Fat Pat, by Kilmeny Niland

Fat Pat was a very sweet dog.
Everybody loved him.

Everybody loved Pat. And everybody who loved him fed him and pampered him. Pat is an overfed, under-exercised, adored pet with a weight problem. So when the vet prescribes a weight-loss program, Pat is convinced that the family have ceased loving him. He runs away. Life on the run is full of danger and deprivation, until Pat is caught and taken to the Lost Dog’s Home. Reunited with his family, Pat discovers that his family still love him. His perspective on life has been subtly altered by his time away from home. Life will be different now, but better.

A bright yellow hardback cover with a roly-poly puppy on the front with watermelon slice endpapers – who could resist a view of the world from the perspective of this main character? Pat is very happy with his life, but it’s not good for him. The vet’s visit brings about a big change to Pat’s life and since food has been the symbol of love for him, he thinks he is no longer loved. As he roams the streets after his escape he experiences fear as well as hunger. His return home reinforces the love he thought he’d lost. ‘Fat Pat’ is a large square format picture book full of bright images, mostly set on white backgrounds. A bright red table at the vets signals a warning that things are about to change. Small vignettes take the reader through the first week of changes and are wordless except for the labelling of the days. The scene of Pat’s leaving is bleak and echoes his tears. His safe return home is simply illustrated with an image of his loving family. This provides a contrast to the opening pages where the focus is on what the family provides. A charming book for young children, with a subtle message for all dog owners.

Fat Pat

Fat Pat, written & illustrated Kilmeny Niland
ABC Books 2008
ISBN: 9780733322396

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Extraordinary Ernie & Marvellous Maud, by Frances Watts

Ernie Eggers was late for school. And it was all the fault of The Daring Dynamo. Ernie was a big fan of The Daring Dynamo, who was everything a superhero should be – and everything that Ernie wasn’t. The Dynamo was daring, obviously. And dashing. He was brave and strong. He never tripped over his own feet. He was never tongue-tied. His ears didn’t stick out. And, Ernie guessed, The Daring Dynamo was probably punctual.

Ernie’s favourite television program was about a superhero, but he never dreamed he’d have a chance to become one himself. So when the local branch of the Superheroes Society advertises a competition with a prize of a side-kick, Ernie decides this could be his big chance. His interview at (Baxter Branch) Superheroes Headquarters doesn’t go well, but in the absence of other entrants, Ernie wins the prize – a superhero sidekick call Maud. Maud is a sheep. Ernie is underwhelmed, but Maud soon convinces Ernie that there’s more to her than a woolly coat and four legs.

Extraordinary Ernie & Marvellous Maud is the first in a new series from ABC Books. So there’s some scene setting to do and some introductions to make. Ernie is transformed from an ordinary, average-scholar, often-late, non-sporty boy into Extraordinary Ernie, who with the help of the unlikely Maud is learning what it takes to be a superhero. The remaining members of the local branch of the Superheroes Society seem to have lost their oomph. There are hints that Ernie and Maud may just shake them out of the rut they seem to be in. Ernie is an appealing character and Maud an engaging sidekick. Both have strengths and weaknesses which seem to bring out the best in each other. There is clear indication here too of the value of believing in yourself. Extraordinary Ernie & Marvellous Maud is also very funny, full of absurdity and nonsense. Judy Watson’s illustrations appear in most openings, breaking up the text for younger readers. There is plenty to entertain proficient readers. Highly recommended for early middle-primary readers and beyond.

Extraordinary Ernie and Marvellous Maud (Ernie and Maud)

Extraordinary Ernie and Marvellous Maud, by Frances Watts ill Judy Watson
ABC Books
ISBN: 9780733321924

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Farticus Maximus, by Felice Arena

If you’re not a fan of blood and gore, stop reading now. If hardcore bone-crushing battles to the death make you sick in the stomach, then seriously, don’t read another line: this fable is not for you!
Go on! What are you waiting for? Skip to the next story…
Hmm? You’re still here. Stubborn aren’t you?
Oh well, if you’re going to continue to read this I’m going to have to swap some words, so that I don’t totally freak you out.
So, the word ‘kill’ will be replaced with ‘butterfly kiss’ and ‘stab’ will be replaced with ‘hug’. Got it?

