Breathtaking Fantasy Adventures for Middle Grade and Young Adults

It’s not often I get the opportunity to delve into the depths of fantasy-adventure novels, so the change has been an interesting welcome. If you’re a thrill-seeker, a supernatural-hunting-wannabe, a mission-impossible-style adrenalin junkie or courageous-fugitive aspirant, then these following books are for you!

Fenn Halflin and the Seaborn by Francesca Armour-Chelu, July 2017.

Following its predecessor, Fenn Halflin and the Fearzero, this final futuristic fantasy takes the resourceful and brave Fenn Halflin to new depths of heroism. With fantastic, fast-paced action, Fenn and his loyal mongoose Tikki are at the forefront of saving themselves and the Seaborn people from the grips of the merciless Terra Firma and their evil leader, Chilstone. Haunted by his past and his pain, Chilstone literally drowns in his own hatred in response to the inner strength of our protagonist, Fenn. Uncomplicated but enough visualisation to get lost in, the dystopian Fenn Halflin and the Seaborn will sweep its middle grade readers into a spunky science fiction odyssey.

The City of Secret Rivers by Jacob Sager Weinstein, June 2017.

Twelve-year-old Hyacinth gains a lot more than she bargained for when moving from America to London; the place of her ancestry. Drawing on a wonderful mix of real life and an underground magical alternate reality, author Jacob Sager Weinstein literally sweeps us through a series upon romping series of adventure into tunnels, pipes and mazes in the secret sewer systems of London. When something as simple as washing her hands sets off a complicated chain of dangerous events, Hyacinth is thrust into a world of outlandish characters, including muddy Saltpetre Men, toshers and a bather-wearing pig, facing tests of trust, bravery and the acceptance of a whole new identity. All this to save her kidnapped Mom, oh, and the entire city from the Great Fire – plot by the conniving Lady Roslyn. With elements of suspense, humour, excitement and pure terror, The City of Secret Rivers combines the kind of complexity and ingenuity to that of Lewis Carroll and J.K. Rowling all rolled into a fantastical adventure for mid to upper primary-aged children.

William Wenton and the Luridium Thief by Bobbie Peers, April 2017.

First in this exciting new series is William Wenton; an extraordinarily talented codebreaker which lands him in all sorts of strife. Kidnapped by the Institute for Post-Human Research for his code-cracking skills, what follows is a series of mystery, adventure and secret discoveries. Wenton not only discovers the powerful substance, luridium whilst held captive, but also forges a path of self-discovery and identity, as most youngsters do on their journey into adulthood. With cryptic puzzles and fiendish mechanical inventions, the Luridium Thief is a captivating and enigmatic fantasy novel that will immediately hook those upper-primary readers.

The Traitor and the Thief by Gareth Ward, August 2017.

More secrets, spies and being hunted. Another thrilling steampunk story for older readers, The Traitor and the Thief is essentially about fourteen-year-old petty thief Sin, on his own mission of soul-searching, relationship-building, and becoming a saviour. Caught and recruited into the Covert Operations Group (COG), Sin is trained to be an agile spy with mastery in weaponry and technology in order to uncover truths and conquer dangerous adventures. With quirkiness and elements of imaginative realities, as well as a touch of budding young romance and navigating teenagehood, this fantasy novel suits those readers out for a good mystery mixed with adventure.

Alex Rider: Never Say Die (Book 11) by Anthony Horowitz, June 2017.

From the bestselling series here is a new mission for Alex Rider, a fifteen-year-old adopted into a writerly family, and recruited by the M16 agents. Intensely terrifying adventure leads to clues as to the whereabouts of his female guardian, Jack – ultimately held for ransom by a terrorist organisation. Set in Cairo, and packed with plot twists and turns, Never Say Die is an exciting and absolutely gripping explosion of action and adrenalin that will have its readers on tender hooks until the end.

Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, including authors Cassandra Clare, Sarah Ress Brennan, Maureen Johnson, and Robin Wasserman, May 2017.

To fully immerse oneself in this latest volume of the ‘Shadowhunters’ series, background knowledge and loyalty to best-selling YA author, Cassandra Clare would be ideal. In essence of the Harry Potter-style ideology of mixing realms between the normal and the magical variety, these tales confront protecting the ‘mundane’ world from the dangers of the supernatural beings. With ten short stories written by four authors and varying in complexity, Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy fans will, I’m sure, relish learning of every new skill, memory and life discovery of its central character, human / vampire / Shadowhunter Simon Lewis.

Walker Books Australia

Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Tweens and teens love dipping into the world of fantasy. The more quirky the premise, the more unbelievable the outcomes, the better. These middle grade novels serve up a mind-bending mixture of almost too-whacky-to-believe storylines showcasing time travel, ghosts and gigantic invisible felines. Strange but delightfully, true.

Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase by Peter Helliar and Lesley Vamos

A forever morphing, triple paced collision of Doctor Who meets Top Gear is one way of describing Pete Helliar’s first foray into writing for kids. His enthusiastic use of wacky, over the top metaphors is a touch extravagant at times but oh, do they provoke some face-wrinkling chuckles.

Francis (aka Frankie) Fish’s race against time back into time has all the hallmarks of a mega time travelling adventure with one difference; he is making the journey in desperation to preserve the existence of the Fish family line of which he may or may not still be a part of (it all depends on the battery!). And he’s doing it with his very grumpy, slightly geriatric, grandfather.

