Tag Archives: Friendships

The Boy Who Hatched Monsters- T. C. Shelley

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Bloomsbury Publishing

March 2022

ISBN9781526600790
ImprintBloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP: $14.99

This is just an absolutely marvellous conclusion to T. C. Shelley’s trilogy and Sam’s struggle for both acceptance and a real family. Readers who love such stories as How to Train Your Dragon and The House with Chicken Legs (with rather more darkness) or Neil Gaiman’s magical fantasies (but with rather more light) will love this series. Don’t let your older readers be misled by the covers – which are gorgeous in themselves but lend themself to a more primary audience – because I’ve had a lot of Year 7s and 8s reading these and just loving them. I think they will be happy/sad that Sam’s epic journey has come to a beautiful end.

Sam, half monster/half fairy, has not only that secret to keep but many others. For example, there’s the one about his pack – the gargoyles who protect him, and the one about his school friends, the shape shifters who can change into dogs at will. There’s also the one about the rumour that he is the new King of Ogres and that Queen Maggie, the very nasty faerie who purports to be his mother, is delighted to find out that has more powers than she had imagined. Not to mention that he’s hatched a tiny gargoyle just by sneezing – and that the Kavanagh family, with whom he is fostered, are, in fact, his real family, from whom he was stolen many years before. Sam is not one to bow down and do evil, no matter how high the stakes, so he must find a way forward to defeat Maggie and create a new world for monsterkind. With the aid of his pack and his own innate goodness and ability to express kindness to all, he is well on his way to a fitting climax to his arduous battle.

There is high drama, and much humour. There is unswerving belief in acting with integrity, and there is unshakeable loyalty. There is a wonderful lesson in diversity and accepting differences, and, above all, the importance of love, especially that for family and friends.

I have loved this series so much – and I am also happy/sad that it has come to an end but I do look forward very much to T. C. Shelley’s next foray into writing – particularly if it is for upper primary/lower secondary.

Highly recommended for your lovers of magical fantasy from around 9 years upwards.

Teaching notes from the author

James Gong: the Chinese Dragon – Paul Collins

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Hybrid Publishers

February 2022

ISBN: 9781925736793

RRP: $16.99

Your middle school kids will love this second instalment of James Gong (see James Gong: The Big Hit if you missed the first). Paul Collins has drawn on his experiences as a martial arts expert to bring another action-packed episode in the life of James Gong to readers with the same fun and verve as the first.

Since his big movie role of the earlier book, James has moved into virtual martial arts (I sure didn’t know that even existed!) and has been participating in competition, in which Ming Lee, the Chinese Dragon, is the undisputed virtso Queen. James’ friends, Ethan and Jay, are back as well as his nemesis Brian Tossa, but the new relationship that builds between James and Ming is a real plus. They make a very satisfyingly balanced combination – James, with his usual ham-fisted and often sketchy decisions, and Ming, who is far more considered and level-headed. Of course, nothing stops the pair from entering into the illegal virtso competitive field where the stakes, and dangers, are even higher but with any luck their combined ‘skills’ might win through.

I know nothing about martial arts, let alone the virtual kind, but it is very obvious that Paul’s expertise in this field is not exaggerated as his details provide authenticity to all the action, which is both exciting and tense. It is this that will prove the drawcard to your readers, particularly those who are reluctant to pick up novels. It is a very easily accessible text for the not-so-strong readers, with the non-stop exploits creating genuine engagement.

This is a definite promo for my new Year 9 English kiddos, many of whom have put their hands up to admit they are not readers. This could definitely be a winner with some of them I know.

Highly recommended for readers from around 12 years upwards.

Friday Barnes #10: Undercover – R. A. Spratt

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Penguin Australia

February 2022

  • ISBN: 9781761043659
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $15.99

Some readers of this blog may recall my review of the ‘re-appearance’ of Friday and her cronies. My kiddos at school lost their minds when it hit the shelves so make sure you stand back again because the rush will be on. Now that Friday et al are all teens, the secondary kids are tremendously excited to get back into one of their favourite series from primary school. They still relish the clever plots, Friday’s quirkiness and the unravelling of mysteries but also to enjoy the growing romances and relationships. Naturally, where Friday is concerned, romance is never going to be a smooth ride. Naturally, since her stint in jail, Friday is even more emotionally fragile, something her best friend Melanie pinpoints very astutely.