There are nine stories in Farticus Maximus. The title comes from both the first and the last story, bookends of the same story. These two, where the reader is offered different ‘chapters’ in the life of Farticus are set in the time of the Roman gladiators. The remainder of the stories are more contemporary. One story, ‘Mrs Deadly Gas’ is told first in prose then a second time in a stick-figure comic version. Another is less a story than a series of illustrations relabelling movie titles, with re-drawn posters. A further story spoofs television series like ‘Idol’ and ‘So You Think You Can Dance?’. All story titles include some direct reference to flatulence. Even the flick-the-page image is of a series of ‘gas explosions’. Farticus Maximus is sold complete with a whoopee cushion.

Never were so many euphemisms for flatulence gathered together in one book! There is nothing subtle about Farticus Maximus. Nor is there intended to be. There is however, pun after pun…after pun. The cover is bright and busy and proclaims loudly its contents. Inside, the large font resembles hand-writing. There are images (also by Arena) on many pages and on openings with no images, there are words writ large and bold to break up the text. While popular culture references extend stories like ‘Flatulence Star’ and ‘Fartoons’ they can be read without this knowledge. From comedy to tragedy to everything in between, Arena is out to prove that all stories lead to flatulence. Sure to be a hit with mid-primary readers, particularly boys.

Farticus Maximus, by Felice Arena
Scholastic 2008
ISBN: 9781741692167

Every Minute on Earth, by Steve Murrie and Matthew Murrie

How many times have you been asked the question: ‘What’s happening?’ and you shrugged your shoulders and answered, ‘Not much.’ You’ve probably had this conversation more than once today, not to mention the first ten minutes you are at school, the first phone call you receive on the weekend and every time you meet someone new. The truth is that thousands of things are happening every minute of every day on Earth. You might be surprised to discover how much really happens: the number of lightning strikes, the amount of water that flows from the Amazon in to the ocean, how far the Earth travels, how much a whale can inhale, how many miles the fastest plane can travel, all in just one minute.

A minute doesn’t seem very long, unless you’re waiting for something to happen, or waiting for the phone to ring. But, globally, quite a lot happens in this seemingly short period of time. There are five earthquakes strong enough to be felt; around 1800 galaxies collide with other galaxies; a red blood cell will travel 8.2 metres in one minute; almost a thousand camera phones are sold and 134 horses are born. Every Minute on Earth has collected facts, sorted them into sections and presents each with an explanation and further examples. There is an introduction detailing, among other things, just how a minute came to be called a minute. Eight sections categorise the facts under titles such as ‘Earth’, ‘Technology’, ‘Animals’, ‘Food’ and more. Each section ends with two activities for readers to try for themselves. Every Minute on Earth ends with Source notes and a detailed index.

Children (and many adults) are fascinated by facts. Often though the information is hard to understand or really imagine. Every Minute on Earth explains sometimes complex concepts in easy to understand language. Each fact has its own page and simple illustration, but also related information and sometimes extra ‘interesting facts’. Each fact is in larger font and coloured blue like the page border, allowing readers to skim through the facts if they choose. Each activity can be enjoyed just for fun, but each demonstrates in a tangible way some of the information contained in the preceding chapter. Activities contain more complex elements should the reader wish to extend their experience. The set out of each chapter is clear, the explanations are interesting but simple enough for young readers. Recommended for mid-primary readers and anyone interested in knowing a bit more about the world.

Every Minute on Earth, by Steve Murrie and Matthew Murrie, ill Mary Anne Lloyd
Scholastic 2008
ISBN: 9781741691382

Captain Congo and the Crocodile King, by Ruth Starke

‘If I’m not mistaken, a whiff of Africa on the breeze this morning, Pug.’
‘I thought it was grilled sardines.’
‘Not a cloud on the horizon.’
‘There is something on the horizon, Captain, look!’

