Robot Riot, by Andy Griffiths

Once upon a time there was – and still is – a school called Northwest Southeast Central School.
Northwest Southeast Central School is located in the southeast of a town called Northwest, which is located to the northwest of a big city called Central City. You don’t need to know where Central City is, because it’s not important. What is important is the school. In this school there is a classroom. And in that classroom there is a fifth-grade class. Most important of all, in that fifth-grade class there is a student named Henry McThrottle who likes to tell stories.
That’s where I come in.
I’m Henry McThrottle…and this is my latest story.

Robot Riot! is book four in the ‘Schooling Around’ series from Andy Griffiths. In this instalment, narrator Henry McThrottle introduces the reader to Roberta Flywheel, new girl in school. She seems to be too good to be true. At first only Henry suspects there’s something not quite right about Roberta, but gradually he convinces his friends too. Henry is sure that Roberta is hiding something, and it seems like their wacky teacher Mr Brainfright might know more than he’s letting on. And it’s true, by the end of Robot Riot!, things have changed at Northwest Southwest Central School, and it’s not just the students. Added extras include stickers and information about other titles in the series. The endpapers also feature covers of other Griffiths books. Instead of a ‘blurb’ the back cover features a ‘Robot Riot! test’, tempting readers to read the book to find the answers.

Robot Riot!is a riot! In true Griffiths style, the pace is furious, the chapters short, the voice sincere and deadpan, and the main character, Henry, takes the reader on a wild ride. From the absurdity of the school’s location to the ending lines where Henry assures the reader ‘it’s all true’ ‘Robot Riot! is go-go-go. There are ‘important lessons’ from Mr Brainfright, lists, and red herrings. Reluctant readers will find the short chapters manageable and more confident readers will want to read ‘just one more chapter, just one…’. It’s not all frivolity and fun though. There’s a theme here, about new kids and the challenges of adjusting to a new school and new classmates. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Robot Riot! (Schooling Around)

Robot Riot! (Schooling Around), Andy Griffiths
Pan Macmillan 2009
ISBN: 780330425186

This bookc an be purchased online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

In the Shadow of the Palace, by Judith A Simpson

Rani’s twin, Ranjit, came bounding into the room. The servants clicked their tongues in disapproval and Anila, the princesses’ tutor, objected loudly.
‘Who do you think you are, you bold boy? You do not enter your sisters’ chamber like a baby buffalo. Go out and come in again in the manner of the future king we hope you will be.’
Two of the princesses just grinned, but Rani laughed as Ranjit backed out bowing over double.
‘I’m sorry, oh great Queen of Gurus,’ he intoned as if he were one of the Brahmin priests conduction a ceremony. ‘I’m so sorry for offending you. I will be-’
At that moment Ranjit backed into a small tale knocking it flying and sending hair ornaments skittering along the floor. Ranjit took one look at Anila’s face and fled.

In the Shadow of the Palace begins with light-hearted child’s play but the shadow of the title soon makes its presence known. The three princesses are to marry very soon and they may no longer be together. Worse is to come. Before they can begin to meet the boys/men who will compete for their attentions, they are kidnapped by a rival kingdom in a bid for power. Rani, the main character and middle sister is the most outspoken of the three. Her boldness and initiative are bound to get her into even more trouble and sure enough they do. While her sisters remain locked in the palace, she is set to work in the kitchen, doing the lowliest tasks. It becomes clear that rescue is unlikely and Rani determines to make her own escape and to liberate her two sisters. She goes undercover as a trainee soldier, and finds allies in surprising places.

In the Shadow of the Palace is book one in a new series from black dog books, well known for their historical offerings (eg Carole Wilkinson’s Dragonkeeper series). Judith A. Simpson takes the reader back in history to a time of kingdoms, bandits, class structures and strategic marriages. The more things change, the more things stay the same. So it is with ‘In the Shadow of the Palace’. Beneath the cultural differences, there are the same issues which face children of today. Learning to trust, finding your place in a changing world, standing up for what you believe in – all these are as relevant as they ever were. Wrap this up in a grand adventure with a broad raft of characters including the resourceful and flawed main character Rani, and In the Shadow of the Palace is sure to attract a faithful readership. Recommended for upper primary- to early secondary-aged readers.

In the Shadow of the Palace: The Princess of Pushkar

In the Shadow of the Palace: The Princess of Pushkar, Judith A Simpson
black dog books 2009
ISBN: 9781742030524

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

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Pyro Watson and the Hidden Treasure, by Nette Hilton

Pyro Watson clutched his blanket tightly to him. It wasn’t going to change anything, no matter how hard he held on. the old camper still swayed and rocked in the night wind. The ocean still hissed and roared and slugged its waves to the beach. The rocks still shone as darkly and the moon still lurked behind dark clouds.
Auntie Mor and Mr Stig still snored at the back of the van.
And Mum, who said Auntie Maureen could have made things easier if she’d just stopped tripping around for ten days so they could all get better organised, was still all the way across the Nullabor looking after Nan.