Friday is most definitely not avoiding big decisions (like working with her Uncle Bernie and Ian, her nemesis/boyfriend, investigating crimes) and she’s certainly not avoiding Ian and their growing romance (using the word very loosely). She is in fact, helping out her best friend’s brother in his hour of great need. Mel’s brother, Binky, is now living in the land of his beloved Ingrid and, following the directive of Ingrid’s stern father the King, is serving out the required term in the Norwegian army. All of this is fine but when Binky ends up being charged with dereliction of duty, he calls upon Friday to help him prove his innocence. Of course she does. But there’s more to come in Norway (and beyond): Princess Ingrid’s upcoming 21st birthday (and the mysterious incidents which keep preventing her return to Oslo), continuing art thefts across Europe, the reasons behind Binky’s set up and the connection with the Global Seed Vault.

Like all the Friday books this is a joyous romp with plenty of snort laugh moments but the growing depth to the plot lines, character development and interactions offers more for the serious and thoughtful reader. I’ll have great pleasure talking this one up in my new library in the coming weeks.

Highly recommended for your readers from Upper Primary to Mid-Secondary in particular. Thanks R. A. Spratt for another great adventure with everyone’s favourite daggy detective.

Back to School – or not, as the case may be…

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So I’ve had these ones for a while but thought they would be more usefully timed for the start of the school year so was going to post them next week as Queensland schools were due to resume on 24th January. That was the case right up to a few hours ago when the growing explosion of Covid cases – mostly Omicron – propelled the state government to announce a delay in the start of the new school year. What this will look like in reality could still change but at present our kids will, for the most part, start a week later than anticipated and hopefully the peak of this latest wave will have been reached. However, when the kids start, perhaps one or more of these will be perfect for your smaller kiddos.

Frankie Goes to Kindergarten – Peta Baxter & Connie Hemmens. Illustrated by Marjory Gardner.

Ford St Publishing

March 2021

ISBN: 9781925804683

RRP: $16.95

‘Tis a bit exciting to share this one as it is two lovely Queensland peeps who have collaborated to ensure that all the little people who starting off their educational journey, whether Kinder, Child Care or Prep, are happy, confident and looking forward to their new adventure.

Frankie is a real kindergarten dog from North Queensland where both Peta and Connie teach. It’s a super kindy as there are lots of pets including mice, fish and chickens. But Frankie, who lives with Peta, George the cat and Wilson the dachshund is the star attraction. All the children love him and love their busy time at kindy whether it’s doing yoga, gardening, playtime, singing or reading time. Everything is better with Frankie along. George is meant to stay at home but when he sneaks into a box and joins in the fun, the readers will love finding him in each illustration.

It is a lovely, happy narrative with some extra giggles thrown in and it will give small children a terrific insight into what to expect when they walk through the door of their first kindy. Peta and Connie have simply related the sorts of activities children might do and Marjory Gardner’s lively and colourful illustrations just hit the right spot.

Highly recommended for little ones from around 3 years upwards.

Let’s Get Ready for School – Jane Porter/Carolina Rabei

Walker Books

August 2021

ISBN: 9781529502343
Imprint: Walker

Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $18.99

This is English but that in no way detracts from it’s usefulness for our little Oz kiddos as it covers in simple but reassuring language what to expect and how to get ready to start school.

From being able to dress oneself to toileting, sharing, eating and drinking, playing and getting along with others – everything needful for our smallest students is here and all their questions are answered.

Six different children are preparing for their big adventure, each of them different as will be the other kids at school. In itself, this provides the perfect opportunity to ensure that kiddos are able to accept and embrace differences. Why do I have to go to school? How will I get there? Who will I meet? Will each day be the same? All children have questions and this is a super way to help them with the answers.

Whether you read this one before the child starts school or in the first week, it will provide wonderful reassurance with its effective format, information and relatable illustrations.

Highly recommended for little ones moving into Prep.

Making Friends: a book about first friendships – Amanda McCardie/Colleen Larmour

Walker Books

August 2021

ISBN: 9781406394542
Imprint: Walker
Australian RRP: $16.99
New Zealand RRP: $18.99

Naturally, along with all the excitement of starting school, comes the added excitement of making new friends. Sometimes though this is either not as easy as it seems or is even very much a matter for anxiety and insecurity for some children.

