The Xtreme World of Billy Kool, Books 1 & 2, by Phil Kettle

Roberta was sitting behind the desk. I looked at her and said, ‘My name is Billy Kool. I’m Kool by name and cool by nature. I think the television show should be called The Xtreme World of Billy Kool. I know that my friends and I are the right people to host the show and we really want the job.’

When Billy Kool sees a competition to win the chance to host a television show, he is determined to win. The prize involves hosting an extreme sports show with two of his friends. Choosing the friends is easy – his best mates Nathan and Sally are perfect. Winning the competition is more of a challenge. They have to abseil off a building!

The Xtreme World of Billy Kool is a brand new chapter book series from Scholastic Education. Each book in the series involves preparing for and shooting one episode of the television show which Billy and his mates host. Book 1 – All or Nothing shows how the three manage to win the competition and the shooting of an introductory episode. Book 2 – Whitewater Rafting shows the trio shooting the second episode, which involves going whitewater rafting for the first time.

This is a fun, fast-paced series. Part of each book is presented in television script format, which is both a novelty and also a useful classroom tool. There are also nonfiction elements including a glossary, details about the hisory of the sports, and illustrations of the equipment used.

As well as being fun for private reading, these would be great for classroom media studies or for reluctant readers.

The Xtreme World of Billy Cool. Book 1: All or Nothing and Book 2: Whitewater Rafting, by Phil Kettle
Scholastic Education, 2004

Mr Chelsea's Greenhouse, by Audrey Griffin

At last she raises her head to look at Mr Chelsea. He is wearing his gardening clothes and a battered straw hat lies in his lap. Eva is secretly pleased to see that his tattered clothes and thick-soled shoes are as out of place in her father’s study as her pyjamas. Mr Chelsea’s expression, however, is fiercer than ever. Eva can see that he would rather not have her help him.

When Eva accidentally breaks a pane of glass in Mr Chelsea’s greenhouse, her father insists that she must help Mr Chelsea in his garden for the rest of the summer. Eva is not impressed. Everyone in town knows that Mr Chelsea is crazy. She doesn’t want to spend her spare time with him.

But as the weeks pass, Eva discovers that Mr Chelsea isn’t as crazy as people think. He is actually a famous rose breeder, and he is working hard to develop a perfect yellow rose. Eva finds herself fascinated by Mr Chelsea’s work, and the pair are soon friends. Together they keep the roses alive during the crippling drought that the area is suffering.

Mr Chelsea’s Greenhouse is a story about tolerance and about friendship. As well as giving an insight into the process of propagating roses, it explores issues of ageing and drought as well as the problem of judging people based on gossip and hearsay.

Mr Chelsea’s Greenhouse is a yellow level reader in the Breakers series from Macmillan Education, aimed at children with a reading level of around 10 years.

It is suitable both for classroom and private reading.

Mr Chelsea’s Greenhouse, by Audrey Griffin
Macmillan Education, 2003

The Magic Telescope, edited by Barrie Carozzi

‘Look!” he said. ‘Look!’ and pointed. A huge boot magically appeared on the horizon. After a few seconds it was big enough to house the old woman who lived in the shoe as well as all her children, their cousins and a streetful of neighbours.

Barney and Simon are trying to entertain Simon’s pesky little sister Natalie when they make an amazing find. Buried in a chest at the beach they find an old telescope and are amazed to discover it has magical powers. Anything they look at through the telescope becomes bigger, shrinking only if they turn the telescope around. They have lots of fun making things bigger and smaller.

But when the local bullies, Spitwad and his gang, find out about the telescope, Simon, Barney and Natalie could be in for trouble. The bullies are desperate to get their hands on the magical telescope and they are not going to let anything – or anyone – stand in their way.