Continue reading Unbelievably Good – Strange but True Mid-Grade Reads

Double Dipping – Unleashing Imagination

A well-known writer for kids once stated, ‘Imagination is simply Image – Nation’ meaning, you fill your ideas well from all the images pooled from your life experiences, the world around you, and your impressions of it. That is what really constitutes imagination. However it occurs, unleashing it is the penultimate fun part. Here are two imaginative new picture books that do not hold back.

The Leaky Story by Devon Sillett and Anil Tortop

There is a veritable shipload of things to like about this rollicking tale of adventure and mayhem set incongruously within the confines of the Blossburn’s family lounge room. Sillett’s surreal tale about a book with a mind of its own explodes with mirth and mystery the kind of which pre-schoolers love to wallow in. It’s not just wallowing that they can indulge in either. There is enough onematapedic dropping and plopping, sploshing and splashing to have little ones dashing for their gumboots.

Continue reading Double Dipping – Unleashing Imagination

Fantasy and Adventure – Novel Escapes

 

The golden age of reading begins when youngsters develop their reading confidence around the age of seven or so, and extends into their early teens where suspension of belief is still strong and stories featuring fantasy and adventure rate robustly on the their reading radars.

It is no wonder then that junior and middle grade novels are in such high demand. These three are definitely worth adding to your list.

Trouble and the New Kid by Cate Whittle and Stephen Michael King

Trouble first flew into Georgia’s life early last year. He stole their home inadvertently absconding with her baby brother, Godfrey. Since then, he’s barely been able to stay on the good side of the behaviour books, after run-ins with Mrs Jones and her cat, Tibbles in The Missing Cat. Now, Trouble is back in all his glorious dragon-green unruliness in, Trouble and the New Kid.

Continue reading Fantasy and Adventure – Novel Escapes

Doodles and Drafts – Halloween guest post by Karen Foxlee

a-most-magical-girlHalloween is a time of frights and treats, tricks and magic, guises and remembrance – All Saints’ Day Eve. A fitting time to indulge in a little fantasy and fun. Karen Foxlee’s latest mid grade novel, A Most Magical Girl combines all of these things and will have primary aged readers biting their nails in delicious anticipation. Utterly charming, frightful in places and marvellously magic in others, this is an adventure both girls and boys will find spell binding.

Annabel Grey is a proper little lady of the Victorian times. She devoutly attempts to follow the sermons delivered by Miss Finch’s Little Blue Book, a bible of Victorian social etiquette and expectations but her good intentions derail after she is sent to live with her two aunts in London. They are Shoreditch witches and apart from being Annabel’s new guardians, unlock a heritage Annabel had no idea about, her ability to perform magic.

However, Annabel has no time to dispute their proclamations because her unusual abilities allow her to foresee a terrible future for London and all who dwell there. Mr Angel, evil warlock of the underworld has built a sinister device to use with his black magic to destroy all of the good magic in the world and those who practise it. Only a most magical girl can stop him.

Foxlee’s use of language is bewitching. Annabel’s adventure is fast paced and divinely otherworldly both in spirit and in setting. I thoroughly adored flying along on her desperate quest with Kitty and her strong-willed broomstick. I’m sure children will find A Most Magical Girl just as enchanting.

karen-foxlee2016Today Karen joins us at the draft table to reveal the magical places A Most Magical Girl sprung from.

Welcome Karen! Tell us a bit about kids, authors and story ideas…

The Big Leap

I love to tell my young audiences that kids and authors are pretty much the same when it comes story ideas.  They always look dubious at first.  Authors surely have a special library of previously unused ideas I can see them thinking.  It’s locked away somewhere at the top of a turret beside their quills and their perfect first drafts.

“It’s true,” I assure them.  “You tell me where you get your ideas from and we’ll see if we’re the same.”

Their hands shoot up: from life experiences, from dreams, from things you see! From things you read, things that happened a long time ago, from things you hope for, from television! Story ideas start from things you overhear, from facts, from songs, from comic books, from movies, from computer games, from mixing your own life with the life of book characters that you love! From day-dreaming!

I always love hearing that one.  It validates all my hours spent lying quietly day-dreaming. “Oh my goodness,” I cry, ticking off each one. ‘How weird! My ideas come from all these places too! They come from everywhere!”

Authors let ideas come, we day-dream, we are open to them.  We store them away in our brain machine never knowing when we might need them.  We put an idea from a year ago with an idea from today.  We percolate ideas.  We write them down without knowing what they mean.

But, I tell them, there’s also another way that authors and kids are the same when it comes to story ideas. Their dubious expressions return.  I clamber up onto a table.  Now they start to look down-right worried.

A Most Magical Girl came about as a combination of several ideas I explain.

  1. From an experience (a visit to a museum many years before)
  2. From a life-long love of history and from reading lots books with historical settings
  3. From a love of magic and heaps of little ideas about how magic works

And

  1. A good old-fashioned daydream.

I was lying on my sofa thinking about a museum I’d visited a decade before.  This museum was in London and it contained a recreated Victorian era street, where I wandered for hours.  Years later, on my sofa, I closed my eyes and day-dreamed a carriage arriving on that street.  I imagined a girl stepping down.  She was pretty and a bit posh and also, I knew as I watched her, the owner of a secret.  She stood before a shop window and read the words printed there. Miss E & H Vine’s Magic Shop.  Wow, I thought.  Magic.  I love Magic. This seems good. What’s going to happen here?

