Haunted, by Lorraine Orman

“Horrible boys!” a voice says suddenly. I swing round, my heart jumping into my throat. A girl stands in the doorway. A strange, old-fashioned girl, wearing a white dress down to her ankles and white shoes. Her fair hair is braided and tied with white ribbons. I pick up a hint of that sweet lily smell, as if she’s wearing it like perfume.
“I made them go away,” she says with a slight English accent. “They were rude and noisy.”

When Georgia and her brother are sent for a holiday on their Aunty and Uncle’s farm, neither is pleased, though Ned soon comes around when he strikes a friendship with their cousin Jeff. Left on her own, Georgia starts exploring the farm, and is delighted to discover an old homestead on the property, which she thinks will make a cool hideout. But Georgia soon realises she is not alone, when she is befriended by a mysterious girl called Lily. Could Lily be a ghost –a nd what does she want from Georgia and Ned? Soon, the children discover they are playing with fire.

Haunted is a ghost story aimed at reluctant readers, with its short format and high interest making it ideal for these readers, as well as for readers of all abilities. Part of Walker’s Lightning Strikes series, the book is attractively packaged with a red cover and silver highlights.

This gripping offering makes an excellent addition to an outstanding series.

Haunted, by Lorraine Orman
Walker Books, 2009

Shaolin Tiger, by Sandy Fussell

Yoshi says nothing. Life is all about balance. With only one leg, I understand that well. When Yoshi was much younger he accidentally killed a friend in a wrestling match. But then he saved my life and the balance was restored. Now it’s gone again.
‘All things happen for a reason. One day Yoshi will find this one,’ Sensei says. ‘The Captain has gone and we must travel on again.’

Sensei and his students, from the Cockroach Ryu, travel by sea from Japan to China, to give aid to the Shaolin Monks. On the way, the boat’s captain is drowned and Yoshi, who has tried to save him, is left troubled. In China one of Sensei’s past students, Qing-Shen, awaits – determined to gain retribution for Sensei’s broken promise. Qing-Shen wants to see Sensei dead, and he has the skills to carry out his wish – unless the Little Cockroaches can protect Sensei by outsmarting Qing-Shen.

Shaolin Tiger is the third title in the wonderful Samurai Kids series, a wonderful fantasy series set in Japan and China. Sensei is a wise teacher and his students – who appear to others to be each flawed – brave and eager to learn. The narrator, Niya, has just one leg, and his fellow students’ include children with physical differences, as well as Yoshi, who is fit and strong but has lost the will to fight others. Sensei himself also carries secret burdens, some of which are revealed in this book, and others hinted at for future instalments.

This third instalment does stand alone as a wonderful, action packed read, but readers will be keen to read the earlier titles , and equally impatient for the next instalment.

A must read.

Shaolin Tiger (Samurai Kids)

Samurai Kids: Shaolin Tiger, by Sandy Fussell
Walker Books, 2009

This book can be purchased online at Fishpond

Boofheads, by Mo Johnson

Change tiptoed into our lives with her eyes down, like a shy chick coming late to class. We checked her out as you do and found nothing there worth bothering about. Too many other hot girls were standing in line and Casey, Ed and I had our hands full. If we’d deemed her worthy of a second glance we might have noticed the ruthless determination in her eyes. We may even have asked what she had planned for us, but we ignored her and that was our biggest mistake. Not that she cared. She just went right on doing her thing.

Tommo, Casey and Ed have been best mates forever, and none of them expects that to change. But change comes in year eleven, as the boys’ lives start to diverge and become more complicated. As Ed tries to get his break as a professional footballer, Casey deals with family breakup and Tommo acts as an agony aunt for a teen magazine, it seems that the boofheads have less and less in common.

Boofheads is a humorous title, likely to attract teen readers, and the book does have plenty of humour. It is also, however, a serious book, dealing with many issues which teens are likely to face. It is refreshing to see such an issues-based book dealing particularly with teen boys, although the book will appeal equally to male and female readers.

There is a lot going on in Boofheads but, then again, there’s a lot going on in any teenager’s life, and author Mo Johnson brings together all the different plotlines and issues with aplomb. This is a wonderful book.


Boofheads, by Mo Johnson
Walker Books, 2008

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

Freaky, by Sue Whiting

On close inspection there was nothing really extraordinary about it. It had a hick coat of thorny barbs and the branches snaked out from the trunk sideways before turning to the sun.
But it gave me the heebie-jeebies. There was something about it. Its branches seemed alive somehow – ready to grab. It had an aura – a dark, sinister aura.
Get a grip, I told myself. You’re losing it! It’s a C-A-C-T-U-S.

When Jayden is sent to stay with his rellies that he hardly knows, he thinks things can’t get any worse. But he’s wrong. The rellies live in the country, in a town with no skate park. What’s worse, they are cactus freaks, with a yard full of spiky plants. Then, when Aunty Nina and Uncle Trev buy a new cactus, things get really freaky. The cactus seems to be coming alive.

