The Cursed First Term of Zelda Stitch, by Nicki Greenberg

This time there’ll be no hiding at the back of the classroom, hoping no one notices me. No pretending to have a stomach ache or locking myself in the toilets to cry. In just nine hours I’ll be standing in front of a while class of the little monsters, trying not to make some kind of terrible mistake. Although I think I’ve already made one, taking this job in the first place.

Every teacher is nervous when they start their first job. But Zelda Stitch has an extra thing to worry about: how to keep the fact that she’s a witch secret from her students. especially when she isn’t even good at being a witch. When term starts she soon realises that it isn’t going to be easy. When the children play tricks on her, she struggles to keep her magic hidden. And it seems she isn’t the only witch in the room. One of her students seems to developing witch skills. And someone in the school has put a hex on the principal.

The Cursed First Term of Zelda Stitch is a humorous diary-format novel, complemented by equally humorous illustrations by the author. Zelda is bumbling but likeable, and supported by an interesting cast including her seemingly objectionable cat, Barnaby.

An easy read, with plenty to keep readers turning pages.

The Cursed First Term of Zelda Stitch, by Nicki Greenberg
Allen & Unwin, 2017
ISBN 9781760294908

Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables by Tim Harris ill James Hart

Mr Bambuckle’s first day at Blue Valley School was a most remarkable day. the fifteen students of 12B straggled in after the bell to find their new teacher balancing on a unicycle, on top of a desk. He was singing in full voice about ‘glorious days’ and ‘magical ways and, as the students took their seats, he told them it was a rare Mongolian welcome song.

Mr Bambuckle is like no teacher the students of 12B have ever encountered. It’s not just that he can balance on his unicycle on the desk. It’s not just that he seems more exciting than Miss Schlump. He has an answer for their every question, even when he’s saying that it’s too dangerous to meet his Indian spark-maker beetle. Within minutes, he is smiling at their principal, Mr Sternblast, despite the latter’s gruffness. ‘Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables’ begins with character sketches of all the class, and illustrations are scattered throughout.

Mr Bambuckle is more than a little magical. He knows the students’ names before they tell them and he can immediately see what they need from him as a teacher. But even though he can see it, he structures his classes so the students discover their own strengths and challenges. There are no cross words, no punishments, and every member of the class starts to perform to their abilities. In between these subtle lessons, there are stories, jokes, magic and even bacon. What’s not to love? Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables’ is a new series for readers who like their stories wrapped in ridiculousness and humour. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers. Would also work a treat as a read-aloud.
Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables by Tim Harris ill James Hart Random House Australia 2017 ISBN: 9780143785859

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

Pippa’s Island: The Beach Shack Cafe

Outside, kids were running, shouting, playing and laughing. If I closed my eyes it sounded just like the playground of my old school back in London. But instead of cool and misty air, the sun shone down bright and hot. The air smelled different too. All sea-salty and spicy. And of course the biggest difference was that almost everyone was a stranger.

Pippa and her family might have moved to an idyllic island town, but that doesn’t make it easy. She has left behind friends she’s known since nursery school in London, and moved across the world to Australia, where everything seems different. On top of that, they are living in a caravan in her grandparents’ garden while Mum puts everything into renovating a run-down boatshed she wants to make into a cafe bookshop. Pippa isn’t sure it will work, but when she makes some new friends, things start looking up.

The Beach Shack Cafe is the first title in a new series following Pippa’s new life on Kira Island. Pippa faces the challenges of a new start with the help of her thoughtful, if slightly distracted, mum, and through trial and occasional error.

Young readers will love the island setting and will look forward to more installments.

Pippa’s Island 1: The Beach Shack Cafe, by Belinda Murrell
Random House Australia, 2017
ISBN 9780143783671

Little Lunch Triple the Trouble by Danny Katz ill Mitch Vane

The Body Bus
A truck was parked in the playground.
It was parked behind a portable classroom.
On the side of the truck was a sign. The sign said “Body Bus”.

The Little Lunch crew: Melanie, Rory, Tamara, Battie, Debra-Jo and Atticus are back with three adventures in the classroom and the playground. The Body Bus has the six classmates trying to work out why the Body Bus is in the school yard. In The Band, it rains and Mrs Gonsha races out to rescue a school jumper. She leaves Rory in charge of the class while she dries off, and the classroom transforms then transforms again. In the final story, Kiss Chasey Oval, sees a revival of the game half the class seem to love, and the other half would rather avoid. There are illustrations on every opening.

School is a place for learning, but the learning doesn’t all happen in the classroom, or in scheduled lessons. The six characters in this series have individual strengths and challenges, worries and confidences. Together they represent a broad range of personalities likely to appear in any classroom. Young readers will recognise themselves, their friends and their dilemmas. Originally released as individual stories, Triple the Trouble presents three complete adventures in the same book. Funny and real, the stories in the Little Lunch series will appeal to newly independent readers keen to see themselves reflected in their reading.

