Scratch Kitten and the Ghost Ship, by Jessica Green

Scratch was a ship’s cat. He had found Mrs Captain’s diamonds and he’d found his Paa. But instead of being happy, he was sad and frightened. Paa and Mrs Captain had sailed away, leaving Scratch alone on a tiny island in the middle of the ocean.
Scratch prowled along the beach.
He hoped his friends would come back for him. But all night long, the only sound he heard was swishing waves.
Just as the sun rose, Scratch heard voices. He pricked up his ears.

Scratch has had many adventures in his life as a ship’s cat. In Scratch Kitten and the Ghost Ship, Scratch hitches a ride in a new ship, hoping to find his way back to his friends. The Captain is happy to have him on board, but others are not so excited. Scratch and a thin man called Sir Peter Petall seem to get off to a rough start. Sir Peter is keen to find new animals and plants, and to name them all after himself. Scratch tries to be helpful but is dismayed to find an unusual animal called Toopo, locked up in a cage on deck. Scratch spies a ghost ship and tries to warn the sailors, but all he seems to do is get into one scrape after another. By the time the Captain and others see the ghost ship, the petulant Sir Peter is ready to pitch Scratch overboard.

Scratch is a curious and sometimes misunderstood cat. And if Sir Peter has his way, the little cat is going to need all of his nine lives to survive. Scratch tries to talk to the humans on the ship, but all they hear is miaow. He can, however, understand what they are saying and he can also talk to Toopo, the other animal on board. The captain and crew welcome Scratch aboard but are prone to superstition. Sir Peter’s search for new plants and animals seems motivated by self-promotion and a need to best his father. There are loose associations with the voyages of Captain Cook and the discoveries of Joseph Banks, and these provide opportunities for discussion beyond the adventure. Young readers will enjoy Scratch’s escapades.

Scratch Kitten and the Ghost Ship, Jessica Green ill Mitch Vane
Little Hare 2010
ISBN: 9781921541070

Scratch Kitten and the Ghost Ship (Scratch Kitten)

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Camelot, by Colin Thompson

Long ago in a faraway land, nearly halfway between somewhere over the rainbow and 23 Paradise St Arcadia, was a magical land called Avalon.
And at the heart of Avalon was a magical castle called Camelot.
And at the heart of Camelot lived a mighty King called Uther-Pendragon. Camelot was a fabulous place, so fabulous indeed that it was almost impossible to believe it really existed and wasn’t just a wonderful dream.
Even the greatest stories written about it did not do it justice. It was the ultimate castle, more magnificent and vast than the next ten best castles added together. It wasn’t just staggeringly gorgeous, it was staggeringly big too. It didn’t have one room for each day of the year, it had eleven and a half.

Camelot is the first in a new series (The Dragons) for Colin Thompson. The series is set in the time of King Arthur and his legendary home Camelot. But this is not the Camelot that readers might know from other novels or films. Arthur is an 11-year-old child and a particularly unimpressive one at that. He’s vain, stupid, mean and much more. No one in the palace likes him much, except for his long-suffering nanny. Merlin finds him almost unbearable, except that Arthur’s stupidity allows the magician to run the kingdom with little interference. Add in Arthur’s sister, endangered and incontinent dragons, deep lakes, dangerous moats, fireproof foundlings and not very brave knights and Camelot is almost complete. There are advertisements scattered through. Who wouldn’t want to visit Downwind Island where staff will ensure you feel useless? And in case you wanted to know how to speak like an upperclass twit – the instructions are also included.

Colin Thompson’s new series is full of as many absurdities and twisty-turny plot threads as his previous series ‘The Floods’ was. Characters are never quite as they seem, and generally evolve to be worse, better, uglier, nicer, lovelier, dumber than they first seem. The first book in a new series has a lot to do, introducing a new world and setting up the following episodes. It never feels weighted down for all the ‘plot plants’ that are here. Some plot threads appear to peter out, and others are neatly tied. Others promise adventures to come. The pace is cracking. Truly horrible and gory details abound. Footnotes give the reader extra details or sometimes just little insights into Thompson’s childhood. Chapters are introduced with a brief and illustrated scene setting. Recommended for confident primary readers and fans of ‘The Floods’.

The Dragons: Camelot, Colin Thompson
Random House 2009
ISBN: 9781741663815

Camelot: No. 1: Camelot (Dragons)

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Pirate Peter and the Pig, by Simon Grant

Peter was a pirate.
One day he went into a pet shop.
‘I’d like a parrot,’ he said.
‘I’m sorry,’ said the pet shop owner.
‘I’ve run out of parrots. Would you like a pig instead?’

