Jinxed, by Jill McDougall

Thelma and Louise aren’t anything like I imagined. What do you think of when I say the words Siamese mice? Be honest now. Do you think of long slinky coats and almond-shaped eyes and exotic whiskers?
Wrong, wrong and wrong.
Thelma and Louise have brown fur, long tails and bat ears. They aren’t a bit interested in learning tricks. And they have a major problem with sleeping. For the past week, they’ve spent every entire night scratching and chewing and running on their plastic wheel. Like, haven’t they heard of coffee breaks.

Jinx loves jokes, but sometimes her efforts are unappreciated – and sometimes they land her in trouble. When she accidentally breaks a pet python’s glass box, she has to pay for it –which means she needs money fast.
Dad wants Jinx to come and work in his bakery, but Jinx can’t think of anything worse. She tries everything to make some quick cash. Then when she sees two mice being offered a free home, she sees a money-making opportunity. Can she teach the mice some tricks – or is the joke on her?

Jinxed is a humorous novel for upper primary aged readers, with interest enough to carry through to lower secondary readers. The short length and fast paced action will keep even reluctant readers engaged, and the mix of mice, pythons, jokes and multi-text types including lists, emails and jokes means there is plenty happening.

An excellent read and an attractively packaged book.

Jinxed, by Jill McDougall
Walker Books, 2008

Cranky Paws, by Darrel & Sally Odgers

‘Hello, Thomasina,’ I said. ‘I know you feel really bad just now. You’re scared, and you hurt, but you will feel better very soon. Dr Jeanie has just-’
That was as far as I got, because Thomasina stopped looking dazy and hazy, and tried to leap away.

When Davie brings an injured cat to Dr Jeanie’s vet clinic, he says its name is Thomasina – but Jeanie and Trump decide the cat’s name should be Cranky Paws. Cranky Paws spits and scratches whoever comes near – Trump, Dr Jeanie, even Major Higgins, the visiting cat. It seems no one can calm her down – but Trump has a plan.

Cranky Paws is the first book in the new Pet Vet series. Set in Dr Jeanie’s vet clinic, and told through the eyes (and voice) of Trump, a Jack Russell puppy, who is also an Animal Liaison Officer (ALO). Trump may be familiar to some readers, being the offspring of Jack Russell, Dog Detective, from the series of the same name.

With lots of interesting animal characters, different textual elements including word definitions, maps and diagnosis notes, there is plenty to draw young readers in.

Suitable for readers aged six and up, and ideal for those making the transition to chapter books and independent reading.

Cranky Paws, by Darrel & Sally Odgers
Scholastic, 2008

Black Baron, by Robyn Opie

Turning around, Dad glared at me and held up his hand like a policeman stopping traffic. “I’m not sharing my house with a cockroach as if…as if…” He flung his hands in the air, turned around and stormed off.
Black Baron didn’t take up much room, I thought. Besides, no one was using the space under my bed. “He’s not hurting anyone,” I tried again.
“It isn’t natural,” Dad said. “People don’t keep cockroaches as pets.”

Jake’s cockroach, Black Baron, is on a winning streak. In Fact, he’s probably the best racing cockroach ever. But Jake knows that Black Baron wouldn’t be welcome in the house if Mum knew he was there. That’s why Black Baron is kept under the bed, which is a great place until Mum tidies Jake’s bedroom and not only discovers the cockroach but also inadvertently releases it. When Dad calls in the exterminator, Jake thinks he’ll never see Black Baron again.

Black Baron is one title in the new Lightning Strikes series from Walker Books, a series aimed at 9 to 14 year old readers, and likely to engage reluctant readers with its contemporary look and non-threatening length.

Black Baron is humorous, with chaos ensuing as Jake searches for his cockroach and tries to prevent it being exterminated, but also touches on serious issues such as family conflict and financial stress. The friendship Jake shares with his mates is also a very positive element of this story.

A great read for upper primary aged readers.

Black Baron, by Robyn Opie
Walker Books, 2008

The Great Shave, by Clare Scott

It’s the first day back at school and I’m so going to get it from everyone. That means teachers too. Why? Because of my still-green hair, that’s why.
The colour’s maybe gone down a shade or three, but it’s still green as green. The powers-that-be at school will be as understanding as the powers-to-be at home.

Stix and his mates think it’s a great idea to temporarily dye their hair green when they go to watch their favourite band, the Screaming Greenie Meanies. But when Stix tries to wash the green out after the concert, he is in for a shock. The green will just not wash out. When school goes back, Stix knows he is in for a hard time, but when the Principal insists the green hair go, Stix discovers there is something worse than green hair – a green, hairless scalp.

The Great Shave is a humorous story for upper primary aged readers, part of the Lightning Strikes series from Walker Books. With action, laughs and an appealing length, it is accessible for reluctant readers, but high enough in interest for readers of all abilities.

