Sad, The Dog by Sandy Fussell, ill Tull Suwannakit

Mr and Mrs Cripps owned a little dog,

an unwanted Christmas present from a friend.

They fed the dog, and washed him,

even cleaned inside his ears.

But they didn’t give him a name.

Mr and Mrs Cripps owned a little dog,

an unwanted Christmas present from a friend.

They fed the dog, and washed him,

even cleaned inside his ears.

But they didn’t give him a name.

Sad ‘s owners, Mr and Mrs Cripps, feed him and wash him, but they certainly don’t love him. They disapprove of almost all his behaviours, until he is too sad to do anything much at all. When his owners move out and leave him behind, he is so lonely he howls. Then new owners move in and Sad is not sure how to interact with them or their boy, Jack. Jack, however, is happy to include Sad in everything he does, to love and to play with him. Under Jack’s care, Sad abandons his old name, his old life and happily accepts a new one. Watercolour illustrations fill every spread and depict the Cripps with sad, pinched faces. In contrast, Jack and his parents are constantly smiling. Spreads are full of tiny details for young readers to discover.

Sad, the Dog is a lovely story, sensitively told, beautifully illustrated about a dog and his family, and the power of love. Sad’s life is very limited with the Cripps. They are not cruel, but they are really not interested in having a pet. And Sad knows it. He is wary of the newcomers, having known only functional not emotional care. But he is soon won over by the simple love and care and companionship Jack and his family offer. Readers will boo the Cripps’ and cheer Jack as ‘Sad’ becomes ‘Lucky’. Highly recommended for pre- and early schoolers, and junior year levels.

Sad, the Dog, Sandy Fussell ill Tull Suwannakit
Walker Books Australia, 2015
ISBN: 9781921529641

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

February Reads

Another month has passed, and so it’s time to have a look at what I read for February. Pleasing to see my balance being restored towards my chief love – books for children. This month I indulged my six year old self and tracked down old copies of AA Milne’s poetry from Ebay. I loved rediscovering them and have moved from there to lots of other verse and poetry, so look out for them in my March list and beyond.

I only read 12 books, and several of them were short, which is a reflection of how busy my life has been of late. I’m a so reading a lot of journal articles which don’t make it into this list.

Those I’ve reviewed I’ve linked to, as always.

In Falling Snow Mary-Rose MacColl Allen & Unwin Adult
Red Fox Sandy Fussell Walker Books Children’s
Lost Voices Christopher Koch Fourth Estate Adult
The Rosie Black Chronicles Lara Morgan Walker Books Young Adult
When We Were Very Young AA Milne Dean Children’s Poetry
The Girl From Snowy River Jackie French Harper Collins Young Adult
Now We Are Six AA Milne Dean Children’s Poetry
Stories for 7 Year Olds Linsay Knight (ed) Random House Children’s
Unreviewed Adult
Rocket Into Space Ragbir Bhathal and Johanna Davids National Library Children’s NF
Topsy-Turvy World Kirsty Murray National Library Children’s NF
Catch the Zolt Phillip Gwynne Allen & Unwin Young Adult

Red Fox, by Sandy Fussell

My muscles ache but my heart aches even harder. I am the only one who has made it to the shore. I am the only one who has survived the monsoon’s rampage.
For the first time in my life I am completely alone. No Mikko to tease me. No Kyoko to make me smile. No Yoshi, Taji, Chen or little Yuri. Not even Sensei is here to help me.

When Niya wakes up on a deserted beach, he is all alone. He fears he is the only survivor of a terrible shipwreck. He can no longer hear his beloved Sensei and the other Cockroaches are nowhere to be found. Soon, though, he is reunited with Chen, and together they set off to search for their friends, who, if they have survived, will have headed to the temple city of Angkor.

Red Fox is the seventh title in the Samurai Kids series and will delight lovers of the series. As always there are challenges for Niya and his friends, and this time Niya needs to dig deep to confront both the physical obstacles, and his growing maturity. He has his own student, Chen, to look out for and to guide, and must also trust Sensei as he starts to let go regardless of whether Niya wants things to change.

As with most series, Red Fox is best read having read the previous instalments, but Fussell’s story genius is such that it could be read in isolation with touches of back story included and a plot not reliant on a full knowledge of what has gone before.

Red Fox (Samurai Kids)

Red Fox (Samurai Kids), by Sandy Fussell, illustrated by Rhian Nest James
Walker Books, 2012
ISBN 978192207750

Available from good bookstores or online.

