The Boy and the Spy, by Felice Arena

‘I’m a spy,’ the man adds bluntly. ‘But I guess you’ve already figured that out – why else would an American be in Italy? And because of this unexpected twist of circumstances, my life is now in your hands. So it’s up to you to decide whether you owe me and will save my life. What’s my fate? Are you going to turn me in?’
The boy sighs heavily and shakes his head.

Since he was abandoned as a baby, Antonio’s life has never been easy, though his adoptive mamma loves him with her all her heart. Now, though, war has arrived and life is harder than ever. His only joy is drawing cartoons of the German soldiers, a joy which lands him in trouble. When he is rescued by an American spy, he finds unexpected pleasure in helping the man, even though it means putting his own life on the line.

The Boy and the Spy is an action packed adventure set against the backdrop of World War Two in rural Italy. As well as action, there is a a heart warming story of a boy’s struggle to belong. Young readers will be fascinated by this insight into wartime life, and the treatment of illegitimate children, worked into an absorbing adventure story.

Good stuff.

The Boy and the Spy, by Felice Arena
Puffin Books, 2017
ISBN 9780143309284

Stick Dudes, by Felice Arena

Stick Dudes are four friends: Ben Milano; Martin Tang; Johnny Johns and Michael Tubble. They are mostly ten years old, or close to it. Their life is chock-a-block full of adventure. In Champions of the World all the friends catch World Cup Fever. They have a chance to meet a soccer hero, but only if they can win a game of soccer against their arch-enemy, bully Meeval.

In The Secret Four-ce the four decide to form their own secret spy network when treasures begin disappearing from the school. First it’s a book, then football cards. There seems to be no pattern and their initial suspects all prove to be in the clear. The Secret Four-ce is undaunted, even when it seems that the teachers could be suspects as well.

Stick Dudes are illustrated with stick figures also drawn by Felice Arena. There are illustrations on almost every page and each book provides frames at the end for readers to add their own stick dude stories.

Stick dudes are wild. They jump to conclusions, mete out their own justice and generally cause mayhem. There are boys in every school just like them, full of energy and enthusiasm, impossible to contain. They are aimed at mid-primary boys, particularly those who struggle to sit still long enough to read a novel (even the book stolen from Marty in The Secret Four-ce is a adventure one borrowed from his uncle and valued mostly for its extrinsic signed worth). They are also loyal and open and quick to help each other. Each title contains a complete adventure, with the problem identified very quickly. Each story positively zooms along, twisting and turning like a boy on a skateboard. The characters are introduced at the front of each book, and although the stories are told in first person by Ben, one of the main characters, all the others have equal time in the sun. Recommended for mid-primary readers, particularly reluctant ones.

Champions of the World (Stick Dudes)

Champions of the World (Stick Dudes), Felice Arena
Scholastic 2010
ISBN: 9781741696936

The Secret Four-ce (Stick Dudes)

The Secret Four-ce (Stick Dudes), Felice Arena
Scholastic 2010
ISBN: 9781741695502

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Waterfight Frenzy, by Felice Arena

This morning I woke up early, my pillow wet with sweat. Finally! The first really hot day of the summer holidays. Up until now our break was turning out to be a snore-fest. Rainy weather had kept me indoors for two weeks. I was busting to get outside, and my friends Marty, Johnno and Tubs felt the same way.

Ben and his mates have been frustrated by the un-summer weather. When the first hot day arrives, they are determined to make the most of it. Marty invites Ben and their friends, Johnno and Tubs to his house for a swim. First they are pirates and take Ben captive. They will ‘throw him to the sharks’, they say. But Captain Ben Lightfoot is too fast for them. More adventures follow as the boys revel in the sunshine and warmth. The four main characters are introduced before the story begins and there is contents page. At the end there are several blank pages with an invitation for readers to draw their own adventure. Each page is accompanied by stick figure illustrations. There are also extra images and flip pictures at the bottom of each page.

Water Fight Frenzy is a short chapter book. The featured characters have had one previous outing as part of the short story collection, Farticus Maximus and Other Stories that Stink. Now the boys have their own series. The text is large and the chapters are short. Younger readers will be able to skim the illustrations and ‘read’ most of the story, although there are more details in the text. Water Fight Frenzy is a light-hearted, fast-paced adventure aimed at boys. Girls do appear, but typically for the age-group, they are the enemy! Recommended for mid-primary boys, newly independent and reluctant readers.

Water Fight Frenzy (Stick Dudes)

Water Fight Frenzy (Stick Dudes), Felice Arena
Scholastic, 2009
ISBN: 9781741694413

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Farticus Maximus, by Felice Arena

If you’re not a fan of blood and gore, stop reading now. If hardcore bone-crushing battles to the death make you sick in the stomach, then seriously, don’t read another line: this fable is not for you!
Go on! What are you waiting for? Skip to the next story…
Hmm? You’re still here. Stubborn aren’t you?
Oh well, if you’re going to continue to read this I’m going to have to swap some words, so that I don’t totally freak you out.
So, the word ‘kill’ will be replaced with ‘butterfly kiss’ and ‘stab’ will be replaced with ‘hug’. Got it?

There are nine stories in Farticus Maximus. The title comes from both the first and the last story, bookends of the same story. These two, where the reader is offered different ‘chapters’ in the life of Farticus are set in the time of the Roman gladiators. The remainder of the stories are more contemporary. One story, ‘Mrs Deadly Gas’ is told first in prose then a second time in a stick-figure comic version. Another is less a story than a series of illustrations relabelling movie titles, with re-drawn posters. A further story spoofs television series like ‘Idol’ and ‘So You Think You Can Dance?’. All story titles include some direct reference to flatulence. Even the flick-the-page image is of a series of ‘gas explosions’. Farticus Maximus is sold complete with a whoopee cushion.

Never were so many euphemisms for flatulence gathered together in one book! There is nothing subtle about Farticus Maximus. Nor is there intended to be. There is however, pun after pun…after pun. The cover is bright and busy and proclaims loudly its contents. Inside, the large font resembles hand-writing. There are images (also by Arena) on many pages and on openings with no images, there are words writ large and bold to break up the text. While popular culture references extend stories like ‘Flatulence Star’ and ‘Fartoons’ they can be read without this knowledge. From comedy to tragedy to everything in between, Arena is out to prove that all stories lead to flatulence. Sure to be a hit with mid-primary readers, particularly boys.

Farticus Maximus, by Felice Arena
Scholastic 2008
ISBN: 9781741692167