As Stix discovers the highs and lows of having a green head, readers will be engaged and entertained.

The Great Shave, by Clare Scott
Walker Books, 2008

The Stone Crown, by Malcolm Walker

Emlyn’s phone rang. The screen displayed his sister’s number. Pocketing it, he moved on. His only thought now was running and evasion, but there was nowhere to go. Ahead, the bridge was a dark throat in the snow. He was being swallowed. Something terrible was about to happen.

When Emlyn’s mother moves him to a small Scottish village, Emlyn finds himself drawn to Sleeper’s Spinney, an ancient site connected to the time of Arthur. Beneath the ground twenty wooden horseman are entombed, hidden from the world. When Emlyn discovers the figures, he unleashes a chain of events which sees his life threatened. Together with his friend Max (Maxine) he is threatened by the keepers of site who will stop at nothing to get back the figure which Emlyn has in his possession.

This figure is no child’s toy or statue. The spirits of Arthur and his loyal guard have been trapped in the figures for centuries, imprisoned by the magic of the lady of the lake. As Emlyn and Max uncover the truth, they are also challenged with the decision of whether or not to free the men’s spirits.

This is a revision of the Arthurian legend in a unique setting, and with the multiple perspectives of two modern day teens and one of the trapped warriors. Both of the teens have problems of their own to deal with, and as the story unravels they must question the legend of Arthur as much as the reader will. This is no noble King putting his life on the line for his people – rather this Arthur is both the victim of a lost childhood manipulated by Merlin, and a power-mad adult unaware of the machinations of those around him.

The Stone Crown is a fantasy which will intrigue teen and adult readers.

The Stone Crown, by Malcolm Walker
Walker Books, 2008

Queasy Rider, by James Roy

Pushing our good bikes with one hand and half-wheeling, half-carrying the old junky bike between us with the other, we headed off to my place, which was only a couple of streets away. The whole way Thicky did nothing but talk about the wonderful new thing we’d found. We could do it up and sell it, we could use the bits as spares to make a tandem bike or a fancy trike or a pedal-powered helicopter, and on and on…

When Nobby and Thicky find an old, busted-up bike, Nobby thinks its just rubbish, but Thicky is sure it can be used for something useful. When Shirley sees it, she has an idea – an idea that could make money for the three of them. It’s a plan so crazy it just might work. But then again, it might not.

Queasy Rider is a fast-moving tale of a silly plan to make money using an old bike and a steep hill. Nobby and Thicky’s ingenuity and Shirley’s schemes soon have them setting up business daring people to ride the old bike down the hill without falling off. Any kid who has ever dreamt of making easy money will relate, and the short length of the text will allow even a reluctant reader to finish the story quickly.

Part of the new Lightning Strikes series from Walker Books, Queasy Rider is suited to upper primary aged readers of all abilities.

Queasy Rider, by James Roy
Walker Books, 2008

Going for Broke, by Meg McKinlay

He turns to me. “You sure about this, Nath? It looks – ”
I pick up a tent peg and head for the ramp. “Nah, it’ll be fine.”
Once you’ve come this far, you can’t just turn around and go home. Once you’ve got half a ramp built, you can’t take it apart and pretend you didn’t really care anyway.

Nathan is sick of seeing other kids get awards. He doesn’t want to be the one who gets a dorky piece of cardboard for being ‘nice’. No, Nathan is sure he’s destined for greatness. And now that the holidays are here, he’s going to achieve it – he is going to break a record. He’s just not sure which record.

Going for Broke is a humorous novel for primary aged readers, which shows what happens when one boy (Nathan) tries everything to get his name in the record books. Nathan and his friends Weasel and Ronnie will stop at nothing to break a record – risking life, limb and fresh breath (there’s a record involving onion eating) in an attempt to be the best at something.

Part of Walker Books new Lightning Strikes series, the length of the story makes it accessible to readers of all abilities, with the interest level and humour ensuring it will be popular with primary aged readers, especially boys. From the eye catching cover design, to the sketches and touches of different text types, this is a winner.

Going for Broke, by Meg McKinlay
Walker Books, 2008

Lizzie Nonsense, by Jan Ormerod

When Papa takes the sandalwood he has cut into town, it is fifty miles along sand tracks, and he will be away a long time.
Then Lizzie and Mama and baby are all alone in the little house in the bush.

Alone in the bush with her mother and baby brother for months on end, Lizzie must entertain herself – and she does. With her imagination she creates weddings and parties, oceans and churches. Her mother fondly calls it ‘nonsense’ but Lizzie knows her mother likes nonsense too.

Lizzie Nonsense is a charming look at the experience of pioneering families in the Australian bush. Lizzie’s carefree nature makes light of the hardships that she and her mother face, with hard work, low rations, snakes and isolation all there for contemporary readers to see.