As educators what we continually strive for is to develop empathy and kindness in our charges to help them grow into well-rounded and compassionate adults. And we all know it starts right from the first day these kiddos start to mix in groups.

This is not a story book, it really is a primer for establishing the guidelines of what makes a good or healthy friendship. To this end, at some points, I found it a little too didactic which tended to put me off, but I’m an adult so I don’t think that counts *grin*. For children, I think this will provide a great springboard in a classroom or kinder setting to explore the parameters of friendship and building relationships.

Recommended for your children from around 5 years upwards.

Einstein the Penguin – Iona Rangeley. Illustrated y David Tazzyman.

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Harper Collins Australia

December 2021

  • ISBN: 9780008475963
  • ISBN 10: 0008475962
  • Imprint: HarperCollins GB
  • List Price: 19.99 AUD

This is a fun new read for your kiddos who are moving on from those first easy chapter books to something a little more challenging. Imagine stirring up Paddington stories with Mr Popper’s Penguins with a good dash of Finding Nemo and just the tiniest hint of The Wrong Trousers, and you’ll be coming close. And in saying that, I am certainly not implying that this is derivative, merely that it reminds me strongly of all these stories with its fun and joyousness.

When the Stewart family visit London Zoo on a very gloomy winter’s afternoon the children are not very thrilled but certainly brighten up when they encounter a very endearing little penguin on their way out. When the children protest strenuously about leaving the penguin, and insisting that the bird accompany them home, Mrs Stewart kindly tells the little penguin he is always welcome at their home, in an effort to divert the kids. So, of course, the very next day there is a knock on the door and – lo and behold!- there is a penguin on the doorstep, complete with backpack.

As it turns out, Einstein is a penguin from Australia – ‘Sydney’ Zoo (well, that would actually be Taronga Zoo) to be exact and this smart little bird manages to convey to Imogen and Arthur, that he is here to find his much-loved friend, Isaac – who was whisked away with no due regard for comradely associations.

This is a story that is both funny and endearing as the children, especially would-be detective, Imogen, do their utmost to re-unite Einstein and Isaac – well, at least so each knows the other is safe and well.

It is both well-paced and ‘cute’ really and I foresee would be a big hit as a read-aloud – I would probably pitch it at Year 2s or 3s personally. Highly recommended for your younger readers from around 7 years upwards.

No Hearts of Gold – Jackie French

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Harper Collins

December 2021

  • ISBN: 9781460757925
  • ISBN 10: 1460757920
  • Imprint: HarperCollins AU
  • List Price: 29.99 AUD

If you’ve read this blog before no doubt, you have noticed my immense admiration for the talent of Jackie French and, in particular, her outstanding historical fiction. Her seemingly effortless recreation of the past always has the power to transport the reader into the time and place of the narrative, allowing one to be fully immersed in the lives, dramas, despair and fortunes of the characters. I say seemingly effortless but I know the depth and breadth of research, background reading and investigation Jackie undertakes for each of her works and it is that which enriches her exploration and teasing out of hitherto unknown or ignored aspects.

We share a love of colonial history and moreover, a fascination with the untold, forgotten or glossed-over facts of our nation’s, often, troubled past. Readers are well accustomed to the portrayal of white women in our early post-First Contact history and there is no doubt that there were many who deserve our respect and regard. Their resilience, stoicism, ingenuity as well physical and mental strength have earned their place in our canon. But those wives, daughters, and sisters managing a household on small holdings, supporting their menfolk (or possibly managing alone)  or working for others in domestic service can surely not be the only types that deserve recognition.

In this magnificent saga we accompany three very different young women as they leave everything behind and travel to a robust and raw Sydney colony. Each of them so very different to the others in background and temperament and yet the friendship they forge goes deep, providing each other with the truest support and sustenance they all need.

Kat Fizhubert has been raised as the indulged and wealthy daughter of interesting and loving parents but when her father’s bankruptcy and ruin sends him over the edge and he first murders his wife, tries to kill Kat and finally suicides, Kat’s life is in tatters and her spirit in absolute black despair. Her kindly and astute aunt arranges a marriage for her – to a well-respected young landowner in the colony of New South Wales.