Pyro has been sent to stay with his aunt in a campervan while his mother tends to his grandmother. He’s not expecting to enjoy it at all. And with the campervan rocking in the wind on a dark, dark night, Pyro is sure the next ten days will be the longest in his life. He calls up his love of pirates and escapes to another dimension where he is San Simeon, captain of his own pirate ship. San Simeon is brave and adventurous, and has the loyalty of his crew. His adventures include an ongoing battle with his arch-enemy, Roaring Roy Bistro, and the liberation of a golden-haired maiden, Calamity. But a captain’s life is a lonely one too, and San Simeon struggles with the possibility of traitors in his crew. Like San Simeon, Pyro feels alone and unsure of himself. His best friend, Geezer is back at home, he can’t swim and he’s stuck here with two almost-strangers.

Pyro Watson and the Hidden Treasure features two stories side-by-side. There’s the ‘real’ story of Pyro’s time by the beach in the caravan park and the parallel adventures of his alter-ego San Simeon. The pirate adventure is differentiated by a different font as Pyro daydreams his way through his adventure. Sometimes the real life informs the action of the daydream, sometimes the daydream offers the solution to his real life dilemmas. Pyro discovers that he is not alone in anything. There are new friends to be made, common ground to be found with his aunt and her friend, Mr Stig, bullies to be thwarted, and traitors to be identified and routed. Themes include friendship, trust, bullying and family. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Pyro Watson and the Hidden Treasure

Pyro Watson and the Hidden Treasure, Nette Hilton ill Gregory Rogers Woolshed Press 2009 ISBN: 9781741664164

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

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

The Smartest Dog of All, by Ian Horrocks

My friends and I have a lot of dogs between us. Each of our dogs has its own personality – funny, sad, clever. Some are real dumb, but they are all different. Of course, my dog is my favourite dog. He is called Whitlam, which is a funny name for a dog, I agree. The original Whitlam was an Australian prime minister who got thrown out of government by the governor-general. I first heard the name one day when Dad and Grandpop were arguing about politics. They love arguing.

Whitlam is the runt of a litter of a puppies and arrives with little ceremony or expectation. But from the first he and a small boy are inseparable. The boy is convinced that Whitlam is the smartest dog of all. Whitlam likes attention but is happy as long as his boy is close and his name is mentioned occasionally. The boy’s eighth birthday party proves very exciting, particularly for a six-month-old puppy that feels that he is due some attention. And Whitlam does get some attention, just perhaps not the attention he anticipated. The Smartest Dog of All is a new title in Omnibus’ ‘Mates’ series. This series features very Australian tales told in very Australian style. The Smartest Dog of All is Australian from the political discussions between Dad and Grandpop to the birthday celebrations outside under the gum trees.

The Smartest Dog of All is a first chapter book for newly confident readers. The chapters are short and there are colour illustrations on every opening. Words that might challenge new readers are in different fonts, as if to highlight their newness and difference. The style is light and humourous. This is a tall tale with all the hallmarks of tall tales of old. It is told sincerely with the voice of an earnest young boy and it’s almost, almost believable. Illustrations are in coloured pencil and carry a humour all their own.

Recommended for newly-independent readers wanting to transition from picture books to longer books.

The Smartest Dog of All (Mates)

The Smartest Dog of All (Mates), Ian Horrocks, ill Sue deGennaro
Omnibus Books 2009
ISBN: 9781862918108

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

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Picnic at Hanging Rock, by Joan Lindsay

‘Miranda…!’ There was no answering voice. The awful silence closed in and Edith began, quite loudly now, to scream. If her terrified cries had been heard by anyone but a wallaby squatting in a clump of bracken a few feet away, the picnic at hanging Rock might yet have been just another picnic on a summer’s day. Nobody did hear them. The wallaby sprang up in alarm and bounded away, as Edith turned back, plunged blindly into the scrub and ran, stumbling and screaming, towards the plain.

On Valentine’s day, 1900 group of young women from an exclusive boarding school are treated to a picnic in the bush. It is a lovely day, and the girls are excited at the chance for a break from their daily routine. But, when four girls go for a walk for a closer look at Hanging Rock, tragedy strikes. Three of the four fail to return and Edith, the one who does, has no recollection of what befell her friends. At the same time one of the teachers accompanying the girls also disappears. In the days and weeks following the mystery surrounding their disappearance grows, nd the subsequent effect ripple throughout the community.

Picnic at Hanging Rock is a classic piece of Australian fiction, first published in 1967, and presenting a mystery which is so well known that many believe it to have some element of truth. Now the story has been rereleased as part of the Popular Penguins series, allowing readers to rediscover it, or for a new generation of readers to sample it for the first time.

A wonderful story which has withstood the test of time.

