Destroying Avalon, by Kate McCaffrey

I stared at the email in disbelief, the skin around my mouth prickling in horror … I had to know what they were saying. I shut my eyes and clicked on the link.

When Avalon’s mum is offered a better job in Perth, Avalon reluctantly agrees to the move. Maybe it won’t be too bad in the city. But from her very first day at her new school, Avalon realises just how bad it can be. The kids at her new school seem to hate her, and soon she finds herself the focus of a brutal cyber-bullying campaign. Chat rooms and message boards are full of vitriol about her and her phone beeps regularly to deliver obscene text messages.

Avalon’s only support is a small group of friends – all also left out and isolated – who let her sit with them and offer her friendship. She is particularly close to Marshall, who is always positive and full of life, despite himself being a target for bullies. But is Marshall’s optimism just a front, and are either of them safe from the bullies?

Destroying Avalon is an insightful and confronting look at the modern phenomenon of cyber bullying, a phenomenon which is, unfortunately, growing in schools and workplaces. Avalon’s story is told in an honest and believable first-person voice, and will speak as much to teachers and parents as it does to teenage readers, who will recognise the accuracy of much of what happens at Avalon’s school.

This is an important book for teens and those who work with them.

Destroying Avalon, by Kate McCaffrey
Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2006

Strictly Stars, by Josie Montana

To cut a long story short, we won the national pop starlet auditions and here we are today. A little bit more than famous – the nation’s most well-known pop starlet group.

Strictly Stars is told from the point of view of Kiara, who with her friends Sam, Gardenia and Britney won a national pop starlet competition. Now they are back at school with their song ‘Wannabe’ at the top of the pop charts. Life is good, everyone wants to know them. Everyone except disgraced former Strictly Stars member Alithia, who tells them they will soon be has-beens, yesterday’s news. A mysterious new singer, Thailia appears and her song races up the charts. As Thailia’s song heads to Number One, the Strictly Stars are struggling to maintain their place. If they fall too far, their planned tour will be cancelled. Someone is sending the girls emails, nasty ones designed to cause trouble. After resolving their misunderstandings, the Strictly Stars girls work together to discover who is trying to destroy them.

Strictly Stars is the sequel to Pop Starlets. While Strictly Stars reads well as a stand alone, readers who enjoy this book might well be tempted to look out for Pop Starlets. Kiara and her friends are a diverse bunch, living the dream of many young girls. Alithia and her mother are nasty villains, yet they do help to highlight the transience of fame and the lengths some will go to in achieving it. There is also a message about the work involved in being a pop star. This is a quickly moving story, suitable for 8-11 year old girls.

Strictly Stars

Strictly Stars, by Josie Montana
Lothian Children’s Books
ISBN: 9780734404466

This book is available online at Fishpond.

Peril Space Tours, by Richard Morden

My name is Captain Peril. When touring with us you’ll encounter many strange and possible dangerous puzzles.

Peril Space Tours offers a tour around the galaxy and is chock-a-block with unusual creatures on even more unusual planets. There are ‘flappadons’, ‘null masters’ and ‘wuffers’ for readers to meet as they complete mazes, number, pattern and visual puzzles. Not even the crew are safe as the space tour flips from planet to planet.

Space travel should be this much fun! Humour and maths blend in outrageous colours across the universe we have never known. Puzzle books have ceased to just be a collection of activities and have become a genre of their own. Another high quality puzzle book from Little Hare Books, Peril Space Tours is certain to find new space fans. Fun for early-mid primary readers.

Peril Space Tours by Richard Morden
Little Hare Books 2006
ISBN: 9781921049545

This book is available online at Fishpond.

Finding Heroes, by Dr Jon Carnegie and Jim Stynes

Whenever you fail a test you can bury your head in the sand and pretend it never happened. Or you can get up and try to do something about it.

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes and from all around us. Finding Heroes begins with the ordinary world and explores the notion of its safety in both positive and negative aspects. The authors encourage young people to venture beyond their ordinary world to see what they can discover about themselves and their world. Along the way, they discuss failure and mistakes and encourage readers to see the opportunities in their situation. This book facilitates considered decision-making and personal growth. Carnegie and Stynes have drawn examples of heroic behaviour from history, politics, sport, fiction and movies.