Titania Boots has never known real love or even affection, growing up with indifferent parents, married off to an old man who merely wanted an unpaid housekeeper and drudge. However, Titania has brilliant business acumen, and her management of her elderly husband’s affairs provides her with all the knowledge she could need. Widowed and left penniless, she becomes a paid companion on a voyage to the Australian colony.

Lady Viola Montefiore is young, elfin, intensely clever and caring and part of a well-placed noble family.  She is also most noticeably not wholly of the family with her dark skin and Indian appearance. The obvious result of a love affair on the part of her mother means she is kept secluded from society, hidden not only  out of a perceived shame but because of the general response from ‘polite society’. Learning a little of her birth on her mother’s deathbed, Viola is sent away to the colony to be put in charge of a cousin as a ward until she attains her majority. She is wealthy, in a way most of can only dream of, but also compassionate and generous.

On their shared voyage to Australia these young women bond together to comfort each other, share their sad circumstances, and voice their hopes and vow to retain their friendship – though essentially, no vow is necessary as they are now so attached each to the other.

Their ensuing stories as each faces the challenges, good and bad, friends and foes of their new surroundings makes for compelling reading and if, like me, you will find it hard not so say ‘just one more chapter’.  I was completely enthralled and fully engaged, as if a bystander, throughout and read way past my bed time for the past few nights. As always though, when I reached the end I was incredibly sad to leave these wonderful and vibrant book friends behind, so I dare to hope that this could be the first of another of Jackie’s fabulous series.

No recommendation is ever needed for Jackie’s books but naturally I bestow my very highest on this new one. I do believe it has become my new best favourite 😊.

The Magical Bookshop – Katja Frixe. Illustrated by Florentine Prechtel. Translated by Ruth Ahmedzal Kemp.

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Bloomsbury

September 2021

Imprint: OneWorld

ISBN: 9781786075666

RRP: $14.99

Such a sweet and happy book this is! Translated from the German with great dexterity while retaining just the right amount of that quirkiness of expression that European children’s books often have, this is just a delight from start to finish.

Mrs Owl’s bookshop is full of magic and it is Clara’s favourite place to be. She loves her family very much but it can get very noisy in a full house. The bookshop gives Clara a space to just be – curled up in a favourite spot with a favourite book or chatting quietly with Mrs Owl, not to mention Mr King, the mirror, and Gustav, the cat – both of whom also talk! They are the greatest comfort to Clara, especially now when her very best friend forever, Lottie, is moving away. It’s all because Lottie’s father has a new girlfriend and Lottie’s mum does not want to stay in the same town as the new couple.

How can the two girls bear to be separated? It is just not fair. And then there’s Clara’s new teacher who might be pretty but Clara is not convinced of her friendliness. New boy Leo is no substitute for Lottie in the classroom and all in all, things are feeling pretty grim. Then there’s the very worst thing about this new year, is that someone is determined to close down the bookshop with some very nasty tricks and underhanded actions.

It soon becomes apparent that even with Lottie gone, Clara still has friends and those friends need her help badly. Maybe, in doing that, things might just get a little easier to bear in the light of Lottie’s move so far away.

This has such a lovely feel of friendship and community about it and readers from around 7 years upwards will enjoy it for not only the mystery but also the humour and magic.

Highly recommend for independent readers from around Year 2 upwards.

Cato’s Can Can – Juliet Sampson & Katrina Fisher

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Ford St Publishing

August 2021

ISBN: 9781025804751

RRP: $24.95

Juliet’s newest book is just sheer joyfulness on paper! I know she loves her dancing, and so do we in our family – it’s only the current generation who have declined to dance actually *sad face* – so this gorgeous, happy story about Cato the cockatoo who yearns for someone with whom to dance is just perfect. Equally, your kiddos who dance – or even those who just have to move with the music! – will love it as much.

Cato finds plenty of dancers from the local dance school but just as he seems to get close they all disappear. Finally, he is brave enough to go right inside the building and there they all are – the ballet dancers who leap, the rappers who spin and all the rest. All the dancers he has seen in his search, with their actions so like other native birds, welcome him into their class and suddenly – everyone is learning a new dance – the can can!

This is sweet and happy and full of such positive energy, and a lovely affirmation that we can always find kindred spirits if we care to look. I absolutely love Juliet’s comparisons to our various birds and Katrina’s illustrations are just spot on, with the dancing children almost bursting off the pages with their energy.