Jan Ormerod’s illustrations, using a combination of crayon, watercolour and gouache, complement the historical nature of the story and are simply delightful. The cover illustration, showing Lizzie sitting on the limb of a gum tree and looking into the distance, yet directly at the reader, provides a nice link between past and present, as if Lizzie is waiting to share her story with the reader.

Lizzie Nonsense is perfect for sharing at home, but would also make an excellent classroom tool, especially for themes relating to history.

Lizzie Nonsense

Lizzie Nonsense by Jan Ormerod
Little Hare, First Published 2004
Paperback edition with DVD Storytelling, 2008.

This book is available from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

GROW – Under the Southern Cross

Reviewed by Dale Harcombe

This collection of poems and stories for 8-14 year olds should be a must for every library or school. They’re the kind of poems and stories children will enjoy. Parents too will find plenty to read to or with their children.

GROW – Under the Southern Cross contains a number of poems and stories by award winning authors and well known names in the children’s writing scene, among them Elizabeth Fensham, Roseanne Hawke and Andrew Lansdown, as well as a number of other authors we’re sure to hear more of.

Yes, I have a poem, Hideaway and a story, Lions Don’t Dance, included in the anthology. Even if I did not, I would be still recommending this anthology. Variety is the key. There are stories that send a shiver up the spine like Shadows of the Night. Others are based on a true story or show relationships between family, like Desert Mermaid, Spoken Word or Curing Cousin George. Some have a historical slant. I particularly liked A Pair of Worn Sandals and Changing the Shadow. Others had a fantasy element like Song-Moon’s Dragon. And then there’s the laconic Aussie humour of Where the Wild Bush Horses are.

Some of the poems like Insight and Seasons Greetings rhyme. Others are free verse. And I loved Andrew Lansdown’s Waterlily Haiku, and Mosquito Haiku, John Malone’s Banana Moon and Ashley Clarkson’s view of a blowfly in Lucilia Cuprina, proves poems can be written about anything. The riddles will encourage children to put on their thinking caps as will the snippet from the great non fiction book The Singing Silence which is reviewed on this site and also at Write and Read with Dale blog.


Teachers will this anthology useful for lessons about different text types and helping children write their own stories and poetry.

The coloured illustrations combined with black and white drawings add to the appeal of what is a beautifully presented book that will provide hours of delight. The CD of poems and several stories professionally performed by members of Harvest Rain Theatre is an added bonus. Highly Recommended.

GROW – Under the Southern Cross:
Stories and activities for children and young teens

Edited by Lyn Hurry and Anne Hamilton
ISBN 9780980332124 paperback and CD
Published by Writerlynks Grow Magazine

Moonrunner, by Mark Thomason

‘I ain’t goin’ back! I absolutely ain’t!’
No matter how hard I whipped Old Lop Ears up the dirt road, he wouldn’t go faster. My throat ached for swallowing so many tears. ‘You dang-burned mule! Go home by yourself! I don’t care! I ain’t goin’ back ever!’
I yanked the reins. The mule drove his front hooves into the dirt so hard that I flew between his long ears and landed on the ground, still holding the reins. I leaped up, angry. Throwing my book bag against a gum tree, I flipped the reins over the mule’s ears and slapped his flank. ‘Get to the shed, you dang-burned mule! Tell Ma and Pa I ain’t comin’ home! Not tonight. Not ever!’

It’s the last years of the nineteenth century. Twelve year-old Casey has recently moved with his family from Montana to a farm near Omeo. While they were able to bring one horse and Old Lop Ears the mule, they had to leave behind Casey’s horse Arrowhead. The farm used to belong to Casey’s grandfather, a man regarded with some suspicion around the region. There are whispered stories of cheating, but Casey and his family, even his father, know little about the man who followed gold half-way across the world. These half-known stories are causing Casey all sorts of trouble with the school bullies. After a beating, Casey escapes into the bush and discovers a herd of brumbies, lead by a black stallion he names ‘Moonrunner’. From this moment on, although there is much in his life that continues to challenge him, Casey feels he’s found a friend.

There are many contemporary chapter books and novels about girls and horses but not so many featuring a boy as a main character. Moonrunner, an adventure set in the late 1890s, is full of rich historical and geographical detail, including goldrushes, the High Plains cattlemen and much more. It is told in first person, from the point of view of a boy starting to transition to manhood. It’s a difficult time, in a difficult landscape and there are few mod cons or luxuries. There is, however, much more freedom than is experienced by many of today’s children. Casey discovers he is fortunate in his parents, both supportive of him in ways he comes to appreciate as the novel progresses. Much of Casey’s learning is done outside the classroom – his teachers include the bush, his family, the climate, other farmers and their workers and the brumby, Moonrunner. Recommended for middle-upper primary readers.

Moonrunner, by Mark Thomason
Scholastic 2008
ISBN: 9781741691177