Lola's Toy Box: Party at Cuddleton Castle, by Danny Parker

‘This party must be for a very important toy,’ said Lola.
She was right. On the cake, written in sprinkles, it said:
Happy birthday,
Great High Bear!

Lola has a magic toy box. When she opens it and jumps inside, she is never quite sure where she will end up. This time it has taken Lola and her toy friend Buddy to the great High Bear’s castle, where his birthday party is just about to start. But Lola notices something suspicious about the cake.

Party at Cuddleton Castle is the sixth title in the Lola’s Toy Box series. There is enough backstory and explanation for readers new to the series to read this one, and fans of the earlier books will enjoy this new adventure.

Good sized font, full page illustrations in each chapter (by Guy Shield), and fast paced action make Party at Cuddleton Castle accessible for newly confident readers.

Party at Cuddleton Castle, by Danny Parker
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2016
ISBN 9781760126858

Lily the Elf: The Wishing Seed & The Elf Flute, by Anna Brandford, illustrated by Lisa Coutts

The Wishing Seed (Lily the Elf)
Lily hugs the seed tightly. Then she whispers into the fluff.
Lovely dandelion seed
(not a pest and not a weed),
grant my wish
with super-speed,
a princess crown
is what I need!

Lily’s dress up crown is broken and tattered. She dreams of having a sparkly, unbroken princess crown. So, when a dandelion wish seed floats by, she knows what to do. She makes the wish and waits impatiently for it to come true. But nothing happens. Her wise dad and granny tell her that sometimes fixing things is better than wishing things, but Lily isn’t convinced – until both adults help her to fix her crown into something very special.

The Elf Flute (Lily the Elf)
First, she holds the flute sideways. Next, she wiggles her fingers over the holes. Then she blows over the big hole at the top.
She waits for lovely music to fill the room. But there is only a whiffling sound.

When Lily is given a brand new elf flute, she decides she will play it at the Grand Elf Concert, rather than recite the poem she has written. But learning to play the flute is harder than she thought. Will she master it in time for the concert?

The Wishing Seed and The Elf Flute are two new titles in the delightful Lily the Elf series. Each self-contained chapter book features Lily and her family – her father and her granny. Lily tackles problems which are a charming blend of elfish and human problems – wanting or wishing for something, mastering a new skill, appreciating individual talents and so on.

Black and white illustrations on most spreads, simple sentence structures and large font make these titles suitable for emergent readers, but accessibility has not compromised the story quality.

A lovely pair.

The Wishing Seed (ISBN 9781925081060)
The Elf Flute (ISBN 9781925081077)
both by Anna Brandford & Lisa Coutts (ill)
Walker Books, 2015

Bella and the Wandering House, by Meg McKinlay

Bella and the wandering house cover‘Sorry.’ Bella lifted her foot. She hopped onto the path and looked back at the house. And as she did, a shiver prickled her skin. Because what she saw made no sense. The front steps ran down the veranda – the way they always had, the way they must. But where they should have met the path – the way they always had, the way they must … they didn’t.
Instead, things were crooked. It was if the world had shifted sideways a little, in a quiet sort of way…

Bella is the only one who notices that her house is doing strange things. Her mum and dad, caught up in their busy lives, think she’s dreaming when she says that the house has moved. But soon the house starts moving further and further from their yard, and even Bella’s parents are forced to take notice when they wake up next to a pond. But it is Bella who figures out why the house is moving, and what they can do to help it.

Bella and the Wandering House is a whimsical tale of a wandering house, imagination and memories. The gentle mystery of why the house wanders – and what can be done about it – is resolved agianst the background of a lovely relationship between Bella and her grandfather. Bella is an independent, strong character, and and the change in her parents as the story proceeds is satisfying.

Suitable for junior primary readers.

Bella and the Wandering House, by Meg McKinlay
Fremantle Press, 2015
ISBN 9781925162301

Benji the Buccaneer by Craig Cormick ill Bill Hope

Benji stood unhappily at the bus stop, trying to imagine all the things that were worse than the first day back at school after the holidays. So far he had thought of magpies pooping in his undies when they were hanging on the line. Or his older sister using him for make-up practice while he was asleep. Or possibly a zombie invasion.

He was still thinking about zombies when he saw a strange-looking double-decker bus coming slowly up the street towards him. It was black and old and looked a bit bent out of shape. He heard its engine moaning and growning as it came up the hill. It wasn’t even a particularly big hill.

