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

Footy Dreaming by Michael Hyde

Music blasted from the clock radio, loud and insistent. Noah groaned, and still half asleep, searched for the snooze button, but only managed to send the radio crashing to the floor.

He buried his head in the pillow, his mind still in his dream of scrappy play – in and under, then a player marking the ball, forty metres out. Noah thought the player was him but couldn’t be sure, and didn’t know whether he’d kicked the ball or not. …

… On the other side of town, a fit of coughing and spluttering from the kitchen woke Ben from a deep sleep. Ever since he’d been a little kid doing Auskick, bouncing a ball on the way to school, or clutching one of his dozen footballs while he slept, Ben had dreamed about playing footy – dreamed about playing with an AFL club.

Music blasted from the clock radio, loud and insistent. Noah groaned, and still half asleep, searched for the snooze button, but only managed to send the radio crashing to the floor.

He buried his head in the pillow, his mind still in his dream of scrappy play – in and under, then a player marking the ball, forty metres out. Noah thought the player was him but couldn’t be sure, and didn’t know whether he’d kicked the ball or not. …

… On the other side of town, a fit of coughing and spluttering from the kitchen woke Ben from a deep sleep. Ever since he’d been a little kid doing Auskick, bouncing a ball on the way to school, or clutching one of his dozen footballs while he slept, Ben had dreamed about playing footy – dreamed about playing with an AFL club.

Noah and Ben both play weekend footy in the country town where they live and where they attend the same high school. They are both being tipped as contenders for the Bushrangers Development squad. Noah plays with the Mavericks, Ben with their archrival Kookaburras. As the new season of football begins, pressure builds for both boys. For Noah, racism is an extra complication he needs to find a way to manage both on and off the field. Ben is struggling with the attitudes at the club where his father played and where he is expected to remain. The boys form an unexpected friendship, united in their striving for Bushrangers selection.

Footy Dreaming is told in third person omniscient so the reader is able to experience a wide range of viewpoints, although most of the action happens in Noah’s and in Ben’s point of view. But there are also the voices of the townspeople. There’s racism, family loyalty and dynamics, club loyalty, football passion, first tentative relationship, gender roles and more. Primarily, Footy Dreaming is about striving to be the best and to have a chance to shine. There’s plenty here to generate classroom or family discussion. But before that, it’s a ripper read, ideal for early- to mid-secondary readers.

Footy Dreaming, Michael Hyde Ford Street Publishing 2015 ISBN: 9781925000993

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

The Warlock’s Child Bk 2: Dragonfall Mountain by Paul Collins & Sean McMullen

The greatest naval battle in all of history looked trivial from a hight of three miles, but for a dragon the height did not matter. Everything that humans did or build was insignificant.

Dravaud had folded his wings back and was dropping like a stone. Far below, he sensed a dragon chick in distress, but had no clear view. The wind had dropped away to almost nothing and the smoke from burning ships hung over the fighting. The ship holding the chick was nowhere to be seen.

The greatest naval battle in all of history looked trivial from a hight of three miles, but for a dragon the height did not matter. Everything that humans did or build was insignificant.

Dravaud had folded his wings back and was dropping like a stone. Far below, he sensed a dragon chick in distress, but had no clear view. The wind had dropped away to almost nothing and the smoke from burning ships hung over the fighting. The ship holding the chick was nowhere to be seen.

Dragonfall Mountain opens with dragon, ‘Dravaud’, observing from great height the aftermath of a great seabattle. He turns away from the wreckage and sets his sights on the nearby city. Alternating viewpoints of Dantar and his sister, Velza take up the story as they find themselves in the city, Savaria. While the sea battle may be over, there are still many mysteries for Dantar and Velza to navigate, dangers to identify and alliances to understand. Their father is here, but it’s unclear just what his purpose is and whether or not he is to be trusted. All Dantar knows for sure, is that something or someone is looking out for him.

