Sugar and spice. Not a mix that causes every little girl to drool. In fact even in my day, the more mystery, adventure and intrigue they could dish up, the faster I devoured stories. They continue to do so; they being in this case, the savvy publishers of Scholastic Australia and Random House.
Hot off the press are a selection of recent releases guaranteed to whet your little girl’s reading appetite. Most are suitable for reading ages between 5 – 8 years although older reluctant readers stand to gain much needed confidence and develop a deeper love of stories from some of these titles too, mainly because they are simple and not too sweet.
EJ Spy School by Susannah McFarlane begins with The Test and The Race; the fist two titles of the cleverly marketed commercial First Chapter Book Series by Scholastic Australia. This series was devised to satisfy younger readers following the bestselling success of the EJ12 girl Hero books.
Emma Jacks, aka EJ10 is the recently recruited 8 year-old who loves a challenge and can’t wait to start her training at the Shine Spy School.
These are short, punchy reads with slightly absurd cliff-hanging conclusions persuading readers to reach immediately for the next story. I liked the large simple text and wide-eyed appeal of the illustrations. The inclusion of EJ’s internal thought bubbles encourage plenty of lateral thinking and foster a liking for her. The straightforward connections that EJ makes between her various school situations and spy training moments (her maths multiple choice questions reminds her of code cracking for example) serve to reinforce her confidence in her own abilities, including problem solving which are wonderful notions to be instilling in young girls. Hard for mums not to appreciate too.
Perhaps less captivating for me but super sweet for missies aged 5 and up, is the perennial favourite, Ella and Olivia series. We still have a couple of earlier titles bobbing round our bookshelves, usually involving catastrophes with various cute creatures.
The Sports Carnival is the newest 2014 release and focuses on sisters Ella (7) and Olivia (5) and their school sports carnival. Light-hearted, dialogue rich and appealingly illustrated, I enjoyed the upbeat positivity Ella and Olivia possess and how it translates into subtle messages; in this instance, the importance of good sportsmanship, friendship and making the best of your position.
Wendy Harmer might be best known by young readers from her best-selling serious Pearlie in the Park. It is pretty cool. Fans will be delighted to discover Ava Anne Appleton, a sparkling new series for girls 7 years and over. This illustrated chapter book will amuse more confident readers as Ava, her dog Angus, mum Anne and dad Alan, set off around Australia on year of discovery in their mobile home, the Adventurer. (Yes, Harmer has a serious affection for alliteration in this series! But it incited more than a chuckle or two from my Miss 8).
Up and Away is the second book following the Accidental Adventurer and explores the universal themes of new experiences, family, belonging and facing your fears. Good fun once you get past the slightly goofy writing style.
If strong, sassy, silky-haired heroines striding their way through solid story-lines (I’ve got the Harmer bug) are de rigueur for your 8 year-old, look no further than the Lulu Bell series.
Books 5 and 6, The Circus Pup and the Sea Turtle enhance an already instantly collectable series. Animal-loving Lulu Bell and her personality-plus family find themselves rescuers, performers and cultural ambassadors in these latest tales which I feel are written with a little more depth and detail than some of the previous titles.
These are fabulous stand-alone reads, but immerse yourself into the series and you’ll soon have a deep affinity for Lulu and the characters she befriends, as does my Miss 8 who loves to draw comparisons between herself and Lulu.
Belinda Murrell’s prose is beautifully enhanced by Serena Geddes’s warm, expressive hand-drawn illustrations. There is an honest unique quality about this series I can’t quite put my finger on, but my Miss 8 recognises it and my 10 year-old self would have felt it as well. And they both love it.
Whatever your young reader’s taste, titles like these are a delightful and crucial next step up for developing their literary palate.