Then, to his surprise, it stopped right in front of him, and the door slowly hissed open.

Benji stood unhappily at the bus stop, trying to imagine all the things that were worse than the first day back at school after the holidays. So far he had thought of magpies pooping in his undies when they were hanging on the line. Or his older sister using him for make-up practice while he was asleep. Or possibly a zombie invasion.

He was still thinking about zombies when he saw a strange-looking double-decker bus coming slowly up the street towards him. It was black and old and looked a bit bent out of shape. He heard its engine moaning and growning as it came up the hill. It wasn’t even a particularly big hill.

Then, to his surprise, it stopped right in front of him, and the door slowly hissed open.

Benji is waiting for the school bus and isn’t sure he’s ready to go back to school for another year, although if pushed, he can think of worse fates. When an unfamiliar bus collects him and he’s offered an opportunity to make a choice, he decides that he’d like to be a pirate. A buccaneer. It seems that Benji is in charge of this adventure so he has to define just what a pirate is, and what a pirate does. He and his motley crew spend the day in an adventure that is defined by his knowledge – and lack of knowledge – about pirates and their activities. A final encounter makes him question his wish to be a pirate and offers him an alternative view of school. Full colour illustrations appear on each opening, with chapter numbers also telling their own story.

Benji the Buccaneer is a new story from the Little Rockets series from New Frontier Publishing. Each chapter book offers widely spaced text and illustrations on each page to help make the transition from fully illustrated texts less daunting. Benji is offered an alternative to school and happily, if slightly confusedly, takes it. As the adventure unfolds it becomes clear that his education has some gaps and perhaps there is a point to it after all. Benji is in charge of his adventure, despite it being peopled by an odd assortment of other characters. And it is Benji who finally decides his final destination at the completion of this adventure. Recommended for lower- to mid-primary readers.

 

Benji the Buccaneer, Craig Cormick ill Bill Hope New Frontier Publishing 2014 ISBN: 9781925059052

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Annie's Snails, by Dianne Wolfer

Annie giggles. Her pets shiver and slip back into their shells. She lines them up on her legs, sits very still and waits. The snails peep out. They stretch, then race each other to Annie’s ankles. It’s a very slow race.

Annie loves snails, so after it rains she collects six of them and keeps them as pets. She races them, she plays with them, she even gives them names. She is very happy with her pet snails. The problem is, it seems they might not be happy with her.

Annie’s Snails is a delightful story of pets, family and care for the natural world. Part of Walker Books’ ‘Walker Stories’ imprint, the book is broken into three stories, though together they make up one longer story that traces Annie’s adventures in first capturing then caring for the snails before finally deciding to release them.

Suitable for newly independent readers making the transition to books with chapters, there is illustrative support on every page in the form of gray-scale pictures by talented new-comer Gabriel Evans.

A fun offering.

Annie’s Snails , by Dianne Wolfer, illustrated by Gabriel Evans
Walker Books, 2014
ISBN 9781921720635

Available from good bookstores and online .

Bush Holiday by Leonie Norrington ill Brenton E McKenna

Tillithia loves living in Palmerston Heights. She loves her school. She loves hanging out with Lily, her next door neighbour. But most of all she loves the school holidays.

Sometimes she goes with her mum and Lily to a market for breakfast, or they ride their bikes to the park. This morning Tillithia has a plan.

Tillithia loves living in Palmerston Heights. She loves her school. She loves hanging out with Lily, her next door neighbour. But most of all she loves the school holidays.

Sometimes she goes with her mum and Lily to a market for breakfast, or they ride their bikes to the park. This morning Tillithia has a plan.

Tillithia might have plans for this holiday day, but so does Mum. And Mum’s plan is not the same as Tillithia’s. Tillithia and Mum are off to Goose Camp with Auntie Doreen. Mum knows Auntie Doreen will help Tillithia to learn Aboriginal ways. Tillithia just remembers their last trip, when she got wet and dirty and ate mussels that tasted like snot. She’d much rather stay in town. But that’s not going to happen. Tillithia begins by sulking but is gradually won over by curiosity and the good humour of Mum and Auntie. Eventually, Mum’s teasing stops when Tillithia helps Auntie gather food for the old ladies. Now it is Tillithia’s turn to tease. Bush Holiday has coloured illustrations throughout and uses several text types to highlight different words.

