Trouble and the Missing Cat by Cate Whittle ill Stephen Michael King

It turns out that our school Principal doesn’t live in a cupboard at the end of the corridor next to the teachers/ staffroom, even though Kyle Watson and Braedon Smythe both say so, and they should know. They are always being sent to see the Principal. As for me, Georgia, I’ve never made it beyond talking to the Deputy before, and she usually comes up to the classroom.

It turns out that our school Principal doesn’t live in a cupboard at the end of the corridor next to the teachers/ staffroom, even though Kyle Watson and Braedon Smythe both say so, and they should know. They are always being sent to see the Principal. As for me, Georgia, I’ve never made it beyond talking to the Deputy before, and she usually comes up to the classroom.

Georgia travels to school on the back of Trouble, a dragon. Trouble stole their house you see, and set it in the mountains. It was far easier for Georgia to get a lift to school than to try and set their house back on its block. But Trouble has been banned from school and the alternative ‘drop-off point’ is at the spot where their old house was. When Tibbles, the cat next door vanishes, Georgia is happy to help find him. She collects clues and eventually solves the mystery. Black and white illustrations appear on most openings.

Trouble is a dragon, and just like an oversize puppy, he is enthusiastic and not really aware of his size. Georgia is full of enthusiasm too, and sometimes surprised when her attempts to help out are misinterpreted. Their adventures are great fun and will have readers giggling. Fans of Anna Fienberg and Kim Gamble’s ‘Tashi’ stories will enjoy these tales. Recommended for independent readers or read-to for younger children.

Trouble and the Missing Cat, Cate Whittle ill Stephen Michael
King Scholastic 2016 ISBN: 9781742990774

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

This Hungry Dragon, by Heath McKenzie

This HUNGRY dragon
heard his tummy growl.
Someone who heard it
was a nervous little owl!

A very hungry dragon meets – and eats – a series of unfortunate animals: the owl, a fancy fox, a muddy pig, and more. But eventually he feels sick and a visit from the doctor is needed. When the doctor, too, ends up in the dragon’s belly he figures out a way to get the dragon to spit them all out. the dragon feels better – and has learnt his lesson.

This humorous rhyming picture book will have kids laughing out loud and saying ‘gross’ in equal measure, but whilst animals are eaten, there’s no blood or gore, and every one is fine at the end. The dragon, in gentle reds and pinks, with tiny wings and big round eyes looks silly rather than fierce and the looks on the various animals’ faces as they realise what is happening adds to the humour.

Lots of fun.

This Hungry Dragon, by Heath McKenzie
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781760151508

The Warlock’s Child 3: The Iron Claw by Paul Collins & Sean McMullen

In the entire world there are few things that can strike fear into the heart of a king. The sight of his army retreating would be high on the list, and the royal taster clutching his stomach and collapsing would be even higher. At the very top, however, there could be nothing to rival three very angry dragons the size of warships towering over you and asking questions for which you have no answers.

Although King Lavarran II of Savaria was backed up by five thousand of the city militia and fifty of his shapecasters, he felt very exposed. He was standing on the open plain outside his palace to shield him from the forge-hot breath of the dragons – not that the palace walls would have stopped the dragons for very long.

In the entire world there are few things that can strike fear into the heart of a king. The sight of his army retreating would be high on the list, and the royal taster clutching his stomach and collapsing would be even higher. At the very top, however, there could be nothing to rival three very angry dragons the size of warships towering over you and asking questions for which you have no answers.

Although King Lavarran II of Savaria was backed up by five thousand of the city militia and fifty of his shapecasters, he felt very exposed. He was standing on the open plain outside his palace to shield him from the forge-hot breath of the dragons – not that the palace walls would have stopped the dragons for very long.

The three dragons hovering above the city are puzzled. They sense the presence of a young dragon in the city of Savaria, but there hasn’t been a dragon hatchling for 3000 years. Although they can tell when a human is lying, their questions to the king and his court don’t provide any helpful answers. But the answers do buy the humans some time. While Velza and Latsar are trying to do their own investigations, Velza’s brother, Dantar and his friend Marko are being both helped and hindered by Merikus in their quest to leave town. Dantar and Velza’s father cannot be found, although his presence and influence is felt everywhere. The race is on to discover just what the warlock, Calbaras is up to.