“What do you think authors do when they have some ideas that excite them?” I ask from my table top perch.  “What do you do?”

A chorus of replies: Just start! Just start writing! Just start even if you don’t know the answer!

“Do you just LEAP into the story?” I ask.

“Yes!” they shout, because they really want to see an author jump off a table.

And so, because it is the absolute truth about authors and ideas and how they really are not much different to children, I LEAP!

Fastastical, thanks Karen.

kids-reading-guide-2016-2017You’ll find A Most Magical Girl in the new Kids’ Reading Guide, here!

Allen & Unwin September 2016

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Review: The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

SAW print.inddThe Four Legendary Kingdoms begins with Jack West Jr. waking up in an unknown location and immediately thrust into battle. We quickly learn he has been chosen, along with a dozen other elite soldiers (including a very familiar face, much to my surprise and delight), to compete in a series of spectacularly deadly challenges in order to fulfil an ancient ritual with world ending consequences. So, yeah; the stakes, as always, are astronomically high. This isn’t a game West can escape from. For the sake of his loved ones — for the sake of everyone — he’s got to compete.

Reilly delivers fantastic stunts and vehicular mayhem in incredibly creative combat arenas. The plot and characters are ludicrous, but its all stupendous fun, and it moves at the velocity of a speeding bullet. Faster, actually. Reilly rarely lets his readers — or indeed his characters — rest. There are brief interludes between all the thrills, when the unflappably indestructible West gets the chance to lick his wounds, and Reilly gets the chance to feed readers background information. Sure, it can be a little clunky at times  — only Reilly could get away with the sentence, “Vacheron grinned evilly,” and the book is entirely void of subtext — but The Four Legendary Kingdoms is a rollicking blockbuster ride and perfect weekend fodder.

When it comes right down to it, other authors can try (and have tried) to emulate him, but nobody is better at the high-octane-high-body-count thriller than Matthew Reilly. It’s his domain, exclusively. Fans will delight in Jack West Jr.’s return, and of course, plenty of thread is left dangling for the inevitable sequels.

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Superb Sequels – Picture Book Reviews

We certainly got a buzz upon discovering the latest sequels to a few of our favourite picture books. Still highly capable of capturing our hearts and imaginations, just like their predecessors, these titles don’t disappoint. From forming new friendships to rekindling old ones, from commencing inspiring adventures to revisiting good old-fashioned traditions, preschoolers and early primary aged children will delight in every part of the wonderful journeys these books will take them.

imageSnail and Turtle Rainy Days, Stephen Michael King (author, illus.), Scholastic Press, 2016.

With the same warm and playful narrative and animated illustrations as in the original Snail and Turtle are Friends, King beautifully compliments this sequel with an equally gentle and humbling innocence in its tone. Once again, King has successfully alllured his readers with a tactile, blithe and innovative experience.

Snail and Turtle Rainy Days is a creative and heartwarming tale about going to assiduous measures to help out a friend in need. I also love the undertone that Turtle might possibly be doing so to satisfy his own little pleasures in life! However, children from age three will absolutely soak up these busy characters and adorable qualities in this sunny story set in the rain. See my full review here.

imageI Don’t Want to Go to Bed, David Cornish (author, illus.), Angus & Robertson, 2016.

Immediately following on from its prequel comes the opening line, “Every night when dinner was done, Rollo would cry ‘I Don’t Want To Go To Bed!‘”. Cleverly written and hilariously illustrated by David Cornish, this next title in the series certainly ticks all the stubborn-child-mastering-routines boxes.

In this short and sweet tale, Rollo attempts every excuse under the sun to avoid going to bed. Fortunately, with a little imagination (and perhaps some imperceivable parent influence) Rollo can check off his ‘story, food, water, toilet and monster’ checklist. Is he finally ready for bed?

Bold, vibrant and loud, and exhaustingly true, preschoolers and their parents will both cringe and delight in the arduous strategies determining when and how they will go to bed.

imageMe and Moo & Roar Too, P. Crumble (author), Nathaniel Eckstrom (illus.), Scholastic Australia, 2016.

When Me and Moo first made its grand entrance we were udderly – oops, utterly – delighted by this comical tale of friendship between a boy and his mischievous cow companion. Now, roaring onto the scene is their newest comrade, surprisingly delivered straight from the zoo; Roar.

In Me and Moo & Roar Too, it is Me and Moo’s quest to return Roar back to his home-away-from-home after he causes chaos in their house. Although this might be disheartening for readers, they will be reassured to know that every animal is happy in their place of belonging, and that Me and Moo may just encounter yet another wild pet adventure any time soon!

With its child-friendly narrative voice and gorgeously textured and discernibly witty illustrations, this sequel perfectly compliments the first and will have its preschool-aged readers roaring for more.

imageBird and Bear and the Special Day, Ann James (author, illus.), The Five Mile Press, 2016.

In a story of discovering the beauty and nuances of the world around them, Bird and Bear explore nature, science and their close relationship. When they meet again in Bird and Bear and the Special Day, Bird, on her ‘Birdday’ enchants her friend Bear with a series of ‘Eye-Spy’-esque challenges as they take a stroll through the park.