Dragonfall Mountain is Book Two in ‘The Warlock’s Child’, a six-book fantasy series, with fantastical cover art from Marc McBride. All six are slated for 2015 release. Dantar is new to war and has much to learn, although he learns quickly. His older sister, Velza, is a warrior, striving to achieve in a man’s world. Together and separately, they adventure and fall, racing to understand what’s happening before a dragon (or more) decide their fate and that of all of those around them. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

 

Dragonfall Mountain (Warlock's Child)

The Warlock’s Child Bk2: Dragonfall Mountain , Paul Collins & Sean McMullen Ford Street Publishing 2015 ISBN: 9781925000931

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Elephants Have Wings by Susanne Gervay ill Anna Pignataro

‘Please tell us the story.’

‘Yes, the story.’ My brother nudges me.

‘Pleasssse, Father.’

Father always pretends he won’t tell us, but he always does.

Each time, the story is more amazing.

‘Alright, tonight I will tell Grandfather’s story.’

‘Please tell us the story.’

‘Yes, the story.’ My brother nudges me.

‘Pleasssse, Father.’

Father always pretends he won’t tell us, but he always does.

Each time, the story is more amazing.

‘Alright, tonight I will tell Grandfather’s story.’

Two children beg their father to tell them Grandfather’s story. And tonight he agrees and tells them the story of children searching in the dark to discover the secret. Each is sure they have discovered the secret until Grandfather brings a torch and reveals that what they have each discovered is both true and only part of the truth. The two young children having heard this story then embark on a flying journey aboard their grandfather’s mystical elephant. They see the world from above, their grandfather’s home in a distant country, the war that hurt so many and many more places. Eventually they return home to the safety of home. Illustrations are in soft beautiful watercolours, realistic and mythical in turns. Text wanders about the page, adding to the dream/mythical sequences. Endpapers begin monochrome red and end rainbow-hued, though the underlying ink patterns remain the same.

Elephants Have Wings is both realistic and allegorical. The family are safe in their home, but the story the father shares with the children reflects a previous life that wasn’t so safe, and tells a tale that reminds us that there are many perspectives and only by looking at the whole picture can we truly understand others. Elephants symbolise many things for different cultures. They are strong, live long, are considered wise and steadfast. All these characteristics are inherent in any journey to safety. Elephants Have Wings is a beautiful story and will be enjoyed by many young readers purely on a superficial level. But there is much more to be explored here. Migration, oppression, endurance, perseverance and more, illuminated in word and image. A rich and delightful story for young and old alike. Recommended for primary readers.

 

Elephants Have Wings, Susanne Gervay ill Anna Pignataro Ford Street Publishing 2014 ISBN: 9781925000399

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Dead Dog in the Still of the Night by Archimedes Fusillo

The hulking car sidled up slowly, its exhausts pulsing louder than was decent for the sort of vehicle it was.

‘Prims!’ the familiar voice snorted through the passenger window. ‘Hey, Prims!’

Primo Nato stopped and stooped to peer into the car.

‘Tone, mate,’ he said. ‘You went and bought it. I don’t believe it. No, I guess I do.’

‘You like it, eh?’ Primo’s best mate Tony ‘Tone’ Gargano said, tapping the steering wheel lightly. ‘Shes a beauty, yeah?’

Primo threw his arms wide and looked at the car up and down. ‘Mate, you weren’t kidding, it really is a hearse.’

 

The hulking car sidled up slowly, its exhausts pulsing louder than was decent for the sort of vehicle it was.

‘Prims!’ the familiar voice snorted through the passenger window. ‘Hey, Prims!’

Primo Nato stopped and stooped to peer into the car.

‘Tone, mate,’ he said. ‘You went and bought it. I don’t believe it. No, I guess I do.’

‘You like it, eh?’ Primo’s best mate Tony ‘Tone’ Gargano said, tapping the steering wheel lightly. ‘Shes a beauty, yeah?’

Primo threw his arms wide and looked at the car up and down. ‘Mate, you weren’t kidding, it really is a hearse.’

