Tag Archives: Friendship

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.

The Valley of Lost Secrets – Lesley Parr

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Bloomsbury Australia

February 2021

ISBN:9781526620521
Imprint:Bloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $14.99

Omg, I can’t tell you how much I loved this read during the week!! It completely reminds me of two much-loved favourites, Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden and Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian (both of which I own and have re-read many times), but with its whole new take on the situation of evacuee children in WWII.

Jimmy and his little brother have been evacuated from London to a Welsh valley – traditional, coal-mining families and either open welcomes or suspicion of ‘foreigners’. Mr and Mrs Thomas are warm and caring, and little Ronnie is quickly comfortable with both, but Jimmy is both distrustful and resentful. He’s already lost his mum, who took off leaving the brothers with their dad and grandmother, and he’s certainly not ready to treat this temporary stay as ‘home’. The entire London contingent seem different here. Jimmy’s best friend, now lodged with the local minister’s family, has turned into a nasty bully like the Reverend’s son and Florence, uncared for and abused at home, blossoms into a true friend.

Jimmy is to realise that even a temporary family can be a solace but first there are difficulties to overcome and these are complicated when the boy discovers a human skull hidden in the hollow of an old tree. Enough to scare even an adult, this find has Jimmy scrambling for someone to trust and sometimes an ally can be found in the most unlikely quarter. The secrets of the valley are gradually revealed as Jimmy and his little tribe work together to solve a decades old mystery, and bring much needed comfort to a long-held grief.

We do know, of course, that not all the evacuated children had happy experiences and we cannot begin to comprehend how overwhelming or unnerving the whole exercise would have been even for those who did. In those times, many city children had never had any experience of wide open spaces, nature and the reality of rural living – some didn’t even know that milk came from cows!

Young readers, particularly those who are fond of such stories set in wartime, will find much to love about this narrative. The strong themes of family, friendship and bravery are very inspirational and will give many children finding our current circumstances difficult some insight in dealing with similar events.

Highly recommended for your readers from around ten years upwards.

The StrangeWorlds Travel Agency : The Edge of the Ocean Book #2 – L. D. Lapinski

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Hachette Australia

APR 13, 2021 | 9781510105959 | RRP $16.99

Now that Flick is officially a member of the StrangeWorlds Travel Agency, and with one exciting adventure already under her belt, in which she demonstrated some unexpected and remarkable powers, she and Jonathan Mercator are summoned to help another world. This time they are joined by Jonathan’s distant cousin, Avery, to whom Flick takes a strange instant dislike.

The urgent request for help has come from Queen Nyfe, who rules as a pirate chief over a motley crew of almost skeletal ships, in a world called The Break. This strange watery flat world is used to ships disappearing over the edge but in recent times, it’s become apparent that the world is breaking up and so the dangers have increased exponentially for Nyfe, her crew as well as the other mariners and the mer-people who also inhabit the once vast ocean.

Flick, Jonathan and Avery face more than just the pressure of saving The Break’s peoples. The various inhabitants are fighting amongst themselves and navigating the subterfuge on all sides is tricky indeed. Added to this is the shocking realisation that Jonathan’s lost father appears to be indeed dead and his grief renders him almost helpless in the struggle to work out how to transport ships, gigantic mer-people and pirates through a suitcase to a new and suitable world – even if they can actually find one that will fit the bill. And then there is the (to Flick’s mind, weird) way her feelings towards Avery and what seems to be a reciprocal feeling change as the quest unfolds.

Once again, this series delivers amazingly rich narrative with characters with whom readers will fall in love. I, for one, will eagerly anticipate the next instalment and your readers from around middle primary upwards will adore this new instalment.

Tiger Daughter – Rebecca Lim

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Allen & Unwin

February 2021

ISBN: 9781760877644

Imprint: A & U Children

Rebecca Lim has created a powerful and highly engaging #OwnVoices novel that captures the circumstances for some children, growing up Asian in Australia.

Wen Zhou is the only child of Chinese immigrants who came to Australia for a better life, only to find it not so. Her father has failed three times to secure a surgeon’s post in this country and refuses to take on anything lower, though he is a highly competent doctor who would easily find a place elsewhere in the health system. Wen and her mother live in a perpetual state of anxiety and almost fear with her father’s rigid rules and anger issues. Wen despairs of ever getting out of the rut in which she finds herself and her friend Henry is also in the same situation, though because of different circumstances. With the support of their teacher both children are preparing themselves for a scholarship exam that could help them move forward to a brighter future.