The Iron Claw is book three in ‘The Warlock’s Child’ six book fantasy series. Each is told from three viewpoints: the dragons; Velza, a young female warrior, and Dantar. Velza and Dantar are children of Calbaras a highly skilled but secretive warlock. Neither child seems to have much of a relationship with their father. There are twists and turns aplenty as the children (and the dragons) seek to find Calbaras and also to unravel the mystery of why the dragons seem to be protecting Dantar. Each action-filled title is short enough for younger readers, almost as if the stories are serialised, rather than stand-alone novels. Either way, readers will be looking for the next instalment. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

The Warlock’s Child 3: The Iron Claw, Paul Collins & Sean McMullen Ford St Publishing 2015 ISBN: 9781925000948

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

The Great Zoo of China, by Matthew Reilly

‘Now, I know what you are thinking,’ Hu Tang paused. ‘You are thinking that there are hundreds of zoos, why does the world need another one? Indeed, what can China do with a zoo that has not already been done before? Ladies and gentlemen…this is what we can do.’
At that moment, the speeding bullet train burst out into brilliant sunshine and CJ found herself staring at an awesome sight.

In spite of its massive population and a booming economy, China lags behind its adversary, the United States of America, in a key way: it is not the cultural ruler of the planet. China needs something to compete with the power of Disneyland, the dreamfilled destination which epitomises commercialisation and is known the world over. When it is discovered that the most famous mythical creature of them all is not in fact a myth, and is hiding deep within China, it seems that the answer is clear: a zoo unlike any other, where dragons fly free. People will come from everywhere to see them, and will leave knowing that China really is the world ruler.

CJ Cameron doesn’t know any of this. All she knows is that the Chinese government has requested that she visit its new zoo on behalf of the National Geographic. With her brother Hamish and a party of other influential journalists, she is taken to a secret destination, little knowing what it is she will see there. Soon, though, her amazement at the realisation that the zoo houses dragons, is replaced with horror as she realises the dragons are turning rogue, and that zoo officials will do anything to ensure she doesn’t escape to spread the word of this glitch in the zoo’s operations.

The Great Zoo of China is a fast-moving, often gruesome, action thriller of the kind Matthew Reilly fans have come to expect.  Moving almost as quickly as the bullet rains which appear in parts of the novel, the story unfolds over a very short space of time, but manages to include many deaths and lots of destruction, along with a feisty main character who, with some help, tackles dragons and human foe with ingenuity. If the plot sounds familiar, Reilly admits that it was inspired by his love of the novel Jurassic Park and, although he has worked to make it different, by setting it in China and by using dragons instead of dinosaurs, there are similarities which make his homage obvious. This doesn’t make the book less likely to appeal to lovers of Reilly’s work, or of action novels in general, who will enjoy the premise and the plot.

 

The Great Zoo of China, by Matthew Reilly
Macmillan, 2014
ISBN 9781743517017

Available from good bookstores and online.

 

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.

Dragon Moon, by Carol Wilkinson

Rereleased with a beautiful new cover.

Dragon Moon (Dragonkeeper)

The following review was published on Aussiereviews in 2007, when the book was first released.

Everything was bathed in orange blight. The breeze rippled the grass. There were bushes covered with yellow blossom. The grass was speckled with purple bells and spikes of blue flowers. A stream cut its way across the plateau before it plunged over the edge and became the Serpent’s Tail. Long Gao Yuan was just as Ping had imagined.
A sorrowful sound broke the silence. It was Kai. It made Ping’s heart ache.

For more than a year Ping and Kai have sheltered at Beibai Palace, but now Ping knows they must continue their journey. Ping is the last dragon keeper, charged with the care of Kai, the last dragon. She must take Kai to safety, but where this safety lies is not yet clear. All she has is a message from Danzi, Kai’s now dead father.

Together the pair cross China, searching for the haven Danzi has instructed them to find. Along the way they encounter old friends, and many perils, but gradually Ping unravels the clues Danzi has given,. When they reach the dragon haven, Kai will be safe and there might even be other dragons to help raise him. Or are they in for more heartbreak?

Dragon Moon is the brilliant third and final instalment in the Dragonkeeper trilogy, by award winning author Carole Wilkinson. This superb fantasy offering will have readers from ten to adult enthralled, turning pages eagerly to keep up with Ping and Kai’s journey. The ancient Chinese setting and the wonderful rendering of the dragon characters carries the reader into the fantasy world that Wilkinson has created, suspending disbelief with ease.

The only negative about this book is that it marks the end of such an awe-inspiring trilogy.

Dragon Moon, by Carole Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, 2007, and new edition 2012

This new edition is available in good bookstores and online from Fishpond.