Primo is heading into the business end of his final year of school, when his already- challenging life begins a wild downward spiral into chaos. His dad’s not well, his mother doesn’t seem to get it. One brother has moved back home after marriage troubles, the other is old enough to be Primo’s father and in many ways is too much like their dad. An outing designed to impress his girlfriend goes disastrously wrong when he crashes his dad’s beloved Fiat Bambino. Wild schemes suddenly seem sensible, and many relationships are tested in an escalating race to fix the car before the damage is detected. Primo is making decisions on the fly and that’s never without consequences.

Dead Dog in the Still of the Night is a disturbingly real novel. It’s almost possible to smell the testosterone lifting off the pages as Primo, Tone, brothers and others bounce against and off each other with increasing intensity. The subtitle of this novel recalls the proverb about the two wolves that live inside all of us, one of which is evil. As the proverb reminds, the wolf that grows is the one that’s fed. Primo is a likeable protagonist and the friendship he has with Tone is strong. There are many relationships for Primo to navigate and define in this coming of age story. He has to decide whether he is in control of his own life or whether he is fated do as others have done, or would have him do. Themes include making choices, family, power, truth and responsibility. The dead dog of the title becomes pivotal in Primo’s transition from boy to young adult. Recommended for mature secondary readers.

Dead Dog in the Still of the Night, Archimedes Fusillo Ford St Publishing 2014 ISBN: 9781925000344

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

The Cuckoo by Gary Crew ill Naomi Turvey

Martin was the runt of the family. He lived with his father, a might forester, and his two older brothers on the edge of the Megalong Valley, in the heart of the Blue Mountains. Martin’s father was a huge man and his brothers tall as forest gums; their faces handsome as granite sculptures, their muscled limbs a wonder to behold.

Martin was the runt of the family. He lived with his father, a might forester, and his two older brothers on the edge of the Megalong Valley, in the heart of the Blue Mountains. Martin’s father was a huge man and his brothers tall as forest gums; their faces handsome as granite sculptures, their muscled limbs a wonder to behold.

Since his mother left them, tiny Martin had felt the daily sting of his family’s ridicule.

Martin struggles in his family after his mother leaves. He cannot compare with the size and strength of his brothers, and he has no answer to their taunts. He wanders into the forest. Eventually, he finds another family. Here, by fitting in, he can grow strong. Time passes and he prospers. One day he witnesses his father’s pain and remorse and must make a decision about forgiveness. Text is set in text boxes and illustrations are black and white with soft tinting. They are slightly surreal.

The Cuckoo is a modern parable, full of evil, abandonment and ultimately hope. Text is extensive and the entire design is that of a fairytale. Illustrations are sombre almost forbidding, in keeping with a text filled with the struggle to survive both physically and emotionally. They invite close attention, and offer up the secrets of the dark forest. Martin has to adapt to survive, and offers courage to readers who find themselves in situations not of their making. Bullying, survival, remorse and forgiveness are all explored here. The Cuckoo offers rich material for classroom discussion. This is a beautifully designed package, complete with dust jacket. From the intriguing cover image to the final word, there is much to ponder. Recommended for older readers, from mid-primary upwards.

 

The Cuckoo, Gary Crew ill Naomi Turvey Ford St Publishing 2014 ISBN: 9781925000177

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

City of Monsters Book 1: Monster School by DC Green

My name is Thomas Regus. I’m a prisoner in two castles.

One was built by giant ants; one constructed of lies.

I had to escape both.

Yet my single option was such a long shot it almost made me chuckle.

Make Erica chatty!

Ogres, of course, are trained from birth – not for their chatty conversational skills, but to be the best bodyguards in the wold

THOOM!

Erica, the best of the best, kicked wide my iron-braced doors. But before the hinges could rebound, she tromped into my private dining room.

Right on time.

My name is Thomas Regus. I’m a prisoner in two castles.

One was built by giant ants; one constructed of lies.

I had to escape both.

Yet my single option was such a long shot it almost made me chuckle.

Make Erica chatty!

Ogres, of course, are trained from birth – not for their chatty conversational skills, but to be the best bodyguards in the wold

THOOM!