Everyone knows that a pirate needs a parrot and Pirate Peter is no exception. Except that the pet shop has run out of parrots. The pet shop owner is very helpful and offers him an alternative. Peter’s protestations that the pig is not quite right evokes even more assistance. Very little that she offers is quite right. But like all the best pet shop owners, this one is not giving up. Eventually though, Peter is happy. Well, almost. Illustrations are gentle and humourous, with warm colours barely contained within the pages.

Pirate Peter and the Pig is quite absurd, in the best possible way. Pirate Peter is keen to be the best, scariest pirate there is but he’s not really quite sure how that can work. The pet shop owner is full of goodwill and helpful suggestions, which she can’t quite support. The more despondent about his appearance Peter becomes, the wilder her suggestions. Eventually though, her good nature finds a solution. She comes sideways at his problem and gently brings him to happiness. A good fun read. Recommended for pre- and early schoolers.

Pirate Peter and the Pig, Simon Grant ill Jenny Cooper
Scholastic 2009

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

Pilot & Huxley and the Holiday Portal, by Dan McGuiness

I can’t believe we get zapped to another world, make friends with a girl who can change into a monster , sae the world from a giant, then vanquish an evil alien race… only to get sent to Fruit-town!

Pilot and Huxley and the Holiday Portal is the second instalment in the adventures of these two computer-game-loving friends. In their first adventure they made a new friend, Brett, and she accompanies them as they travel from Fruit-town on their journey towards home. Mistakes and accidents see them meet Tentpeg, a zombie from another realm where everything is reversed, eg zombies are nice, snowmen are not. Faster than a speeding pinball, the four are bounced from world to world, disaster to disaster. This is a graphic novel, in full colour on black pages.

Pilot and Huxley and the Holiday Portal is a wild ride through bizarre worlds where nothing is as it seems. Appearances are almost always deceptive, except when they’re not. The title characters are here, but like many computer games, they’ve gathered ‘tools’ on their way that will help them in the future (if they only but knew). The ‘tools’ are the extra characters, Brett and Tentpeg. The world is ever-expanding and the pace zings. Everything they know is upside-down and inside-out, but like the game-players they are, they push onwards, looking for the way home. Recommended for mid-primary readers and beyond. Sure to be a hit with reluctant readers and gamers.

Pilot and Huxley and the Holiday Portal (Pilot and Huxley)

Pilot and Huxley and the Holiday Portal , Dan McGuiness,
Omnibus Books 2010
ISBN: 9781862918498

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Papa's Little Penguin, by Anna Pignataro

In a white peppermint world as far as the eye could see lived Papa Penguin and Little Penguin.

Papa Penguin has to go away. Little Penguin is accepting but is not sure what he will do. Papa says that he will return before the moon, and that Little Penguin should guard the icicle mountain. What follows is a day full of activity as Little Penguin whiles away the time until Papa’s return. Only when the time of the moon draws near, does anxiety begin to overwhelm Little Penguin. Papa Penguin does ultimately return, and all is right with their world. The illustrations are soft, loose watercolour and make great use of white space to enhance mood changes.

Papa Penguin probably has to search for food, but this is never stated or explained. And it doesn’t matter because the emotion is the same, no matter why a father has to leave. The absence is felt by a small child. As the day progresses the child is distracted by playing but as the end of day comes, they are reminded that the time for Papa’s return is soon. Waiting is never easy and can be even more difficult for young children. Anna Pignataro captures the essence of that childhood waiting. Papa Penguin is true to his word and Papa’s Little Penguin ends as it began with father and child together and secure. This is re-release of this story, published first in 2008 under the title ‘Brave Little Penguin’.

Papa's Little Penguin

Papa’s Little Penguin, Anna Pignataro
Scholastic 2009
ISBN: 9781741695427

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Nanny Piggins and the Runaway Lion, by R. A. Spratt

‘Can anyone remember what the figurines looked like?’ asked Nanny Piggins.
‘All I can remember is that they were ugly,’ said Boris.
Nanny Piggins, Boris and the children were in the living room looing at the shattered remnants of the late Grandma Green’s figurine collection. The ten miniature statues had accidentally been smashed in a particularly athletic game of charades. (Nanny Piggins had set a vase of flowers on fire when acting out the book title Bonfire of the Vanities. Then had to leap to safety before her hair was caught up in the inferno.)
‘I think one of the figurines was a woman with a dog,’ said Michael. ‘I’m pretty sure those green bits were a mermaid,’ said Derrick.
‘And one was a milkmaid with a cow…or a goat…but definitely something you milked,’ added Samantha.

