Jo Berludi, by Liz Flaherty

While Sal drinks her lemonade and mine, I scout around the backyard looking for clues. I take photos of the clothesline and the garden path. I pace out the distance between the side gate and the clothesline. Mmmm, tricky. To get down the side of the house the thief would have to pass the kitchen.

Jo (Jonah) Berludi is a private inevstigator. He may be only eight, but when he’s dressed in his detective kit people think he’s older – especially when they see his business card.

When Jo’s neighbour, Mrs Pickwick, has a problem with underwear disappearing from her washing line, she calls Jo in to solve the case. It isn’t easy to figure out – especially when the mystery keeps getting bigger. Who would want size 26 underwear? And why is fresh fruit going missing from the fruit store around the corner? Still, with Jo on the case it isn’t long before it is solved.

Jo Berludi is a cute chapter book title, part of the Breakers series from Macmillan Education. Aimed at children with a reading age of around nine years, it has plenty of action and mystery to appeal to young readers. The line drawings of Jeff Gilmour are a nice addition.

A fun read.

Jo Berludi, by Liz Flaherty
Macmillan Education, 2003

Watch Out for Bunyips, by Helen Evans

On the far side of the pool there were tall trees and the land rose quite steeply. It looked dark and forbidding. No doubt it was horrible there.That was bunyip country for sure.

Kylie has been scared of bunyips all her life – even though she’s never seen one. Now her parents have brought her to live in the country for a few months. She hopes there won’t be any bunyips there.

But bunyips prove to be the least of Kylie’s problems. A gang of unruly teens is up to no good around town, and Kylie becomes a target when they catch her taking photos of their activities. With her new friend Birilee, Kylie tries to avoid trouble. At the same time the pair build a friendship which enriches both their lives and sees the town coming together.

Watch Out for Bunyips is an adventure story for upper primary aged children. It also explores issues of reconciliation, Aboriginal culture and the environment, making it possibly suitable for classroom use.

Watch Out for Bunyips, by Helen Evans
Loranda Publishing, 2004


The Fox on the Clifftop, by Linda Massola

Barney settled back in his chair to look at the boy. He was badly in need of a proper haircut and his knees were showing through his jeans. Still, they like to wear them that way these days, he reminded himself. He didn’t look too well fed either. Too many bones showing. The boy stood his ground. Something about him reminded Barney of the fox.

Old Barney lives by himself in a tumble-down cottage at the edge of a cliff. When three boys pay him a visit and graffiti his house, he is powerless to stop them. One of the boys, however, feels bad about what they have done and comes back to see Barney. The pair establish an unlikely, and at times uneasy, friendship. Perhaps Barney is not too old to make a difference to young Steve’s life.

The Fox on the Clifftop is a title in the chapter book series, Breakers, from Macmillan Education. This title is aimed at students with a reading age of around 9 years, but some primary aged students may find the issues of both the street kids and the war veteran a little hard to grasp. Despite that, the story does have a nice combination of action and issue and young readers will enjoy the role of the wild fox that interracts with both characters.

The Fox on the Clifftop could be a good offering for older students with reading difficulties.

The Fox on the Clifftop, by Linda Massola
Macmillan Education, 2003

Beware the Gingerbread House, by Emily Rodda

I reminded myself that whatever stupid thing I’d felt when I first visited the Gingerbread House, it was only a cake shop, after all.Even if it was done up to look like something out of a fairytale. And I told myself that Hazel Sweet, the owner, was just an ordinary woman.
It wasn’t her fault that her nose was long and hooked. Or that her chin was sharp and jutted out. It didn’t matter that she always wore black. Or that when she smiled, as she did all the time, her big teeth glittered, but her pale eyes seemed to stay as still and cold as river stones.

Sunny never says no to a new job, but when the Teenpower gang is asked to work for the Gingerbread House, a cake shop in the local shopping centre, Sunny doesn’t want anything to do with it. She can’t explain her horror at the thought of working there, but the place and its owner give her the creeps. But without Sunny the group can’t take the job, so she finds herself convinced to join them, working as bunnies and handing out leaflets in the mall.

Sunny’s feeling that there is something wrong won’t go away. Out in the mall she sees strange comings and goings involving a local crook known as The Wolf, and in the store itself it seems someone is out to do some damage. It seems that, yet again, the Teen Power gang is in for more than they bargained for.

