Wormwood Mire: A Stella Montgomery Intrigue – Judith Rossell

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wormwood

Harper Collins

ISBN: 9780733333019

ISBN 10: 073333301X

Imprint: ABC Books – AU

On Sale: 10/24/2016

Pages: 288

List Price: 22.99 AUD

Warning: This review will be chockers with fulsome praise and expressions of delight.

From the point I took this book from its package two days ago I was in love with it.

We know that you can indeed judge a book by its cover often and looking at the beautiful artwork of this novel and stroking its textured surface was like holding a plush box of chocolates and greedily anticipating the contents.

And I was not disappointed. A gorgeously bound book with wonderful creamy pages, full page illustrations, embellishments and font all in a forest green this just oozes style and superiority.

After Stella’s first adventure (Withering-by-Sea) the nasty Aunts are icily furious and ponder what to do with such an unsuitable child.  They grasp the opportunity to send her to the old family home where their cousin is going to have his two (also motherless) children taught by a governess (hah! Expense-free solution) and so Stella is packed off to Wormwood Mire, a decaying mansion set in huge overgrown grounds. Her initial trepidation is relieved when she meets Strideforth and Hortense, her two cousins, both of whom are quirky in their own ways. She is further reassured by Miss Araminter the governess who is at the very least eccentric but extremely kind and sensitive.

Before she departed the gloomy house of Aunts Stella had discovered an old photograph which she has identified as being of her mother at Wormwood Mire with two babies in an old-fashioned pram – two babies? Did she once have a sister or twin? She is determined to solve the mystery of this while she is in the crumbling family ruin.

But Wormwood Mire holds many secrets. The children’s ancestor Wilberforce Montgomery who built the house was a traveller and collector of the curious and bizarre; objects, plants and animals. And there is something all the villagers are terrified by but won’t talk about. What is it and will the children be able to discover the menace – and survive it?

What a sensational read this is! The narrative flows perfectly from eddy to whirlpool to backwater and the reader is carried along effortlessly. For me it would have been a one sitting read had I not had to get up early the next morning. As it was I had to save the last few chapters but quickly polished them off, savouring every word.

Stella is indomitable – a Mighty Girl in every sense – she has courage and intelligence and empathy. There is also the mysterious power she possesses. She is a perfect foil for Strideforth, the essential scientific mind (at times with less than perfect success) and strange wild little Hortense, who is more often than not like the little creatures she adopts.

I cannot recommend this highly enough – of course, those who loved Judith’s Withering-by-Sea will be eager to get their hands on it – but for those who have not yet been introduced to Stella and her hidden otherworldly talent, it will also be a joy to read.

Artie and the Grime Wave – Written and illustrated by Richard Roxburgh

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ISBN: 9781760292140

Publisher: Allen & Unwin

Imprint: A & U Children

October 2016

RRP $16.99

Ok so Richard Roxburgh is a talented actor and director in both theatre and screen and of course the star of Rake. Now he’s added writing and illustrating to his portfolio in a very successful way. I mean to say, he’s good looking as well? Talk about take out a jackpot! Anyway, I digress so on with the review.

For your kids who love the rambunctious humour of the likes of Andy Griffith, Tristan Bancks, or Aaron Blabey and get the hysterical giggles over a few fart mentions this is perfect.

Artie and his friend Bumshoe are not the most popular kids in town. One is skinny, has lost his dad which has sent his mum into a deep depression and the other is a chubby one-of-many in a pretty ‘relaxed’ family.

When these two discover a Cave-of-Possibly-Stolen-Stuff they realise that the dodgy Mayor Grime is somehow involved with this gang of thugs. There have been so many thefts around town that everyone is on high alert yet no one wants to believe the two boys. Artie in particular is determined to rescue his lovely neighbour Gladys’ pet tortoise which has apparently been pet-napped with many other creatures.  But the two boys lack a serious amount of luck when it comes to finding a solution to the problem and end up in all sorts of trouble – including being almost eaten! An eccentric old lady who dabbles in high-tec inventions although continually coated in talc, a mum who rouses herself into tigress mode at exactly the right time and the stalwart support of good friends and neighbours saves the day.

Artie is no hulking hero but he stands up for what he believes and stands up to the bullies – and that’s an important message for any reader.