The ‘Mates’ series from Omnibus has many titles. Each is full of humour and tells a tale that is particularly Australian. In Bush Holiday the reader travels to Northern Territory and is taken on a road trip holiday. It is a story of family, and learning and sharing. Tillithia experiences a different sort of education in the holidays, where knowledge of and respect for the land are taught in an active way. Bush Holiday gently reminds the reader that life is full of learning and that there are many teachers. The joyfulness of Mum and Auntie as they travel and teach their reluctant student is delightful and should resonate with readers young and not-so. And when Tallitha reflects on her unexpected bush holiday, it is the connection with the land and her greater family that she remembers most fondly. Recommended for newly confident readers.

 

Bush Holiday, Leonie Norrington ill Brenton E McKenna Omnibus Books 2013 ISBN:9781742990019

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Drongoes, by Christine Bongers ill Dan McGuiness

Jack has bully trouble. Nothing he has done in the past has succeeded. Rocket Robson seems to have it in for him. Not only is he faster and stronger, he’s just plain tricky. This year Jack, with the help of Eric, is determined to beat him. So he and Eric train and train, encouraged and supported by Jack’s mascot birds, the drongoes. But Rocket Robson beats him in all the athletic events, until there’s only the cross country to go. Colour illustrations appear on every opening, with header and footer illustrations, and differing font sizes to break up text.

It’s the Year Five cross-country tomorrow – the biggest day ever for me and my best mate, Eric.

It was Eric’s big chance to finish a race. And it was my big chance to finally beat Rocket Robinson.

In Year One, Rocket Robson tripped me on purpose in the egg-and-spoon race.

I might have forgotten about it. If it hadn’t been for what he did in Year Two.

‘Hey, Jack, your shoelaces are undone,’ he said. ‘Here, let me help. I’m good with shoelaces.’ He was good, too. Good at tying them together.

Eric was even more upset than I was. ‘We need to shut that Rocket down,’ he muttered. ‘We need to beat him.’ He said ‘we’ but he meant me.

Jack has bully trouble. Nothing he has done in the past has succeeded. Rocket Robson seems to have it in for him. Not only is he faster and stronger, he’s just plain tricky. This year Jack, with the help of Eric, is determined to beat him. So he and Eric train and train, encouraged and supported by Jack’s mascot birds, the drongoes. But Rocket Robson beats him in all the athletic events, until there’s only the cross country to go. Colour illustrations appear on every opening, with header and footer illustrations, and differing font sizes to break up text.

Drongoes is a new offering in the Mates series published by Omnibus. Each is uniquely Australian and offers realistic and tall-tale fiction for newly independent readers. Word styles and colours vary throughout, although the majority of the text is in a uniform font. Text variations and illustrations intersperse and add to the story and provide an accessible story for readers transitioning from fully illustrated books. Drongoes also explores friendship and competitiveness. It presents ways to deal with bullies without intervention from teachers or parents. Recommended for newly-independent readers.

Drongoes

Drongoes, Christine Bongers ill Dan McGuiness
Omnibus Books 2013
ISBN: 9781862919822

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Available from good bookstores or here.

Captain Blunderbolt, by Carol Ann Martin

Alberta is the oldest of three children in a family struggling for survival in the early days of white settlement in Australia. Father seems to be a bit of a dud in the providing-for-his-family department and Mother is the one who picks up the pieces. Alberta’s role is looking after her two younger siblings. On the day they decide to skip school…

We shouldn’t have wagged school, I know.
Not when our lessons were costing Mother threepence a week. But the whingeing started the minute the door of our slab hut fell off behind us. (Father was not very good at building huts.)
‘I don’t like it! I’m not going!’ That was Maudie. She had started school only four days ago. Already she’d decided that it wasn’t for her.
Tully was just plain cranky. He was missing Father, who had probably got himself lost again. Getting lost was something Father was good at.

Alberta is the oldest of three children in a family struggling for survival in the early days of white settlement in Australia. Father seems to be a bit of a dud in the providing-for-his-family department and Mother is the one who picks up the pieces. Alberta’s role is looking after her two younger siblings. On the day they decide to skip school they witness a failed coach raid by the famous Captain Blunderbolt. The occupants of the coach are initially frightened, but on witnessing Blunderbolt’s incompetence are moved sufficiently to offer donations. Meanwhile, the school bully is up to his usual tricks. Now he’s spreading a rumour that Alberta’s Father isn’t off trying to find gold, but is actually Blunderbolt. Each page includes colour illustrations often with headers and footers to break up the text.