Finding Heroes is a magazine-styled book which intersperses information with anecdotes and first person reports. Information is in manageable bites and is reinforced using a wide range of examples. There are quotes from current sporting heroes like netballer Liz Ellis and swimmer Ian Thorpe and well-known international figures like Nelson Mandela, Anne Frank and Martin Luther King. There are personal stories from real people who share their mistakes as well as their triumphs. But what gives this book something extra is the use of fictional heroes like Charlie from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, Simba from ‘The Lion King’ and Frodo from ‘The Lord of the Rings’. They allow the serious subject of building resilience in our youth to be explored in an entertaining, accessible way. Each chapter is summarised at its end, reaffirming the messages throughout. Finding Heroes has wide application for 9-14 year olds. A wonderful resource.

Finding Heroes, by Dr Jon Carnegie and Jim Stynes
Allen & Unwin 2006
ISBN: 9780741147575

Al Dentay and the Incredible Spaghetti Machine, by Bruce Atherton

Something bad’s going to happen. I can smell it in the air like a whiff of rotten garbage. I’m washing the dishes as fast as I can but the plates are piling up so high I’m surrounded by the great wall of china.

Al Dentay washes dishes in his uncle’s famous pasta restaurant. Then Al and his uncle. Lorenzo, are injured in a freak kitchen accident. In the ambulance on the way to hospital, Lorenzo gives Al his ring and pleads with him to destroy the spaghetti machine. Al and his friends Tubsy and Snotty are pursued by the evil Gorgonzola and his thugs as they race to find Lorenzo’s secret machine. They discover that wonder-chef Lorenzo was also a scientific genius who has built the most incredible machine…so mind-blowingly valuable to Gorgonzola’s bosses that the boys’ lives are in danger.

Al Dentay and the Incredible Spaghetti Machine is super-paced and action-packed. There are plenty of puns along the way and some truly awful nicknames. Al is browbeaten by his father and the restaurant manager Gorgonzola. Tubsy has more techno-gizmos than 007, and Snotty is as tough as anyone called ‘snotty’ needs to be. The stakes are high and keep getting higher as Gorgonzola pursues Al and his mates. Most of the adult characters are unpleasant and deserve the misfortunes that they encounter. Upper-primary readers, especially boys, will revel in the action and the technology.

Al Dentay and the Incredible Spaghetti Machine, by Bruce Atherton
Lothian Books, 2007
ISBN: 9780734409829

Mokie and Bik, by Wendy Orr

‘When I am big,’ said Mokie. ‘I’ll sail right across the harbour.’
‘When I am bigger,’ said Bik. ‘I’ll sail right across the world!’

Mokie and Bik are twins who live on the family boat, Bullfrog. Their father is sailing ‘his ship-at-sea’ and their mother is ‘Arting’ so the boat remains tied to the wharf. Mokie and Bik spend their days falling off the boat and being rescued, helping Erik with his fish catch, licking police creams from the police boat and conversing in their own language. They play with their old dog and new, and feed ‘Tortle’. Then Dad returns home, Mum has an exhibition and finally, it’s time for Bullfrog to go to sea.

Mokie & Bik is about a boy and girl who are as inquisitive and mischievous as young children should be. Add the sea and their unique language and the adventures are even richer. Wendy Orr’s characters are sparky and engaging. From such freedom, independence and strong character grows. This is a delightful tale of the special world that is childhood. Mokie and Bik will suit newly independent readers and would also work well as a first read-to chapter book for younger children.

Mokie and Bik

Mokie& Bik, by Wendy Orr and Beth Norling (Ill )
Allen & Unwin, 2006
ISBN: 9781741145503

This book is available online at Fishpond.

The Twelve Tasks of Hercules, by Dion Hamill

Hercules was one of the most famous characters in ancient Greek mythology. He was the son of the great god Zeus and the mortal woman Alkmene.

Beginning with an outline of the story of Hercules, this puzzle book presents some innovative alternatives for readers to help him achieve each of the twelve tasks. It introduces the tasks set Hercules, but instead of the often violent solutions evident in the traditional myth, it offers puzzles. There are mazes and clear thinking exercises.

Myths and legends are a rich source of learning and entertainment for each new generation. Hercules is a popular figure who continues to attract new fans. Puzzle books like The Twelve Tasks of Hercules introduce younger readers to age-old stories in an engaging format. These are quite sophisticated illustrations and puzzles designed for a mid-primary reader, but could also be read to a younger child as an introduction to both myth and puzzle books.