Nanny Piggins is back in a third collection of wild adventures. Nanny Piggins is a pig. Mr Green hired her because he was desperate, and she was cheap. He’s been trying to get rid of her ever since. The children, Michael, Derrick and Samantha, think Nanny Piggins is wonderful. She is their champion, particularly when their father tries to have them shipped off to boarding school. Nanny Piggins has less than orthodox views on child-rearing and manages to leap from adventure to adventure with hardly a ruffle through her perfectly arranged hair. In ‘Nanny Piggins and the Runaway Lion’, Nanny and the children have to face runaway lions, headmasters, Neighbourhood Watch and sneaky siblings, all with the aid of cake and chocolate.

There is no end to Nanny Piggins’ talents and acquaintances (or sisters). She champions the underdog (or bear) and relishes any opportunity to show her talents. She is protective of her charges even when struggling to understand the rules of schools and families and society. She is fearless, the sort of guardian angel children must wish was real. Her antics are outrageous and beyond far-fetched, and just when you think she’s stuck in a corner, she pulls out another new trick and ta-da, she wins to eat another day. Each chapter is an adventure on it’s own as she joins Olympic teams, organises a redesign of the school uniform and rewrites Shakespeare. Guaranteed to bring on the giggles. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.

Nanny Piggins and the Runaway Lion, R. A. Spratt
Random House Australia 2010
ISBN: 9781864719710

Nanny Piggins and the Runaway Lion (Nanny Piggins)

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

The Wrath of the Silver Wolf, by Simon Higgins

The midnight temple bell gave a final hum, masking the sound of Moonshadow’s landing. Its voice declared the halfway mark of the Hour of the Rat.
He crouched low on the roof, scanned the moonlit horizon ahead and listened. Before the echo of the bell died away, the tiles behind him creaked.
Moonshadow turned without a sound. His tightly bound night cowl showed only his eyes but he offered Snowhawk a smile anyway. Just a dark willowy silhouette, she returned a nod, adjusted the sword on her back, then stretched out to press an ear to the cold, curved tiles.

Moonshadow is a ninja for the ancient Japanese Grey Light Order. He was recruited as a young orphan and trained in the arts of defence, stealth and more. Moonshadow has a further talent. He can enter the mind of animals and see through their eyes. He and his friend and colleague, Snowhawk, have been assigned a mission. They are to travel to the home of the White Nun, a legendary mystic, and bring her to safety. But there are those who wish them ill. Foremost amongst them is Silver Wolf, a warlord intent on conquering all. He sets his best trained spies after Moonshadow and Snowhawk. They must fight to protect themselves and others, while respecting the guidelines of the Grey Light Order.

The Wrath of Silver Wolf is the second adventure in the Moonshadow series. A third adventure, ‘The Twilight War’ is ‘coming soon.’ Moonshadow is very skilled at the martial arts he has been taught in his time with the Grey Light Order. But he is also a teenager, with doubts about his abilities, his worthiness and his decisions. He’s also attracted to Snowhawk but wary of risking their friendship by revealing his feelings. Snowhawk has come from a rival spy network and has internal doubts of her own. Together, the two take a journey of personal growth. They explore their strengths and confront their weaknesses. The Wrath of Silver Wolf pits two young adults against the cunning and ruthlessness of the Silver Wolf and his cohort. But there are also mentors for the pair, in the White Nun and the teachers from the Grey Light Order. The setting may be ancient, but the struggles are as relevant today as ever. Recommended for upper primary and beyond.

The Wrath of Silver Wolf (Moonshadow)

The Wrath of Silver Wolf (Moonshadow), Simon Higgins
Random House 2009
ISBN: 9781741664058

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

How to Draw Mythical Creatures, by Marc McBride

As the residents of the mythical lost city of Atlantis will tell you, it is never pleasant to experience a sinking feeling. This is especially true when that sinking feeling Is experienced while looking at a drawing that has taken many hours to complete. Perhaps your drawing bears little resemblance to your original idea, or maybe it looks flat and lifeless, or maybe you just ran out of space on the page. I hope that this book will help you avoid making those mistakes by showing you how to plan your drawings.

