Trouble and the New Kid, by Cate Whittle, illustrated by Stephen Michael King

Apparently, dragons don’t exist.
Apparently, dragons are all in my imagination.
That’s what Nina Willis said, anyway, on the Monday before the Monday before last.

When a new kid named Nina arrives at school, Georgia soon learns that Nina doesn’t believe in dragons. Which makes Georgia sad, and a little bit cross, because her friend, Trouble is a dragon. Worse, though, when Trouble finds out someone doesn’t believe in him, he starts to change. Georgia needs to find a way to get Nina to believe.

Trouble and the New Kid is the third story featuring trouble and Georgia, but sits well on its own for those new to the series. Georgia is a wonderful heroine, warm hearted, but often in trouble at school. Trouble, too, is fun and the concept behind the series is wonderful.

Illustrated with greay scale illustrations by the whimsical Stephen Michael King, Trouble and the New Kid  will appeal to junior primary aged readers and anyone who loves whimsy.

Trouble and the New Kid, by Cate Whittle
Omnibus, 2017
ISBN 9781742990781

review by Sally Murphy, children’s author, reviewer and poet

Snowman and the Seven Ninjas

Once upon a swine…
… there rode a beauty queen.
One contest day, she was sitting on her black, spotted pet pig, smiling out at the audience while juggling her boyfriend’s chainsaws, blindfolded!
Accidentally, she sliced her fingers off!
Three buckets of blood squirted on the judges.
‘AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!!!!’
My fingers,’ she screamed.

Snowman and the Seven Ninjas starts with Miss Bacon, a talent contest and a few accidental amputations. While stemming the blood flow, Miss Bacon makes a wish for a monster made of snow, with eyes as red as blood and muscles as big as the butt of this pig. That may be the end of her, but it’s the beginning for a snow monster- ah – man, judged best new talent. Thrilled at being the centre of attention, Snowman continues to hog the limelight. Superdude, who until now has been the star of his own show, is Not Happy. Add in Ninjas called Farty, Scabby and the like and the scene is set for plenty of gross and gory action. Snowman and the Seven Ninjas is highly illustrated and includes text types that appear to have no function besides adding to the mayhem.

Once upon a fairytale … no, this is like no fairytale ever. The pattern may suggest Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs but that’s about as close as it gets. Snowman and the Seven Ninjas features guts, ego, gore, bad body odour and showing off, on high rotation. Those looking for the structure of Snow White will find it and they may even be inspired to fracture their own fairytale. From the chaos and the warning on the cover, to the impending arrival of a meteorite, there is craziness and punnyness galore. Perfect for newly independent reader who enjoys snowmen, ninjas, vampires with their literature.

Snowman and the Seven Ninjas, Matt Cosgrove
Scholastic 2017 ISBN:9781743811696

One Keen Koala, by Margaret Wild & Bruce Whatley

ONE keen koala
ready for school.

One keen koala is ready for his first day of school. hH is joined by two perky penguins, three excited wallabies and so on, as they discover the fun of starting school. From posing for photographs, to meeting the teacher, to playing with paint and glue, having stories and, at the end of the day hurrying home to mum, the animals romp through the day.

With rhyming text by Margaret Wild and joy-filled watercolour and pencil illustrations by Bruce Whatley, this is an offering sure to be embraced by youngsters starting school, and their parents. It will withstand repeated rereadings, and the simplicity of the text will encourage children to join in on rereadings.

Lovely.

One Keen Koala, by Margaret Wild & Bruce Whatley
Scholastic, 2017
ISBN 9781743629291

The Fabulous Friend Machine by Nick Bland

Popcorn was, quite simply, the friendliest chicken at FIDDLESTICKS FARM.

She insisted on saying hello to every animal every morning.

Popcorn was, quite simply, the friendliest chicken at FIDDLESTICKS FARM.

She insisted on saying hello to every animal every morning.

Popcorn was friendly and entertained all the farmyard animals, brightening their days with story. Life in the farmyard was richer for her sunny nature and helpfulness. But then she discovers a strange object in the corner of the barn: the Fabulous Friend Machine. Gradually all of Popcorn’s time and energy is sucked into communing with the friends she has found inside the object. She has so many friends that she hardly notices that the friends around her are missing her. Illustrations use a limited but rich palette of reds greens and blacks.

The Fabulous Friend Machine’ is a cautionary tale about the dangers of contemporary communication channels. Virtual ‘friends’ may not always be who they seem. Real friends are sidelined by the Fabulous Friend Machine until it seems that disaster must ensue. Recommended for early primary readers and teachers/family wanting to open conversations about cyber-safety with young users of technology.

