his mouth and hold it in his hand so he could talk.

‘No, Amba, what happened this morning?’

‘Well,’ said Amba, ‘Max and Elsa had to go home from school early. Their dad came and picked them up from the front office and nobody knows why.

Set in a primary school, ‘Little Lunch: The Off-Limits Fence’ is a collection of three short stories. In the first, ‘The Bench that goes in a Circle around the Big Tree’ offers a ‘Telegraph’ story about why two of their friends, Elsa and Max had to go home early. The explanations become wilder and wilder until someone realises they actually know the real story. It doesn’t stop the rumours though. The second story ‘The Equipment Shed’ offers a look at the opportunities offered by free play and the third ‘The Off-Limits Fence’ is narrated and acted out by a single child playing all sides of his football game, including that of the umpire. Black and white illustrations appear on every opening. There is a contents page and named character images.

The Off-Limits Fence is hilarious! Each story is entirely believable while being totally wild. It’s as if Katz and Vane peeked through a hole in a fence at a primary school. Every teacher, every parent, everyone who has ever had a chance to observe children at play will recognise the truth of these stories. Each story is short but rich in detail (including the gross bits). Readers of all ages will chuckle at the absurdity of the observations and language. Recommended for newly independent readers and anyone wanting a chuckle.

Little Lunch: The Off-Limits Fence, Danny Katz ill Mitch Vane
Black Dog Books 2015 ISBN: 9781742032375

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Shadow Sister, by Carole Wilkinson

They retraced their steps, but before they had gone more than a few chang, there was a disturbance in the forest. It was the same sound that they had heard near Shenchi village – branches breaking, undergrowth being flattened, the thud of large feet. There was also an unholy screech that made Tao’s insides turn to water. Below them, the nomads had also heard the noise and were picking up their weapons. Whatever was causing this disturbance was getting closer. Tao’s instinct was to run, but Kai stopped him.
“Wait.”

Since he left the monastery to travel with Kai, Tao has tried hard to learn the skills of the dragonkeeper, but it is not easy. He has no-one to teach him what to do, and he is yet to discover his special qi power. His journey with Kai is long and complex – he has to trust Kai that they are heading in the right direction. There are also many perils – a gang of violent nomads who will stop at nothing to get what they want, a ferocious seven-headed snake-beast, and a ghost who wants to freeze Tao’s blood.

Shadow Sister is the fifth book in the stunning Dragonkeeper series, and maintains the quality of its predecessors. Wilkinson’s characters are endearing – or frightful, in the case of enemies including Fo Tu Deng and Filong – and the settings well-painted. The action is finely paced, keeping the reader engrossed from beginning to end.

As with other books in the series, Shadow Sister could be read alone, but readers who have read the other titles will be glad they have, and those who haven’t will find themselves drawn to seek them out.

Just brilliant.

 

Shadow Sister , by Carole Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, 2014
ISBN 9781922179579

Available from good bookstores or online.

Alexander Altmann A10567 by Suzy Zail

Alexander Altmann stood in the dusty grey square, sweating. He looked up at the sun and guessed it was midday. His stomach growled. If he was home, his mother would be calling him to come in for lunch.

He felt his eyes start to well. “Stop it,” he said under his breath. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” He wiped his nose on his sleeve and waited for his number to be called. He didn’t need to look down at his arm at the number tattooed onto his skin. He knew it by heart. A10567.

The last time he’d heard his name was five weeks ago, maybe six. He hadn’t recognised his mother when she’d called out to him. Her head had been shaved and she wore mismatched shoes and a tattered dress that gaped at the neck and, for the first time since he’d stepped off the train, Alexander realised what he must look like.

 

Alexander Altmann stood in the dusty grey square, sweating. He looked up at the sun and guessed it was midday. His stomach growled. If he was home, his mother would be calling him to come in for lunch.

He felt his eyes start to well. “Stop it,” he said under his breath. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” He wiped his nose on his sleeve and waited for his number to be called. He didn’t need to look down at his arm at the number tattooed onto his skin. He knew it by heart. A10567.

The last time he’d heard his name was five weeks ago, maybe six. He hadn’t recognised his mother when she’d called out to him. Her head had been shaved and she wore mismatched shoes and a tattered dress that gaped at the neck and, for the first time since he’d stepped off the train, Alexander realised what he must look like.

Alexander Altmann is a fourteen-year-old boy and he’s in Buchenwald concentration camp. Every certainty, every connection he ever relied on has been stripped away. Even his name has been replaced by the number tattooed on his forearm. All that remains is memories and the need to survive. He cannot – will not – rely on anyone. He has to toughen up and forget his parents, his little sister Lili, his farm, his life, his beloved horses. To trust no one but himself. Not even Isidor who seems determined to be his friend, despite Alexander’s rejections. A job in the stables gives him a chance to work with horses, but it’s still a very dangerous place where a wrong word or action can mean beatings or death. The stakes intensify when Alexander is charged with breaking in the Commander’s wild new horse. Failure will mean death for them both.