Highly recommended for your little readers from around Prep upwards – I can well imagine some lively dance sessions both during and after a shared reading. You can also find teaching notes and activities here. [I have in fact, made a similar birdy craft with my kiddos and it’s a huge hit!]

We Were Wolves – Jason Cockcroft

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Walker Books Australia

June 2021

ISBN: 9781839130571
Imprint: Andersen Press
Australian RRP: $26.99
New Zealand RRP: $28.99

There are some seriously fabulous YA books coming out of the UK recently – and I’m not trying to take anything away from our local authors at all – it’s just that every single UK title I’ve read, probably in the last year, has completely blown me away. This is another of them.

Dark and intense, it is the story of one boy’s relationship with his da, set amid the angst and terrible sadness of PTSD. The nameless narrator, referred to as Boy or the boy, relates the events he experiences living with his dad, in a caravan in the woods. Actually, it’s more the events he experiences once his dad is ‘banged up’ and he struggles to work things out on his own. It’s not that he can’t go home to his Mam, but more, the intense loyalty he feels towards his father, with his certainty that he is the only one who can ‘get through’ to his dad in the moments of danger. Boy knows he can manage in the caravan on his own but it’s the dark forces circling, like the Bad Man, Toomey, and the hidden beasts lurking that are his biggest enemy.

His meeting with Sophie is paramount in his struggle to keep a grip on some kind of hope and lifeline to normality but even more than this, has been the arrival of an elderly dog he calls Mol(ly) – both of these become his comfort and bolster in the danger he faces.

This is not an easy read. There are kids who will struggle with it – not because it’s difficult technically, but because it is quite confronting emotionally but those who persist will be well rewarded. There are many teens for whom life is not easy, but the lifeline/s offered by friends, family and others are so important , and equally important, is for us to put such books into the hands of young people.

This is another beautifully presented book I have read in the last week or so – with a striking dust jacket, fabulous end papers and evocative illustrations.

I will be definitely be book talking this one at our first ChocLit meeting when term begins and I highly recommend it for your astute readers from around 14 years upwards.

The Tea Ladies of St Jude’s Hospital – Joanna Nell

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Hachette

September 2021

ISBN: 9780733642906

RRP: $32.99

When it’s the spring school holidays nothing quite beats sitting on the verandah with just enough sunshine and warmth to be pleasantly comfy, with a large cuppa, and a fabulous, fun book to read. Needless to say, Joanna Nell has cracked that again with this new one, again exploring the, sometimes surprising, bonds between women.

Hilary, Joy and Chloe could not, on first impressions, be any more different to each other and yet, as their friendship develops, they discover that each is trying desperately to hide a secret from the wider world.

Hilary has been the manager of St Jude’s cafeteria for years. What started as her token nod to philanthropy has gradually become her passion, and now, as she faces a future bereft of husband, assets and friends, it is the constancy of the café and her role within it that sustains her.

Joy is the recent newcomer volunteer. She is determined to get back into living a full life as well as giving back to the hospital, following her husband Len’s cancer journey. She may be habitually late but with her colorful clothes, hair and eyelashes, she certainly adds a much-needed pop of pizzazz to the Marjorie Marshall Memorial cafeteria. After all, after five decades, the establishment is looking a little frayed around the edges.

Chloe is the 18 year old Duke of Edinburgh student, daughter of two high-flyer surgeons, sister of two doctor brothers and on her way, supposedly, to her own medical career. Her inability to deal with the sight of blood, and needles, would appear to be a handicap to this, and with all her heart, she wishes she could pursue the career in creative arts she yearns for, and excels in.

When traditional St Jude’s undergoes a huge refurbishment, the much-loved café faces complete extinction in the wake of a health-food hipster super chain called ‘Platter’. How can these three set aside their initial differences and work together to create not only a solution but provide the emotional sustenance they each need?

This is another of Joanna’s delightful ‘feel good’ reads that is both a pleasant departure from our own reality but also a reminder of the healing qualities of friendships, the importance of solid values and the persuasive nature of people power. There is a lot of depth to this despite it’s surface appearance of humorous ‘chick lit’ novel and there will be many who can relate to at least one of the main characters, all of whom are extremely likeable – even when they are being a bit odd!

Recommended highly for your leisure reading – put the kettle on, sit back and enjoy!