James’ winsome dialogue cleverly integrates concepts of prepositions, opposites and scientific observations, as well as the pressing problem of whether Bear will remember Bird’s Birdday. Watercolours, pencil and pastel tones perfectly suit the whimsical yet tranquil adventure walk and the gentle, harmonious friendship between the characters.

A joyous exploration of words and the outdoors, imagination and strengthening bonds, this series has the magic of childhood autonomy at its forefront. Recommended for children aged three and up.

imageLet’s Play!, Hervé Tullet (author, illus.), Allen & Unwin, 2016. Originally published by Bayard Editions as ‘On Joue?’, 2016.

A brilliant companion to the best-selling books, Press Here and Mix It Up!, pushing boundaries and exciting creative imaginations is the latest by Hervé Tullet; it’s Let’s Play! A genius masterstroke by the artist, engaging readers in a vibrant sensory, kinaesthetic and all-round enjoyable interactive experience.

Instructing its willing participants to join in, the yellow dot pulls us on its journey along, up, down, round and round a simple black line from start to end. With the dot we encounter more dots in primary colours, play games of hide-and-seek, face ominous dark tunnels and black, messy splashes and scribbles, until we finally reach the safety of clean pages and fairy-light-inspired canvases.

Children and adults alike will delight in this gigglicious, playful adventure exploring shape, colour, space and line with its subtly thrilling storyline to tempt your curiosity many times ’round.

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Dreaming of Adventure with Alison Binks

imageBe taken on a mysteriously wonderful midnight adventure with the captivating story, Caspar and the Night Sea, and the publishing journey of its creator; Alison Binks.

Awoken by the sneaky light of the moon, the gentle breeze and the sounds of the waves gives Caspar the perfect opportunity to go ‘sailing’. Without a stir from his soundly sleeping parents and the chooks in the shed, the young boy and his dog venture out to the shore with their trailer and boat in toe. Something feels different to other nights, and with the guidance of the dolphins and the whispers of the fishes, they are lead to a most glorious vision… Whales! But some secrets are just too good to share!

Binks writes this narrative with a dreamy sense of delicacy and atmosphere that takes its readers into the scene. Her illustrations are equally entrancing with their eerie kind of feel conveying light amongst the darkness, and gentleness within the movement.

Capturing the essence of adventure and imagination, Caspar and the Night Sea is a humbling and soulful tale perfect for preschoolers at bedtime. It is also a brilliant facilitator for encouraging ecological study and advocacy amongst its readers.

Windy Hollow Books, 2016.  

I am thrilled to have the lovely Alison Binks discuss the inspirations and processes behind her new book. Thanks, Alison!

imageCongratulations on the release of your debut picture book, Caspar and the Night Sea! How have you found the whole publishing process? What did you do to celebrate its launch?

Thank you Romi.  I was of course amazed and delighted to be selected for publication. Following that excitement I was dismayed when I learnt the length of time the publication process was due to take, (years) and in the end it was even slower. So I feel it’s been a long road, but now I realise how it all works I’m just keen to get going on another book.

I have not had a launch as yet but I’m still hoping to organise an event of some sort. It may be when the weather turns, and we all feel more encouraged to get out of our houses. Maybe when the children can contemplate the idea of sailing in a warm breeze. I’ll make some cupcakes and set up with a stack of books somewhere.

You have done both the text and pictures in this book. Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you come to write and illustrate for children?

imageI wrote this story for my son Caspar. It was to be a gift for him, and a process for me of immersing myself in the imaginary world of my little boy, who was then 2, and dreaming big dreams for him.

My background is in architecture, design and fine art. I exhibit my work, and usually paint landscapes in oils, but this was an opportunity to work on a smaller scale and it was lovely to sit down at a desk in a small pool of light, and work in a different way.

Caspar and the Night Sea is a wondrous tale of a boy and his dog venturing out on their boat into the depths of the ocean, in the darkest part of the night. Where did this inspiration come from? What were your intentions for readers to grasp from this imaginative concept?

I wanted a tale about a child who has secret adventures.  We lead such busy lives, with children tagging along through the adult world much of the time, timetabled.  I wanted to work with the idea of childhood freedom and children’s ability to do things on their own.

imageThe image of a little boat sailing off over a dark sea came to me very early on and I built the story around this mental picture.

Your illustrations are mesmorising with their mix of dreamy watercolours and ink drawing to create movement. Do you experiment with different styles in creating the right ‘feel’? How have you come to develop this style of art? What is your favourite medium to use?

When I travel I often take a small watercolour sketchbook, and watercolour was the first painting medium I used. For these illustrations I was influenced by the work of other artists, Ron Brooks and Robert Ingpen in particular.  (See The Bunyip at Berkley’s Creek or Ingpen’s Wind in the Willows).  The challenge was that the story takes place in the dark. I studied the way other artists approached this and decided that for me to lay the black ink over the watercolour would allow a palette of subtle colours to exist beneath the black night of the ink.

Fun Question! If you could be any creature in the ocean what would it be and why?

I have always sailed, and dolphins seem to me to be having the most fun in the water down there, surfing on bow waves, leaping out of the water for no particular reason. And they seem to have a language of their own and that appeals to me.

What tips would you give other emerging authors or illustrators eager to have their work published?

I was very lucky to find a publisher for whom the story resonated.  I don’t have any tips for that, except to search for the one person who really connects with what you are doing.

What’s next for Alison Binks? What projects are you currently working on?

