Jacaranda Magic by Dannika Patterson and Megan Forward

Five friends feeling bored on a hot stick day.
‘What should we do?
What games can we play?’

It’s a summer day and five friends are at a loss. What to play? None of their normal games/activities will do. When a breeze showers them with Jacaranda flowers, their imaginations come alive. The flowers, the branches, the tree itself all contribute in sparking game after game that they devise and share. The Jacaranda tree offers endless opportunity for invention and imagination. Illustrations are pencil and watercolour, loose and summery.

Imagination requires space to grow. Time space, not just physical space. Cued by falling flowers, a group of children begin to imagine new worlds. No props are needed beyond imagination and the tree. A potentially empty summer’s day fills with adventure and discovery as the children explore their physical world. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

Jacaranda Magic Dannika Patterson ill Megan Forward Ford St Publishing 2018 ISBN: 9781925804010
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller
www.clairesaxby.com

Legend Series Book 5: Over the Wall, by Michael Panckridge

I still couldn’t quite believe what had happened last week after the Legend of Football presentations.
A group of us had raced off to the library straight after the presentation assembly. We hadn’t heard a thing from Bryce, who had shoved his mobile phone into our hands moments before the end of lunch that day. Then he’d headed off to, we assumed, the library. Outside the hall there were parents, students and teachers milling about everywhere. There was a great-looking afternoon tea for everyone, with visitors and kids alike tucking in.

‘Over the Wall’ is Book Five in the Legend series that sees Mitchell and friends competing at different sports. There’s a girls’ comp that runs simultaneously and there’s overlap in some sports. This time, soccer is the contested sport. Mitchell and his arch-rival Travis Fisk are neck and neck in the overall competition. As they and others duel for points, there’s a mystery beyond the library that is occupying time and mind. There are also extras, including score sheets for the Legend Series, and a quiz.

Mitchell has only arrived at Sandhurst school for this final year of primary school. So there’s plenty he doesn’t know about the school, the students and the sports competition. As the series progresses, he builds a friendship group, becomes familiar with the cultures of his new school and of the other schools involved in the sports competition. He’s competitive and skilled, but also knows how to play fair. This provides a point of contrast with Travis Fisk who seems to come from a family where winning is the only option, no matter the cost. Recommended for readers in mid- and upper-primary, particularly those who would rather be out playing sport.

Legend Series Book 5: Over the Wall, Michael Panckridge
Ford St Publishing 2018
ISBN: 9781925272925

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

Stephanie Chiocci and the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Chase, by Matt Porter

‘Good old Collingwood forever, they know how to play the game!’ my ringtone proudly sings.
Eddie McGuire is calling me. It’s the third time today. He may be president of the Collingwood Football Club, and I the captain of the women’s team, but this is getting ridiculous.
‘Hey, Ed,’ I say … again.

Steph Chiocci is on a post-season break from her duties as captain and player in the AFLW league. She’s supposed to be resting, but instead she’s in England after receiving a letter from a fan. Emily’s grandmother is a cheesemaker but is under attack from a rival trying to push her out of business. Emily wants Steph to compete on her grandmother’s behalf in the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling Race. Steph is up for the challenge, but rolling a cheese is not the same as bouncing a football. Steph needs to work on her game plan. Added extras at the end include Steph Facts, Q&A and some football tips for aspiring players.

What do football players do in the off-season? Chase cheese of course! ‘Stephanie Chiocci and the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Chase’ is the first in a new series of chapter books, called Footy Stars, featuring stars of AFLW. Steph not only takes on a challenge, but also outwits a bully and saves a cheese business. There are plenty of laughs here as well as a footy tip or two. Recommended for mid-primary readers and fans of football. Extra interest if reader is a Collingwood fan!

Stephanie Chiocci and the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Chase, Matt Porter
Ford St Publishing 2018
ISBN: 9781925272888

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

Pretty Girls Don’t Eat by Winnie Salamon

Call me old-fashioned, but there’s nothing quite like a department store in the middle of the week. Quiet, shiny, anonymous. You could spend an entire day in the lingerie section, surrounded by lace, elastic and padded inserts and nobody would consider you a pervert because they wouldn’t even notice. Watching the flat screens in electricals, trying out mattresses in bedding, browsing through racks of dresses that cost $2000 each. Applying hand cream, perfume, lipstick. All without a single, ‘Can I help you?’