Freaky is a fun, but scary, tale based on an urban legend which sounds frighteningly true involving spiders and cacti. Jayden’s adventure is fast-paced and short enough to entice the most reluctant reader.

Part of the wonderful Lightning Strikes series from Walker Books, Freaky is a great offering for primary aged readers.

Freaky, by Sue Whiting
Walker Books, 2009

Victor's Quest, by Pamela Freeman

“My mother’s sending me on a quest,” Prince Victor said gloomily. He bit into the pumpkin scone Marigold had just handed him. “Mum says if I’m going to take over the queendom from her I have to find myself a princess to marry who’ll show a bit of sense.”

Prince Victor is not very bright and not very happy. His mother, the queen, is sending him on a quest. Fortunately he has a smart horse, Quince, and is armed with some potions made by his friend Marigold. Victor and Quince venture bravely into the Dark Forest of Nevermore, where there is plenty of trouble afoot, and where somebody needs help.

Victor’s Quest is a delightful fantasy book for younger readers. First published in 1996, it has been republished by Walker Books Australia, and is likely to appeal to young readers as much now as it did twelve years ago. As well as adventure, humour and appealing characters, the story is brought to life in grey scale illustrations by Kim Gamble.

A wonderful offering for primary aged readers.

Victor's Quest

Victor’s Quest, by Pamela Freeman, ill by Kim Gamble
Walker Books, 2008

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

Owl Ninja, by Sandy Fussell

Something is wrong. Usually, the Sword Master likes to chat and joke, to tell us stories of the days when he was a boy listening to Ki-Yaga’s feet. Sensei was old, even then.
Across the valley a drumbeat echoes. Thum. Thum.
“What’s that?” Nezume asks.
Ta-thum. Ta-thum. Thum

A drum beat is echoing across the mountains, calling the mountain ryus to war. The samurai kids don’t want to fight. Their sensei can stop the war, but there isn’t much time, and first they must travel across the land for an audience with the Emperor. Only he can silence the drum. But will they reach him safely and on time?

Owl Ninja is the second in the wonderful Samurai Kids series from talented new author Sandy Fussell. Featuring the wonderful cast of characters from the first story as well as some colourful new ones, the story is self contained but will be enjoyed most by those who read the first.

Readers are transported into the world and time of the Samurai, with the landscape coming alive through Fussell’s carefully wrought text, and the characters delightfully illustrated in the manga-style plates of Rhian Nest James.

This is an outstanding series and readers will look forward to the third instalment.

Owl Ninja (Samurai Kids)

Samurai Kids: Owl Ninja, by Sandy Fussell
Walker Books, 2008

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

Mischief Afoot, by Moya Simons

Current success rate over last week: 75 per cent
One semi-failure (not our fault).
One complete success.
Located Mr Lee’s pet cockatoo, Louie, on gum tree in council park. Had been taught to say, ‘Cocky want a kiss.’ Was very happy. Had finally found a cockatoo that wanted a kiss. Last seen with girlfriend flying to unknown destination. Louie’s pet owner upset. After begging pet shop owner for freebie, we were able to give Mr Lee a guinea pig to cheer him up. It was a real shame that the guinea pig turned out to be a biter.
Recovered lost diamond ring belonging to Mrs Gefunkel. Search of house yielded no results. However, upon cross-examination, client recalled removing ring before taking shower. Ring discovered behind vanity basin, close to drain. Lucky, as it could have fallen down drain and be swirling around the Pacific Ocean now. Mrs Gefunkel thinks we’re the greatest.

Mischief Afoot is the third title in the Walk Right In Detective Agency series. David and Bernice run their agency out of their office – a shed in Bernice’s front yard. After a mostly successful week, business is a bit slow. Fortunately the circus is coming to town and there will at least be some distraction. Bernice seems happy enough to see the circus just as diversion, but David’s detective sensibility suspects there is ‘mischief afoot’. The circus seems an exciting life. David meets Tom, a boy about his age who travels with the circus. Tom acquaints David with some of the mucky reality, but David and most of Milk Bay attend the first performance. David notices something awry in the performance although most of the patrons are distracted by the clowns. He is convinced there is a mystery here that requires investigation.

Mischief Afoot is told in first person, from David’s point of view. The reader only sees Bernice, his partner, through his skewed perspective. Moya Simons allows the reader to see past David’s interpretation to know that this is a much more even partnership than David lets on. Their parents and the local community accept their agency although the police warn them occasionally to ‘leave the real policing’ to them. David’s observations and reportage are interspersed through the text as he channels the energy of other more well known private investigators. Text is well-spaced, offering a manageable length for less-confident readers. David’s observations and Bernice’s droll responses add humour. As with previous titles. although this is a light read in some ways, there is a serious issue presented and investigated. Justice is not just about finding love-lorn cockatoos. Recommended for mid-primary readers.