Any kid will love the part when one of the thugs has his bum bitten by the gang’s savage guard dog while enduring the world’s worst wedgie and will certainly love Aunty-boy’s invention the Fartex 120Y.

Highly recommended for readers who like to laugh out loud – from around 9 years old upwards.

The Eagle of Rome: A Lottie Lipton Adventure – Dan Metcalf

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Allen & Unwin

Bloomsbury Publishing

ISBN:9781472927583

Imprint: A&C Black Children’S

September 2016

RRP $12.99

I have some little girls who will be most excited when this hits the shelves after the holidays. They loved the first one I brought along to the library so the rest of the series is on our ‘to buy’ list for next year’s budget.

The stories are quick and easy to read but the secret codes are great fun and provide a real challenge for some little readers.

In this new adventure Lottie comes up against famous treasure seeker Lady Viola Kirton who is desperately hunting the lost Eagle of the Ninth Legion. Lady Viola has long been Lottie’s role model but not once she discovers that the snobby woman only wants the Eagle so that she can sell it for a fabulous price rather than preserve it with the other antiquities in the British Museum.  Young Lottie is not about to let that happen so along with Uncle Bert and Reg she determines to solve the mystery of the hidden treasure first.

We have four more to catch up on so they had better be top of our list methinks!

 

Highly recommended for your newly independent readers from around Year 1 upwards.

Fright Club – Ethan Long

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Bloomsbury Publishing Australia

Published: 01-09-2016

ISBN: 9781681190433

Imprint: Bloomsbury USA Childrens

RRP: $9.99   –

This is one of the cutest board books I’ve seen for ages. Forget about sweet and pretty – this one is just in time for Halloween and a fun story for little people.

The local Fright Club led by Vladimir the vampire are busily practising their ‘ghoulish faces, scary moves, chilling sounds’ in their clubhouse when there comes a knock at the door. A sweet fluffy bunny asks if she can join the club and is promptly rejected. The monsters continue with their very amateurish spookiness and there is another knock at the door. This time the cute bunny is accompanied by her foxy lawyer citing discrimination about being excluded and pretty soon all the woodland creatures are picketing the Fright Club. Of course eventually the monsters have to give in and let them all join – and who knew? Those little animals can be quite scary when they want to be!

This is just great fun with a load of good devices to talk about if you did want to share it with older ones; speech bubbles, onomatopoeia etc but basically it is a just a hoot for Halloween.

Check out the trailer here.

Crazy Characters & Daft Deeds

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I’ve chosen to review these two books on the same post as to me they are similar in many ways all of which will appeal to their audience.  Both Colin Thompson and A.F. Harrold have a singular and individualised way of providing satirical humour for a pint-sized readership. They also both employ that  every engaging device of the author speaking directly to the reader when necessary.

Fizzlebert Stump and The Great Supermarket Showdown

fizz

Published: 01-09-2016

ISBN: 9781408869451

Imprint: Bloomsbury Childrens Series: Fizzlebert Stump

RRP: $12.99

I’ve not seen the previous titles in this series but any book called Fizzlebert Stump: The Boy Who Ran Away from the Circus (and Joined the Library) has got my vote already and ensures I will catch up with the earlier books.

Fizz lives in a circus – in fact, he was born and raised under the Big Top. His entire life and livelihood is suddenly turned upside down when the Ringmaster sells the circus without any warning. It is all most strange. The Ringmaster assures his folk that not much will change but change it does. Those without an ironclad contract drift away to find other employment including the animals, while those basically indentured to the circus remain – and find themselves little more than navvies in a tawdry supermarket managed by a very unpleasant owner.  When a book starts at Chapter 4 you know you are in for a completely unusual read and this is the case.

Fizz is the definite hero here as he digs deeper (especially at his library!) to find out why the Ringmaster just upped and sold the circus. He runs into old friends (from previous books) and triumphantly they resolve the whole debacle.

It is fun, it is wacky and will definitely be a hit with young readers who have a yen for humour.

Watch This Space 2: In the Pink

inthepink

Random House

ISBN 9781742756189

August 29, 2016

Random House Australia Children’s

RRP $15.99

Previous readers of this blog will know of my attachment to Colin Thompson’s work.  I have been patiently waiting for the second instalment in the newest series which will no doubt prove every bit as popular as the well-worn Floods titles on my library shelves.