Winter seems to know exactly what she wants from life. She loves fashion and design and has an enviable talent in making her designs translate from the page to wearable art. She has great friends and a supportive family. But at sixteen years old, she’s starting to wonder if things might be better, if even her best friends and her family might love her better, more, if she wasn’t quite so fat. It might also help in the ‘never been kissed’ department too. Scratch the surface of any ‘perfect’ life and there’s plenty of non-perfection to be found. Although it can be harder to believe, non-perfection can be more interesting.

Everyone has secrets. And secret thoughts. Particularly in adolescence. It’s a time of discovery, of working out who you are, and also of looking at others around you in new ways. Hormones play their part in realigning understanding of friendships and family. ‘Pretty Girls Don’t Eat’ offers an opportunity to unstitch and refashion beliefs of self and others. There’s plenty here for discussion. How does a seemingly together teenager start believing negative self-talk? How perfect are the ‘perfect’ lives of everyone else? There are some great role models here – not perfect ones – and a hopeful future. Recommended for early- to mid-secondary readers.

Pretty Girls Don’t Eat, Winnie Salamon
Ford St Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925272772

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

Harry Kruize, Born to Lose by Paul Collins

Monday 3rd October
First day back from school holidays and today in English, Mr Granger discussed the power of writing. He explained how the pen is mightier than the sword and gave examples of how writing influenced people to change. He said words can be so powerful that if you really want a wish to come true, then the best way to make it happen is to write it down.
To prove his point, he has set us a whole-term writing assignment where we have to write down a heap of wishes and explain why we really want them to come true. Then we have to document the exact circumstances of when each wish is granted.
I really like Mr Granger, and English is by far my favourite subject (I even want to be a writer when I grow up), but I am wondering whether he has lost the plot a bit with this one!

Harry Kruise is doing it tough. He’s the shortest kid at school, his dad is not around and his mum takes in boarders, old blokes, who mostly stay in their room. At school, he’s the frequent victim of bullying, mostly from Brick. A dog would help, if only his mother would allow him to have one. It would mean he’d finally have a friend. Then old man and master storyteller, Jack Ellis, moves into the shed. Jack is full of stories, lots of them about dogs. Slowly, slowly Jack’s life begins to change. Mr Granger has told him and his classmates that wishes will come true if you really want them to, and set the class an assignment that will last the entire term.

Told in online diary entries, dog tales and wishes, Harry reveals his life, his dreams, his fears. He’s thirteen years old, Term 4 of his first year of secondary school has just begun and he’s not having a lot of fun. He’s seeing the school psychologist every week. He’s also full of fear. If his father can leave like he did, Harry is sure nothing else in his life will ever secure. There are themes around loss, bullying, family and more. By the end of the term though, Harry has stopped sinking and starting to swim. Told with humour and including great Australian yarns, ‘Harry Kruize, Born to Lose’ offers short chapters and clearly marked viewpoint changes. Recommended for upper primary readers.

Harry Kruize, Born to Lose, Paul Collins
Ford St Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925272628

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

The Legend Series 3: Down the Line by Michael Panckridge

‘Where do we go?’ I asked Jack as we raced around the corner of the hall.
We had just finished assembly. All the cricket winners had been presented with their trophies and certificates when Travis Fisk had asked, with a sinister smile on his face, if we’d seen Bryce Flavel around.
Straightaway we knew something was up. And judging by the smirk on Travis’ face, it wasn’t looking good for Bryce.
Our friendly genius was big on brain, but muscle wasn’t so big on him.

Mitchell and his friends are back in round three of the Legend competition. This time it’s tennis. Previously, Mitchell has won both surfing and cricket competitions to be the individual sport legend. All points add to an overall tally, the winner of which becomes Legend of Sport for the year. Travis Fisk, who has up until now been the hero of every sport, is not happy. Neither is his sports-crazy, school sponsor father. It seems that they will stop at nothing in pursuit of their ambitions. Each instalment in the series begins with an outline of the upcoming sport and structure of the points system. Final pages offer sports stats and a quiz.