Beware the Gingerbread House is the fifth title in Emily Rodda’s Raven Hill Mysteries series. This title is told through the eyes of Sunny, one of the six teens who make up Teenpower Inc, a group of teens who combine to take on job opportunitites for pocket money. Other titles in the series are told by other members of the gang – a touch which makes each book different and also allows readers to gradually build rapport with the various characters.

Beware the Gingerbead House is recommended for readers aged 10 to 14.

Beware the Gingerbead House, by Emily Rodda
Scholastic, 2004, first published 1994.

Shalott, by Felicity Pulman

The scene was familiar: the stone walls of the tower, the ladies in their long dresses, the men in tunics and breeches. Callie pinched the soft flesh under her forearm. Hard. It hurt. She was one of the ladies, then. So were Meg and El. Real. Breathing. Just like the two guys with them.

Callie is fascinated by her father’s virtual reality machine. She wonders if she could use it to visit Camelot and change its history. But as she works on her program she is interrupted by her sister El and her friend Meg who want to be part of the game – they want to be characters at Camelot too. In spite of her misgivings, Callie finds herself adding the pair and, finally, two boys they barely know – Lev the street-kid and Stephen, a loud snob. It is all a game that Callie feels is getting out of hand, being spoilt by her pushy sister. But she has no idea just how out of hand this game will get when she is bumped and accidentally pushes the button that draws all five teens into the machine and back into the very real world of Camelot.

At Camelot each of the teens faces a range of challenges. Callie must overcome her timidity to stand up to El, and also wants to use her time in Camelot to win Lancelot’s heart and thus prevent the downfall of Camelot. El must learn to set aside her jealousies and insecurities, while Meg learns where her talents lie. For the two boys the challenges are greater. Lev learns to belong and to be brave while Stephen learns what it means to have friends. In the meantime all must adapt to life in Arthurian times and to the thought that they might be stuck here forever. There are no virtual reality machines in Camelot to take them back to their own time.

Shalott is an intriguing time-travel story. Combining the ultra-modern concept of virtual reality with the medieval world of King Arthur and his court provides a setting and storyline which teen readers will be drawn into. There is much here to appeal to fans of fantasy, lovers of history, and gaming devotees – in fact any teen who loves a good story. Whilst the teens all learn about themselves and their relationships, the reader doesn’t feel lectured or moralised to – this growth and self-exploration is intertwined with a gripping story, not thrust into the reader’s face as can sometimes happen with YA stories.

Shalott is an outstanding read, and readers will look forward to its two sequels eagerly.

Shalott, by Felicity Pulman
Random House, 2001 (reprinted in 2004)

Megan's Journey, by June Keir

In bed that night, Megan tossed and turned and couldn’t sleep. The thought of meeting her mother was very scary. Just about the scariest thing she’d ever had to face. She got out of bed, turned on the light and looked in the mirror. What would her mother see, she wondered, when she saw her daughter for the first time?

Megan is happy living with her grandparents, until a letter from the mother she thought was dead shatters her existence. Why didn’t her mother ever let her know she was still alive? How can she trust a woman who she has no memories of and who hasn’t made contact in all these years?

Eventually, Megan agrees to visit her mother in Japan. But fitting in to a family that includes her mother’s new husband and two young sons is not easy. To Megan it seems that everything is done differently. Worse, her step-father seems to hate her, and her mother is unwell. When Megan learns that her mother wants her to stay in Japan, she feels trapped.

Megan’s Journey is a story about family and about adapting to different cultures. Megan must deal with many challenges as she gets to know her new family. Her mother and step-father also have issues they must resolve. Readers aged 11 to 14 will be drawn in to Megan’s story.

Megan’s Journey, by June Keir
Loranda Publishing, 2004

Fugitive, by Christine Harris

The man looked up at her then. For someone who was all about peace, his own face looked as though it had been in a war. One eye was a little higher than the other and there was a long scar on his right cheek. A burn maybe? He was in his thirties, she guessed.
‘You’re a kid.’
She knew that he saw a girl of medium height, with brown hair, a thick fringe over brown eyes and a smattering of freckles. Not someone to suspect.

Eleven year old Jesse Sharpe is on her second assignment as part of Operation IQ. No ordinary child, Jesse is a child prodigy trained to work under cover for C2, the secret organisation which adopted her as a baby.

Jesse must work with her partner, Liam, to track down two foreign agents and figure out what they are doing in the country. A child can go where an adult can’t, without raising suspicion.Jesse must uncover what the foreign agents are planning for a group called Peace First and its planned rally.