Little Lunch, Triple the Trouble, by Danny Katz ill Mitch Vane Black Dog Books 2017 ISBN: 9781925381825

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

I Love You by Xiao Mao ill Tang Yun

Ms Giraffe is Little Badger’s teacher.
She is very kind and very clever.
One day, Ms Giraffe writes some new words on the whiteboard.
Wo ai ni
Ti amo
Je táime
Ich Liebe dich
Te quiero

Little Badger loves school and when her teacher teaches them how to say ‘I love you!’ in multiple languages, she’s very happy to practice. She says ‘I love you!’ all the way home. At home, she continues, practising, practising in different languages all the way through dinner, her bath and to bedtime. Her parents are caught up in her enthusiasm and reaffirm their love in different languages. All characters are represented as animals. Illustrations are stylised, pencil and paint. End-papers reflect some of the elements Little Badger loves.
I Love You’ was originally published in China and the first alt-language offering in this new edition is appropriately in Chinese (both phonetic and in script). Ms Giraffe introduces the idea that all languages express the same emotion, but with different sounds. Little Badger applies her new knowledge generously. This is a lovely book, with friendly illustrations and will be enjoyed at home, in kindergartens and in schools to introduce different languages. Recommended for pre- and early-schoolers.

I Love You, Xiao Mao ill Tang Yun
New Frontier Publishing 2017
ISBN: 9781925059762

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

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

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

Another Night in Mullet Town, by Steven Herrick

People like you and me, Jonah,
we drag down the price of everything we touch.

Jonah and Manx have been happy living on the wrong side of Coraki Lake – the side which does’t have beach access. They fish and swim in the lake, and spend their Friday nights watching Ella and Rachel and wishing they had the courage to talk to them. But life is changing. Their run down town is being sold off by a greedy real estate agent. Manx’s dad’s servo struggles to keep its doors open, and Jonah’s parents argue non-stop. The things that happen at their Friday night gatherings by the lake will bring change, and not all of it will be good.

Another Night in Mullet Town is a gritty, realistic verse novel told from the perspective of Jonah, a boy with just the one close friend (though he hopes Ella will become his friend, or something more). He and Manx have always been mates, but he worries that Manx is drifting away, consumed with hatred for the wealthy new-comers. He’s also struggling with the effects of his parents’ fighting. For all that’s going wrong, he manages to find things to be happy about, and he is a likable, often humorous narrator.

Herrick’s poetry is, as always, accessible to young readers with each poem only a page or two, enticing readers to read just one more. The use of the verse novel form means that there is emotional depth, character development and a wonderful sense of place, delivered with a satisfying compactness which means it will reach readers of all abilities.

Another Night in Mullet Town, by Steven Herrick
UQP, 2016
ISBN 9780702253959

Trouble and the Missing Cat by Cate Whittle ill Stephen Michael King

It turns out that our school Principal doesn’t live in a cupboard at the end of the corridor next to the teachers/ staffroom, even though Kyle Watson and Braedon Smythe both say so, and they should know. They are always being sent to see the Principal. As for me, Georgia, I’ve never made it beyond talking to the Deputy before, and she usually comes up to the classroom.

It turns out that our school Principal doesn’t live in a cupboard at the end of the corridor next to the teachers/ staffroom, even though Kyle Watson and Braedon Smythe both say so, and they should know. They are always being sent to see the Principal. As for me, Georgia, I’ve never made it beyond talking to the Deputy before, and she usually comes up to the classroom.

Georgia travels to school on the back of Trouble, a dragon. Trouble stole their house you see, and set it in the mountains. It was far easier for Georgia to get a lift to school than to try and set their house back on its block. But Trouble has been banned from school and the alternative ‘drop-off point’ is at the spot where their old house was. When Tibbles, the cat next door vanishes, Georgia is happy to help find him. She collects clues and eventually solves the mystery. Black and white illustrations appear on most openings.

Trouble is a dragon, and just like an oversize puppy, he is enthusiastic and not really aware of his size. Georgia is full of enthusiasm too, and sometimes surprised when her attempts to help out are misinterpreted. Their adventures are great fun and will have readers giggling. Fans of Anna Fienberg and Kim Gamble’s ‘Tashi’ stories will enjoy these tales. Recommended for independent readers or read-to for younger children.

Trouble and the Missing Cat, Cate Whittle ill Stephen Michael
King Scholastic 2016 ISBN: 9781742990774

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s author and bookseller

The Things I Didn't Say, by Kylie Fornasier

I hate the label Selective Mutism – as if I choose not to speak, like a kid who refuses to eat broccoli. I’ve used up every dandelion wish since I was ten wishing for the power to speak whenever I want to. I’m starting to wonder if there are enough dandelions.

Piper Rhodes doesn’t talk to strangers. But far from this being a sign of following parental rules, her silence seems inexplicable. She can talk at home, and to people she knows well, but at school and in the community, words fail her. This causes lots of problems, but as she starts at a new school for her final year of schooling, Piper is never more aware of just how problematic it can be. Teachers think she’s being rude, and making friends is difficult. Then there’s West: the school captain, soccer-star, boy who has it all. He seems intent of getting to know her, even if it means writing notes.

Selective Mutism is a difficult condition to live with and for other people to comprehend. Even the name is problematic, as Piper complains, implying a ‘selection’ or choice being made. The Things I Didn’t Say is a wonderful exploration of the challenges it holds for one teen character, at the same time as being just a great read about friendship, peer pressure, and parental expectation. Piper has changed schools by choice after losing her best friend following a drunken party, and at the new school finds both new friends and new enemies. West, who appears to have it all, also has struggles, particularly with meeting the expectations his parents have of him. Their seemingly unlikely relationship blossoms through notes and text messages, but is threatened by people around them.

An excellent young adult read.

The Things I Didn’t Say, by Kylie Fornasier
Penguin, 2016
ISBN 9780143573630