Alexander Altmann’s life was comfortable and happy until Hitler began stripping Jews of all their rights and possessions. Their farm is given to others, his horses seized by the Nazis, his father taken away. All his notions of fairness, equity and justice are stripped away as he and fellow prisoners are dehumanised, starved and executed. Survival is an individual experience, even in a crowded prison camp. Alexander Altmann A10567 explores themes of loss, trust, survival, friendship and more. Alexander’s work with the scared horse he calls Midnight, reveals as much about Alexander and those around him as it does about horses. Alexander Altmann A10567 is a moving story about survival and integrity in the most brutal of circumstances. Recommended for upper-primary readers.

 


Alexander Altmann A10567, Suzy Zail Black Dog Books 2014 ISBN: 9781922179999

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Ghostheart by Ananda Braxton-Smith

It was like this.

I saw it break cover from Spindlestone Stack and stop in the milky sea, washed in light, like one of the chapel wall saints, with its silverthread hair flying in glories. Then it waded ashore.

Watchful.

And just for a moment I thought it was her – Dodi Caillet – come back. That she’d found her way home. I thought it was all the years of my missing her that was making her shine like that. All the years of my wanting her, lighting up the morning. And I took a step toward her. I thought it would be me and Dodi, together again.

Like nothing ever happened.

But it wasn’t.

It was like this.

I saw it break cover from Spindlestone Stack and stop in the milky sea, washed in light, like one of the chapel wall saints, with its silverthread hair flying in glories. Then it waded ashore.

Watchful.

And just for a moment I thought it was her – Dodi Caillet – come back. That she’d found her way home. I thought it was all the years of my missing her that was making her shine like that. All the years of my wanting her, lighting up the morning. And I took a step toward her. I thought it would be me and Dodi, together again.

Like nothing ever happened.

But it wasn’t.

Mally lives on the Isle of Man, in a time when people stay close to their own and much is unexplained. Anything and anyone from otherwhere provokes suspicion and mistrust. Mally comes from a big family but she feels very different, like she doesn’t quite fit. Her brothers and sisters are brave and carefree, but she is frightened by the secrets in her world. The sea is big and terrifying and anywhere beyond her immediate home environment is even more so. Mally spends a lot of time alone evading the things that frighten her. She escapes into the caves by the sea, taking her pig Lovely with her. Only in there, with her only friend, does she feel safe. And now even that is feeling wrong. Dolyn Craig starts to follow her, saying out loud all the things that she is, and that she isn’t. She has seen spirits from the past. Mally is set spinning by the myriad frights.

Ghostheart is the third in the ‘Secrets of Carrick’ series from Ananda Braxton-Smith, although each of the three stories stand alone. There are characters in common and the landscape is the same. It’s a subsistence survival for all the islanders and they cling strongly to their land and their traditions. And their language. Like the other two novels, Ghostheartresonates with language both poetic and accessible, words and phrases that will have readers entranced: ‘…I felt myself to be some tiny fleck of foam hurled at the sky; a sanderling on the edge of the sea. A limpet unstuck. A holdfast, free-swimming.’ There are themes of belonging, guilt and responsibility. Ghostheart starts gently, enticing the reader on as an overture does, teasing the audience on as the pace and tension builds. A rewarding read for mature upper-primary and early secondary readers.

 

Ghostheart, Ananda Braxton-Smith Black Dog Books 2013 ISBN: 9781742032184

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Stage Fright by Carole Wilkinson

Velvet S Pye stood outside the gates of Yarrabank High. She was certain of one thing: this was going to be the worst day ever, the beginning of a miserable year, in fact the rest of her life was totally ruined. A group of boys smoking by the front gate eyed her up and down – obviously checking out her breasts. One of them spat onto the bitumen. Velvet ignored them. She hitched her schoolbag over her shoulder and pushed her earbuds into her ears. Her music was on shuffle. As she walked through the gates, her phone chose that moment to play “The Point of No Return” from The Phantom of the Opera.

Velvet S Pye stood outside the gates of Yarrabank High. She was certain of one thing: this was going to be the worst day ever, the beginning of a miserable year, in fact the rest of her life was totally ruined. A group of boys smoking by the front gate eyed her up and down – obviously checking out her breasts. One of them spat onto the bitumen. Velvet ignored them. She hitched her schoolbag over her shoulder and pushed her earbuds into her ears. Her music was on shuffle. As she walked through the gates, her phone chose that moment to play “The Point of No Return” from The Phantom of the Opera.