Captain Congo and his offsider, Pug, are off on an African adventure, on behalf of ‘The Agency’. Their mission is to find a missing person, Professor Perky, last seen in Abyssinia. The pair set off, first boarding an African steamer. They are warned the cabin is a little rough. Pug is concerned about his bedding and the food, but Captain Congo takes it all in his stride. They arrive in Soddhu and search for clues and transport for the next stage of their journey. They discover the purpose of Perky’s expedition and set off into the jungle. After an unplanned swim with the crocodiles, they abandon their meandering and begin to search in earnest. It’s not long before they reach a village, and learn the fate of Professor Perky.

Captain Congo and the Crocodile King is a wonderfully exciting tale, in the style of the ‘grand adventure’ made popular by the Tin Tin series and also by the Asterix books. The main characters are clothed animals (gorilla and penguin), but the rest of the cast are human or animals-behaving-as-animals (particularly the mosquitoes. There is a delightfully wicked tongue-in-cheek quality to both the writing and the illustrations. Captain Congo is a wise and canny hero, while Pug does some of the ‘grunt’ work. He makes it clear that he’d prefer an adventure in a colder climate. Captain Congo and the Crocodile is a large format hardback, similar in size to Tin Tin books. Like these stories, ‘Captain Congo and the Crocodile King’ is sure to find a broad readership. The front cover features the heroes battling a very large crocodile and is sure to entice mid-primary readers. It would also suit less confident older readers. Recommended for those who enjoyed Tin Tin and Asterix, and for readers new to the genre.

Captain Congo and the Crocodile King, Ruth Starke ill Greg Holfeld
working title press 2008
ISBN: 9781876288914

Captain Clawbeak and the Ghostly Galleon, by Anne Morgan

I had been waiting and waiting for the school holidays to begin, but now the first day had arrived, I was still waiting:
• waiting for Captain Clawbeak to fly home,
• waiting for Mildred Marlinspike’s eggs to hatch
, • waiting for Dad to launch his little pirate ship,
• waiting for Mum to have her baby,
• and waiting for rain.

Jack is sick of waiting. Mum and Dad are there but somewhat distracted by the imminent arrival of a new baby. Parrot Mildred, sitting on her nest has plenty to say about her absent mate, and most of it comes from a pirate ship. So when it seems that something has happened to his parrot, Captain Clawbeak, Jack and his friend Joey decide that it’s up to them to do something. Then a note arrives on the leg of a petrel and they know just what to do. Joey’s keen to use Dad’s pirate ship that Dad has banned them from boarding. Jack is swept along into an adventure on the high seas where pirates appear and disappear, parrots pale and he must deliver a secret letter. The sense of urgency increases as they discover just how much danger Captain Clawbeak is in. When Jack is cautious, Joey takes the lead. When Joey is scared, Jack steams full ahead. Along the way there are good ‘uns and bad ‘uns to meet and learn from.

Captain Clawbeak and the Ghostly Galleon is a rompin’, rollickin’ ripper read. The story breaks like a downpour after drought, sweeping from one challenge to another. The two main characters complement each other and demonstrate just how powerful a friendship can be. Captain Clawbeak’s personality looms large in his absence and his mate Mildred is no less impressive. Told in first person, Jack reveals his quite eccentric world and shares with the reader his family, friends and environment. Large print and monochrome illustrations from Wayne Harris on almost every page facilitate access to this humourous and fast-moving story for less confident readers. Pirate humour infects the story from start to finish, providing laughs for adults who might be reading to a child. Highly recommended for 7-9 year old readers, or younger children being read to.

Saving Captain Clawbeak

Captain Clawbeak and the Ghostly Galleon, by Anne Morgan ill Wayne Harris
Random House 2008

This book can be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

Wolf Kingdom Books 1-4, by Richard Harland

All afternoon, Tam and Nina had been gathering firewood in the forest. They had dug so often into the snow that their fingers were numb, but at least their sacks were full. It was dark by the time they arrived home.
Every window was bright with candlelight, and long yellow patches fell across the snowy back garden.
Tam scratched his head. ‘Looks like a celebration.’
‘Don’t be silly. His sister snorted impatiently. ‘Nobody’s birthday.’
Still, the brightness of the house lifted their spirits. They picked up their pace and marched towards the back door.
Then they saw the paw prints.