My hope is simply to have enough success with this book that Windy Hollow, my publisher, will agree to print the next one!  There is a more complex story both in my mind and partly on paper, waiting until I have time to come back to it. I’ve painted a first illustration and have ideas about a new colour palette and a slightly different approach. But first I am doing the legwork to get Caspar and the Night Sea into the bookstores, schools, kinders… wherever I can, and spreading the word.

All the best of luck and success! Thank you so much for the interview, Alison! 🙂

Thank you.

Look out for Alison Binks and her amazing work at her website .

Purchase Caspar and the Night Sea.

#ByAustralianBuyAustralian

Review – Dragonfly Song

Wendy Orr’s latest novel has the sweeping majesty of an epic novel and the thrill of a mid-grade fantasy that will win leagues of young new fans. Powerful, eloquent and moving, Dragonfly Song is a story you will never want to leave.

Dragonfly SongAt first glance, Dragonfly Song is not for the faint hearted, weighing in at nearly four hundred pages, however do not be disheartened for from the moment Aissa slips into existence, you will be enthralled and the pages will float effortlessly by. Aissa is the first-born daughter of the high priestess of an ancient island nation. She is however, imperfect and so is abandoned, thus determining not only her destiny but the fate of her island home and all its inhabitants, as well.

Aissa’s people are emerging from the time of flint and spears into the mythical Bronze Age. Her world possesses a strong Byzantine period feel for me at least, where hierarchy, occupation, and bloodline dictate survival. Having endured a childhood of servitude and persecution, Aissa is unaware of her own ancestry and link to the goddesses or even her true name until she is twelve years old. Her fellow islanders consider her the bad-luck child, a curse to all who cross her, and abhor her. Yet she is resourceful, curious, and oddly revered by the island’s animals (snakes, cats, bulls) and although mute from the age of four, she slowly begins to grasp the power she has to sing them to her biding.

It is this power that both exalts and alienates her to the Bull King and his Lady wife, the Mother. At the age of thirteen, Aissa finds herself in the land of the great Bull King, interned as a bull dancer, eventually dancing for her life and the freedom of further tributes (aka human sacrifices) against her island home.

Aissa is manOrr Wendy, preferred author photo, credit Roger Gouldy things: of pure blood, a priestess in the making, a talented bull dancer, spirited, obedient, loyal, a privy cleaner, displaced but above all, resilient. It is hard not to fret over her emotional well-being and want to call out encouragement for her. Her story is both bleak and horrifying at times but ultimately her tale of rising out of the quagmire of the downtrodden soars with optimism and promise.

Orr masters this with incredible ease. Her artistry with language is unforced and sublime. Part prose and part verse novel, I was utterly swept away by the beauty and tragedy of Aissa’s plight. The use of verse to relay Aissa’s internal dialogue and inner most dread and desires is genius and executed with such finesse I wished it never ended.

Dragonfly Song is an adventure story, a tale of daring and hope and a quest for love and acceptance that will have you weeping and cheering. Gripping, artful, and exciting, this novel has broad appeal for both male and female readers aged twelve and above.

03To discover the heart and soul behind the writing of this novel, see my Doodles and Drafts post with Wendy Orr, here.

Allen & Unwin June 2016

Discovering Adventure with Leila Rudge’s Picture Books

Her indelibly gentle style, warming tones, infallible use of mixed media, energetic and always gorgeous characters bounce from her pictures every time. Including titles such as Ted and Mum Goes to Work, illustrator Leila Rudge knows just how to capture the heart, soul and spirit of her characters in all of her books. Here are a couple of newbies to set you on course.

imageGiving preschoolers many themes and topics to explore, Leila Rudge‘s Gary, the racing pigeon, drives this adventure story home with its grit and determination. If he is a racing pigeon then why doesn’t he fly? That, we are unsure, but Gary finds other ways to get around. In similarity to Anna Walker’s Peggy’, this accidental hero breathes adventure and travel and no high rise obstacle will stop him.

The stories from the other pigeons and his scrapbook collection of mementos give Gary a sense of place in the world, even though he only knows his own backyard. Then one day he is mistakingly taken in the travel basket a long way from home. But how could Gary feel lost when he had already studied the city from back to front? Gary’s adventure concludes with a little ingenuity and a whole lot of inspiration.

imageI loved Gary’s accepting yet curious personality, and the way Leila Rudge has written his story with verve and sensitivity. Her illustrations are equally as charismatic and layered with their mixed collage and pencil drawings of maps, souvenirs and adorable racing pigeon outfits!

Gary is a sweet, charming story of passion and opportunity, and challenging one’s own abilities. I’m sure children from age four will be dreaming to accompany Gary on more adventures in the future.

Walker Books, 2016.

imageIf you ever want a book to test your dog-breed knowledge, your linguistic gymnastics and your wit, get The Whole Caboodle! Author Lisa Shanahan has lined up a beauty with this energetic and playful counting canine collection of cross-breed ‘oodles‘. And Rudge‘s illustrations achieve this characteristically zealous greatness in leaps and bounds. As the text bounces ahead, so do the characters across the softly-shaded mixed media, double page spreads.

The little dog (perhaps some kind of Terrierdoodle) wakes his peachy-pear, grizzly bear, fizzyjig, whirligig owner in a rush to visit the park. It takes from one to ten rollicking, rhyming, imaginative adjectives and dog breed terms to count from home, through the neighbourhood, across the fairground and in to the park.