Mitchell is settling well into his new school, making both friends and an enemy. Travis Fisk seems to have it for everyone, determined as he seems to win everything. Travis is showing occasional cracks in his bully mask, though there’s still plenty of antagonism. Where Travis has two thugs who do whatever he tells them, Mitchell’s friends are more varied and each brings their own talents and skills to the friendship. There are plenty of sport stats and strategies here, but also themes around friendship and bullying. Recommended for mid-primary readers, particularly those overwhelmed by novels.

The Legends: Down the Line, Michael Panckridge

Ford Street Publishing 2017 ISBN: 9781925272635

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

The Legend Series 4: Clearing the Pack

We always seem to be looking for Bryce Flavel. Before the school holidays, after the Legend of Tennis presentation, we’d been looking for him when he suddenly popped out of nowhere at one end of the library.
Now we were back in the same place, again looking for our missing friend.
‘Bryce?’
‘There he is,’ said Bubba, pointing to the deepest and furthest part of the library. We raced over. Well, okay, we didn’t exactly race over, but we hustled and bumped our way across as fast as we could go with Mrs Lee, the library staff member on duty, watching us over her glasses.

Mitchell and friends (and bully Travis Fisk) are back for a fourth instalment of the Legend Series, this time featuring football (and netball for the girls, although there’s a hint that next year, girls will be playing football too). Those competing will be judged on skills and knowledge as well as performance. As usual, Mitchell and his friends are fully part of the excitement. This time though, there’s also more than one mystery to be unravelled. Each book begins with an index, an outline of the Legend of Sport rules and conditions and a prologue summarising what has come before. Final pages offer statistics and details of each element.

Mitchell and friends are competing at football (and netball) this round of the Legend competition. Although Travis and his thugs are still causing mayhem, there are glimpses behind the bullying to a more reasonable Travis – not many, but enough to give the reader a chance to wonder at what causes his behaviour. Jack’s not having a lot of fun though, and Bryce’s behaviour is even more odd. So as well as lots of details about sports, there are other clues to be deciphered, other mysteries to solve. Recommended for mid-primary readers, particularly those who would rather be outside with a ball.

The Legend Series 4: Clearing the Pack, Michael Panckridge
Ford Street Publishing 2017 ISBN: 9781925272642

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

Valdur the Viking and the Ghostly Goths by Craig Cormick

When the Goth pirates attacked his father’s ship, Valdur was hiding in a barrel of pickles with his pet dragon, Ragna. He heard his father cry out, ‘By Odin’s hairy toes, it’s the Goths!’ Then there was the sound of lots of fighting. And, right next to him, there was also the sound of the last pickle being eaten.

Valdur the Viking and the Ghostly Goths  - Craig CormickWhen the Goth pirates attacked his father’s ship, Valdur was hiding in a barrel of pickles with his pet dragon, Ragna. He heard his father cry out, ‘By Odin’s hairy toes, it’s the Goths!’ Then there was the sound of lots of fighting. And, right next to him, there was also the sound of the last pickle being eaten.

Valdur and the few remaining ghost Vikings are on a mission to save his father and the rest of the crew after they are kidnapped by his deadly enemy Germanicus Bottom and his shipload of ghostly Goths. To help Valdur, there’s a lookout called Ivar Lostoffen, a cook called Reiner Rankbreath who looks like a cow, his apprentice Hilda, and Gunnar Shortas, the midget cabin boy. And of course Ragna, Valdur’s dog (who just might be a dragon). There is adventure to be had, danger to be overcome, bargains to resist and real non-ghost ships to avoid if they are to have a chance of effecting a rescue. Each chapter includes ghostly illustrations by Hanna Cormick.

‘Valdur the Viking and the Ghostly Goths’ is a comically spooky Viking, Gothic adventure for young independent readers. Valdur doesn’t really want to captain his father’s ship – he would rather just be playing with his dog/dragon. But someone has to take charge and it has to be him. He blunders and bluffs his way along, with and despite the assistance of his incapable crew, overcoming piracy attempts and almost-detections by living humans and their ships. Embedded in the humour and the adventure are titbits about Goths and Vikings and life at sea. Recommended for newly independent readers in junior- mid primary years.

Valdur the Viking and the Ghostly Goths, Craig Cormick
Ford Street Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925272420

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Goblin Mafia Wars by DC Green

War cries echoed behind us. The goblin army!

I spun, but the heat haze from the lava lake drowned my distance vision and watered my eyes. But we could all hear the fang-grinding, the rasping of metal on rock, the crunching of weaponised bolts.

