Turtle Trackers by Samantha Wheeler

Three spine-tingling wails pierced the night air. ‘Beach stone-curlew,’ I murmured, huddling closer to Mum.
A warm, salty gust blasted my face and waves crashed on the shore ahead. The people in front of us whispered, their voices ghostlike in the dark.
‘Everyone ready?’ asked the ranger, Shane, as our group of twenty hurried after him along the track. Shoes shuffled across the coarse sand.

Ten-year-old Isaac and his mother live south of Bundaberg in Queensland, where his mum manages The Pines Holiday Village, a council-owned caravan park. Since Dad is no longer around, Isaac helps his mum as much as he can. In between, he’s a huge fan of the local wildlife, particularly the turtles. Now there’s a full moon and turtles are coming ashore to lay eggs on the beach where they were born. But as well as too much work and not enough time to spend with his friends or the turtles, there are grumpy bloggers, dogs and cats to contend with. Isaac has his work cut out to keep the turtle nests safe until the eggs hatch and a new generation of turtles can make their first journey safely to the sea.

Isaac is doing it tough. He’s lost his dad, his mum is working too hard and no one seems to appreciate how hard he’s trying to keep everyone happy. This is Samantha Wheeler’s third title featuring young characters working to save iconic Australian animals. Each includes a fast-paced adventure and information about animals and the challenges they face for survival in the environment they share with humans. The bright covers on these fictional but also informative novels are very engaging. Recommended for mid-primary readers

Turtle Trackers, Samantha Wheeler UQP 2018 ISBN: 9780702259951

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

The Endsister by Penni Russon

In the locked attic of the house on Mortlake Road in south-west London, near a bend in the River Thames, something stirs.
It shudders, a cobwebbed thing, tattered and dusty, so long forgotten, so long forgetting.
It is hardly anything, but it is almost something, disturbing the shadows, shrinking from the approaching light.

An Australian family inherit a grand old house in London and move from their rented farmhouse to live at Outhwaite House. There Else, Clancy, the twins and Sibbi, along with their parents adjust to a new life. Some settle in more easily than others to this old house – some begin to thrive and others succumb to the secrets trapped within the walls. Told from multiple viewpoints, this is a story of endings and beginnings, and of all things in between.

It takes skill to write a cohesive story from multiple (different-aged) viewpoints without sacrificing the building tension and keeping the reader connected. Penni Russon nails it. Each dweller in Outhwaite House is given a voice and their own story, and together they weave a wonderful, mysterious story that will keep the reader page-turning to the very last. Highly recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

The Endsister, Penni Russon Allen & Unwin 2018 ISBN: 9781741750652
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby

They were met with a view of a large garden, but unlike the welcoming front of the house, now flowers bloomed and no bumblebees buzzed. Everything was dark and drenched in shadow because of what lay to the left – a gigantic tree that loomed over the entire garden and the house itself. Immy’s breath caught in her throat and her heart began to race as her eyes slowly travelled up its thick, gnarled trunk.

When Immy and her parents travel to England for a fresh start, they desperately want to rent a country cottage with a garden. But the only house that meets their brief has a downside: a mysterious mulberry tree in its backyard. Village lore has it that the tree is responsible for the disappearance of two girls, each of whom vanished on the eve of her eleventh birthday. Although the two disappearances were almost two hundred years apart, the legend surrounding the tree is such that the whole village mistrusts the tree, and girls are kept well away. But Immy’s parents don’t believe the tales, and Immy herself feels drawn to the cottage and to the mystery of the tree, and soon the family is trying to rebuild their lives in their new home. Still, as Immy’s eleventh birthday draws close, and Immy hears and sees things that aren’t really there, she wonders if she can solve the mystery or if she, too, will fall victim to the tree.

The Mulberry Tree is an engaging, but eerie novel for younger readers, who will love th supernatural elements. The blend of creepy, frightening moments with realistic, everyday problems and warm moments is a satisfying mix, suitable for middle and primary aged readers. The English setting will also appeal, adding tot he sense of displacement felt by the protagonist and adding interest for the reader.

The Mulberry Tree, by Allison Rushby
Walker Books, 2018
ISBN 9781760650292

Missing, by Sue Whiting

In the dead of night we run away.
Dad hoists the new pack over my shoulders. I rub at my eyes, drag sleep-flattened hair into a rough ponytail, then trail him out the door. It clicks softly behind us. Dad’s twitchy. I’m twisted in knots.

Mackenzie’s mum is missing. It’s been 114 days since she was last scene in remote Panama. Most people think she must be dead, but Mackenzie’s dad is convinced she is still alive. Without telling Nan, or anyone else, he wakes Mackenzie in the dead of night and takes her to Panama where, he is sure, they will uncover the truth. But, while Mackenzie’s Dad is desperate to find Mum, Mackenzie is desperate to make sure he doesn’t, and that they don’t uncover too much information.