Fire Lizard, by Sandy Fussell

Reviewed by Liam Murphy (Age 12)

This is a good adventure book about the Samurai kids meeting the Sensei’s teacher, Pak Cho so they can defeat Hyo Moon and send a warning to the governor.

The book is full of excitement and humour. It is a great story about friendship and teamwork.

Once you begin reading it is impossible to put down, as it is unpredictable what will happen next.

Samurai Kids Book 5: Fire Lizard

Samurai Kids Book 5: Fire Lizard, by Sandy Fussell
Walker Books, 2010

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

Jaguar Warrior, by Sandy Fussell

For seven days I have been imprisoned in this windowless box, waiting to die. But I haven’t given up. Every morning I sharpen my fingernails against the wooden walls. My heart is strong like a jungle cat and when the box is finally opened, I’ll claw and bite the hand that holds me.

Atl has been chosen to be sacrificed to the sun god. But, imprisoned in a box, Atl is determined not to be killed. Angry at those who’ve imprisoned him, he plots his revenge. Then, suddenly, he is freed. The temple is under attack, and Atl must flee and deliver an urgent message.

On the run, Atl is tempted not to carry out his mission. This is chance for freedom – and he owes nothing to those who would have sacrificed him. But on his journey he makes friends with other young people with their own things to escape – and is pursued by his biggest enemy. Perhaps if they work together to deliver the message then they can all be free.

Jaguar Warrior is a gripping historical novel for children, set in Aztec times. Told chiefly through Atl’s first person viewpoint, there are also key scenes from a second viewpoint character, the captain who pursues Atl. This second viewpoint creates suspense as the reader can see what Atl cannot – the pursuer and his plans – but at the same time it allows a level of empathy for this ‘baddie’, whose motives are shown as more well intended as would otherwise be thought.

Set in a well researched, thoroughly believable world, this is a thrilling adventure which will appeal to upper primary and secondary readers.


Jaguar Warrior

Jaguar Warrior, by Sandy Fussell
Walker Books, 2010
ISBN 9781921529290

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

Monkey Fist, by Sandy Fussell

‘Something terrible has happened,’ I say. ‘I can feel it.’
Sensei’s words race through my head. It’s not what you can hear that matters, but what you cannot hear. It’s not what you can see that is important, but what you can’t see.
As my eyes adjust to the darkness, I spy Taji and Sensei asleep. I can’t see Kyoko anywhere.
I panic. ‘Kyoko is missing.’

Sensei Ki-Yaga and the Samurai kids are journeying through China when Kyoko is kidnapped. Sensei’s old adversary, Lu Zeng, is challenging him to try to get Kyoko back. But getting inside the Forbidden Palace, where Lu Zeng lives, will not prove easily – and outwitting him to get Kyoko back will be even harder.

Monkey Fist is the fourth title in the wonderful Samurai Kids series. As with the other books, readers are offered an exciting mix of action, humour, obstacles and tension. Niya, the viewpoint character, is a likeable narrator, with the reader able to see his flaws as well as his strengths, and like him all the more for them.

Monkey Fist can stand alone for those new to the series, but will be adored by those who have had the chance to read the earlier stories.

A wonderful new addition to a wonderful series.

Samurai Kids Book 4:: Monkey Fist

Samurai Kids Book 4: Monkey Fist, by Sandy Fussell
Walker Books, 2009

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

Polar Boy, by Sandy Fussell

“The ancient ones whisper to me, Iluak,” Nana says. “They talk about you. They say a bear is waiting.”

Life isn’t easy in the land of snow and ice and for Iluak, a Too-lee boy travelling with his tribe, there are daily challenges. Now, though, a new challenge is coming. His grandmother, the Shaman, tells him a bear is coming – and it will be Iluak who will save his people from the bear. But Iluak is afraid of bears, and doesn’t want to face one.

Polar Boy is an absorbing historical adventure, set in a 13th century polar community and offering an intriguing insight into the daily life of Iluak’s people. When Iluak rescues a Viking girl from a polar bear there is also a meeting of cultures and Iluak comes to realise that strength comes in different forms – as do bears.

The time and setting of this wonderful tale offer young readers a glimpse at something far removed from both their own life experience and from other books. Fussell manages to create a believable world, with readers being invited to feel the cold and the fear which are at the core of Iluak’s daily life. At the same time, readers will be able to relate to Iluak’s self doubt, his search to find a place in his family, and his rivalry with Tuaq, another boy from his tribe.

Polar Boy is wonderfully written and well deserving of its inclusion in this year’s shortlist for the Children’s Book of the year Awards.

