Too Small to Fail, by Morris Gleitzman

All that Oliver wants is a dog. Not just any dog, though – he wants the little black and white dog in the pet store. But Oliver can’t have a dog, because his parents are too rich for a pet. Then a strange lady buys the dog, Barclay, which is soon in a lot of trouble, and so are sixteen camels, Mum and Dad – and even Oliver himself. It’s up to him to try to figure out a way to save them all…

Oliver wanted more.
Not squillions of dollars and private jets and solid gold zips on his school bag. Not even his own paint-ball island in the Pacific or lolly trucks backing up to his place every day.
Just more than this.

All that Oliver wants is a dog. Not just any dog, though – he wants the little black and white dog in the pet store. But Oliver can’t have a dog, because his parents are too rich for a pet. Then a strange lady buys the dog, Barclay, which is soon in a lot of trouble, and so are sixteen camels, Mum and Dad – and even Oliver himself. It’s up to him to try to figure out a way to save them all.

Too Small to Fail is a funny story about an unlikely hero in the form of a small boy who isn’t good at maths and whose parents are incredibly rich. As the world faces a financial crisis, Oliver finds himself face to face with people affected by his parents’ investment strategies and proves to himself – and others – that being god at maths in’t the only way to make a difference. In places the story is sad, and very serious, but mostly it is a humorous adventure which middle and upper primary aged readers will love.

Good stuff.

Too Small to Fail

Too Small to Fail, by Morris Gleitzman
Puffin, 2011
ISBN 9780143306429


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

Get a Grip, Cooper Jones, by Sue Whiting

Mum’s words clunk around inside my brain. It’s the third day in a row where the temperature is expected to tip forty degrees, and my head feels thick from lack of sleep and from breathing all this stinky hot air.
“Come on,” she says, “get a wriggle on. It’s after five. Don’t want to be late.”

Cooper’s life is okay until the day Skye tells him she’s seen his dad. That’s not possible – Cooper doesn’t have a dad – not one he knows anything about. Suddenly he’s plagued with thoughts about this mysterious figure. At the same time, he’s frustrated by his fear of the beach, and by his mother’s strange behaviour.

The new girl next door, Abeba, also seems to have a complicated life. As Cooper gets to know her, life gets even more complicated.

Get a Grip, Cooper Jones is fast paced, lightly humorous look at growing up and taking control. Set in a hot summer with bushfires looming, the story is a mixture of action and self-exploration, as Cooper tries to work through his various dilemmas.

A wonderful read for upper primary and lower secondary aged readers.

Get a Grip, Cooper Jones

Get a Grip, Cooper Jones, by Sue Whiting
Walker Books, 2010

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

Raven's Mountain, by Wendy Orr

My face is in the snow. My head is whirling. I can’t think. I don’t know where I am or why. Lifting my head hurts. There’s a rumbly thunder noise floating up from below me.
The last thing I remember is being afraid that Lily would laugh if she saw my Top-of-the-World Dance.
Then I see the sick in the snow. My whole body remembers the fall and nearly throws up again.

Raven isn’t happy about moving away from the home she’s always known, to the mountains on the other side of the country. Now her step-father, Scott, is taking Raven and her sister Lily hiking up the mountains. After a trek through the wilderness Raven feels for a fleeting moment like she’s on top of the world – until the mountain top comes alive, and Raven finds herself part of a rock fall. When she comes to, she is alone, with no sign of Scott or Lily. It is up to her to retrace their route to get help.

Raven’s Mountain is a gripping adventure story of the courage of a young girl who must rely on her untapped strengths to survive and to save her family. Along the way she develops a unique connection with a family of bears and with a raven, helping her to survive and to connect with her inner reserves.

From the award-winning author of Nim’s Island , Raven’s Mountain is a satisfying read which middle and upper primary aged readers will adore.