Year nine teenager, Velvet Pye is accustomed to a life of wealth and privilege. She attended an elite private school. But things changed when her family lost all their money. Now they’re living in a tiny house and she has to attend the local state high school. Nothing in her life has prepared her for this underfunded sports-mad school. Velvet refuses to play sport, and ends up in the cultural studies room, with a bunch of misfits and a teacher only marginally more together than his students. Velvet has arrived in a nightmare. Her old friends don’t want to know her, and there’s no one here she has anything in common with. Then the principal, Mr Kislinski, decides that the cultural studies group should put on a performance. Shakespeare. What a disaster! A comic one.

Velvet is a fan of musical theatre, is accustomed to travelling overseas and mixing with her culturally-homogenous peers. She is not prepared for the cultural diversity and different expectations of her new school. While her parents seem to be adjusting well to their altered circumstances, Velvet is less prepared. However, Shakespeare is going to be their connection. But to make it work, Velvet has to acknowledge the views and talents of others. She has to overcome her prejudices of the unknown and engage with individuals on their merits. High drama and humour allow the reader to navigate the complex world of secondary school students, whose often challenging home lives could otherwise be very confronting. There are themes of acceptance, individuality, tolerance. Readers will recognise many of the character-types and learn a bit more about Shakespeare’s work without even noticing! A light-hearted yet thoughtful read. Recommended for early- to mid-secondary schoolers.

Stagefright, Carole Wilkinson Black Dog Books 2013 ISBN: 9781922077585

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Dragonkeeper, by Carole Wilkinson

Back in print with an amazing new cover.

Dragonkeeper (Dragonkeeper)
Here’s my review from 2003, when the book was first published:

In ancient China a slave girl who is told she is not worthy of a name witnesses the brutal carving up and pickling of a dragon. When the remaining dragon is threatened, the girl takes a chance and rescues him, fleeing her brutal master.

The pair are free, but a long way from safety. They must travel across China, evading a ruthless dragon hunter and protecting a mystic stone, the dragon stone.

This is a story of incredible beauty, with a delightful mix of fantasy and history. The dragon and his young keeper are created with such intricacy that it is hard to believe author Carole Wilkinson was not a first-hand witness to the events she describes.

Wilkinson’s earlier books were good – but this one, her longest yet, is simply brilliant.

Dragonkeeper, by Carole Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, 2003
New edition 2012

Forget Me Not by Sue Lawson

Eve and her family are relocating from England to America. Her brother, Thomas, is excited but Eve can only think about the friends she is leaving behind. Not even the news that they are to travel on the Titanic’s maiden voyage is enough to cheer her up. Once aboard however, there is plenty of diversion for Thomas and Eve, even if Eve is left to care for her baby sister more often than she would like.

Thomas Gilmore

‘Thomas, it’s time to leave.’ Father’s voice echoed up the stairs of the empty house.

Thomas took a last look around his room. Gone was the furniture, his books, cricket bat and model ship. He wondered if he should have talked Father into letting him keep his cricket bat. After all, cricket might be played in America.

Eve Gilmore

Head high, Mother sailed through the jostling crowd. I trailed behind, fighting the sorrow engulfing my heart. Even though the Southampton dock was crowded with passengers and spectators, I felt alone. The excited chatter, clop of horses’ hooves and blast of automobile horns mingled as mournful drone in my head.

Eve and her family are relocating from England to America. Her brother, Thomas, is excited but Eve can only think about the friends she is leaving behind. Not even the news that they are to travel on the Titanic’s maiden voyage is enough to cheer her up. Once aboard however, there is plenty of diversion for Thomas and Eve, even if Eve is left to care for her baby sister more often than she would like. There are new friends to make, other decks to explore and adventures to be had. On a ship so large and fancy, with so much to look forward to, Eve’s apprehension and sadness slowly ease.

Forget Me Not is the story of one family’s journey aboard the ill-fated Titanic. The reader knows at the outset the fate of the ship, but like the pull of the sinking ship, the story moves them inexorably closer to the moment of impact and beyond. By that time, Eve, Thomas, Bea and their friends Huge and Meggie have become the reader’s friends too and every page turn becomes breath-holding as their fates unfold. In addition to being a story about a family emigration, ‘Forget Me Not’ is a window to another time, when middle class girls were expected to behave like ladies at all times, and young men had responsibilities way beyond their years. And despite this, they found ways to just be children and to enjoy the stuff of childhood. Recommended for middle- to upper-primary readers.