The Fabulous Friend Machine, Nick Bland Scholastic 2016 ISBN: 9781760277659

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Countdown to Danger: Shockwave by Jack Heath

30:00

A dark shape wobbles beneath the water, getting closer to the beach. You’re ninety-nine percent sure it’s just seaweed drifting on the currents – but what if it isn’t?

What if it’s one of those big saltwater crocodiles Harrison warned you about?

You look up and down the beach. There are crushed shells, dead jellyfish and a shapeless mountain which might once have been an epic sandcastle – but no people.

No one to ask for advice. Nobody who will call for help if something happens to you. You didn’t even tell anyone you were going surfing, which now seems like a mistake.

30:00

A dark shape wobbles beneath the water, getting closer to the beach. You’re ninety-nine percent sure it’s just seaweed drifting on the currents – but what if it isn’t?

What if it’s one of those big saltwater crocodiles Harrison warned you about?

You look up and down the beach. There are crushed shells, dead jellyfish and a shapeless mountain which might once have been an epic sandcastle – but no people.

No one to ask for advice. Nobody who will call for help if something happens to you. You didn’t even tell anyone you were going surfing, which now seems like a mistake.

The clock is ticking. In the 30 minutes from the time you notice the shape in the water life as you know is over. You are on your own. Your decisions will be life and death ones, and not just for you. Get it wrong and at the very least, you die. Get it right, you may save lives, save livelihoods, be a hero. But this is no game. This is deadly serious. There are multiple possible endings – which will you choose?

Jack Heath is known for action-packed stories and this series of Choose Your Own Ending stories is no exception. Who know there were so many ways to die? Or live? Full of extreme options, every horrible ending man-made and ‘natural’ element seems to have you in the crosshairs. The stories are told in second person and present tense and the pace is fierce. Recommended for mid-primary readers looking for some choice in how the story ends. Will also appeal to older fans of wild adventures.

Countdown to Danger: Shockwave, Jack Heath
Scholastic 2016
ISBN: 9781760159634

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

400 Minutes of Danger by Jack Heath

The lump of ice slipped from beneath Nika’s fingers, and suddenly she was falling.

The climbing rope wouldn’t save her. The nearest anchor point was too far below. She would fall until the rope went taut, and then she would slam sideways into the wall of ice. Even if she survived the impact, she wouldn’t be able to clamber back down with broken arms and legs

She flung out a desperate hand –

And caught a narrow crack in the glacier.

The lump of ice slipped from beneath Nika’s fingers, and suddenly she was falling.

The climbing rope wouldn’t save her. The nearest anchor point was too far below. She would fall until the rope went taut, and then she would slam sideways into the wall of ice. Even if she survived the impact, she wouldn’t be able to clamber back down with broken arms and legs

She flung out a desperate hand –

And caught a narrow crack in the glacier.

‘400 Minutes of Danger’ is a collection of ten short stories, each taking approximately 40 minutes to read. There are countdown markers along the side of each page, so it’s clear just how much – how little – time there is before disaster strikes. In some stories, eg ‘Mosquito’, the main character is on a mission, but in others, eg ‘Kill All Humans’, the hero is unexpectedly called to counter danger, either alone or with the assistance of another character. All stories, whether set in contemporary or fantastic worlds, are full of action.

Adults don’t fare well in these stories. The protagonists are all teenagers – a range of ages – and they are much smarter, faster, better people. Baddies are truly bad, and technology is not always helpful. These short stories will be great for readers who like their action fierce and pacey. The time markers on the page help the reader keep track of the remaining time and help monitor the tension. There’s a good balance between male and female protagonists, working alone and working together. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers, and secondary readers looking for a quick and accessible read. Young writers might also look at the time markers to see how pacing is used to progress the plot.

400 Minutes of Danger, Jack Heath
Scholastic 2016
ISBN: 9781760158798

Review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Tracy Lacy Is Completely Coo-coo Bananas! by Tania Lacy ill Danielle McDonald

Once upon a time …

Once upon a time …

Once there was a girl. She seemed like a normal girl living in a normal house …

It was a dark and stormy night …

Once upon a time …

 Once there was a girl. She seemed like a normal girl living in a normal house …

 It was a dark and stormy night …

Oh cheesey-cheeses! I’m going to cut straight to the chase. It’s late and I’m still up …

It’s almost the last day of primary school, and Tracy couldn’t be happier. It’s time to put her disasters of primary school behind her and head into high school with a clean slate. She has plans to make sure it happens. She’s determined to be a whole different person, and she’s going to make sure her best friends Ponky and Ag are as prepared as she is. What starts as a bit of a story, becomes a diary in which Tracy documents the last days of school and the summer holidays leading up to this new chapter in her life. Throughout, there are brief conversations with her brother, who is clearly not listening to her instruction to stay out of her diary! Each opening includes doodles, sketches, patterns and a variety of text sizes and fonts, as does the cover.