Raven's Mountain

Raven’s Mountain, by Wendy Orr
Allen & Unwin, 2011
ISBN 9781742374659

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

Nanny Piggins and the Accidental Blast-off, by R. A. Spratt

Nanny Piggins and the children were sitting at the dining table having a very unpleasant meal. There was nothing wrong with the food. (In Nanny Piggins’ opinion you should never blame food for your problems, it would be like blaming a rainbow for the rain.) The problem was that Mr Green was sitting at the head of the table. Their father’s presence had the effect of sucking the fun out of just about any situation. And on this occasion it could not be avoided because it was Father’s Day.

Nanny Piggins is back! Despite Mr Green’s best intentions the best nanny in the world is still part of his life. And still she continues to delight and protect his children and to vex him. In this instalment, Mr Green wants to be Father of the Year, a tough challenge given the very little time he spends with his children, and the very, very little he knows about their needs and wants. But that’s not going to stop him trying, even if it means bribing Nanny Piggins and the children with lots of chocolate. Meanwhile, Boris rejoins the circus, Nanny Piggins bungy-jumps off the roof, the children have to learn to play soccer, there’s an arrest over a diamond theft, a space adventure, a thrilling cook-off and a new job. And of course, there’s cake, lots of cake. And chocolate. Always there’s chocolate.

Nanny Piggins is the sort of nanny most children can only dream about. She has the best solutions to most challenges and mostly, that solution involves either cake or chocolate or both. And if cake is not the answer, then Nanny Piggins has a range of circus skills and circus friends to come to her aid. And then they eat cake. She is always fun, always protective of them, and always gets the best of bullies, whatever their size and shape. Each chapter is a complete episode. Nanny Piggins and the Accidental Blast-off will have readers giggling over their chocolate cake at the antics of this can-do-anything pig and her charges. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Nanny Piggins and the Accidental Blast-off (Nanny Piggins)

Nanny Piggins and the Accidental Blast-off , R. A. Spratt
Random House 2011
ISBN: 9781864718591

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

This book can be purchased in good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Abacus Aardvark and the Arctic Adventure, by MJ Faranda

Now I well keell the lemmeeng!’
Slamming a perspex box on the demonstration bench, Professor Malonvenski whistled a tuneless ditty and proceeded to adjust the gas taps.
At the sight of the tiny rodent’s pink paws clawing the transparent walls of its cage, Abacus Aardvark wondered, once again, why the school had hired such a terrible man to be their new science teacher…the new science teacher had subjected the class to a series of bizarre experiments. He had tested radio frequencies that burst Billy Gudding’s eardrum, injected something into Ishmael Brimms that caused him to make bleating sounds for a week, and locked Daisy Little inside the walk-in freezer until she had a frostbitten nose.

Abacus Aardvark likes the quiet life. It’s enough that he lives with parents so wrapped up in their individual passions that they hardly notice him, now he has lost the lovely gentle science teacher and instead has to endure the terror induced by the crazy new science teacher. When Abacus is in trouble and his fashion designer mother Zelda, is called in, Abacus is torn between making sure his mother remembers to go to the meeting with Professor Malovenski and hoping that she won’t get him in even more trouble. But unexpectedly, his mother and the Professor get on famously and before he knows it, he’s off to the Arctic with a stowaway lemming, and his father Zachary, who is intent on righting the wrongs imposed by being at the wrong end of the alphabet. With self-absorbed parents, a crazy professor and angry crew, Abacus is soon a long way from the quiet life he craves.

Abacus Aardvark and the Arctic Adventure is a rollicking adventure from the quiet life to the high seas and all the way to the North Pole. Most of the adults in this adventure range from simply useless through to thoroughly wicked. Only when they reach the Arctic does Abacus find help. And even then, the help is not quite what he expected. He has to call on his own resources to keep everyone safe. The pace is relentless, with circumstances constantly worsening. A healthy dose of humour provides a release valve for the reader and keeps the story grounded. There are environmental themes and the cost and single-mindedness of those consumed by greed. Recommended for confident mid- to upper-primary readers. The ending also suggests strongly that there is another Abacus Aardvark adventure in the pipeline.