The Mates series from Omnibus delivers short chapter books for newly independent readers. Each includes an iconic Australian story. All include a delightful dose of Aussie humour. Captain Blunderbolt introduces a new generation to our colonial history in a light-handed and informative manner. History can be dry and dull, but in the Mates format, it is anything but. Each offering opens the way for discussion about life in Australia, with all its joys and challenges. In Captain Blunderbolt the reader discovers that life was tough for settler families, with fathers needing to go away from home to find work. It also opens the discussion about the rich and the not-so-rich, and the inherent inequalities that can come with it. A particularly welcome aspect is the reference to Mother’s practical capabilities. As with all the offerings in the Mates series, readers will come for the humour, stay for the story and come away with more understanding of the rich Australian culture we all share. Recommended for newly emergent readers.

Captain Blunderbolt (Mates)

Captain Blunderbolt , Carol Ann Martin & Loren Morris
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781862918238

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
www.clairesaxby.com

This book can be purchased in good bookstores or online from Fishpond.

Buzz Off! by Randa Abdel-Fattah

It’s stinking hot. I’ve thrown the blanket off my bed. I’m lying spread out, trying to fall asleep. But the cool change hasn’t come and my skin is prickly with sweat.
I close my eyes and I can see myself jumping into our swimming pool. Thinking about water cools me down. I start to forget about the heat. My body relaxes. I’m about to fall into deep sleep.
Suddenly …

Noor can’t sleep because it’s too hot. And if that wasn’t annoying enough, along come the flies. Buzzing all about, but impossible to catch. Then Noor realises he can hear them talking. Suddenly the game changes. Noor, already fly-fighter extraordinaire, is insulted when he discovers just what the flies think of him. Now it’s personal! He hatches a plan to get rid of all the flies. But sometimes the solution isn’t quite the solution it seems to be. Illustrations are colourful and cartoon-y and appear on every opening. Most pages also include a header and/or footer showing some of the fly’s favourite foods. Challenging words, or even just words to be emphasised are in different, larger fonts.

The ‘Aussie Mates’ series has produced some very funny new Aussie yarns. And certainly, nothing feels more Aussie than flies. No barbecue or picnic is complete without flies. This time, though, the notion of Australian-ness has been expanded to portray some of newer Australians. Mum wears a headscarf but she also wears a hat with corks strung from it. Noor wants to rid the world of flies, but it’s soon clear that every creature has a purpose in the world, even if it seems like flies are just there to stop him sleeping and to dive into his family’s food. In the way of these yarns, the magical elements (like being able to understand fly-talk) are woven in with little explanation. None is needed. It’s clear that these are tall tales, designed to be collected and enjoyed. The ‘Aussie Mates’ series is for newly independent readers, but there’s plenty of fun to be had for older readers.

Mates: Buzz Off

Mates: Buzz Off Randa Abdel-Fattah, Dan McGuiness
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781862918481

Doug-Dennis and the Flyaway Fib, by Darren Farrell

Doug-Dennis and Ben-Bobby are best of friends. But even best friends get bored, so they set off to the circus, where wondrous things will happen. But before the wondrous things even get underway, a split-second decision has Doug-Dennis telling a fib. The fib quickly grows and Doug-Dennis floats away on the growing story, until he reaches highest sky. There he discovers what happens when fibs grow out of control. It’s a big lesson for Doug-Dennis. Doug-Dennis and the Flyaway Fibis illustrated in a very cartoon-y style, with fibs separated from truth by the colour of the speech bubbles. Endpapers feature a range of circus posters, with claims which just may or may not be fibs. At the beginning the characters on the posters welcome the reader to the story. At the end, it’s farewell.

Sometimes fibs just slip out. Often it’s due to a fear of getting into trouble. But here’s a fib, like most fibs, that very quickly becomes out of control. The follow-up fibs get bigger and bigger, rapidly outgrowing any potential or perceived trouble that the truth might have attracted. Darren Farrell wraps his truth in a wild over-the-top story, that will have readers giggling. There are plenty of extras to look for in the illustrations as Doug-Dennis’s journey to the truth floats him through the stratosphere. The endpapers link with the circus activities and provide their own separate narrative. For an ostensibly simple story about a fib, there’s plenty of other things going on! Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Doug-Dennis and the Flyaway Fib, Darren Farrell
Scholastic Australia 2011
ISBN: 9781741697568

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
www.clairesaxby.com

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.