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Popular Penguins)

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Popular Penguins), by Joan Lindsay
This edition Penguin, 2009

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

The Immortal, by Michael Panckridge

His limbs should have been wasted. His skin sallow. His teeth rotting inside cracked and swollen lips. What amazing powers did this magical potion contain?

When Cameron is sent to spent the holidays at a children’s home by the sea, Cameron is unimpressed. Then he starts to hear a voice in his head – calling him to release its owner. Cameron doesn’t understand who is calling him, or why he can hear them, but he does know that he needs to get below the cottage to where the man is trapped.

Jeremy Brighton has been entombed for fifty years, but in that time he hasn’t aged a day. A mysterious serum has made him immortal, but helping him could prove disastrous for Cameron and his new friends.

The Immortal is a gripping tale exploring the possibilities of immortality and the positive and negative impacts such a ‘gift’ could have. Part mystery, part fantasy, this is a story which will entertain readers aged 11 to 15, and leave them pondering .

The Immortal, by Michael Panckridge
Black Dog, 2009

Scarygirl, by Nathan Jurevicius

Scarygirl does not know who she is or where she comes from, only that she has been abandoned on a remote beach. She needs to find answers in a world peopled with wild and wonderful characters.

Scarygirl is a wordless graphic novel which has spawned a website, toy range, prints, an online game and (in development) a movie since it was first published in 2004. This release, in a 128 page hardcover with hot pink cover, will appeal to fans of the Scarygirl, but will also introduce her to a new audience. Including a two part story broken in the middle by an interview with the artist, and with photos, sketches and screen shots, there is lots to be explored, discovered and digested, as well as simply enjoyed.

Nathan Jurevicius is an amazing artist, and Scarygirl is an amazing graphic novel.

Scarygirl, by Nathan Jurevicius
Allen & Unwin, 2009

Yikes! by Alison Lester

In a raging storm at sea…
…who would you be?
Salty Scott, the captain,
trying to bring his ship around?
La Cantina singing
in a clinging velvet gown?
Sparrow Cripps, the cabin boy
skinny, small and shy?
Or Jack the Stirrer rolling out
the pastry for a pie?

In this whimsical offering, young readers are invited to choose a character for each setting, before turning the page to find out what happens to them, and to the other characters. With rhming text, humorous characters, and exciting scenarios, this interactive offering is a real treat.

First published in 1993, has been rereleased in a smaller format paperback. With seven different adventure scenarios including a stormy night at sea, under the Big Top and in a Transylvanian Castle, and Lester’s bright illustrations, children will be drawn in both to choosing a character for themselves, and exploring the unfolding adventure. The episodic nature of the book would also allow each scenario to be looked at individually, perhaps over a period of days – which could be wonderful fun in a classroom setting, for example.

Yikes! : in Seven Wild Adventures Who Would You Be? by Alison Lester
This edition Allen & Unwin, 2009

The Land of Mirthful, by Sally Morgan

The wind increases and I topple madly after Bilby.
Then – THUD! – the wild wind tunnel spits us out onto a patch of frosty ground.
“S-sunny?” Bilby stutters.
I look up. Are they snowflakes falling from the sky?

Tom and Bilby are off on another mission, using the power of the magical stopwatch to transport them. Grandpa is sending them to Mirthful, a funny, sunny place, he says. Tom think he’ll get the chance for a nice swim. But instead they land in a cold, frosty land where there isn’t much sign of fun or happiness. Tom soon discovers that the land is under control of a frosty queen who ahs banned laughter, and banished the true royal family. It is up to Tom and Bilby to free the land from her reign and restore everything to rights.

The Land of Mirthful is the second title in the Stopwatch series, by the team of Sally Morgan and her three children Ambelin, Blaze & Ezekiel Kwaymullina. As with the first title, The Land of Mirthful blends humour and action in a fast paced fantasy adventure.

Although part of a series, the title will also stand alone for readers new the series.

The Land of the Mirthful (Stopwatch)

The Land of Mirthful (Stopwatch) by Sally Morgan and Ambelin, Blaze & Ezekiel Kwaymullina
Walker Books, 2009


Check on Me, by Andrew Daddo

Reviewed by Julie Murphy

My best bedtime goes exactly like this.
There has to be a story…
A cuddle, please…
Don’t forget to check on me!

It is almost bedtime, and there are a number of things to do before this little fellow will drift off to sleep.

Check on Me is a charming look at the things we do to make children comfortable before they settle down to sleep. The text is warm and engaging, and the illustrations by Jonathan Bentley are cheerful and fun.

Real world parents already happy with their existing bedtime routine may run the risk of their children discovering unwelcome new possibilities, such as a last-minute drink before bed or an extra cuddle in the middle of the night. However, this is a sweet book, which will be particularly appealing to parents seeking to establish a bedtime ritual for their own baby or toddler.

Check on Me, by Andrew Daddo & Jonathan Bentley
ABC Books – Harper Collins, 2009

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