One of the interesting aspects of The Magic Telescope is that it is written by five different authors. Each of the authors – Katrina Williams, Erica Brodie, Sheila Burnell, Dianne McMillan and Dolores Anderson – has contributed two chapters of the story. It is a pity the process used to thus produce the story is not explained, as children will be curious (as this reviewer is) whether there was a combined planning process or whether each writer worked independently to take the story where she wished. In one place the change of author makes for a little awkwardness in the text – the characters, who have accepted the magic nature of the telescope almost without question, suddenly wonder whether they are dreaming – but overall the transitions are smooth.

The Magic Telescope is part of the new Breakers series from Macmillan Education, and is aimed at children with a reading age of around 10 years.

A fun read.

The Magic Telescope, edited by Barrie Carozzi
Macmillan Education, 2004

Without Speech, by June Keir

Emily’s blue eyes filled with tears. If only she could speak for herself. At times like these, she felt almost overwhelmed by the difficulties of having cerebral palsy. In utter frustration she banged her feet on the footrest of her wheelchair.

Emily just wants to be like the other kids. She wants to be allowed into the playground without adult supervision, so she can be part of things. But the school principal is worried for her safety, and says Emily needs someone with her. Emily can’t speak for herself to prove that she can cope – she can’t speak at all, and has only eight words on her communication board.

With the help of her friend Jade and her teachers, Emily learns a different way of communication and, when she sees something suspicious happening in the playground, gets a chance to show the prinicpal just what she is capable of.

Without Speech is part of the new Breakers series from Macmillan Education. This title is aimed at children with a reading age of around 10 years and is suitable for both classroom use and private reading.

It is a pleasure to find a chapter book with a disabled main character. Readers are given Emily’s viewpoint on the frustrations she must face and also see her proactive in solving some of her problems.

Without Speech, by June Keir
Macmillan Education, 2003

A Tank of Trouble, by Sonya Bates

‘It’s so nice of you to take Fluffy for the school holidays,’ said Mrs Amesbury as Jessica’s Mum got out of the car. Mum bent down and looked through the glass front of the large wooden box Jesica and her teacher were carrying between them. She caught her breath and straightened up quickly.
“Not many of the parents are willing to have a full-grown bluey in their home,” continued Mrs Amesbury.

Jessica thinks that taking the school’s blue-tongue lizard – called Fluffy – home for the holidays will be exciting. But she doesn’t expect the sort of excitemnt that she gets.

Jessica’s mum insists that Fluffy must stay in her box, but her friends convince her to let her out, just for a little while. When Jessica’s pesky big brother Brett’s catches sight of Fluffy, chaos ensues. First Fluffy escapes Jessica’s bedroom, then she escapes the house. When Jessica finally gets Fluffy back, she has been injured. What will Mrs Amesbury say?

A Tank of Trouble is part of Macmillan Education’s new Breakers series. A yellow level title, it is aimed at readers with a reading age of around 10.5, and will appeal to competent readers from the age of about 8.

A Tank of Trouble is a story of responsibility, freindship and family. It is suitable for private or classroom reading.

A Tank of Trouble, by Sonya Bates
Macmillan Education, 2003

Babies Bite, by Geoff Havel

Fact – Scales upset pregnant women.
Actually, I’ve noticed the exact same thing happens even when she’s not pregnant. I remember writing it down the first few times she freaked out, but after that I lost interest and noted down a more accurate fact.
Fact – scales always upset wome.
I don’t know why Dad didn’t just hide the scales. I guess he was too busy worrying about the next crisis.

In The Real facts of Life Max was able to figure out the mystery surrounding his parents. Now, in Babies Bite he meets the answer to that mystery – his baby brother, Fred. But having a baby brother could be bad news. All Fred does is cry, drink and poo. What’s worse, he has taken over Max’s bedroom.

Babies Bite is a funny look at sibling rivalry, families and, of course, the facts of life. Kids (and adults, too) will love the facts scattered throughout the book as Max makes his own brand of observations about the world around him.

Author Geoff Havel seems to know just what will make kids laugh. The wonderful thing is that as they laugh at Max, they are probably also laughing at themselves – Max’s worries and observations are incredibly normal, but couched in humour that allows young readers to enjoy this normality.

Babies Bite is a hilarious sequel that will also stand up on its own.