Specks sparkled as if the red-orange lava was creating fireworks. Nah, not fireworks. The specks enlarged – heading right at us!

‘Arrows!’ I yelped. Most burned up above the gaseous lake. Dozens more angled towards our position.

War cries echoed behind us. The goblin army!

I spun, but the heat haze from the lava lake drowned my distance vision and watered my eyes. But we could all hear the fang-grinding, the rasping of metal on rock, the crunching of weaponised bolts.

Specks sparkled as if the red-orange lava was creating fireworks. Nah, not fireworks. The specks enlarged – heading right at us!

‘Arrows!’ I yelped. Most burned up above the gaseous lake. Dozens more angled towards our position.

PT is a sixteen-year-old human and king of Monstro City. Well, sort of. He and the Dead Gang (his monster mates include a giant spider, a mummy, a goblin and a shapeshifting vampire) have completed their first quest and survived. (in ‘Monster School’). Now they are in Dead Zone trying to find their way out. If they can avoid being consumed by dead things. Then it’s off to find and protect dragon eggs. No big deal. All that’s at stake is the survival of the world. The misfit crew have to find a way to work together and repel all manner of enemies from goblins, ogres, zombies and even family. Each new chapter is accompanied by full page black and white monsters.

Goblin Mafia Wars is punny and funny, wild and raucous. Every friendship group encompasses a range of skills, appearances and passions, but nothing you’ve experienced will prepare you for this gang – but perhaps that’s what people think about your friendship group. The best ‘gangs’ include a range of skills and attributes. This is no quest for the queasy – PT and his mates will encounter danger after danger in their search for the dragon’s eggs. They’ll also encounter plenty of craziness. Goblin Mafia Warsis a rollicking read and will be enjoyed by upper-primary and early-secondary readers.

Goblin Mafia Wars, DC Green
Ford Street Publishing 2016 ISBN: 9781925272208

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Alyzon Whitestarr by Isobelle Carmody

It starts with my family, and in a way, that’s the whole story.

There’s my mother, Zambia. You probably won’t have heard of her. She’s the artist, Zambia Whitestarr. then there’s my da, Macoll Whitestarr. His stage name is Mac and he’s the lead guitarist in a band you’ve probably never heard of that plays a lot of improvised music. Then there’s us kids: my older brother Jesse; my older sister Mirandah; me, Alyzon; Serenity, who tries to make us call her Sybl; and last but not least our baby brother, Luke.

It starts with my family, and in a way, that’s the whole story.

There’s my mother, Zambia. You probably won’t have heard of her. She’s the artist, Zambia Whitestarr. then there’s my da, Macoll Whitestarr. His stage name is Mac and he’s the lead guitarist in a band you’ve probably never heard of that plays a lot of improvised music. Then there’s us kids: my older brother Jesse; my older sister Mirandah; me, Alyzon; Serenity, who tries to make us call her Sybl; and last but not least our baby brother, Luke.

Alyzon is the middle child in a loving, chaotic, eccentic family. She goes to school, fights with her sisters, looks after her baby brother. Pretty normal, more or less. Until she suffers a freak accident. As she recovers she realises that all her senses are now super-tuned to the spoken and unspoken wants, joys and fears of others. She also discovers a rottenness, a horrible wrongness in some people. After initial confusion, she begins to work out how to protect herself from the intensity of other people’s emotions. But it’s not enough, as the wrongness seems to close in on her and her world, to just protect herself. She needs to know why it exists and how she can protect those she loves.

Alyzon Whitestarr was first released in 2005 by Penguin Books and this new, re-edited, re-jacketed edition is published by Ford Street Publishing. Alyzon is a fabulous protagonist, telling her own story as she tries to understand her world through the lens of her expanded senses. This is a fantasy set in the contemporary world, and explores family, friendship, attraction, trust, betrayal, protection, responsibility and power. It’s a big read at 601 pages but the length is hardly noticeable in this compelling and well-crafted story. Alyzon Whitestarr is a stand-alone novel and an ideal introduction to long-form fantasy for mature upper-primary readers but will also be enjoyed by older readers.

Alyzon Whitestarr, Isobelle Carmody
Ford Street Publishing 2016
ISBN: 9781925272185

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com