With phrases like “Four tumbly-rumbly Goldendoodles” and “Six dizzy-whizzy Spitzoodles”, plus plenty of doggie shapes in the illustrations to find, The Whole Caboodle will certainly lead children from three into fits of giggles and thrills.

Scholastic Australia, 2016.

See Dimity‘s fab review here.

For more information on Leila Rudge visit her website and Facebook page.

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Getting Serious about Series # 3 – Word Hunters

Word HuntersAll right, so it’s taken me a few years to share these ones but here are three of my favourite books of all time. I can’t even properly explain why but when a tale ticks multiple boxes so satisfyingly and engrosses you so completely whilst doing so, you can’t help but be muted into humble reverence. Ok, perhaps I’m trumpeting up the Word Hunters trilogy somewhat and confusing my metaphors but I reckon this series by charismatic collaborators, Nick Earls and Terry Whidborne deserves a little repeated airplay.

Therefore, from their cloistered position on my bookshelf, I reach for Word Hunters, The Curious Dictionary, the first in this divine trinity. Although in paperback, the book(s) has an alluring, timeless quality to it thanks to the cleverly designed leather-look cover and gilt bordering. But enough about aesthetics. Delve inside and you are immediately met with poetic riddles, dares, and definitions. You get the feeling you are entering hallowed ground, a place where time might lose itself, history may be rewritten and anything you say or do could alter anything you’ll end up saying or doing.

Nick Earls 2Confused yet? Well fear not, for Earls has enlisted the help of 12-year-old twins, Lexi and Al Hunter; to help save the English language and make sense of the fascinating etymological expedition they unwittingly embark on.

The Curious Dictionary, an ancient dictionary created by a chap called Caractacus and used for the last 1500 years by word hunters to protect word history, is the twins’ new Lonely Planet guide. With it they zip back and forth through the ages, hunting down words at risk of disappearing from the language and carefully tracking every step of their evolution in the past in order to keep them alive in the present (the words that is). The time travelling alone is enough to cause a bad case of chundering (the first new fact of many I learnt about time travel) and continually upset Doug, Al’s pet mouse. However, the sharp focus on the at-risk-words is what truly commands attention.

Word Hunters PegThe Dictionary’s definitions of endangered words are benignly simple as are some of the proffered words, hello and water for example. Thankfully (although at times regrettably), we are not over-flooded with threatened vocabulary which allows Lexi and Al plenty of time to visit ancient cities, meet great inventors and survive harrowing situations like the Battle of Hastings. In short, experience a really ripper world tour full of lumps and bumps and strange old men and curious gadgety golden peg things.

These books are pure essence of adventure for tween readers, enticing them into an historical literary experience they might not even recognise being in; the journey is so littered with quintessential Earls’ irreverent wit it is hard to believe we are learning something so vital, at least I felt I was. The historical detail is phenomenal. Moreover, it’s not just about the words.

As Lexi and Al hone their hunting skills and learn to cope with the time-slipping nausea, we are drawn into the engrossing world of UPPER and lower case, the timeline of printing, letter formation and so much more relating to etymology and philology. Now colour me dull, but I found this anything but dull!

Word Hunters Lost HuntersThe Lost Hunters involves more words, more battles, and alarmingly, a search for their grandfather who it turns out, is the lost hunter. Fortunately Whidborne’s beguiling illustrations heavily featured throughout the twins’ travels serve to lighten the mood, and push Earl’s acerbic historical observations (and some very gory situations) merrily along, albeit not so merrily for Doug the rat who firmly entrenches himself in my list of favourite characters in this volume. His contributions to sensory detail are Terry Whidbornepure brilliance.

By the third and final instalment, War of the Word Hunters, Al and Lexi are in full training mode owing to their impending battle with the armed and dangerous grey-robes, rogue hunters determined to thwart word history and so alter its course and irreversibly undo people and their cultures.

Word Hunters War of the Word HuntersThe Word Hunters series is not just a collection of etymological explanations and revelations, (although this was enough to captivate me long into the night), it is a gripping, exhilarating quest through time that at times makes your guts churn with dread and discomfort. The rest of the time, they’ll be dancing because you’re laughing so hard.

I loved all the characters: the good, the bad, the alive, the dead and the ones with unpronounceable names. I loved Earls’ wry union of our sometimes-inglorious past and our social-media ridden present. I loved Whidborne’s flamboyant execution of whimsy (and rats). And I loved the serious provoking of thought Word Hunters conjured and the passion for preserving words it stirred up in me. As Grandad Al said, ‘Every one of us is the consequence of a million flukes of history Word Hunter sketches– who met whom and where they went and what they did.’

It is kind of mind boggling but then, so is the Word Hunters series. Perfect for history buffs, word nerds, 9 – 13 year-olds and rat lovers.

Find all books, here. #ByAustralianBuyAustralian

UQP July 2013

 

 

It’s a Dog’s Life – Picture Book Reviews

If you’re anything like me you’ll love a good dog story, especially those feel-good ones of friendship, courage and love. Typically known as our best mates, the canine variety so often teach us about loyalty, responsibility and maintaining a zest for life, and these three picture books certainly contain these elements in their own gorgeous ways.  

imageBob the Railway Dog, Corinne Fenton (author), Andrew McLean (illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

Based on a true, moving story, Corinne Fenton uses a beautiful, poetic tone to tell of the history of the progress of railway tracks across vast Australian landscapes dating back to 1884.