Forget Me Not: The Story of One Family's Voyage on the Titanic

Forget Me Not, by Sue Lawson
Black Dog Books 2012 ISBN: 9781742032108

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Avaialble to purchase online from Fishpond

The Wrong Boy by Suzy Zail

Hanna Mendel has her life mapped out. She will wear her yellow dress to the dance on Saturday night and she will be a famous pianist. Just like her hero Clara Schumann. But she assumes a reasonable world. And in the days of WWII, there is a lack of reason. She and her family have been fortunate until now – even when a ghetto is declared in their Budapest street, they do not have to move. But then they are herded into rail cars and sent to Auschwitz.

They came at midnight, splintering the silence with their fists, pounding at our door until Father let them in. I tiptoed to my sister’s bed, threw back the covers and slid in beside her. She was already awake.

‘I hate them,’ I whispered. Mother didn’t like us using the word hate but there was not getting around it; I hated them. I hated their perfectly pressed uniforms and the way they pushed past Father, dragging the mud from their boots across Mother’s Persian rug. I hated them for nailing the synagogue doors shut and for burning our books. But mostly I hated them for how they made me feel: scared and small.

Hanna Mendel has her life mapped out. She will wear her yellow dress to the dance on Saturday night and she will be a famous pianist. Just like her hero Clara Schumann. But she assumes a reasonable world. And in the days of WWII, there is a lack of reason. She and her family have been fortunate until now – even when a ghetto is declared in their Budapest street, they do not have to move. But then they are herded into rail cars and sent to Auschwitz. Nothing could have prepared her – or anyone – for the horrors of Auschwitz. Hanna’s growing understanding of the environment she now inhabits leads her to desperation and despair. Throughout, she uses her music as an island of calm in her increasingly turbulent world. And then she sees Karl, handsome son of the cruel camp commandant.

Some teenagers transition from child to adult with only minor hiccups. Others, like Hanna and her sister Erika, have their childhood ripped from them in ways almost too brutal to believe. Except that evidence makes it impossible to refute. Some respond to the brutality by giving up, others by fighting. It’s impossible to imagine which response any individual will form, until they are faced with the unfaceable. Ignorance can be damaging, it can be protective. In The Wrong Boy, there are examples of many survival strategies. There are no longer any simple solutions or simple judgements that can be made. Characters are flawed and changeable, good and evil, and sometimes a mixture of both. Hanna is forged strong by her experiences, by the same characteristics that have enabled her to excel at piano-playing. ‘The Wrong Boy’ draws a compelling picture of life in a prison camp from the point of view of a determined but naïve teenage girl. Recommended for secondary readers.

The Wrong Boy

The Wrong Boy, Suzy Zail Black Dog Books 2012 ISBN: 9781742031651

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

Preloved, by Shirley Marr

Things are looking ordinary for 16 year old Amy Lee. Since her parents split up, she and her mum live in a tiny apartment above Mum’s shop, Buy Gone. Amy’s best friend Rebecca has moods that are almost impossible to fathom, or predict. It seems that boys at her school only want to talk to her if she’ll bring along the magnetic Rebecca. At school, her reputation is tipping the scale from odd to downright weird. And now there’s a ghost, Logan.

Whenever my mum decided to give me advice, it often sounded like this:

‘Amy, don’t bring an open umbrella into the house, because a ghost might be hiding under it.’

‘Amy, don’t touch the sleep on a cat’s eyes and then touch your own eyes, because you will see ghosts.’

‘Amy, never tweeze the hairs off the tops of your toes, or you will see ghosts.’

If only I had listened to Mum.

Things are looking ordinary for 16 year old Amy Lee. Since her parents split up, she and her mum live in a tiny apartment above Mum’s shop, Buy Gone. Amy’s best friend Rebecca has moods that are almost impossible to fathom, or predict. It seems that boys at her school only want to talk to her if she’ll bring along the magnetic Rebecca. At school, her reputation is tipping the scale from odd to downright weird. And now there’s a ghost, Logan. With a mother who talks constantly about ghosts and how to avoid them, you’d think Amy should have been safe. But sometimes you have to make up your own mind about what is real and what just might not be. Prelovedis a novel about reality and beyond.

What do you do when you have a mother who spouts superstitions all the time? Who puts the prices up on items in her shop so they won’t be bought? And a father who seems very good at dodging his responsibilities? And a friend who seems only to need her as a prop? None of this is good for self-esteem, and therefore to being able to look objectively at what’s going on in your world. Amy is feisty and likeable. She can see a ghost, but she has more trouble seeing what’s going on in her own head, and heart. Preloved is an engaging read about a girl stuck on the precipice of yesterday and today, not sure whether to fall back or leap forward. Recommended for mid-secondary readers.

Preloved

Preloved, Shirley Marr Black Dog Books 2012 ISBN: 9781742031903

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com