History Mysteries: Diamond Jack, by Mark Greenwood

Just then, Jack discovered a sodden parcel wedged between the plane’s ribs.
He tore off the string binding and red wax seals. Inside was a bloated leather wallet, bursting with small packages wrapped in tissue. He emptied the contents of one into his calloused hands. What he saw stole his breath away …

As a plane prepares to ferry Dutch refugees out of Java to escape war-torn Java, the captain is passed a valuable package to carry to safety. But the plane is attacked, and crash-lands, the passage temporarily forgotten in the quest for survival. When Jack Palmer, a sailor and beachcomber, comes across the abandoned wreck of the plane he can’t help but be curious about what he might find on board. What he does find is beyond anything he could imagine.

Diamond Jack, the first title in the new History Mysteries series by Mark Greenwood, is a junior novel exploring the events surrounding the crash of a Dakota aircraft and subsequent disappearance of a parcel of diamond on board. Using the known facts and people involved, interwoven with a fictionalised version of what might have happen, the story provides an intriguing glimpse into the past. Young readers will be drawn into the mystery as they also view and learn about a chapter of Australian war history.

With historical photographs, maps and notes including a timeline, this is history children can connect with.

History Mysteries: Diamond Jack, by Mark Greenwood
Penguin Random House, 2017
ISBN 9780143309260

The Quicksand Pony by Alison Lester (15th Anniversary Edition)

It’s fifteen years since ‘The Quicksand Pony’ was originally released and it has lost nothing of its appeal. It is as relevant and as gripping as it was on first release.

The moon was full the night they disappeared. Windswept paddocks lay clear and blue under high tatters of cloud. A car lurched, without lights, along the rutted road that ran from the town to the bay. It moved erratically, urgently, as though the driver didn’t know how to drive. The wind whipped away the sound of the engine…

Nine years later …

Biddy thought she lived in the perfect spot, with the town on one side, the headland on the other, and the bay in front. Sometimes she rode up to the gravel ridge behind the stockyards and planned how she would defend her kingdom if she were a princess.

Biddy lives with her parents on a farm on the edge of town and the edge of wilderness. She is bright and curious and desperate to be a cowgirl and help with the mustering. It’s tricky and tiring mustering cattle from the scrubby headland, and the country is full of mystery and unexpected danger. Biddy’s pony becomes stuck in quicksand on the beach. Next morning, the pony is gone, but there are footprints on the beach. Biddy can’t imagine who it could be, the headland is wilderness. No one could possibly live there, particularly someone as small as the footprints suggest. The mystery wraps itself around her and begs to be solved

It’s fifteen years since The Quicksand Pony was originally released and it has lost nothing of its appeal. It is as relevant and as gripping as it was on first release. Biddy is a delightfully grounded child, clearly secure in her world, wild and determined. ‘The Quicksand Pony’ is about notions of family in its different guises, about community. It’s also about survival and adapting to changing circumstances. It’s a thrilling mystery and a lovely visit to the world of a cattle farm and a rural community. Recommended for upper-primary readers.

The Quicksand Pony

The Quicksand Pony, Alison Lester Allen&Unwin 2012 ISBN: 9781742378008

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

www.clairesaxby.com

Captain Blunderbolt, by Carol Ann Martin

Alberta is the oldest of three children in a family struggling for survival in the early days of white settlement in Australia. Father seems to be a bit of a dud in the providing-for-his-family department and Mother is the one who picks up the pieces. Alberta’s role is looking after her two younger siblings. On the day they decide to skip school…

We shouldn’t have wagged school, I know.
Not when our lessons were costing Mother threepence a week. But the whingeing started the minute the door of our slab hut fell off behind us. (Father was not very good at building huts.)
‘I don’t like it! I’m not going!’ That was Maudie. She had started school only four days ago. Already she’d decided that it wasn’t for her.
Tully was just plain cranky. He was missing Father, who had probably got himself lost again. Getting lost was something Father was good at.

Alberta is the oldest of three children in a family struggling for survival in the early days of white settlement in Australia. Father seems to be a bit of a dud in the providing-for-his-family department and Mother is the one who picks up the pieces. Alberta’s role is looking after her two younger siblings. On the day they decide to skip school they witness a failed coach raid by the famous Captain Blunderbolt. The occupants of the coach are initially frightened, but on witnessing Blunderbolt’s incompetence are moved sufficiently to offer donations. Meanwhile, the school bully is up to his usual tricks. Now he’s spreading a rumour that Alberta’s Father isn’t off trying to find gold, but is actually Blunderbolt. Each page includes colour illustrations often with headers and footers to break up the text.