The Contrast family, sent into space by entrepreneur Radius Limpfast, in the most exciting reality TV show yet are bored out of their brains after a mere week in space. When they realise that they are trapped for five years things look grim but fortunately (?) their genius robot rRego knows what is needed. He hacks into the spaceship and re-directs the family to what they think will be Earth – except it’s not.

Weirdly the family ends up on a very Earth-like planet – well except for that thing about the planet seems to have turned pink and has a couple of extra moons – and a strange human-disguised lizard population.

As usual Colin’s play on words, and digs at popular culture are prevalent and highly amusing.

Your Floods devotees are very quickly going to take up this newest series and I predict you will need multiple copies to keep up with demand.

Girl vs. Boy Band: The Right Track – Harmony Jones

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Bloomsbury Publishing Australia

Published: 01-07-2016

ISBN: 9781408868546

Imprint: Bloomsbury Childrens

RRP: $14.99

If you have girls who are pop fans and are looking for a little innocent romance along with an engaging story, this will be a very popular addition to your collection.

It’s light and frothy and a bit bubble-gummy but perfect for tweens who are looking for something between Enid Blyton and The Hunger Games.

Lark is a painfully shy but quite talented musician/songwriter who is feeling pretty aggrieved that her mother and father have split up. Her father a Nashville sessions musician has stayed in Tennessee while Lark and her mother, a budding music manager intent on building a successful business, have relocated to L.A. Needless to say this causes some friction between mother and daughter but even moreso when Donna imports a boy band from the UK with big plans for their promotion. The very last thing that Lark wants is Abbey Road living in her house; she’s already struggling with emotions and having to share her mother’s time but to do so with three cheeky English teenage boys is really the last straw.  Add to this mix Lark’s growing interest in a schoolmate with equal talent and his persuasive argument for her to join him in the school talent quest and you have all the makings for a great read for girls in Upper Primary.

Aside from the fluffiness, Lark’s growth as a more confident and assured young woman is a valuable model for other girls.

This is the first in a planned series and I can well imagine it will be a highly sought after title once the word spreads.

Recommended for girls from around 10-13 who are beginning to flex their own teenage wings.

The Giant’s Necklace – Michael Morpurgo. Illustrated by Briony May Smith

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Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9781406357127
Imprint: WALKER HARDBACK
Australian RRP: $19.99
New Zealand RRP: $22.99

Coming hot on the heels of my review of Michael’s ‘Such Stuff’ is this absolutely beautiful short story/novella which is both poignant and thrilling.  And of course, now I also want to know the ‘prompt’ for this particular story.

A family is on their annual summer holiday on the Cornish coast in the same cottage in which they always stay. As usual the secluded little beach is all theirs and for the entire stay, Cherry the youngest in the family has been vigilantly collecting perfect pink cowrie shells and stringing them into a ‘giant’s’ necklace much to the amusement of her four older brothers.

On the last day of the holiday Cherry is short of her target by only about a hundred shells and knows that she can achieve her goal.  Knowing the child is safe on the beach the family go back to pack up ready for the next morning’s departure leaving Cherry with her fixation.

But when the weather turns bad and the sea turns worse Cherry is cut off from her usual path home. At first she is frightened but realises she should be able to climb the cliff to safety. A strange light from a cave attracts her attention midway and she finds herself in an old copper mine where two old-fashioned Cornishmen are working away. They sense her distress, warm her and comfort her and eventually the younger man leads her to the surface and she is able to find her way home.

No spoilers here – to find out the twist in the tail/tale you will have to read it for yourself.

Beautifully presented in a small hardback with stunning illustrations and delicious glossy pages, this is a treat for the senses.

Highly recommended for readers from around nine years up.

Spark – Adam Wallace/Andrew Plant

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Ford St Publishing

ISBN: 9781925272406 (HC)
9781925272413 (PB)
Publication date: October 2016 (HC)
March 2017 (PB)

Price: AUD $24.95
Adam Wallace was 11 years old when the Ash Wednesday bushfires threatened his home.

Forced to leave with his grandmother, no car and a budgie in a cage, it was only a wind change that saved Adam’s home.

The memory still burns bright, even though Adam now lives in a bushfire-free area.”