Erica, the best of the best, kicked wide my iron-braced doors. But before the hinges could rebound, she tromped into my private dining room.

Right on time.

Thomas lives a life of privilege, except when it comes to doing what he wants and learning what he wants. His tutor, Lord Boron, might as well have been called Lord Boring, so dull are his lessons. Apparently that’s just the lot of a prince who’s preparing to rule one day. Thomas breaks out of his castle prison and attends school, Monster School. Here he learns more in a day than he’s learned in months in the castle. And some of what he learns makes him suspect that Lord Boron may have been withholding information. Thomas makes friends with a rag-tag group of monsters, a cross-species collection of misfits. There’s Bruce, a giant spider, a vampire, a zombie, a mummy and a bush goblin. And then the adventures begin. Black and white illustrations throughout depict some truly monstrous characters.

DC Green has a truly frightening imagination. He has created grotesque characters and set them in a post-flood world where goblins are in charge, and humes (humans) are endangered. With unsubtle nods to the cost of ignoring climate change, he brings forth magical and horrific creatures and sets them all on the last remaining parcel of land. There they must, if not co-exist, then co-locate. Each species, and within species, each group seems to be working for themselves. Mistrust and active dislike is rife. Enter Thomas (aka swamp monster) and slowly some of the walls are lowered. Wrapped up in grossness and humour,Monster School, Book 1in a trilogy, is a story about acceptance, tolerance and how the little people can make a difference. Hilarious and disgusting, middle-school readers will love it!

 

Monster school

City of Monsters Book 1: Monster School, DC Green Ford Street Publishing 2013 ISBN: 9781925000078

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Welcome Home, by Christina Booth

When I heard her call, it came from the river,

echoing off the mountain like a whisper

while the moon danced on the waves.

When I heard her call, it came from the river,

echoing off the mountain like a whisper

while the moon danced on the waves.

A young boy hears a whale voice, calling from far away. The whale speaks just to him. She tells of history, of whales once hunted to the edge of extinction. It is a siren call to the boy, floating into his sleep, filling him with joy, with knowledge and sadness. The whale is getting closer and the boy waits by water’s edge. His temporary discomfort in the cold morning is nothing to the danger of her journey. She comes and speaks to him alone seeking understanding. The boy can only apologise for the past. Then she is gone. But not for long. This time, she speaks to all the early morning watchers, introduces her calf. This time, she and her baby are safe. Illustrations are in watercolour, ink and crayon using rich blues and sunrise yellows to link boy and whale. A final spread shares the story of the story, some history and some facts about Southern Right Whales and their connection with the Derwent River in Hobart, where this story is set.

‘Welcome Home’ is the story of a boy and a whale, of hope and trust. The boy can hear what his family cannot. Young children will love the connection the boy has with this sea giant, while older readers will understand the environmental message behind the story. There is potential for them to be involved in the future, not bound by the past. ‘Welcome Home’ includes themes for many school levels, including life cycles, conservation, human responsibility and more. The illustrations are soft and dreamy and though ‘Welcome Home’ showcases a sad past, it points to a future that is not without hope. Recommended for primary-schoolers.

 

Welcome Home

Welcome Home, Christina Booth

Ford St Publishing 2013 ISBN: 9781925000092

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Flora’s War by Pamela Rushby

We can always smell them before we see them.

Today it’s bad, really bad, but not as bad as the first time, because then we had no conception of just what we’d see when the wooden doors of the train slid back. Then, that first time, we’d all surged eagerly forward as soon as the train stopped, ready to help, prepared to assist those who could walk and carry those who couldn’t.

Cairo, 1915

We can always smell them before we see them.

Today it’s bad, really bad, but not as bad as the first time, because then we had no conception of just what we’d see when the wooden doors of the train slid back. Then, that first time, we’d all surged eagerly forward as soon as the train stopped, ready to help, prepared to assist those who could walk and carry those who couldn’t.

And then it hit us.