The Mates series from Omnibus delivers short chapter books for newly independent readers. Each includes an iconic Australian story. All include a delightful dose of Aussie humour. Captain Blunderbolt introduces a new generation to our colonial history in a light-handed and informative manner. History can be dry and dull, but in the Mates format, it is anything but. Each offering opens the way for discussion about life in Australia, with all its joys and challenges. In Captain Blunderbolt the reader discovers that life was tough for settler families, with fathers needing to go away from home to find work. It also opens the discussion about the rich and the not-so-rich, and the inherent inequalities that can come with it. A particularly welcome aspect is the reference to Mother’s practical capabilities. As with all the offerings in the Mates series, readers will come for the humour, stay for the story and come away with more understanding of the rich Australian culture we all share. Recommended for newly emergent readers.

Captain Blunderbolt (Mates)

Captain Blunderbolt , Carol Ann Martin & Loren Morris
Omnibus Books 2011
ISBN: 9781862918238

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
www.clairesaxby.com

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

Springman Brothers’ Reality Repair, by Joshua Wright

‘Tis an odd world Jim finds himself in! Somehow an explosion of Fletcher’s (Jim’s grownup brother)’s and Ingrid (his grownup sister)’s making has resulted in a fifth dimension. And now his town is part of his sister’s imagination. His sister is the famous author of ‘Realm of Glory’ and after the explosion, their town becomes the world of the story, inhabited by its strange landscape and fearsome monsters. Confusing? You betcha! …

Jim Springman saw himself as a perfectly normal boy. He wasn’t brilliant, but he was no fool either. A bit on the small side, yes, but all his family looked young for their age. And though he had about as much muscle as a garden rake, he was still a fair athlete. His eyes were slightly less green than his brother’s, but they still retained the same half-mad sparkle.
Right now, they were closed.
Jim yawned. He rubbed his face. It was a bright, sunny morning at 10 Rambling Avenue, and time to get out of bed. After a short, pleasant snooze, Jim just that, and headed downstairs for breakfast.

‘Tis an odd world Jim finds himself in! Somehow an explosion of Fletcher’s (Jim’s grownup brother)’s and Ingrid (his grownup sister)’s making has resulted in a fifth dimension. And now his town is part of his sister’s imagination. His sister is the famous author of ‘Realm of Glory’ and after the explosion, their town becomes the world of the story, inhabited by its strange landscape and fearsome monsters. Confusing? You betcha! There are only a few locals, assisted by Fletcher’s science who are still part of the old townscape. Jim and his two neighbours must try to make sense of it all, if Jim is going to be able to save his sister. And it seems that everyone, including his brother are determined to make life difficult.

Springman Brothers’ Reality Repair is the second in this series, but can easily be read as a standalone title. Where knowledge of the first instalment is needed, enough information is slipped in to allow the narrative to continue without confusion. Well, almost. There’s plenty of confusion to be found when your world is totally unlike your world, except when it is the same as always. There’s plenty of humour with characters from fairy-tales, megamonsters, and human beings who just might be animals in disguise. And the crazy scientist is about the craziest you’re ever likely to encounter! It seems very likely that there will be more instalments in this adventure before Jim and his friends can return to normal life… Wild, wacky and way, way out! Recommended for mid- upper-primary readers.

Springman Brothers' Reality Repair

Springman Brothers’ Reality Repair, Joshua Wright
Scholastic 2011
ISBN: 978174169758 review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
www.clairesaxby.com

This book is available in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Heroes of the Year, by Frances Watt

Ernie and his side-kick Maud (a sheep) are superheros in training, and this is the fourth instalment in their adventures. Each works well as a stand-alone title too. The Baxter Branch of the Superheroes Society wants to win the ‘Heroes of the Year’ competition, and add a lovely bright trophy to their collection. Of one. The trophy is awarded to the best trainee superhero for the year…

Ernie Eggers strode down High Street on Monday afternoon, his long green cape swishing behind him and the heels of his tall black boots echoing loudly as they struck the pavement. Usually the serious sound his footsteps made when he was wearing his big boots filled Ernie with pleasure, but not today. He’d just come from his school sports carnival, and as usual he hadn’t won a single ribbon. Today his footsteps tapped out the word ‘lo-ser, lo-ser.’