Abacus Aardvark and the Arctic Adventure, M. J. Faranda
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781862918818 review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author

Three Favourites, by Odo Hirsch

Time was passing but Antonio continued to peer through the crack. He couldn’t drag himself away. there was something fascinating and inviting, something spectacular about those gold words and their bold red background, as if an amazing story stood behind them. Antonio stared and stared. the words made him think of light and noise, music, laughter and applause. And yet here, in the secret passage where he stood, everything was so dark and quiet.

Antonio lives in a grand old house now broken into apartments with lots of interesting rooms and passages – and just as many interesting residents. But when he accidentally spies on one resident, Mr Guzman, Antonio finds himself wanting to know more. Just who is Theodore Guzman and why does he keep to himself so much?

Antonio S and the Mystery of Theodore Guzman is one of three Odo Hirsch favourites bundled together into one volume. With Hazel Green and Amelia Dee and the Peacock Lamp, Odo Hirsch: Three Favouritesis an excellent offering for children who enjoy Hirsch’s blend of whimsy, adventure and enchantment.

There is nothing quite like an Odo Hirsch story – and to have three in one volume is sheer bliss.

Odo Hirsch: Three Favourites

Odo Hirsch: Three Favourites
Allen and Unwin, 2010
ISBN 9781742374727

This book is available from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Tussock, by Elizabeth Pulford

‘Hurry up, slowcoach,’ called Kate. She glanced over at her younger sister. They should be at the hut by now, not hanging about the lake. She’d promised her mum that they wouldn’t be long.
Madeline took no notice. She kept scouring the edge of the water. Picking up one stone after another. Looking at each in turn, feeling them with her fingers and then, dissatisfied, dropping them.

Kate’s dad goes missing on a routine small plane flight. Now all Kate, her sister Madeline and her mother can do is wait. Kate isn’t content to just sit and wait so she goes up to the old hut on the hill behind their farm. She lights a lantern every night, so Dad will see it and know he’s home. Madeline has her own method of ensuring her father’s safety and return. She’s building a stone man. Legend has it that when completed, he will find her father. While visiting the hut they meet Troy, a mysterious boy full of secrets. He might divert all Kate’s questions, but he also provides a distraction while she and her family wait. On the day Kate’s father went missing, they had a fight. Their fight seems so trivial now when compared with the possibility that she might never see him again.

Rites of passage can take many forms, and for Kate, it’s a potential tragedy that helps her grow up. She realises that she’s not the only one who is grieving, is waiting to hear about her dad. She also discovers that not all families are equal, that not every family functions as well as hers has. She is bedded down in a wonderfully comfortable world full of history, love and trust. She develops some perspective on a major family decision that she has been resisting. There are strong themes of family, community, trust and safety. Kate is a resourceful, likable character who keeps the lantern lit for her father, while adjusting to the reality that he may never return. Recommended for upper-primary readers.


Tussock, Elizabeth Pulford
Walker Books Australia 2010
ISBN: 9781921529450

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

This book can be purchased from good bookstores, or online from Fishpond.

Diary of a Would-be Princess 3, by Jessica Green

Sunday, 27th December
Bah, humbug, ho ho ho.
What sort of Christmas is it when your present is pens and folders and lined paper to set you up for high school? Who wants to think about school now? And this book. It’s a journal. Mum says it’s to jot down notes and important dates like when assignments are due. Why think of that at Christmas?

This is the third instalment of Jillian’s diaries and now she’s finished with primary school and beginning high school. Each of the previous novels covered a year, as does this one. In her first diary, Jillian sought to be one of the princesses at school. Now, at the start of Year 7, the princesses are still around but joining them is no longer her aspiration. But she does want to fit in, to make new friends, to be popular. There are a few kids from her old school, her old friendship group, but they don’t necessarily fit her idea of high school friends. She finds a new friend, then discovers that she’s uncomfortable with some of the things her friend does. Although she initially finds her friend’s pranks funny, for her the joke soon wears off. Then she needs to decide just what’s important to her and what she will do to achieve her goals. To help and hinder her are her family, Mum, Dad, older brother Richard and younger brother Paul.