It was overpowering. It stopped us dead in our rush forward; made us stagger back. It wasn’t heat, or dust, or blowing sand – in Egypt, we were used to those – but a smell. It was more than a smell. It was a stench. So strong it grabbed deep into our throats; made us cough and choke, made our eyes pour water. I’d never smelled anything like it before; couldn’t begin to think what it was.

I know now.

Flora and her archaeologist father regularly travel to Egypt, but this time things are different. From the moment they arrive and are collected in a motor car, Flora knows this trip is going to be full of new experiences. After all she’s almost sixteen and it’s 1914. She’s looking forward to a summer of helping her father and parties with her friend Gwen, if only her father, Gwen’s mother and her brother Frank would stop trying to cosset them. They are modern girls and are ready for all that life will bring. But nothing has prepared Flora or her friends for the upcoming war and how it will affect their lives. Cairo is awash with soldiers, many of them Australian, training in the desert and spending their leisure time in town. They are waiting to go to war. And then they do. Flora and her friends discover that the war is closer than they could have thought possible. Close enough to touch all of them.

Flora is excited that this year in Cairo, she will be treated as an adult, not a child. She will experience everything, sharing it with her close friend Gwen, whose family also spend time every year in Cairo. Being treated like an adult means that she can learn to drive, a wonderful rite of independence. But with independence comes responsibility and Flora learns that casting aside childhood means learning about the ways of the adult world. War accelerates this and Flora’s Warexplores themes of love and loss, fear and bravery. Excitement is tempered by danger, archaeological discovery by moral dilemmas. For Flora, war is a rite of passage that alters her, her friends and her world in ways she could never have imagined.

Flora's War

Flora’s War, Pamela Rushby Ford St Publishing 2013 ISBN: 9781921665981

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Gamers’ Rebellion by George Ivanoff

In this third and final of the Gamers trilogy, Tark and Zyra who have lived all their lives inside a complex computer game, have escaped. Real life, they’re hoping will be calmer and less frenetic than their life in the game. But they discover as much drama and as many secrets in the real world. Yet again, they’ve been separated, and are pawns of the battles of others. They both need to again work out who to trust and how to find each other. And instead of being just in one world, their battles are fought across various game world environments and the real world. They are helped and hindered by brilliant scientists, rebels, clones and others as their goal of freedom is widened to include myriad others.

 

The game was over! Or so they thought.

With hands tightly clasped, Tark and Zyra watched as all they had ever known melted away.

And then they were moving through greyness. It was like swimming through treacle. Up ahead, two intense points of white light called to them.

The greyness swirled around them, tugging and pulling.

Their fingers slipped and their hands parted. They were whisked away from each other and towards the light – towards the unknown.

In this third and final of the Gamers trilogy, Tark and Zyra who have lived all their lives inside a complex computer game, have escaped. Real life, they’re hoping will be calmer and less frenetic than their life in the game. But they discover as much drama and as many secrets in the real world. Yet again, they’ve been separated, and are pawns of the battles of others. They both need to again work out who to trust and how to find each other. And instead of being just in one world, their battles are fought across various game world environments and the real world. They are helped and hindered by brilliant scientists, rebels, clones and others as their goal of freedom is widened to include myriad others.

The action zips between worlds with jet-propelled speed, tension rising with each world-crossing. Tark and Zyra are not just fighting for their own destiny, they are learning that they exist in a greater world where there are injustices that cannot be ignored. They are awakening beyond themselves and their digital world to assume their roles as leaders. There are plenty of gadgets and technology to please science fiction readers set in a powerful and engaging narrative. There are plenty of topics to generate classroom discussion eg ethics, moral responsibility, even the notion of what constitutes ‘life’ and ‘living’. But readers will come to Gamers’ Rebellion having enjoyed the first two instalments of the trilogy. Gamers’ Rebellion could stand on its own, but why miss all the fun and adventure of ‘Gamers’ Quest’ and ‘Gamers’ Challenge’? Recommended for secondary readers.

Gamers' Rebellion

Gamers’ Rebellion, George Ivanoff Ford St Publishing 2013 ISBN: 9781921665974

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Available from good bookstores or online.