An enjoyable addition to the strong collection of puzzle books from Little Hare Books.

The Twelve Tasks of Hercules by Dion Hamill
Little Hare Books, 2006
ISBN: 9781921049538

Wishes for One More Day, by Melanie Joy Pastor

I looked back at Joey and my eyes filled with tears. I pushed away my pancakes. I wasn’t hungry anymore.
“How could Poppy die? I didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye.”

When Anna and Joey wake up to the smell of pancakes, they know that today is a special day. But when they learn that their beloved Poppy has passed away during the night, they aren’t hungry anymore. They are devastated that they didn’t get the chance to say goodbye, and wish for just one more day with Poppy so they could relieve all the fun things they did with Poppy.

Alone in their bedroom, the children make a list of all the things they could do with Poppy if they had just one more day – from playing golf to eating Matzah balls – and soon their list has become a book. Their mother decides to share the book with visitors and other mourners, and, with her gentle guidance, the children begin their grieving journey.

Wishes for One More Day is a beautiful offering for children and families dealing with the loss of a loved one. It also offers an insight into Jewish culture, with the family following Jewish customs.

The illustrations, by talented Australian artist Jacqui Grantford, use gentle pastel colours, rendered in gouache and watercolour pencil, to echo the gentle feel of the text by US writer Melanie Joy Pastor.

This is a sensitive exploration of the topic of bereavement.

Wishes for One More Day, by Melanie Joy Pastor and Jacqui Grantford
Flashlight Press, 2006

Little Wing, by Joanne Horniman

Dear You
You are here. I don’t know how I know that this is the beginning of you. I just do. I should be afraid. But what I feel is, we can do this. You and I.

When Emmy found out she was pregnant, she had high hopes for their future – hers and the baby she bore. But when Mahalia was born, Emmy found that life as teenage mother is not easy. What happens when you can’t love the baby you thought you’d adore?

Leaving the baby with its father, Matt, Emmy flees, going to stay with her godmother Charlotte. As she struggles to overcome her guilt at not being able to love her baby, Emmy befriends Martin, a stay at home Dad, and his son, Pete. As she gradually finds a way back to being herself, Emmy wonders if it’s too late to become a good mother to Mahalia.

Little Wing is a companion book to Mahalia (2001) which tells Matt’s story, but whilst the two complement each other for a rich reading experience, this new offering can be read on its own. Reading this one, however, is likely to have readers searching for the other.

This is a poignant tale with the reader living Emmy’s gradual healing, wanting to support and encourage her in her efforts to find herself and happiness. Horniman is a sensitive writer, tackling one teen pregnancy and its aftermath in a compassionate and realistic way.

Little Wing, by Joanne Horniman
Allen & Unwin, 2006

Love and Punishment, by Wendy Harmer

“Dear Francie,
My boyfriend left me for my best friend a year ago and now he wants me to come to counselling with him to help him get over the guilt. What do you think?”
Of course once Francie would have thought it was a good idea. Two people sitting down like adults and resolving their conflict. But not now.
She typed: “Take to his car with a hammer and tell him the only place you’ll go with him is to a panel beater.”

When Francie was given the job of writing the Seriously Single column she’ d thought it was a bit of a joke – after all, she was madly in love with Nick and, she thought, practically married. But she’s managed to make a success of the column, and now that she’s found herself single again, she has more material to write about. But Francie doesn’t want to be single. Nick, the man she thought she would marry, has dumped her for an older woman. And not just any woman, a famous actress, which means Francie can’t escape from photos, news stories, even posters, rubbing the new relationship in her face.

Francie moves into a new shared house and starts to learn to live the single life, but there’s something she doesn’t want anyone to know – an act of retribution against Nick and his new woman which could ruin her career and all her friendships. Did Francie go too far?

Love and Punishment is a funny exploration of the lives of thirty-something singles. Filled with humour, it also has a serious side as Francie struggles to understand why her relationship didn’t work, and why her family is so dysfunctional. Her friends, too, have their own problems, which are played out in the background of Francie’s dramas.

Popular television funny-girl Wendy Harmer shows once again that her writing skills are as wonderful as her stand-up work.

Love and Punishment, by Wendy Harmer
Allen & Unwin, 2006