Alice-Miranda in Egypt [Alice-Miranda #20] – Jacqueline Harvey

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Penguin Australia

  •  June 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760891046
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • RRP: $16.99

Put it on your ‘new books’ display and stand well back because the danger of stampede is very real! Twenty books on and everyone’s favourite little schoolgirl is still guaranteed to excite your readers – and not just your junior readers either. I know several older girls – including one who started university this year! – who are still dedicated A-M fans!

In this new adventure Alice-Miranda and her buddies are off on the trip of a lifetime, as part of the Queen’s Colours leadership program; to Egypt, the land of hidden tombs, ancient monuments, fascinating culture and, of course, camels and palm trees. But the cultural and historical aspects of the trip are not the only exciting highlights. As always it seems, wherever Alice-Miranda goes, mysteries follow, and along with those, some other trifling life problems – such as two boys (unsuccessfully) vying for her attention.

Alice-Miranda has several threads to unravel in this sojourn among the sands; the financial problems of the school and Miss Reedy’s anguish over being the possible cause of these, the extremely odd behaviour of the supposed expert standing in for renowned Dr Hassam, Minister for Antiquities, the suspicious actions of Masud, son of the group’s very knowledgeable guide and the puzzle of how precious artefacts are being smuggled out of the country. Really, it’s all pretty much bread-and-butter to our little dynamo – even though she and bestie Millie wonder aloud if they will ever have a ‘quiet’ holiday!- and readers will enjoy the fast-paced action which is interspersed with rich historic and cultural details.

Again Alice-Miranda demonstrates the resourcefulness, intelligence and empathy that we all associate with her character and which endears her so much to her readers. There are also some really top moments in the narrative which bring strong emotions to the fore as what I would call the “Alice-Miranda effect” influences the actions of her team mates, which will really resonate with readers.

There really is never any need to ‘promote’ a new Jacqueline Harvey book and particularly this series – they simply fly off the shelves and are always in high demand – however, you will no doubt still want to book talk it with your other new titles, if only to watch the scramble afterwards to be the first to grab it!

As always, highly recommended for your readers from around Year 4 upwards.

Endangered Animal Tales 1: Coco, the Fish with Hands – Aleesah Darlison. Illustrated by Mel Matthews.

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Penguin Random House

June 2021

  • ISBN: 9781760899226
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 32
  • RRP: $19.99

Yesterday at the EdSummit conference Brisbane, I had the great joy of hearing the amazing Aleesah Darlison deliver a lively and engaging presentation called “Saving the Environment through Story”. Uber-talented Aleesah has long been a huge advocate for the environment and has repeatedly taken up the cause of various creatures through her creative work. And what better time to write this review than following that experience on this, World Environment Day!!

This new series from Penguin/Puffin is going to be a real winner with little people, their parents and educators as it explores hitherto not-so-well-known Aussie critters.

First up is the adorable and really very special spotted handfish which is found only in the Derwent estuary near Hobart, Tasmania. Young children will love to hear about Coco and while this is not a narrative in the traditional sense it has a strong sense of story mixed in with the fascinating facts. These sweet and interesting little fish are critically endangered and it is imperative that we all do what we can to protect and conserve the most humblest and smallest of creatures – because they all have their important role to play.

Highlighting the information which is presented in such a palatable and easily accessible way are the absolutely tremendous illustrations from Mel Matthews. Having read the book last weekend, and then listening to Aleesah yesterday my mind immediately raced as to the many possibilities for activities, inquiry and action that one could undertake with kiddos. For those who are looking to focusing on Australian species and taking an active stance on conversation this series is going to be absolute gold, in my opinion.

I’m so thrilled to be able to count Aleesah amongst my literary friends – her talent, generosity of spirit and genuine commitment to educating and encouraging children to take up the challenge of protecting our fragile environment.

Read more about the series here and find teaching resources here – our junior library is about to populate a gifted fish tank with inhabitants and I think this is going to be a perfect accompaniment to that real-life activity.

I cannot recommend this highly enough and am so looking forward to seeing the forthcoming series titles!!! Well done Aleesah on another evident success!!