Ernie and his side-kick Maud (a sheep) are superheros in training, and this is the fourth instalment in their adventures. Each works well as a stand-alone title too. The Baxter Branch of the Superheroes Society wants to win the ‘Heroes of the Year’ competition, and add a lovely bright trophy to their collection. Of one. The trophy is awarded to the best trainee superhero for the year, judged secretly. But the Branch is torn: do they try to discover when the judges will be in town, or do they try to find who is drawing moustaches on photos all around the town. Ernie is dazzled by the trophy and Maud is keen to master the splits. They will have to concentrate their energies if they are to catch the moustache-drawer and win the competition.

This is a delightful series for middle-primary readers. It would work well also as a read-to adventure. Extraordinary Ernie, with the help of the gymnastic-honed Marvellous Maud can do anything. All they need to do is believe in themselves. They rely on the advice of flawed superhero adults who seem to do very little in the superhero department. But Ernie and Maud are gradually winning the confidence of the street traders and other members of the general public. And when people believe in you, it’s easier to rise to their expectations and achieve. That aside, it’s hilarious. Recommended for mid-primary readers and anyone who ever wanted to be a superhero (or who still does).

Heroes of the Year, Frances Watt & Judy Watson
ABC Books 2011
ISBN: 9780733328732

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
www.clairesaxby.com

This book is available in good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

The Truth About Verity Sparks, by Susan Green

Verity Sparks worked as a trimmer for a fashionable milliner until a devious scheme by others sees her turned into the street. Verity plans to return to her aunt and uncle’s house but when she reaches there, her horrible uncle quickly assures her she will never be welcome there. She is alone, homeless and jobless, with only her talent for finding things, and a few precious trinkets from her dead mother. But it seems her luck is about to change…

My name is Verity Sparks, and I’ve got itchy fingers. The professor calls it teleagtivism. Sounds more like a disease, doesn’t it? But it’s not. It’s more like a talent. A gift. I’ve always had it, but I didn’t know I had it until the summer of 1878. It happened the day I finished the yellow hat.

The hat was mostly feathers, with one poor little bird left whole and stuck onto the brim. ‘Like a dead duck on a plate, ain’t it?’ I said as I held it up.
Madame sighed. ‘Yes , it is. But it’s what she asked for. Oh, dear!’ She fussed around on the work bench for a few seconds, and then sighed again. ‘My spectacles, dear – have you seen my spectacles?’

Verity Sparks worked as a trimmer for a fashionable milliner until a devious scheme by others sees her turned into the street. Verity plans to return to her aunt and uncle’s house but when she reaches there, her horrible uncle quickly assures her she will never be welcome there. She is alone, homeless and jobless, with only her talent for finding things, and a few precious trinkets from her dead mother. But it seems her luck is about to change. She joins a Confidential Inquiry Agency, proves very good at her job and finds some new friends. But there is mystery around Verity’s beginnings. The closer she comes to discovering the secrets of her birth, the greater becomes the threat to her life and the lives of those around her.

Verity hasn’t ever expected a great deal from her life. She had loving parents until illness took them. Life at the milliner’s is as good as she could expect. She works long hours for little money and even smaller thanks from the wealthy clients. But she is grateful for work and a roof over her head. She has never questioned her talent for finding things. She adjusts well though to a new life where she is respected and valued, although occasionally questions her luck. She learns to trust her judgement about people and the gift she has. The Truth About Verity Sparks is a fascinating trip through Victorian London at a time when men and women were questioning their own truths and investigating the physical and the metaphysical. It is also a story about a girl finding her place in the world with the help and hindrance of those around her. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

The Truth About Verity Sparks

The Truth About Verity Sparks, Susan Green
Walker Books 2011
ISBN: 9781921720277

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
www.clairesaxby.com

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

The Not-So-Goblin Boy, by Ezekiel Kwaymullina

Samuel. What sort of name is that for a goblin? A name guaranteed to get him into trouble with the school and other bullies. All Sam wants is to be like everyone else. Except when everyone is a goblin, with awesome magical skills, that’s no easy thing. Even his loving adoptive parents are goblins. Sam hopes that things will change once he is accepted into the Goblin Academy…

I stood in my room and stared at my reflection in the mirror, fidgeting with my clothes for the tenth time in the last two minutes. I just didn’t look right. I looked like a stupid, ugly human! I glared at my features. My hair was a dark gritty brown colour. No matter how many disgusting liquids I washed it with, it never looked quite like oily black goblin hair. Oh sure, it was so putrid that it stood up at gravity-defying angles all by itself, but that didn’t matter if the colour wasn’t right.
As for my body, it was a mass of disappointment. Goblins had pot bellies, wonderfully long arms for stealing things and short legs for quick getaways. Nothing like my long legs and stupidly proportioned arms.
And don’t even get me started on my face.