Bound to be rabbit hunters in outback South Australia, a cargo of homeless dogs enter the station. It is Guard Will Ferry who spots a smiling, irresistible pup amongst them – Bob. Bob becomes the Guard’s travelling companion, covering areas from wheat fields through to mining towns, all the way from Oodnadatta to Kalangadoo. For years he’d spring on and out many a train; his experiences expanded along with the tracks being laid. Bob was a part of it all. He befriended many, and even attended a range of special events like the opening of the Hawkesbury River Railway Bridge in New South Wales. Bob was a wanderer. He had spirit and gusto. He was the railway dog that everyone knew and loved, and his photograph remains at the Adelaide Station still to this day.

A fascinating, delightfully written retell of an important part of Australia’s importing / exporting and travel network development, with the focal element being the adorable four-legged adventurer that brings life and excitement to this momentous tale. Matching the lively nature of the story are the watercolour, charcoal and black pencil illustrations with their fine details, movement and energy. Andrew McLean uses suitably muted colours with an almost sepia-tone representing this era with class and perfection.

‘Bob the Railway Dog’ features a strong, loveable character with extraordinary audacity. It is a great addition to any home or early years classroom with a wonderful Australian historical and social background.  

imageDog and the Lost Leg, Carlee Yardley (author, illus.), Walker Books, 2015.

With its charming sewn cotton and fabric characters, ‘Dog and the Lost Leg’ is a story with plenty of humour, interactivity and warmth.

It is always difficult to cope with the loss of something you’ve become quite attached to, particularly when it happens to be one of your legs! When Fox notices that Dog’s problem is caused by his missing leg, they embark on a mission to find it. Meeting other animals at their places of work, each one tries to help by offering a leg from the lost-and-found. Unfortunately, a motorbike boot from Bruno’s shop doesn’t quite fit, nor does a clawed foot from Harriet’s fruit market, and an assortment of tails from Pete the Peacock’s barber shop is definitely not right. A few giggles and some tears later, they finally approach Pip at her fabric shop. The leg that she sews looks a bit out of place, but it is perfect and puts the jiggle back in Dog’s tail.

A simple storyline with simple-looking yet adorable pictures (although I’m sure they would have been a lot of work to create) contains the perfect mix of laugh-out-loud moments and those of compassion from its preschool-aged readers. I can just hear those excitable shouts of “NO!” from the audience as they are questioned, “Is that Dog’s leg?”.

This book is an animated, engaging story of the case of a missing leg. With elements of problem solving, creativity, acceptance and wit, ‘Dog and the Lost Leg’ is a testament to the power of friendship and charity between diverse characters.  

imageThe Complete Guide to a Dog’s Best Friend, Felicity Gardner (author), David West (illus.), Lothian Children’s Books, 2015.

Here is another adorably funny book about dogs but with the inverse view of taking care of your best pet friend; the human.

Contrary to most picture books, this one is written for dogs. As an explanatory, informative text, the canine narrator describes all the important things there are to be known about ‘Best Friends’. But it is the way the pictures and words work together that capture humour and depth, and truly provide an eye-opening experience into the dog’s perspective. For example, apparently it’s alright to sit on the Best Friend’s face while they sleep because it is the dog’s job to wake them up if they sleep too long. Helpful gestures include taking out the rubbish, gardening, bringing in the washing and cleaning the toilet! All depicted with those cheeky, rascally behaviours that humans get annoyed about. But those astute pooches have perfect manipulation skills – the slight head tilt and the puppy dog eyes – works every time! And, dogs, even when the Best Friends do things that make no sense (such as strange haircuts and outfits), it’s your loyalty, protection, affection and love that will always get them on side.  

With vivacious, colourful illustrations that feature a mixture of media including watercolour, pencil and scanned newspapers and fabrics, this book captures a real sense of warmth, familiarity and truth. It contains the best elements about welcoming and loving a pet in your family, complete with all their accompanying antics.

‘A Complete Guide to a Dog’s Best Friend’ fosters an appreciation for our pets in a heartwarming, refreshing and ‘waggish’ way, sure to be adored by anyone from age three.

Review – Amy and the Wilpenea Flood An Australian Girl adventure

A sweeping yet generally accurate observation of girls aged up to 12 years or so, is that most love dolls, of some descript. In this age of zombie mutant, bloodsucking teenage wannabes, these aren’t necessarily the ubiquitous Barbie dolls or sleepy-eyed baby dolls either. Just about any recognisable, eye-catching, radically dressed, personality driven figurine will do the trick these days.

The crucial part is ensuring that the insane desire young girls develop for a particular doll or collection is born from an age appropriate and culturally enriching source. Not just as another clever marketing spinoff from the latest TV show.

Australian Girl dollsThis is where Australian Girl dolls, created by Helen Schofield, step in. Five doll characters, each with their own distinct personalities and backgrounds, aim to encourage imaginative, age relevant play. Chances are your daughter (or son) knows or is friendly with someone of a similar ethnic background as those of the dolls; such is the rich cultural diversity of our modern Australian society. Perhaps they can identify parts of themselves with their favourite doll. The exciting thing about the Australian Girl dolls is that now, thanks to Wombat Books, they have been brought to life through a new series of adventure based books.