When tragedy strikes Henry’s family, Wen persuades her mother to help her support her friend and they begin a cautious campaign to do so, while hiding all evidence of their help from Wen’s father. Little by little both mother and daughter begin to find their own voices again and when Mr Zhou loses his job, they are able to manage an even greater shift in the domestic power.

The resilience and compassion demonstrated by Wen makes for marvellous reading and few readers would remain unimpressed. This is not just a novel for your Asian students (although we certainly have those in a majority at my own school) but one that will promote understanding of different cultural and family perspectives.

It was a compelling read – I binge read it in one afternoon – and I highly recommend for your readers from Upper Primary

upwards. Find teaching notes at Allen & Unwin.

Bad Habits – Flynn Meaney

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Penguin Australia

February 2021

  • ISBN: 9780241407196
  • Imprint: Penguin
  • Format: Paperback
  • RRP: $16.99

Hands down, this is the funniest and most enjoyable YA novel I’ve read in ages! Naturally, the super stunning cover is a real drawcard but when I tell you that I’ve ripped through it over just the last couple of nights, you can guess it was just a joy!

Alex Heck really doesn’t like St Mary’s. After her mother floated off to a Buddhist retreat and her parents’ divorce was finalised, her dad shipped her off to his old boarding school in record time. Now in her junior year she’s racked up more visits to the principal’s office than anyone on campus and seemingly, about to be expelled for her latest contretemps (out after curfew visiting a boy’s dorm room). Really, she couldn’t be more pleased about that result but she hasn’t calculated on Father Hughes, principal, calling in her dad who, as it happens was at school with her major adversary, and suddenly her imminent expulsion is off the cards again. Alex riles up even more than her usual bolshie style suggests and determines that one way or another she WILL get herself expelled. Given her strident feminist principles she devises the perfect plan. She will produce the first St Mary’s performance of The Vagina Monologues. Alex is pretty certain that the word ‘vagina’ alone will be enough to bring her plot to fruition. But somehow the whole exercise becomes more than just shocking the nuns and priests and circumventing the strict rules enforced by the very conservative school.

Alex’ interactions with her sweet room-mate, Mary Kate, her burgeoning relationship with hockey player Pat (she HATES sports jocks!), her ongoing scorn of Katie Casey, President of Save Your Heart (the club for promoting abstinence) and the way she is the ‘go to’ person for all the girls with problems in her dorm hall are pure hilarity. Somehow, her purple lady-fauxhawk, piercings and tat, vegan leather jacket and tough motorcycle boots just cannot withstand the growing certainty that she is becoming an integral part of the St Mary’s community and far from feeling frustrated at not achieving her goal, she discovers that she can make a difference and that there is strength in numbers.

This is just a delightful romp through themes of the importance of good friends, not judging on appearances and finding your own voice, as well as joining voices with unexpected supporters. There is a liberal use of strong language and frequent sexual references so for most of us this means this will need to be a Senior Fiction title only but truly it deserves to be read and enjoyed by many teens determined to find their own identity and place in their world.

My highest recommendation for this thoroughly entertaining and thought-provoking novel for readers from around 15 years upwards.

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!!

Friday Barnes #9: No Escape – R. A. Spratt

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Penguin Australia

  • February 2021
  • ISBN: 9781760895761
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $15.99

R. A. Spratt (aka Rachel) said to me ‘NO spoilers’ when I mentioned I was about to review this new Friday Barnes instalment and given she is both fit and feisty albeit small, I am not about to quibble! So here’s my rather ‘different’ review ;-).

A) Friday is now the same age as The Kid – growing up indeed!

B) The Kid will be going on her first ever school camp this year as she commences Year 10 at her new school and I will be running full checks on any accompanying teachers – just saying.

C) We live with an Italian, and know others, and I have come to the conclusion that they are ALL crazy!

D) When I reviewed #8 in the series on this blog two years ago I commented that I almost had a full-scale riot in my library when I said it would (as I had been told) be the last in the series. Like me, my kiddos just love Friday so much – so they are going to go wild when this new one appears when school goes back.

As with the others in this series there is loads of action and double doses of laugh-out-loud humour as Friday continues to awkwardly navigate her way through confronting social and emotional situations without ever losing her brilliance and genius-level powers of deduction. I loved it, your kids will love it too. I strongly suggest buying multiple copies so put it on your orders list now!!!!

Thanks so much R. A. for bringing Friday back – you know how much we all love her – horrible brown cardigan, porkpie hat, quirky but smart and, above all, the kid you’d most want to have as your friend.

Check out the blurb here at Penguin – then I can’t be blamed for any spoilers!!

Highly recommended for readers from around mid-primary upwards.

Coffee and laughs at the Shingle Inn – memorable outing!!