Fugitive is the second title in the Spy Girl series. Fast-paced and with plenty of action and mystery, it will be enjoyed by children aged 10 and up and especially gifted readers who will enjoy meeting a character with a high IQ that they can relate to. The story has dark overtones, with Jesse and her friend Jai captive and under the control of the C2 Organisation. Whilst readers will find this unsettling, it will draw them in to Jesse’s stories, welcoming the gradual unravelling that seems likely to occur throughout the series.

Fugitive is a gripping read.

Fugitive, by Christine Harris
Scholastic, 2004

Ghost Boy, by Felicity Pulman

‘I say, wake up!’ He felt a touch, light as a feather against his face. Alarmed, he opened his eyes and jerked up, fists clenched to protect himself.
He was staring at himself.
Froggy blinked and stared again. He looked just the same…but he was wearing different clothes. Had he died, or what?

Ever since Froggy has come to live in Balgowlah, he has been having dreams about drowning. But, when he does nearly drown and meets someone who looks just like him, he starts to realise that dreams are not his own – they are real events that happened to another boy over 100 years ago. Thaddeus Dearborne, this other boy, needs help – and only Froggy can give it. First though he must learn to trust Thaddeus, a ghost with a secret. Both boys must also learn to trust Cassie Gibbs, one of the most popular girls at Froggy’s school, who has plenty of ideas about how to unravel Tad’s story.

Ghost Boy is, as the name suggests, a ghost story, but it is also a story of friendship, loyalty and family. Pulman moves seamlessly between past and present as she tells both Froggy and Tad’s stories in the early chapters, with the remainder of the story set in the present as Froggy and his new friend Cassie work together to help Tad and to establish the family connection between Tad and Froggy.

This is a fast moving tale which children will be drawn into, wanting to solve the mystery. The historical accuracy of the novel is also appealing, with events set in and around the Quarantine Station in Sydney. Young readers will be fascinated by this piece of history, and those in the Sydney area will be excited to know they can visit and tour the Quarantine Station.

Ghost Boy is a finely crafted adventure tale, with suitability for classroom use, but plenty of appeal for private reading for readers aged 10 to 15.

Ghost Boy, by Felicity Pulman
Random House, 2004, first published by Scholastic, 1995

Long Leg Gloption, by Ann Harth

Jackson had a gloption for itches and one for skinned knees. He had a gloption that helped with math and a gloption that made you want to eat cabbage. He even had a gloption that stopped Aunt Clara’s lipstick from sticking to your face.

Jackson is the only wizard at Deep Puddle Primary School. He makes gloptions – which are thicker and smellier than potions – for all sorts of problems. So when his friend Simon has a problem with a bully, Jackson decides to make a special gloption that will help Simon grow. Perhaps, though, using a grasshopper as the model for Simon’s new legs is not such a good idea.

Long Leg Gloption is a fun fantasy title, suitable for readers aged 8 and up. The funny story, good sized font and cartoon-style illustrations of Stephanie Cheek make it accessible and appealing for children making the transition from picture books to longer offerings.

A fun read.

Long Leg Gloption, by Ann Harth
Loranda Publishing, 2004

On Our Way to the Beach, by Sofie Laguna & Andrew McLean

I have never seen the beach before.
“What does it look like?” I keep asking.
“It’s wet,” says Mum.
“And sandy,” says Uncle Daniel.
“And sometimes it’s wavy,” says Dad.

Trying to imagine what the beach is like without having ever seen it is hard for a young child. But this little girl has plenty of delightful experiences on the trip to the beach which influence what she imagines the beach will look like.

This is much less a book about the beach than it is about travelling and dreaming. The adults in the story ensure that the trip to the beach – over several days – is full of experiences and special moments. Together the family picks strawberries, buys treasures in an op shop, presents family concerts and just revels in the delight of ‘being’. Each new day of experiences influences how the child imagines the beach will be when they finally arrive, although nothing prepares her for what she eventually sees when they do arrive.

On Our Way to the Beach is a delightfully crafted book, with both the story and the illustrations full of whimsy. It is a peaceful bedtime story and an excellent classrom sharing book, especially for chidlren in inland parts of Australia who will relate to the expectation and excitement about a trip to the beach.

On Our Way to the Beach, by Sofie Laguna and Andrew McLean
Scholastic, 2004