 

With bushfire season approaching this publication could not be timelier. Of course we have seen a number of excellent titles, particularly picture books, over the years but this truly is exceptional. This is the first vivid and gripping account of a wildfire told from the PoV of the fire itself. This in itself makes the reader stop and reflect, particularly with the frontispiece of the smouldering cigarette butt.

There is no doubt that our Australian bushfires are frightening and so often cause such mass destruction and loss of life that we can tend to cast blame on the fire itself. But as we know more often than not the blame lies elsewhere. Most anger-making of all is those despicable persons who deliberately light them.

With this new slant, young readers can come to an understanding that it is not the fire’s ‘fault’. Starting as a spark, fuelled by an ever-demanding wind, the flames are just as much helpless as those who have had their homes and livelihoods destroyed or faced the fear and danger in quelling such blazes.

Adam’s text moves from whimsical to urgent and as always Andrew Plant’s illustrations are stunning. What a superb combination!

In my opinion, this is a ‘must have’ for your collection and should be on your read aloud list for Term 4 as we gird our metaphorical loins for another Australian summer.

Highly recommended for readers from Prep upwards.

The Adventures of Pipi the Pink Monkey – Carlo Collodi. Retold and expanded by  Alessandro Gallenzi and illustrated by Axel Scheffler.

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Bloomsbury Publishing Australia

Alma Classics

ISBN 9781847495594

RRP $19.99

July 2016

 

What’s that I hear you ask? Carlo Collodi? You mean the Italian guy who wrote Pinocchio? Yep, that’s the one I mean. And no, I didn’t know he wrote anything else either! By the way, if you have never read the original story but are only familiar with the contemporarised versions (like Disney) you should!

 

For the first time ever Collodi’s ‘other’ story for children has been translated into English and has also been tweaked by Alessandro Gallenzi. Alessandro is the co-founder of Alma Books (Alma being the Spanish for ‘soul’). This independent publishing company produces around seventy titles a year, many of them translations of classics in languages other than English.

 

Aside from the fascination of all of this (and I do mean fascination) the story of Pipi is quite charming. With definite overtones of the world’s most famous marionette, Pipi is very different to his brothers not only in his silky pink fur but also because he is the naughty one.

From stealing a peasant’s pipe to losing his tail while tormenting an old blind crocodile to meeting a little boy named Alfred and then being captured by an infamous brigand, Pipi adventure’s are thrilling.

And just as the Fairy with the Turquoise Hair (you know D’s Blue Fairy) promised Pinocchio that he could become a real boy, the rabbit with the turquoise fur makes good on the promise that Pipi will regain his beautiful tail, if only he keeps his word.
I truly love that I can hear Collodi’s turn of phrase and expression in this translation. The story is followed by a wealth of extra material for readers with a glossary of monkey language, biographical information about the author including a letter to his child readers, details of the characters and even other ‘literary’ apes/monkeys.

 

All in all this is a delightfully different addition to any primary library collection. Not least of all because the message it provides to young readers holds just as true today as it did in 19th century Italy.
Highly recommended for readers from around 8 years upwards.

Willy and the Cloud – Anthony Browne

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Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9781406366969
Imprint: WALKER HARDBACK
Release Date: October 1, 2016
Australian RRP: $24.99

Once again, one of my very favourite author/illustrators the immensely talented Anthony Browne takes a serious topic and transforms it into a sophisticated picture book that will be a perfect springboard for discussion with young readers.

Willy the chimp has taken us all on many explorations of concerns and everyday stresses and now helps us to unpack anxiety and depression for children. When Willy sets off for the park the day seems sunny and people seem happy but he is targeted by one lone black cloud which appears to follow him. No matter what he cannot seem to join in the happiness of the day because of this pesky hovering cloud. Finally he comes to a solution which banishes it and off he goes to make merry with his usual charm.

Partner this with Anna Walker’s CBC winner Mr Huff for a comprehensive discussion of an issue which, according to research, is a growing concern with many of our children.

Earlier this year I explored sophisticated picture books with my Year 5s and we naturally included Anthony Browne.  As well as his picture books (which promptly went flying out the door with excited girls) I also shared Anthony’s outstanding memoir – PlayingThe Shape Game co-written with his son Joe. I would strongly urge you to seek out this marvellous biography and of course, highly recommend this new picture book for your collection.

Perfect for sharing with children from around 5 years upwards.