How to Draw Mythical Creatures introduces a collection of well-known and lesser-known mythical creatures and then shows step-by-step instructions for drawing them. The creatures are grouped into three broad categories: Peaceful; Fierce and Very Dangerous. Extras at the end include Monster Lettering and a collection of Mythical Creature types as they might appear and behave at school. Each creature is briefly described and the completed illustration shown before the planning stages are revealed. Pages are framed with Creature Celtic borders.

Marc McBride’s illustrations first received widespread attention when they accompanied Emily Rodda’s ‘Deltora Quest’ series and continued with his follow-up books which include ‘Deltora Quest Book of Monsters’, ‘How to Draw Deltora Dragons’ and ‘How to Draw Deltora Monsters’. Like these others, ‘How to Draw Mythical Creatures’ is rich in detail and colour. Young readers and artists will be familiar with many of the mythical creatures and will enjoy recreating them. There’s enough of an explanation for readers who are less familiar with the creatures to intrigue them and perhaps encourage further research and reading. Recommended for primary-readers and anyone who loves mythology and drawing.

How to Draw Mythical Creatures Mark McBride
Scholastic 2010
ISBN: 9781741694000

How to Draw Mythical Creatures

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Fairies, by Alison Maloney

…when the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies. And now when every new baby is born, its first laugh becomes a fairy. So there ought to be one fairy for every boy or girl. (from Peter Pan, JM Barrie)

As children know, and adults rarely understand, fairies are everywhere – in your garden, in the woods beyond and even in your house! Although fairies can be found in every country in the mortal world, their true home is the far-off kingdom of Fairyland. This magical realm, which no human can ever reach, is the birthplace of all fairies.

Fairies: A Magical Guide to the Enchanted Realm is, as the name suggests, about fairies. Everything you may have known and more is here. Discover different types of fairies, the places they live, their personalities and behaviours. There are nods to all manner of fairy tales and famous fairies, including Tinker Bell, Thumbelina and the fairies who guard Sleeping Beauty. Fairies includes whimsical illustrations on full colour pages. Fairies are pictured at work and at play. There are suggestions on how best to welcome a fairy and how to keep fairy homes clean.

Fairies are eternally fascinating, particularly to small girls. Being difficult to see presents few problems to those who love fairy folk of all kinds. Fairies describes fairies who gather teeth and fairies who help with farmwork. There’s the odd mischievous and grumpy fairy, but most are kind, good, helpful, beautiful and magical. Sure to be a hit with all fairy-folk.

Fairies: A Magical Guide to the Enchanted Realm Alison Maloney ill Patricia Moffett
Allen & Unwin 2009
ISBN: 9781742371085

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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

Bear and Chook by the Sea, by Lisa Shanahan & Emma Quay

Bear and Chook were fast asleep when a breeze came sniffing and licking.
‘Chook,’ said Bear, sitting up, ‘that wind is as warm as honey toast.’
‘Go back to sleep,’ said Chook.
‘That’s a holiday breeze,’ said Bear.
‘No, no, no,’ muttered Chook, opening one eye. ‘The stars are still out.’
‘That’s a holiday sky,’ said Bear. ‘It’s time to go.’

Bear and Chook are the best of friends but that doesn’t mean they are completely alike. They have quite different outlooks on life. Bear is a ‘seize the day’ kind of friend, and Chook is a more cautious soul. Bear is off on an adventure, confident that despite not knowing where it is, he will find the sea. Chook is not so sure, but determined to stay close to her friend. And find the sea they do. It’s all the fun Bear predicts and then some, but not without its dangers. Emma’s illustrations in Chinagraph pencil and acrylic paint are warm and colourful, soft and full of joy.

Friendship is very important no matter the stage in life. Bear and Chook are ageless and childlike, all at once. Bear is enthusiastic, confident and outgoing. Chook is home-loving, cautious and a little apprehensive about new things. Their friendship bonds are strong and Chook stays close to brave Bear as he finds his way to the beach. There Chook relaxes and enjoys the beach, with and alongside her friend. Bear’s decision to have a swim provokes anxiety again in Chook who stays on shore. When Bear is tumbled by a wave, it is Chook’s turn to be brave and supportive. A lovely story, demonstrating the strength of the bond between two unlikely friends. Recommended for preschoolers through to junior primary.

Bear and Chook by the Sea

Bear and Chook by the Sea, Lisa Shanahan, ill Emma Quay.
Lothian 2009
ISBN: 9780734411112

review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author

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