Missing is an emotional, absorbing read. The blend of mystery, adventure and emotion make for an enticing combination which won’t let readers put it down. With chapters set ‘now’ , as Mackenzie deals with her Dad’s desperation and unbalanced approach to solving the mystery, interspersed with chapters set ‘then’, in the days surrounding Mum’s disappearance, and in the months since, as Mackenzie and her father and grandmother struggle to deal with the situation, the format allows readers to gradually piece together what has happened, and to travel with Mackenzie as she moves closer to the truth.

The balance between action and emotion is done well, making for a satisfying, if heart-churning read.

Missing, by Sue Whiting
Walker Books, 2018
ISBN 9781760650032

Pepsi the Problem Puppy, by Sandi Parsons, illustrations by Aska

Pepsi backed up slowly, away from Mum. She turned and darted behind Granny’s recliner chair. One sausage caught on the carpet and was left behind. Mum stood still, her hands on her hips.
Pepsi poked her head out. She looked at the last sausage still sitting on the carpet, and licked her lips. In a flash, Pepsi bounced out, grabbed the sausage and hurried backwards into her hidey-hole.
There was a loud slurp.
Then a burp.

Rosie has always wanted a dog, so when her dad brings home Pepsi, a rescue dog,  she is really excited. the problem is – Pepsi is excited too. She is a young blue heeler, with lots of energy and not much training. From the moment Dad brings her home, she causes trouble – running around, knocking things over and eating whatever she can. But Rosie loves her. The trouble is, Mum isn’t very keen. Pepsi makes lots of mess, digs holes int eh garden, and is much bigger than Mum expected. Rosie needs to figure out how to train Pepsi, and fast, or Pepsi might be sent away.

Pepsi the Problem Puppy  is a junior novel about pets and families. Rosie is a dog-loving girl and part of a loving but busy family which includes her younger brother, parents and an elderly great-grandmother.  Pepsi is recognisable to anyone who has ever met a young blue heeler – excitable, enthusiastic, but also very loyal.  The story moves at a good pace, supported by humorous, warm grey-scale illustrations from the artist Aska.

Kids will love Pepsi and her adventures.

Pepsi the Problem Puppy, by Sandi Parsons, illustrated by Aska
Faraway Nearby Ink, 2017
ISBN 9780987615701
 

 

The Choke, by Sofie Laguna

I was eating Weet-Bix at the kids’ table not long after I moved to Pop’s, when I heard Pop and Dad talking.
You should have been more careful, Ray.
Accidents happen.
Yeah, and now I’m stuck with your bloody accident.
The table was so low it kept me at the height of their knees. If they didn’t look down they forgot I was there.

Since her mother abandoned her as a toddler, Justine has been raised by her Pop, a troubled survivor of the Burma railway. Her dad comes and goes, away for months at time. Her half brothers visit regularly and are sometimes allies, but their different mothers, and the manipulations of their father mean that their relationship is uneasy. School is also difficult for Justine. Not only does she lack the home environment of her classmates, but she also struggles to read, and is seen by teachers as lazy and disruptive.

Amongst so much neglect, Justine must make do. She finds solace in her Pop’s chickens, who she feeds and talks to, and in the Choke, a narrow opening in the Murray River at the back of their house. Brief glimpses of kindness from fellow humans are rare, but somehow Justine manages to survive again and again.

The Choke is a haunting story of poverty and neglect. Justine, as the youngest member of a broken family, has a life which readers will see is cruel and unfair, but which is portrayed with a frightening, heartbreaking realism.

A troubling, powerful read.

The Choke, by Sofie Laguna
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760297244

The Great Rabbit Chase,by Freya Blackwood

Mum went out to buy a new pair of gumboots,
but came home with a rabbit.
I named him Gumboots.

Gumboots the rabbit is a much loved pet, but the thing he does best is escape. Today, he chooses the moment Mum is in the shower and the narrator’s friend Norman is at the door to escape. Soon Mum (wrapped in a towel) and the two children are in pursuit. As they move through the town,more people join in the chase – a neighbour with a plate of cakes,a man with shiny black shoes, even a mum with a crying baby. Finally, Gumboots leads them to a park, where everyone feels more rested, and Gumboots has a surprise.

The Great Rabbit Chase is an adorable picture book about happiness, slowing down -and rabbits. Blackwood, best known for her gentle, life-filled watercolour illustrations, shows that her creative talents extend to writing with a similar touch of gentle whimsy.

Adorable.