Samuel. What sort of name is that for a goblin? A name guaranteed to get him into trouble with the school and other bullies. All Sam wants is to be like everyone else. Except when everyone is a goblin, with awesome magical skills, that’s no easy thing. Even his loving adoptive parents are goblins. Sam hopes that things will change once he is accepted into the Goblin Academy. Then he can make his parents truly proud of him. But success at the Academy is not in his destiny. However, he is recruited by a band of pirates-who-deny-being-pirates. And he discovers that there are much bigger things to worry about than just being the only normal human being left in the world.

Thank goodness The Not-so-goblin Boy doesn’t have and scratch-and-sniff pages, because with all the farts that goblins delight in releasing, readers would be passing out and never reading beyond the second page! And that would be a shame, because The Not-so-goblin Boy is a swashbuckling read, full of goblins, gnomes, explosions (including mega-farts) and wild adventure. There are gadgets and mysteries, secrets and illusions. And beneath it all is a tale about learning to accept yourself for who you are, not who you think you want to be. While this adventure is complete in itself, there are enough threads to suspect that a sequel is planned. Great fun for mid- to upper-primary readers, boys particularly.

The Not-so-goblin Boy

The Not-so-goblin Boy, Ezekiel Kwaymullina
Walker Books 2011
ISBN:9781921720154

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author
www.clairesaxby.com

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

Trouble Twisters, by Garth Nix & Sean Williams

A mysterious card from a long-lost Grandmother signals the start of strange events in Jaide and Jack’s lives. Soon after, their father returns from one of his many trips away, and as he unpacks voices start to call to the twins, before their house strangely explodes. When they are sent to stay with their Grandmother in a town far from home, they are pretty unimpressed…

‘It does have our names on it,’ Jaide pointed out. She flipped open the card.
Inside were a few lines written in the same old-person handwriting.
My dear troubletwisters,
The cats have been very restless,
so I expect I will see you soon.
With love,
Grandma X.

A mysterious card from a long-lost Grandmother signals the start of strange events in Jaide and Jack’s lives. Soon after, their father returns from one of his many trips away, and as he unpacks voices start to call to the twins, before their house strangely explodes. When they are sent to stay with their Grandmother in a town far from home, they are pretty unimpressed. Their Grandmother is far from normal, and the town has more than its fair share of odd happenings – talking cats, swarming insects, and tornadoes that appear inside. The twins, it seems, are troublewisters, and have to learn quickly just what that means.

Troubletwisters is the first exciting book in a new fantasy series for tweens. There are lots of scary bits – with the twins having to fight to save their grandmother, their town and maybe the whole world as they battle The Evil, a force which wants to take them over – but there is also humour, particularly in the form of a pair of talking cats, and character development. Jack and Jaide are twins each with their own strengths and quirks, and Grandma X is a curious character who will intrigue readers.

Troubletwisters is an exciting, satisfying start to a series which readers will love.

Troubletwisters (Troubletwisters)

Troubletwisters , by Garth Nix & Sean Williams
Allen & Unwin, 2011
ISBN 9781742373980

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

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.

The Boy Without a Soul, by Michael Panckridge

Gabrielle (Gabby) has no memory beyond waking up in hospital not knowing who she is or where she came from. The one things she does know is a Voice that tells her she is different, and that she is destined to help people. When she meets Michael and his little brother Jack, she knows she must help them…

Gabby’s nose twitched as the faint scent of burning timber reached her. A sudden thought flitted across her consciousness, then vanished just as quickly. She closed her eyes, and, despite the warning she’d received from the Voice, tried to will the memory back. It had been the smell of fire – but what? Nothing. Gabby’s mind was blank.
Amnesia. That’s what the people at the hospital said.

Gabrielle (Gabby) has no memory beyond waking up in hospital not knowing who she is or where she came from. The one things she does know is a Voice that tells her she is different, and that she is destined to help people. When she meets Michael and his little brother Jack, she knows she must help them. Something terrible is wrong with Jack, but she sees to be the only one who can see it.

The Boy without a Soul , the second book in the Book of Gabrielle series is an exciting story of mystery and adventure, with a supernatural element. The mystery of who Gabrielle is, and where she comes from, is developed, and Jack’s story is also intriguing.

Best read by those who have read the first title, this one could also stand alone.

The Boy without a Soul (Book of Gabrielle)

The Boy without a Soul (Book of Gabrielle), by Michael Panckridge
Black Dog, 2011
ISBN 978174203183

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