Eleven year-old Tam and his twelve year-old sister Nina return from a day’s wood collecting to find the wolves holding their parents captive. They escape into the woods, searching for the legendary ‘Freefolk’ the only people able to fight against a cruel walking, talking ruling class of wolves. With the help of the Freefolk, the siblings hope they will be able to find and free their parents. By the end of the first adventure, they have both learned a great deal about surviving in the wild. They have also found a magic belt. Each of the following three stories includes a new adventure, and a new search for their parents. There is also a new magic element to be discovered. The books build to a climax in the fourth story when all their magic elements, skills and ingenuity are required as they take their search and their battle inside the Wolf-King’s Iron Castle.

Richard Harland effortlessly constructs a fantasy world for the Wolf Kingdom series despite each of the four titles being only around 80 pages. Each chapter includes a (mostly) full-page illustration from Laura Peterson, allowing the reader a good sense of the world and its occupants. Although obviously constructed as a series from the inception, with an overarching storyline, each book has its own satisfying story arc. Harland’s brief revisiting of the ‘story so far is’ seamlessly imbedded in the first few pages of the subsequent books. The adventures move swiftly through the complications, and the main characters grow until they earn the respect of all around them. This series, with both boy and girl main characters should attract a wide readership. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Wolf Kingdom series, Richard Harland Omnibus Books 2008

Book One: Wolf Kindom: Escape ISBN: 9781862917002
Book Two: Wolf Kingdom: Under Siege ISBN: 9781862917019
Book Three: Wolf Kingdom: Race to the Ruins ISBN: 9781862917026
Book Four: Wolf Kingdom: The Heavy Crown ISBN: 9781862917033

The Equen Queen, by Alyssa Brugman

‘Sneakiest way of moving in an army I ever seen,’ Vrod grunted.
Tab looked up, alarmed. The sky-traders seemed so friendly, and the council so keen to trade that she had automatically taken them at their word. No wonder Verris had handed over the negotiations and the organising to others! Lord Verris wanted to keep his hands free to take care of a much bigger problem.

When Quentaris is approached by another sky-city keen to do trade, it seems too good to be true. The visiting traders offer food and fine gems and seem to want little in return apart from the chance to learn Quentaran games. But Tab Vidler is uneasy. She can’t use her special powers any more, and when she meets a mysterious animal – an equen – she wonders if it can really hold the key to healing the sick. Is Quentaris is danger?

The Equen Queen is the second title of the new Quentaris: Quest of the Lost City series. The series, from Ford Street Publishers, is set in the city of Qentaris, which has come adrift and is floating through uncharted rifts, taking its inhabitants on gripping adventures . Each story in the series is written by a different author, and is self contained, though those who have read the first in the series as well as the earlier Quentaris series will be at an advantage.

The Equen Queen is a gripping fantasy read for upper primary and lower secondary aged readers.

The Equen Queen, by Alyssa Brugman
Ford Street, 2008

Possum and Wattle, by Bronwyn Bancroft

Subtitled My Big Book of Australian Words, Possum and Wattleis just that – a big, beautiful book of words from throughout Australia, illustrated in eye-catching colours by talented illustrator Bronwyn Bancroft.

Including words unique to Australia, such as didgeridoo, boomerang and echidna, as well as words for things which come from other parts of the world, but which are found in Australia, and words for things found in other parts of the world, but with special Australian features, the book contains over a hundred words and illustrations, as well as a glossary explaining some of the words, and providing interesting extra information.

With an introduction by author and artist Sally Morgan, Possum and Wattle will delight very young children with its bright colours, but will also prove absorbing for older children and lovers of Australian art, who will appreciate the detail in the illustrations.

A visual delight.

Possum and Wattle, by Bronywn Bancroft
Little Hare, 2008