Babies Bite, by Geoff Havel
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2004

Secret Scribbled Notebooks, by Joanne Horniman

I want, I want, I want…At this point I’m just a mass of seething wants, but what I want I’m not really sure of. (Like going to the fridge and opening it, ‘letting all the cold air out’ as Lil complains, and not knowing what it is you want to eat. You stand with the door open hoping that something will inspire you.) I’m standing with the door open at the fridge of life, and I want.

Preparing to leave school and making choices about your future direction are challenging for any seventeen year old. But for Kate, this is an especially confronting time. Abandoned as a child, with her older sister Sophie, she has never abandoned the hope that her father might one day come back and reclaim her. In her final year of school she has become discontented with her life in Lsimore, where she lives in a big boarding house with Sophie and Lil, the old woman who has cared for both of them since their father left. When Sophie’s baby, Anastasia, arrives, Kate buys herself three notebooks and begins to write about her hopes and her fears. More than diaries, these notebooks trace her path through the troubled months around her final exams, as she helps Sophie with the baby, prepares for her exams, and develops a relationship with a boy called Alex.

The style of the book – part diary, part random thoughts and part retrospective, flows well. Kate writes in different styles in her three different coloured notebooks and later adds in type-written commentary which binds the various sections into some sort of order. This mixture does not, as it might sound, make the book disjointed, but rather makes it feel real, as if it really is written by a seventeen year old Kate rather than by an omniscient author.

Secret Scribbled Notebooks is an evocative piece about growing up, moving on and about finding oneself. It will appeal to older teens, particularly girls and the many literary references makes it especially appealing to students and lovers of literature.

Secret Scribbled Notebooks, by Joanne Horniman
Allen & Unwin, 2004

Lighthouse Letters, by June Keir

There’s absolutely nothing to do in this place. We are the only people on the island. There’s no-one else here – just Mum, Dad and me. There are no shops, no movies, no cars and no schools. You’d think no schools would be a bonus, but it’s not. I’m so bored I’d even welcome going to school!

When Sam’s parents take him to live at a remote lighthouse for a year, he doesn’t know how he’ll survive. At least his weekly letters from his mate, Luke, will keep him up to date with what’s happening in the real world. But Sam won’t have anything interesting to tell Luke, he’s sure.

As the year professes, however, Sam’s life seems to get more interesting. First there’s an old boat to restore and even go fishing in. Then there are whales swimming just off the shore. For Luke, being at home without your best mate might be less than thrilling.

Lighthouse Letters is a chapter book told through the letters written by the two boys and children will enjoy the novelty of the format. Part of the new Breakers series from Macmillan Education, Lighthouse Letters is suitable for children aged 8 to 10, with a target reading age of about 8.5.

Lighthouse Letters, by June Keir
Macmillan Education, 2004

A Marathon of Her Own – The Diary of Sophia Krikonis, by Irini Savvides

We are here. Finally in Australia. The ship arrived in Fremantle this morning, later than scheduled due to the bad weather. After the storms we were weary and although normally the immigration officers would board the ship first, we had had such a rough time of it that they made an exception and let us off to recover a little.

When Sophia comes to Australia from Greece to start anew life, she finds that seasickness on the voyage is the least fo her problems. Everything in Australia is different and she thinks she will never get used to it.

At school Sophia is teased and isolated by the other students and, rather than helping her, the teacher joins in, angry that Sophia has not learnt English. It seems all that Sophia has is her love of running and, with the Olympics about to start in Melbourne, the prospect of seeing her hero win the marathon. This love of running could be the thing that turns things Sophia’s way.

A Marathon of her Own is a diary format story which provides a deep insight into the migrant struggle from a child’s perspective as well as an exploration of the Australia of 1956.

Part of Scholastic’s My Story series, this is a tale which will both inform and entertain, with readers cheering Sophia on as she runs a marathon of a different sort to overcome prejudice, loneliness and dislocation.

A Marathon of Her Own: The Diary of Sophia Krikonis, by Irini Savvides
Scholastic, 2004