Amy and the Wilpena Pound Amy and the Wilpena Flood, by Claudia Bouma, is the second in the series (there is a third soon to be released) which features all five heroines but lightly focuses on one particular girl as the catalyst or driving force of each story.

The premise is simple: five girls form a deep, do-or-die-for friendship and discover a powerful talisman in the shape of a rainbow necklace. With the aid of this magical charm they are able to time-slip throughout Australia’s past, which inevitability enables them to solve the dilemmas that they chance upon, like missing turtles for instance.

This time, it’s Amy’s turn. After she finds a mysterious map, she and her friends transport back in time to Wilpena Pound in South Australia. From the moment they arrive, it’s a race to save not only Jessie and her family, whom they encounter there, but also themselves from an unexpected catastrophic flood.

Amy Comic strip

Claudia BoumaClaudia Bouma manages to entertain us with an on-the-edge of your seat drama and catchy modern characters, in an upbeat introduction to our inimitable Aussie geography and history. The bold black and white illustrations of Emily, Amy, Matilda, Annabelle and Jasmine sprinkled throughout this chapter book by cartoonist, Jason Chatfield (aka the current Ginger Meggs), left me lingering over it long after the flood waters of Wilpena Pound had receded.

Jason Chatfield

Packed with true blue Aussie spirit and solid reference to the favourable merits of friendship, courage and perseverance, Amy and the Wilpena Flood is a treat to read. And one you don’t have to be a girl or lover of dolls to appreciate either.

Great for primary school aged children.

View and purchase this book here.

Wombat Books August 2013

 

Review – Grandpa’s Gold

GGoldOnce upon a time, not long ago, unearthing quality crafted, self-published children’s books was like fossicking for gold. They were out there, but often buried under layers of fools’ gold. Grandpa’s Gold is one of the genuine gems.

For me, one of the greatest rewards of being a parent is being able to share the world’s wonders and its treasures with your offspring. Heading off on adventurous travel, although beset with obvious challenges, creates unimaginable, lasting memories for young and old alike. Seasoned children’s author, Robin Adolphs, has struck gold with this slick, memorable story about a young boy and his grandfather sharing such an adventure.

Jake has a Grandpa who possesses a 4WD and the ancient ability to read maps. Best of all, he knows how to find gold. He and Jake set off one day in search of it. Along the way, Grandpa reveals just how elusive the precious metal is and how tricky it is to find. Jake is fascinated to learn that if he listens hard enough for a ‘kind of WHOOP-WHOOP noise’, gold won’t be far away.

They set up camp in the goldfields. Jake hears many noises that first night but none of them the WHOOP-WHOOP of gold. That is until Grandpa introduces Jake to the mysteries of a metal detector. Jake is spell-bound by it, having had ‘no idea the earth was so noisy’.

Each buzz, crackle and whirr prompts them to stop and dig. Soon Jake’s pockets are bulging with treasures: a rust billy can, an old hob-nail, a broken horseshoe, even the head of a pick-axe; relics of a yesteryear all too wonderful for a small boy to leave behind. Grandpa’s efforts are less fruitful until he relinquishes the detector to Jake. WHOOP-WHOOP! ‘And there is was. Gold!’

This appealing tale transported me back to the time I spent fossicking the gem fields of west Queensland. Miles and miles of Brigalow scrub, rocky outcrops and the promise of stumbling across the next pink sapphire kept me there for a spell. Fossicking for one’s fortune is an addictive occupation only the human race has bothered to adapt for; only we can devote countless hours to sifting through barrows of scree, tediously sluicing gallons of mud or blowing up mountains in search of something so ridiculously small and shiny in comparison to the huge, dirty effort expended looking for it.

Robin AdolphsRobin Adolph’s story suggests there is more to be gained from the quest itself than the find. (She’s right. There is something almost therapeutic about time spent this way.) Grandpa and Jake share much more together than plain old greed. They experience the thrill of adventure, a shared camaraderie and those marvellously unquantifiable feelings of anticipation and inflated expectation.

A winning picture book embraces many levels. Grandpa’s Gold does this in spades. This is cheekily represented in the last page spread with an alluvial multi-layering of treasures that Jake is determined to find one day.

Perhaps the best discoveries in Grandpa’s Gold for me are the illustrations of Arthur Filloy. Big, bold, cartoon-style drawings flood each page with sound and motion. Jake and Grandpa are depicted in beguiling caricature fashion. I particularly like the way the illustrations involve both pages with shales of rock, drifting clouds and nocturnal eyes appearing on pages of text– something not often found in self-published picture book offerings. The simple line drawings of an old timer from a by-gone era ‘using’ the treasures Jake mines on each opposite page are genius and help span a young reader’s understanding of the passing of generations.

But that’s not all. Ex-teacher Adolphs gives us one last reason to linger a little longer in search of hidden treasure – A did you find…Quiz at the back of the book. This was the clincher for my Miss 7, who declared Grandpa’s Gold as ‘a very cool book’. Eureka!

Recommended for 3 – 8 year olds as enthusiastically as heading off into the sunset in search of adventure with them.

Butternut Books April 2013

Adolphs’ other titles under Butternut Books include Yesterday I Played in the Rain and The Pile Up.

Lucky SE Queenslanders have a chance to experience all the fun of finding gold this weekend at the official launch of Grandpa’s Gold 13th April at Logan North Library 10.00am, Underwood, QLD