Polar Boy

Polar Boy, by Sandy Fussell
Walker Books, 2008

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

Also by Sandy Fussell

White Crane (2008)
Owl Ninja (2008)
Shaolin Tiger (2009)

Shaolin Tiger, by Sandy Fussell

Yoshi says nothing. Life is all about balance. With only one leg, I understand that well. When Yoshi was much younger he accidentally killed a friend in a wrestling match. But then he saved my life and the balance was restored. Now it’s gone again.
‘All things happen for a reason. One day Yoshi will find this one,’ Sensei says. ‘The Captain has gone and we must travel on again.’

Sensei and his students, from the Cockroach Ryu, travel by sea from Japan to China, to give aid to the Shaolin Monks. On the way, the boat’s captain is drowned and Yoshi, who has tried to save him, is left troubled. In China one of Sensei’s past students, Qing-Shen, awaits – determined to gain retribution for Sensei’s broken promise. Qing-Shen wants to see Sensei dead, and he has the skills to carry out his wish – unless the Little Cockroaches can protect Sensei by outsmarting Qing-Shen.

Shaolin Tiger is the third title in the wonderful Samurai Kids series, a wonderful fantasy series set in Japan and China. Sensei is a wise teacher and his students – who appear to others to be each flawed – brave and eager to learn. The narrator, Niya, has just one leg, and his fellow students’ include children with physical differences, as well as Yoshi, who is fit and strong but has lost the will to fight others. Sensei himself also carries secret burdens, some of which are revealed in this book, and others hinted at for future instalments.

This third instalment does stand alone as a wonderful, action packed read, but readers will be keen to read the earlier titles , and equally impatient for the next instalment.

A must read.

Shaolin Tiger (Samurai Kids)

Samurai Kids: Shaolin Tiger, by Sandy Fussell
Walker Books, 2009

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond

Owl Ninja, by Sandy Fussell

Something is wrong. Usually, the Sword Master likes to chat and joke, to tell us stories of the days when he was a boy listening to Ki-Yaga’s feet. Sensei was old, even then.
Across the valley a drumbeat echoes. Thum. Thum.
“What’s that?” Nezume asks.
Ta-thum. Ta-thum. Thum

A drum beat is echoing across the mountains, calling the mountain ryus to war. The samurai kids don’t want to fight. Their sensei can stop the war, but there isn’t much time, and first they must travel across the land for an audience with the Emperor. Only he can silence the drum. But will they reach him safely and on time?

Owl Ninja is the second in the wonderful Samurai Kids series from talented new author Sandy Fussell. Featuring the wonderful cast of characters from the first story as well as some colourful new ones, the story is self contained but will be enjoyed most by those who read the first.

Readers are transported into the world and time of the Samurai, with the landscape coming alive through Fussell’s carefully wrought text, and the characters delightfully illustrated in the manga-style plates of Rhian Nest James.

This is an outstanding series and readers will look forward to the third instalment.

Owl Ninja (Samurai Kids)

Samurai Kids: Owl Ninja, by Sandy Fussell
Walker Books, 2008

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

White Crane, by Sandy Fussell

I can hear someone groaning. It’s me.
A great shadow looms over my head. I cringe as the shape crouches, ready to spring. Instead it purrs inside my ear.
‘Go to sleep, Niya.’
Claws extended, it prods my blanket around me, before slinking back towards the cliff edge. With a growl, it disappears down the mountain, leaving me to sleep in peace.

It isn’t easy training to be a samurai, but for Niya the task is extra difficult – because he has only one leg. In spite of his disability, Niya dreams of being a great samurai and, in the meantime, of defeating all of the other competitors at the Annual Samurai Trainee Games. First, though, he must get through a gruelling training schedule and a difficult journey to attend the games.

Niya belongs to the Cockroach Ryu, under the training of the great Sensei Ki-Yaga. The other students at the Ryu are, like Niya, disabled. Kyoko has extra fingers and toes, Mikko has only one arm, Taji is blind, and Yoshi is big and strong but refuses to fight. At the Trainee Games they must compete against able-bodied opponents, none more competitive (or nasty) than the Dragons. The reigning champions sneer at the members of the Cockroach Ryu and will stop at nothing to beat them

White Crane is the first title in the new series. This perfectly wrought tale will delight child and adult readers alike. Set in the mountains of Japan, and with a blend of mysticism, adventure and exploration of friendship, this is a wonderful offering for primary aged readers.

Samurai Kids: White Crane, by Sandy Fussell
Walker Books, 2008