Category Archives: Childrens books

The Golden Tower – Belinda Murrell

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Penguin Australia

  • March 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760897093
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

 

Belinda Murrell’s time-slip adventures have always been thrilling and captivating and this new one does not fail to do the same.

Sophie is feeling a little down. Though she loves her English grandmother dearly, she’s a little bored with her extended stay while her mum and younger brother are in Oxford at Archie’s camp for super-smart kids. Sophie has far too much time to think about her problems with bullying Indigo, back at her Sydney school, and her struggles with dyslexia, always feeling a failure, and aside
from all that the English summer is very wet – as is usual – and so pretty dull in all senses. Dull that is, until she’s out walking in the muddy fields and follows a very disreputable looking cat into a mysterious cave, which turns out to be an old Roman ruin. In less time than a cat takes for a quick groom of its whiskers, Sophie has stumbled into a strange but beautiful land and finds herself almost accidentally saving the life of a little girl from a rampaging wild boar. And so, Sophie finds herself caught up in the Tuscian world and embroiled in a complicated family situation, where she is the only one who can help siblings Isabella and little Bia escape the horrible plans of their stepmother – a truly wicked stepmother, in the very best fairy tale tradition.
In this mysterious world full of beauty and magic such as talking cats, flying horses and funny little mischief-makers, the muzzamurelli, Sophie discovers within herself a strength and resilience she had no idea she possessed as well discovering a very special secret.

Drawing on Italian folktales and motifs of traditional stories, Belinda Murrell has also been inspired by the history of Renaissance noble families and the daughters who were raised to be skilled, intelligent, well-educated, and influential as well as by music, art, architecture, and culture. Thus, this beautifully exciting narrative becomes more than just a fantasy-adventure but a delightful excursion into a fascinating, though often cruel, historical period.

When I say I had to force myself to stop reading over the past few nights because the story was so completely engrossing, I guess you can safely assume that I give this my highest recommendation for your readers from around 10 years upwards. I know I will have many young readers in my own library who will be leaping for this first-rate magical adventure. 

Oh and just look at that stunning cover design! It’s a triumph! click here for links to pre-order

 

Kensy and Max #7: Take Down – Jacqueline Harvey

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Penguin Australia

March 2 2021

  • ISBN: 9781760898533
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

The countdown to Take Down is on! The kiddos are going to be wild with excitement to read this new adventure with the spies-in-training, as they set off for the World STEM championships in exotic Singapore. The team from the Central London Free School are thrilled to be in the finals for the world’s most prestigious STEM competition but when their grandmother, Dame Cordelia Spencer, falls victim to a poison attack, Kensy and Max are not so keen on going ahead with the trip. However, they are persuaded by their parents and friends that not only will they be safer in Singapore but that their obligation to the team is more important than sitting around in a hospital waiting room. Naturally, that proves dead wrong as the twins and their friends become embroiled with an illegal animal smuggling operation, the very dangerous villain who has been pursuing their family and the mystery surrounding their friend Autumn’s missing parents.

Once again Jacqueline Harvey has hit on a winning combination, combining the growing concerns around the illegal trade in exotic species and STEM, which is arguably the hottest topic in education at present, not to mention the reference to the dangerous nerve drug which was the subject of a recent (and huge) political attack. Kensy and Max prove themselves to be increasingly resourceful and creative and the growing emphasis on their friends’ skills and aptitudes, and their developing teamwork, will provide fans with more rich fodder for discussion and engagement. This underlining of family and friends being vital to our overall safety, success and achievements (no matter how talented we may be as individuals) is a valuable point of reflection for readers.

For those who have not had the pleasure of visiting Singapore it is a thoroughly delightful vicarious tourist experience, highlighting the best of the iconic sights and experiences to be found in this amazing city/country. Though the Kid has spent a week there, I’ve only had the brief encounter with a stop-over in the airport, sadly, and would love to see more of this vibrant and beautiful place – maybe one day!

There is never any need to ‘sell’ Jacqueline’s books, but this comes with my highest recommendation for your readers from around Year 4 upwards as the series gets edgier, more exciting and more in-depth with each new volume. Available for pre-order now, so don’t miss out – your kids will be waiting very impatiently for it to hit your shelves!!