The Great Rabbit Chase, by Freya Blackwood
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781743811641

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares, by Krystal Sutherland

Esther Solar had been waiting outside Lilac Hill Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for half an hour when she received word that the curse had struck again.
Rosemary Solar, her mother, explained over the phone that she would no longer, under any circumstances, be able to pick her daughter up. A cat black as night with demon-yellow slits for eyes had been found sitting atop the hood of the family car – an omen dark enough to prevent her from driving.

Esther Solar believes her family is cursed. Ever since her grandfather met Death in Vietnam, every family member has been cursed to suffer from one great fear, and to eventually die because of that fear. Her Grandfather, told her will die from drowning, avoids water, even baths. Esther’s father is an agoraphobic who has lived in the basement for six years, And her twin brother Eugene is terrified of the dark. Esther, though, is determined to avoid the curse, by avoiding everything that might trigger a phobia. She’s made a list of them, a semi-definitive list of worst nightmares. Then she meets Jonah, a would-be film maker with problems of his own, who is determined to make her confront, and dispel every one of her possible phobias.

Funny, sad and satisfyingly weird, A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares is hard to categorise, which is a good thing. The cast of flawed characters – teens and adults – are intriguing, and the plot equally absorbing. There’s some tough stuff happening, but the story is ultimately fun.

A Semi-Definitive List of Worst Nightmares Penguin, 2017
ISBN 978014357391

In the Dark Spaces, by Cally Black

The stranger keeps coming, long-legged stretches of shiny black uniform kicking down the ramp. And it’s not a person. Facing McVeigh is this tall half-crow, half-scarecrow things, all dressed in black. SHiny black armoured ridges line down the centre of its chest and across its shoulders like the back of a crocodile. Its head is a massive beaked helmet. And it’s not a leathery cape, cos it’s moving by itself. They’re wings. Wings that lift higher and quiver….
My scalp prickles. Not right. This is not right. This is a real thing!

Tamara has spent most of her life hiding. Since she was orphaned, her Aunt Lazella has kept her hidden on the ships where she ekes out a living in the kitchens. Now, Tamara is responsible for keepign her little cousin, Gub, silent while Lazella works. But if she can get strong enough to work, too, their fortunes will improve.

When the ship is raided by strange crow-like figures, Tamara finds her fortunes changing in a completely different way. Separated from Gub, Tamara finds herself a prisoner of the invaders, taken back to their hive where she must figure out a way to stay alive long enough to figure out how to get back to her cousin. But, separated by space, this is not going to be asy.

In the Dark Spaces is a stunning spec-fic offering. Set in an unnamed future where fleets of starships mine space for the minerals necessary for survival on Earth, the story explores what happens when an alien race objects to the human presence, which threatens its own existence. Fourteen year old Tamara, who knows too well the downsides of human society, gets to experience first hand the highs and lows of an alternative civilisation, as well as being drawn into the quest for peace.

Tamara is an intriguing character, whose near-silent existence as a stowaway in her aunt’s quarters is swapped for one where she is initially voiceless because of the barriers of language. Her tenacity, coupled with her willingness to learn and to question, are key to her survival, and her loyalty to her absent cousin is a key factor in her survival.

Explroing themes including language, loyalty, human rights and so much more,
In the Dark Spaces is an outstanding read.

In the Dark Spaces, by Cally Black
Hardie Grant Egmont, 2017
ISBN 9781760128647

The Way Back, by Kylie Ladd

Terry swallowed. ‘You need to call Matt, get him back here. I hope I’m wrong, but when the dogs are onto something and then it suddenly vanishes it usually means the person has got into a car, or been picked up and carried. If Charlie was still anywhere near where we found her helmet we’d have her by now, but she’s not.’ He put his hand on her arm. ‘This changes things, Rachael. I don’t think she’s just missing anymore. We’re dealing with a potential abduction.’

Charlie Johnson is part of a loving family. She has an amazing best friend, and is kind of into Liam, a cute guy from school. But, most of all, she loves horseriding, especially riding Tic-Tac, who she’s finally convinced her parents to lease for her. But one day Charlie and Tic-Tac go out riding, and only Tic-Tac comes back.

For four months, Charlie’s friends and family searched desperately, not knowing if she is dead or alive. For four months, Charlie survives – barely. Finally, she is found wandering and injured, miles from where she was lost. Of course being reunited is wonderful, but can Charlie and her family really heal from what she – and they – have all been through?

The Way Back is a moving story of separation, fear and determination. Ladd explores the emotional complexity of the situation from a number of perspectives, showing that there is no one way that such events can impact on victims, or of dealing with the aftermath of such. Ladd’s empathy and insight take the reader inside a difficult situation in a way which seems real, yet prevents the experience from being overwhelming.

Gripping.

The Way Back, by Kylie Ladd
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760297138