Garden of the Purple Dragon, by Carole Wilkinson

Ping ran back through the pine trees, her heart pounding. Kai wasn’t sitting at the mouth of the cave where she’d left him. He looked around, but the fog was like a blindfold. She called his name and ran into the cave. The little dragon was digging up the bed, scattering pine needles everywhere. Ping rushed to him…
“We’re going to find somewhere else to live,” she said, trying to sound calm.

Ping thinks she has found a safe hiding spot to bring up Kai, the baby dragon whose care has been entrusted to her. But her peace is disturbed when she realises someone has found her. She must do everything she can to protect Kai, the last dragon, but who can she trust?

Garden of the Purple Dragon is the second title in the Dragonkeeper series, picking up soon after the first left off. Ping was once a slave girl who didn’t even know her own name, until she discovered that she could communicate with dragons and that she was, in fact, heir to the position of Imperial Dragonkeeper. Now she is on the run with baby Kai, the last of the Imperial dragons, keeping him safe from those who would use him for evil – even if it kills him.

First published in 2005, Garden of the Purple Dragon has been republished, along with other books in the series, with stunning new covers and the same wonderful tale which readers will love to revisit or to discover for the first time. And, of course, on finishing it, they’ll be looking for number three in the series to see what happens next.

Garden of the Purple Dragon (Dragonkeeper)

Garden of the Purple Dragon , by Carole Wilkinson
Black Dog Books, first published 2005, this edition 2012
ISBN 9781742032467

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

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

The Mapmaker's Apprentice, by Peter Cooper

The monks were gone. Three creatures stood in their place, twisted and hunched, skin pale green in the light of the cave mouth, tongues as red as blood as they leered and grimaced and brandished heavy iron swords at the travellers.
‘Rock-demons!’ Koto yelled, and lunged forward.

Now that they are free of their cruel masters, Dillen, Koto and Tajni are ready to pursue their dreams. For Dillen, this means seeking an apprenticeship as a mapmaker. But when he visits the mapmakers house to see if he will be chosen as an apprentice, Dillen finds that competition for the position is fierce. The mapmaker decides to set a challenge for the candidates: to travel to a watch tower and read what is written on its walls. Soon Dillen is travelling across the land, with Koto and Tajni by his side, on a journey filled with danger. The tower guards a mountain pass which is closed to travellers because of the presence of a fearsome beast terrorising those who dare to make the journey. But this will be only one of the challenges the trio have to face if they are to complete the quest – and do it before any of the other candidates.

The Mapmaker’s Apprentice is the second in the Tales of the Blue Jade series, and picks up soon after the first left off. The three friends once again must work together, each drawing on their talents and overcoming their fears as they face new challenges and old foes. The twists and turns of the journey are well paced with development of individual characters and their relationships, creating a satisfying whole.

Best read as a follow on from the first book, but could be read on its own.

The Mapmaker's Apprentice (Tales of the Blue Jade)

The Mapmaker’s Apprentice (Tales of the Blue Jade), by Peter Coper
Omnibus Books, 2012
ISBN 9781862919303

This book is available in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers, by Briony Stewart

t night when it gets cold, tiny beads of water turn to ice, making everything glitter like the jewelled belongings of an empress. Even the tiles of our roof sparkle as I climb onto them from my bedroom window in my warmest hanten coat. Tomodo is waiting for me, his spines shining in the moonlight from his tail to his steps. Once I am sitting safely between his shoulders, he throws his black wings open to the air of the night and leaps into the sky.

Kumiko is tired of living in fear. Since she learnt about the dreaded Shadow Catchers, powerful sorcerers who will stop at nothing to steal dragon magic, she has known that she, her family, and her dragon Tomodo, are in danger. But instead of waiting for the Shadow Catchers to find her, Kumiko has decided she will find them – and stop them once and for all.

Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers is the third and final story in the Kumiko series, and is as enchanting as the first two. What is wonderful about this series is that it shows a child who sees herself as nothing special, and scared of everything, uncovering her own strengths and, as a result, blossoming. In each instalment the stakes have been raised – and as a result Kumiko has had to dig ever deeper to overcome the troubles that beset her and her friends.

The writing is poetic and utterly enchanting, with such gems as the breathtaking line: sometimes one short hug is like a long conversation between friends.

Whilst it is sad to see the series end, Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers is a perfect conclusion.

Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers

Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers, by Briony Stewart
UQP, 2011

ISBN 9780702238741

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