The Boy Who Stepped Through Time – Anna Ciddor

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Allen & Unwin

ISBN:9781760526443

Publisher:A&U Children’s

Imprint:A & U Children

Pub Date:June 2021

RRP: $16.99

Once again Anna Ciddor has crafted an historical narrative that will both entertain her readers with humour, drama, terrific characters and exciting storylines, and inform them with fascinating, and no doubt, previously unknown facts about life in Ancient Rome. Perry, leaves his family holiday in modern-day France behind , when he accidentally travels back 1700 years to a Gaul occupied by the Romans, . While that in itself would be quite shocking and unsettling, it is even more disturbing for the boy to discover he is a merely a lowly slave, in the household of a quite wealthy family.

Whisked from crumbling ruins in the 21st century, where his family are enjoying a festival celebrating the Roman history of the locale, Perry finds himself in the original Villa Rubia, and – due to his mum’s choice of festival costume for him – mistaken for the new slave boy, expected to carry out the most menial of tasks, sleep in what is basically just a hut and eat the most unappetising of foods, including mice!

Apart from his complete ignorance in not only the ways of ancient Roman households but obviously also the expectations of a slave boy, Perry struggles in his forced adaptation to his new circumstances as he attempts to find a way to return to the present. But his longing to be back with his family is tempered by his growing attachment to his new friends, particularly Camilla Valentia, daughter of the household – about whom, Perry has foreknowledge of her fate, having seen her tomb during his present-day holiday.

Your readers will love this for the adventure and the friendship theme but also the fascinating tidbits about life in ancient Rome – be it wine-making, daily meals, dress, the vernacular expressions, school or other customs. They will also feel deeply Perry’s frustration as he tries every conceivable option to get back to his real life and family.

I have already talked this one up with my ChocLit group – coincidentally our Year 7s are just finishing off their first History unit of inquiry on ancient civilisations so they were rather excited about it. Highly recommended for your readers from around Year 5 upwards.

Temporarily MiA

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Yes it’s been a few weeks since I’ve put up any reviews – though I’ve still been reading. I have some family/personal issues complicating life at present and my mental acuity is stretched to its utmost accommodating those.

I hope to be back on deck in the next week or so – have read some great books, so hopefully you will pop back in!

How Stella Learned to Talk – Christina Hunger

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Allen & Unwin

May 2021

ISBN: 9781760878764

RRP: $32.99

Put your hand up if you’ve ever said, ‘My dog understands every word I say.’ Now put your hand up again if you have ever wished that your dog would not only understand you but be able to ‘speak’ to you. That’s where this amazing and completely incredible story will utterly blow you away – and believe me, you won’t want to miss it.

Of course, we have known for years that animals can understand us and some have even been able to communicate with us in simple ways – think Koko and signing. It would be truly presumptuous for humans to imagine that we are the only species capable of communication, however ‘speaking’ words has been somewhat more problematic, and for many, implausible.

When newly qualified speech therapist, Christina Hunger, and her partner, Jake, adopted their puppy, Stella, this highly skilled and intuitive young woman quickly noticed that the puppy displayed many similarities to the toddlers with whom she works, in what appeared to be attempts to communicate. Christina is a big advocate of AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) devices to help her child clients become vocal and posited to friends and family that such a device might enable her puppy to ‘speak’ as well.

Stella’s journey from inquisitive and intelligent puppy with a load of personality is punctuated with one breakthrough after another as Christina introduces a purpose-devised method for Stella to know, understand, and contextualise not just single words but phrases. In addition to this being a memoir of the pair’s incredible narrative and an expansion of Christina’s sharing via her blog Hunger for Words, this volume provides a ‘how to’ guide for other dog owners who might want to explore their own pet’s potential for interactive speech.

This is a memoir filled with joy and love as well as its revolutionary and innovative premise and will have enormous appeal to every pooch owner who has ever talked to their fur-child with as much respect and affection as they would to their human family.

Highly recommended for all dog-lovers but also those who are interested in the whole process of acquisition of language.