Heroes of the Secret Underground – Susanne Gervay

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Harper Collins Australia

April 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460758335
  • ISBN 10: 1460758331
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
  • List Price: 16.99 AUD

What an absolute privilege to review Susanne’s new historical fiction inspired by, and a tribute to her own family’s history in Budapest during the last years of World War II.

12 year old Louie lives with her two younger brothers, Bert and Teddy, in a beautiful old-style hotel with her Hungarian grandparents, Zoltan and Verushka. The children’s parents are world-renown musicians who are often away but the three children love living in the Hotel Majestic, an oasis of magnolias and tranquility in a busy city. There are always interesting guests, the busyness of helping their Pa and Grandma with the daily tasks and the fascinating building itself to explore continually.

When Louie glimpses a strange girl in the street and finds a stunning rose gold locket the secrets of the past begin to slowly reveal themselves. There are certain clues the children find in the hotel itself but the locket is the talisman that transports them to a dark and dreadful time in their grandparents’ lives – Budapest 1944 and the cruel tyranny of the Nazis.

The mysterious girl, Naomi, is their guide into the dangerous world of the secret Jewish underground and the siblings become involved in a fraught mission to help rescue dozens of children as well as restoring the wondrous locket to its rightful owner. They are amazed to realise that they are watching their own grandparents, mere children themselves, heroically leading in this deadly encounter. As this hidden history unfolds, Louie understands so much more about her gracious grandparents and all they have overcome to reach the peaceful present.

There are moments of real terror and anguish but these are beautifully balanced with the hope and courage demonstrated by all the young people involved. For those of us who are fortunate enough to never have experienced such unspeakable horror there is inspiration that even in the darkest times there are those willing to stand up and resist.

A year ago at the World Holocaust Forum Prince Charles said “The lessons of the Holocaust are searingly relevant to this day. Seventy-five years after the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, hatred and intolerance still lurk in the human heart, still tell new lies, adopt new disguises, and still seek new victims.”

We must continue to empower our young people to vigorously oppose the ongoing spread of hatred and bigotry that is still so prevalent. In my opinion, encouraging our readers to examine and reflect upon the past is one powerful way to do this.

This has my highest recommendation for young readers from upper primary onwards. Pre-orders available from Booktopia or Amazon

Shalom aleichem 

The Tram to Bondi Beach [40th anniversary edition] – Libby Hathorn. Illustrated by Julie Vivas.

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Harper Collins Australia

January 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460759660
  • ISBN 10: 1460759664
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
  • List Price: 24.99 AUD

The one problem with book anniversaries is just how old it makes one feel!

The amazing creative partnership of these two literary talents resulted in the CBCA Highly Commended Picture Book award for 1982 and forty years after publication it is still evident why this was considered to be outstanding.

The glimpse into a Sydney long past when trams rattle noisily down the streets of Bondi encapsulates an era of simpler times when children had very different aspirations and interests. Kieran wants nothing more than to be a paperboy just like those he sees on the busy streets selling papers to the passengers on the trams that he loves so much, but his father thinks he is just too young. On his ninth birthday his father finally agrees to speak to local newsagent, Mr Francis, who agrees that he can certainly use another helper for ‘rush hour’ (if only Sydney rush hour was still the same!). He promises that Saxon, the older and more experienced paper boy, will look after Kieran. Saxon, however, has other ideas. He’s very resentful of someone else on his turf. It takes a near disaster for the older boy to accept his younger colleague and together the two boys establish a successful arrangement, satisfying to both.

Vivas’ illustrations of the Bondi of the past: streets, beach, residents, family life, are redolent of the time and would offer a great opportunity for exploration and discovery of children’s own local history. Spreads that are jumping with action are balanced with those which make wonderful use of white space to provide a whole vista of a long-gone scene.

Together these two have crafted a narrative that is nostalgic for older people but a wondrous insight into the past for young readers. This is an anniversary to put on your library calendar for sure with endless opportunities for children to be involved – old-time dress, faux tram rides with tickets, rolling and throwing newspapers, investigating the past of their local areas and family history.