Mischief Afoot, Moya Simons
Walker Books 2008
ISBN: 9871921150973

Heart of Magic, by Penny Matthews

Stacey Bunn could never quite believe that she and Twyla Popovic were best friends. Her mum always said they were chalk and cheese, and it was true. For a start, Twyla was tall and thin and gorgeous, and Stacey wasn’t any of those things. But they were different in lots of other ways too.
Twyla was super-confident. Stacy was shy.
Twyla often did things on impulse. Stacey always made plans.
Twyla enjoyed taking risks. Stacey was a scaredy-cat.
They didn’t even hang around with the same people. Twyla went to the local school, where there were boys, and Stacey went to a private girls’ college. It was like they lived in different world that only connected with the two of them.

Stacey and Twyla have been best friends for a long time. Today, on Twyla’s birthday they are going to the Show together. Stacey’s mum is taking them there, Twyla’s mum is bringing them home. In between, they’ll be free to do whatever they want. But even before they reach the show, little niggles are beginning to unsettle Stacey. Even Mum seems to think Twyla is the one in charge. They arrive at the Show and it’s not at all the way Stacey imagined it would be. All of a sudden everything is changing. Then, when Stacey has a chance to make a wish, she is sure she knows just how to make things better. The gold heart pin is sure to make the difference.

Heart of Magic is part of Walker Books new series, ‘Lightning Strikes’. Stories are pitched at upper primary level, but are shorter than novels, providing a manageable-sized story for reluctant readers. Heart of Magic explores friendship. Even long term friendships can falter, particularly when one member changes at a different rate to others. In this case, Stacey is older, but is quite content to maintain the status quo, while Twyla is beginning to explore a larger world. For children on the brink of adolescence and all the challenges involved, the world can be a confusing place. Heart of Magic, told in the third person from the point of view of Stacey shows some of the uncertainties but also shows that there is a way through. Both main characters, Stacey and Twyla learn more about themselves as they simultaneously learn more about their friend. Their friendship changes but endures. Recommended for upper primary readers.

Heart of Magic, Penny Matthews
Walker Books 2008
ISBN: 9781921150685

The Meteorite Kid, by Carol Faulkner

‘It’s mine! I’ve got it. I’ve got it.’
Morgan ran backwards, her gloved left hand stretched high. Wow! That was some hit. The ball was still on the upward rise, cutting through the air over left field. Morgan kept running backwards, her eyes glued to the ball. She had to tilt her head all the way up. So far up in fact, that her cap fell off. Oh-oh, now she was in trouble. With nothing shielding her eyes, the ball suddenly disappeared from view, ousted by the glare of the midday sun.
‘Darn it!’ Morgan held her right hand over her eyes and squinted, but nothing could shut out the blinding whiteness of full-on, in-your-face sun. ‘Come on…come on,’ she muttered. She felt the intense light crippling her eyes but she couldn’t look away. She just had to make this catch. they were one run in front and this was the last ball. The game – the trophy – was riding on it.

Morgan is the only girl in her baseball team. She feels she has to play not just as well as but better than all the boys. So when she goes for the final catch to make the difference between winning and being runners-up in the grand final, she gives it everything. But she misses and instead catches a strange bright blue ball. Despite the apparent randomness of the ball falling into her hands, it seems destined to be hers. Everyone, including Skip the school photographer wants to see it. At first everyone is sure it must be a meteorite, falling as it has from the sky. But Morgan thinks there is more to it. It’s almost as if the ball is trying to communicate with her. The challenge is knowing who to trust and how to best look after the ball.

The Meteorite Kid is a further title in the Lightning Strikes series for reluctant readers from Walker Books. Like other titles in the series, it is fast-paced, high-action and short-chaptered. Told in third person, The Meteorite Kid follows Morgan’s adventures as she determines the right thing to do with this strange and vibrant object. Her task is made more difficult by some of the adults around her. There are those who show less than pure motives in wanting to help her. Morgan’s family are supportive, even when sceptical, and with the help of a new friend, Morgan triumphs. Fantastical but grounded in the real world this is a good fun read. Recommended for upper-primary and early secondary-readers.

The Meteorite Kid, Carol Faulkner
Walker Books 2008
ISBN: 9781921150807

A Christmas Carol, By Charles Dickens, ill by Robert Ingpen

It is very difficult to write a review of a book which simply takes your breath away, as this one does. It is so awe-inspiring as to make any attempt to comment on techniques used or the quality of the finished product feel a little amateurish. What does one say about a masterpiece?

The book in question is a new release version of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, illustrated by Australia’s own Robert Ingpen. This hardcover offering feels like a classic – with a slipcover featuring a miserable Scrooge staring at the reader, and pages printed on strong parchment pages. Most illustrations are coloured, but have muted tones which make them feel as if they were rendered in Dickens’ time, and others are sepia toned. There are double page spreads and smaller illustrations, but every spread has at least one illustration.

At the front of the book, readers are given a glimpse into the history of the story, and an author’s note, as well as a back of book list of further reading and a bonus short story (also illustrated), Dickens’ A Christmas tree.

This is a real collector’s piece, but its collectability should not prevent it also being presented to children to read and to love. It would be a wonderful Christmas gift.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, illustrated by Robert Ingpen
Walker Books, 2008