Truly Tan Shocked! – Jen Storer. Illustrated by Clare Robertson

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Harper Collins Australia

January 2021

  • ISBN: 9780733334146
  • ISBN 10: 0733334148
  • Imprint: ABC Books AU
  • List Price: 17.99 AUD

It has been ages since I’ve had the delight of reading a new Truly Tan book and the joy has not diminished one whit!

In this new adventure Tan and Gloria are most worried about their teacher, Miss Dragone, who has been acting most peculiarly: taking cooking classes to make delicious muffins, having her eyebrows and nails ‘done’, buying a fancy new bike – all kinds of weird stuff. Naturally, the determined spies are set on finding out exactly what is going on and confirming their suspicions that not all is well with their teacher.

Tan is also dealing with the very disquieting upcoming birth of a fifth Callahan sibling. She is not at all comfortable with losing her place as the youngest in the family, especially for yet another sister. As it is, the Lollipops (her older sisters) are all being as mental as ever and in fact, more so, as Emerald prepares for the starring role in the school production and deals with her first boyfriend break-up, Amber is seething with jealousy having only made the chorus of the show and Rose is wafting in and out of her home-made yurt reading everyone’s aura and communing with the bush fairies. And just to top it off, Tan feels that her 10th birthday – such a special occasion – will be completely overshadowed, indeed forgotten, in all the kerfuffle around her.

As usual, all is pretty chaotic really, yet Tan and Gloria press on with their investigation, with Tan’s diary entries (and the vivid description of which pen she is using) providing highlights of each stage. The explanations of unusual words at the conclusion of each chapter again provide readers with some bonus material.

Will Tan and Gloria uncover the truth about the Mystery of Miss Dragone? Will Tan get a special celebration for her birthday? And will she be able to cope with the arrival of Callahan #5?

All in all, absolutely great fun as always – these are ‘truly’ laugh-out-loud books that will appeal strongly to your independent readers.

Highly recommended for kiddos from around 8 years upwards.

The Prison Healer – Lynette Noni

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Penguin Australia

  • Published: 30 March 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760897512
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 416
  • RRP: $24.99

I’m going to have a lot of my secondary students clamoring for this one. They are huge fans of Noni’s previous books, both boys and girls and this is another intriguing dark fantasy (with some dystopian touches) thriller for them to enjoy.

Set in an infamous death prison, Zalindov, seventeen year old Kiva has survived ten years of imprisonment – not for any wrong-doing as such but because she was captured along with her father who was charged with consorting with rebels.

After her father’s death Kiva took up his role as healer, then only aged 12, and has become an indispensable but hated prisoner. Seen as the Warden’s pet and the first to deal with incoming criminals by treating them and carving the ‘Z’ into the back of their hand, Kiva is reviled by the other inmates and it is only the orders of Warden Rooke that keep her relatively safe and whole.

The warring factions in Kiva’s world, the royal family and the rebels, are intent on creating division and this extends to the prisoners as well. The rising tensions within and without the prison are causing increased pressure on Kiva’s work in the infirmary and her emotional balance, held in check for so long. When the Rebel Queen is captured, gravely ill, Kiva must try to save her for two different reasons. One is that the authorities have ordered the rebel leader to be well enough to undergo the Trials by Ordeal and the other is that coded messages from her siblings on the outside have begged her to keep the queen safe, that they are coming to rescue them both. The arrival of a strangely mysterious prisoner, Jaren, threatens to upset Kiva’s balance even more and when she, in desperation, volunteers to submit to the Trials in place of the still sick queen, she must lean on the young man for help to endure and survive. At the same time, she is trying to uncover the reason for the mystery illness that is wreaking havoc with the prisoners, who are dying in droves.

This is complex and exciting with many twists and turns. Astute readers will very easily be able to piece together the various pieces of the puzzle from the cleverly inserted clues within the narrative but this will in no way detract from a satisfying read. It is quite dark and there are concepts best suited to older and mature readers: drug use/addiction, torture and violence and sexual references but that being said, I don’t feel it would be necessary to restrict this to our senior students (we put a disclaimer inside the cover for books with more mature issues/concepts).

I have every confidence that this new trilogy will prove every bit as popular as The Medoran Chronicles and with the second volume due for release in September, fans will not have to wait too long.

Highly recommended for readers from around 14 years upwards.