As deserving of a place on your shelves now as it was forty years ago, I thoroughly recommend it to you for readers from around 6 years upwards.

Poo! and other words that make me laugh – Felice Arena/Tom Jellett

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Harper Collins Australia

January 2020

  • ISBN: 9780733341427
  • ISBN 10: 073334142X
  • Imprint: ABC Books – AU
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD

Kids love words – there’s no doubt about that all – and they particularly love rambunctious words I have found. One time, when I taught my darling Year 1/2 class about onomatopoeia in our little school (just 100 kids), they were so delighted with being able to say it. I swore them to secrecy to not, under any circumstances, tell the Year 7s when they went out to the playground – as ‘those big kids, you know, they’re not good with difficult words’ ;-). Naturally the first thing they all did was run shrieking at any big kid they saw “We can say ‘onomatopoeia’ and you can’t!’. It was rather amusing.

Of course, ‘poo’ is a very popular word with little kiddos especially but just think how you could enrich them with words such as squeegee, dilly-dally and succotash!

That’s what this riotously funny book is all about – the magic of weird and wonderful words. Tom Jellett’s always distinctive illustrations fill each page with glorious colour and vibrancy and the children will just lap it all up. The addition of a glossary to inform the reader of meanings of the crazy words is a superb touch!

This will easily springboard into an ongoing word wall with some little word detectives sleuthing out some additional unusual, quirky or obsolete words to build into their burgeoning vocabularies. I’m pretty sure that it will also be a pretty simple step towards moving away from ‘POO!’ into something far more hilarious for common usage – ‘bumbershoot’ perhaps?

Highly recommended for fun and learning for little – or even bigger – readers from around 3 years upwards.

The Fire Wombat – Jackie French. Illustrated by Danny Snell.

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Harper Collins Australia

October 2020

  • ISBN: 9781460759332
  • ISBN 10: 1460759338
  • Imprint: HarperCollins – AU
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD

A year ago Australia was gripped by the raging fires that were sweeping through so many areas with ferocity causing so much devastation in their wake that the whole world was gasping as the scenes were broadcast. According to sources the destruction wreaked by Black Summer was unprecedented: 72 000 square miles burnt, 5 900 buildings destroyed (around half of these homes) and 34 people lost their lives. An estimated three billion land animals were impacted with some endangered species suspected to be now extinct. The Kid and I were visiting family in the Blue Mountains and the constant vigilance and state of alert around the fires that kept springing up across the ranges was both exhausting and stressful. Jackie French was just one of thousands evacuated when her home came under threat and given that the valley in which she lives is heavily populated with wildlife she was a firsthand witness to the dreadful impact on our native species.

With so many animals displaced and their food/water supplies destroyed an army of volunteers took on the role of providing fodder and clean water for thousands of creatures who otherwise would have succumbed as victims in the aftermath.

The Fire Wombat is just one of these and Jackie has crafted a beautiful testament in rhyme to illustrate the survival of our fauna, both with their own instincts and the compassionate help of so many.

One small wombat realises that bushfire is approaching and leads other animals to the shelter of her burrow, knowing that underground is the safest place to be. When the inferno has passed the creatures emerge and try to make their way out of the charred remains of their home territory, scalding their paws as they traverse the baked earth. But the fires have destroyed everything – grass, seeds, foliage, creeks and waterholes. If not for the legion of helpers dropping tons of carrots and other fodder as well as providing water, the decimation of our native wildlife would have been even greater. Jackie has captured this moving moment in our history beautifully and Danny Snell’s illustrations are a perfect accompaniment providing visual insight into the terrible destruction of the forests and mountainsides.

A truly beautiful book to both springboard discussions about supporting our fragile environment, caring for our wildlife and preparing for as well as recovering from bushfire season.

Watch Jackie’s video clip of the real Fire Wombat – now chubby and healthy after her recuperation.

You can find other images of animal rescue from Black Summer here at the Atlantic and an inspiring video of the work done by volunteers in saving animals.

I cannot recommend this highly enough – I would encourage multiple copies for your collection – and teaching notes are also available which will provide excellent scaffolding for use in your library or classroom.