Decorated on the cover and throughout with doodle-extras, it’s clear that Tracy Lacy is no shy violet. She’s brash, outspoken, confident … and misunderstood. Her friends Ponky and Ag accept her for who she is, even when she is most trying to reinvent herself, and them. But not everyone else does. Her teacher, the school principal, the cool kids seem often to misinterpret her words and actions (at least, that’s how she sees it). Tracy’s story is full of humour and her observations of others help the reader to see beyond the words and understand what she doesn’t quite get. At heart, a story about coming to terms with who you are. Recommended for mid-primary + readers.

Tracy Lacy is Completely Coo-coo Bananas!, Tania Lacy ill Danielle McDonald

Scholastic 2016 ISBN: 9781760279820

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

www.clairesaxby.com

Skyfire, by Michael Adams

The girl knew she was going to die. Her heart thumped. Mouth dry, throat tight, she could barely breathe. She looked at the madman with the gun, who’d trapped her, on top of a train hurtling through the night. There was no way she could get out of this alive.

When a mysterious sponsor calls for entries from young people worldwide to have the chance to see their ambitions realised, entries come from everywhere. But there can only be seven winners – and Yasmin, Isabel, Andy, Dylan, J.J., Zander and Mila are all delighted to be the winners of the DARE awards. Each is from a different continent, and each has a very different dream, but together they will find out just what it means to be a DARE winner.

But none of them is prepare for what happens when they start receiving strange texts. None of them know what the symbols they receive mean, but it soon becomes apparent that they are being targeted to try to unravel a mystery which, if they can’t solve it, will have catastrophic consequences – not just for them, but for the whole world.

Skyfire is the first in the new series for young readers.Filled with action and mystery, there is lots to love, though the need to set up the cast and premise slows it down a little.

Set in a near-future world, adventure fans will eagerly await the next installment.

Skyfire, by Michael Adams
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781743628010

Within These Walls, by Robyn Bavati

There had been cellars like this in the ghetto; almost all the buildings in Warsaw had them. I’d hidden in them often – to avoid the roundups and escape deportation – but never for days on end, and never alone.
I didn’t know how long I’d have to stay there. Or how long I could survive on a daily potato and a little water.

Miri’s life in Warsaw is simple but happy. She has loving family, and loves family holidays, and evenings when her father comes home from work and they are all together. But when the Germans invade Poland and reach Warsaw, life changes. First there are rules: Jews cannot be educated, Jews must not work, and, finally, all Jews must move to the ghetto.Life in the ghetto is a struggle, and, one by one, Miri sees her family either disappear or die. Finally, alone, she has a chance to survive when she is smuggled out of the ghetto.

Based on true events, Within These Walls is a wrenching story of survival amidst the horrors of the Holocaust. Miri is eight years old at the start of the book and has a child-like view of the world, which changes as she ages and in line with the terrible things she experiences. The use of such a first person narrator makes the story very real. Miri’s character is, in part, based on the specific experiences of one child, and all events are based on things which really happened.

Part of the My Holcaust Story series, Within These Walls makes this disturbing part of history accessible to children.

Within These Walls , by Robyn Bavati
Scholastic, 2016
ISBN 9781760152857

Black Sunday, by Evan McHugh

The other thing Mrs Kearsley says you can do in a diary is write down your dreams and aspirations/ That’s even easier. I want to be a Bondi lifesaver like Grampa Jack. So, that’s my life story done. I’m goin’ down the beach.

Nipper is not impressed whn his teacher makes him keep a diary. He doesn’t want to spend his free time writing – he just wants to be at the beach. He’s even less impressed when she wants to read what he’s written, and his refusal to show her lands him in a lot of trouble.

In secret, Nipper starts preparing himself for his future career – swimming distances, imagining he’s rescuing someone. He has to wait until he’s 16 before he can get his Bronze Medallion and become part of the brigade. But one eventful day in 1938 – a day that would become known as Black Sunday – his secret is revealed in dramatic fashion.

Black Sunday is a diary format novel for primary aged readers fictionalising the events of Black Sunday, 1938 and bringing to life the Bondi of the time. Although Black Sunday is a feature, the book spans a year, so covers events both before and after the day.

Nipper is a likable narrator, and his story will appeal to middle and upper primary aged readers.

Black Sundaym by Evan McHugh
Scholastic Australia, 2016
ISBN 9781743627990