Jilly wants to fit in. But fitting in sometimes means compromising on the values you’ve grown up with, the values you live with. Jilly has an annoying older brother who sends her advice on calendar discard pages, a just-starting-school younger brother who needs looking after, a mother who wants her to be a girl, and a dad she can still talk to. She’s very lucky and part of her knows it. But it takes her setting aside her own woes and looking behind the behaviour of other people to really appreciate her family and the strong foundations she has. Jilly is a strong-minded, outspoken character with a wry humour and a good sense of right and wrong. Her diary is funny, insightful and affirming. It reads well as a stand-alone, although the title is a little misleading for this particular instalment. Recommended for upper-primary readers.

Diary of a Would-be Princess 3, Jessica Green
Scholastic Press 2010
ISBN: 9781741697407

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Grim and Grimmer, by Ian Irvine

Why couldn’t Ike have kept his mouth shut?
Things were going to get really bad anyway, about as bad as things can get. But if only he had kept silent, Ike would not have had to poke an imp’s brain back in through its ear hole with his finger.
He would not have gone blind, then been carried by an enraged demon called Spleen, upside down and with his bum hanging out, all the way across Grimmery.
He would not have been turned into a night-gaunt, the creature he feared more than anything in the world. Nor would he – it – have attacked his best friend.
And most definitely, he would not have died.
Oh, yes, Ike dies in this story.
He’s dead as a doughnut at one stage.

Ike and his friend, Mellie, are escorting the rescued Princess Aurora back to Ambra, capital of Grimmery, so she can take her place on the throne and thwart the evil Fey Queen who wants to take over her country. Ike’s feeling good, anticipating their warm reception, and daydreaming about the Princess. Unfortunately the Princess doesn’t share his daydream and a good day suddenly turns very sour. The Princess abandons her escort and a demon appears. Far from being over, their adventure is just beginning. Evil is all around and Ike and Mellie are going to have to travel far and do many brave deeds if they are to help Princess Aurora and their country. They must unite to find the Book of Grimmery. If only they could stop insulting each other.

Grim and Grimmer 2: The Grasping Goblin takes the two reluctant heroes on a very wild ride. As the title suggests, every time it seems things are as grim as they can get, they get grimmer. But not without humour. The Grasping Goblin is very funny too, as well as dangerous, gory and grotty. It makes particularly good use of smell, and makes this reader very glad that the novel is not ‘scratch-and-smell’. Ike and Mellie have to work together to achieve success and their bravery and ingenuity see-saw in their pursuit of secret spells. Allies and foes take all shapes and colours and often it’s hard to tell which is which. Grim and Grimmer 2: The Grasping Goblin is a grand adventure and it’s not over yet. Look out for the next title in this series. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Grim and Grimmer 2: The Grasping Goblin, Ian Irvine
Omnibus Books 2010
ISBN: 9781862918597

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Jim Springman & the Realm of Glory, by Joshua Wright

You might say the three Springman children behave the same as families everywhere. certainly all brothers and sisters fight, and while such behaviour is common, it should soon become clear the Springmans are the most uncommon of families. The eldest, Fletcher, would be the first to tell you. That is, if he decided you were even worth talking to, which would be unlikely.

Jim Springman is very special. His older brother is a genius scientist, and his older sister is a famous author. Jim is just a kid who gets lousy presents for his birthday – a bus pass and two new neighbours. But when Jim’s brother Fletcher accidentally unleashes the fifth dimension, Jim’s world becomes crazier and crazier, and he and his two neighbours are caught up in trying to figure ou what has gone wrong and how it can be fixed.

Jim Springman and the Realm of Glory is a funny new fantasy offering in which reality is thrown into chaos and starts to appear more and more like the world in Jim’s sister’s book, the Realm of Glory a book which Jim hates, even though he hasn’t read it. There is action aplenty, with twists and turns and laughs to entertain middle and upper primary aged readers.

Lots of fun.

Jim Springman and the Realm of Glory

Jim Springman and the Realm of Glory, by Joshua Wright
Scholastic Press, 2010
ISBN 9781741695632

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