Books with Bite – YA and MG reviews

Young Adult and Mid-grade novels are being gobbled up by kids and young adults almost faster than they can be cooked up. The exhilarating storylines and make-you-laugh-hate-cry predicaments I discover between the covers of YA and junior novels are repeatedly rewarding, and contrary to the views of some of my adult-only reading friends, capable of imparting deep satisfaction with tales of intense emotion and believable fantasy. These novels tell it like it is, with a no hold bars attitude and formidable spunk that instantly cements our dislike or admiration for the heroes within. They are quick and honest reads to invest in, which is why they are so perennially popular. Here are some you might like to eat up, if you can wrest them off your teenager’s bookshelf.

Mid-Upper Primary Reads

The Vanilla Slice KidThe Vanilla Slice Kid takes the custard-pie-in-the-face gag to a death defying new level. Chockers with slap stick humour and oozing with more pink spew than you can catch in a wheelbarrow, this midgrade novel is sure to crack a smile on the dials of 6 – 11 year-olds. Archie is a kid with envious abilities; he can shoot sweet sticky treats from the palms of his hands. Only trouble is he hates cakes and has a set of parents and one hysterically insane General bent on exploiting his super talent. As the General’s domination of the world draws closer and Archie’s own life hangs in a gooey mess of trifle and fruitcake, Archie must rapidly decide who to trust and what to eat. Deliciously good fun, Adam Wallace and Jack Wodhams know how to whet young appetites. Liberally sprinkled with wacky line drawings by Tom Gittus, The Vanilla Slice Kid is one satisfying read.

Ford Street Publishing October 2015

CrossingCrossing by Catherine Norton had me engrossed from start to finish. This softly dystopian drama is an interesting reflective exploration of the corruption and discord that can develop in human society no matter how long we spend on this planet and an interesting suggestion that history is ever capable of repeating itself. Echoes of WWII communistic control reverberate throughout with the most obvious similarity being the Wall, which separates 12 year-old Cara’s reality from a future she has never dared think about before let alone attempt to strive for. Norton’s gripping narrative echoes with prophetic what ifs, encourages individualism, and reminds us to never ‘let them wall your mind.’

Omnibus Books May 2014

Upper Primary – 14+ Reads

Talk UnderwaterTalk Under Water by Kathryn Lomer is a breezy light-hearted read about a couple of teenagers facing not so breezy light-hearted experiences. Seems talking under water is easier than you think (especially if you are deaf), but talking above it about your innermost desires and trepidations is not quite as smooth sailing.  Life in the teenage world can be ‘as simple and as complicated as that’ accordingly to Will who is wrest from his mainland home to Tasmania on the whim of his disillusioned divorced dad. When he meets Summer, his world begins to brighten, however her reluctance to share her deafness with him for fear of thwarting their budding relationship creates confusion and misunderstanding deeper than the Bass Strait. Written in an expository and introspective style, Talk Under Water is a beautiful observation of being young and being deaf, literally giving diversity a face and voice.

UQP August 2015

OneOne by Sarah Crossan is searingly beautiful. I’m almost lost for words. Poignant, painful and playful, Crossan invites us to spend the end of summer and beyond with conjoined twins, Tippi and Grace. It’s an experience you are not likely to forget in a hurry. Explicit yet elegant, this verse novel has the power to move you effortlessly from mirth to heartbreak with a solitary syllable. Written with sensitivity and extraordinary candour, One is one of the more ‘grown up’ verse novels I’ve read yet possesses all the succinct expressive precision I’ve come to expect and enjoy of them. Crossan examines the one question: what does it mean to want and have a soul mate? Is the battle for identity and dignity worth the loss of sisterhood love? Unequivocally compelling and wrenching and highly recommended.

Bloomsbury Children’s September 2015

YA – New Adult Reads

The FlywheelFurther embracing the notion of diversity is Erin Gough’s *The Flywheel. This upper high school read is LOL funny and tummy turning cringe-worthy (Not because of the writing – Gough’s narrative is prose perfect. More because of the excruciatingly embarrassing and difficult situations 17 year-old Delilah must struggle her way through.)       I had not expected The Flywheel to delve head first into the impenetrable tangles of unwanted responsibility, sexual identity, social expectations and love with such wild abandon nor so entertainingly. Thoroughly absorbing characters, snappy wordplay and enough fraught situations coupled with realistic downers kept me guessing how life was ever going to pan out for Dancing Queen Del. The Flywheel (café) is the type of place I’d like to return to. Definitely worth a visit.

Hardie Grant Egmont February 2015

The Rest of Us Just Live HereIt is near impossible to put into words just how ingenious Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here is. Ness writes with such acerbic wit and abandon in such an incredibly controlled, dagger-precise way, it actually becomes a sheer joy to be caught in the swirling angst of so many pre-grad teenagers. This is the penultimate tale of the underdog finessed with consummate care and at times an irreverence you cannot help but admire. Ness’s mixed posse of Unchosen Ones led by Mr McOrdinary, Mikey barely have to whisper for attention yet are heard with stinging clarity. They banally attempt to get on with their lives and graduate however, the Chosen Ones’ inability to deal with the Big Bad continually claims their attention. Explosively wicked, you must experience this (Ness) for yourself.

Walker Books August 2015

*You’ll note a fair whack of these terrific reads are by Aussie authors and for some, this is their first novel, made possible by such incentives as The Ampersand Project. When you purchase and read an Aussie title, you are not only supporting the further creation of more awesome stories but you are in no small way ensuring the survival of a distinctly unique and vital Australian industry. Read all about Boomerang Books commitment to #ByAustralianBuyAustralian here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DINO-MITE! Dinosaur picture books with bite

If dinosaurs had any inkling as to how popular they’d end up, I’m sure they would have stuck around longer to enjoy their fame and fortune. Here are a few more new titles to add to your prehistoric, dino-inspired picture book collection, some serious, some silly. All fun.

dino-daddy Dino-Daddy by Mark Sperring and Sam Lloyd is a gentle, non-taxing dino analogy highlighting the worth and value of dads. Dino-dad is sometimes over-worked, not ultra-vigilant, but always super caring and fun! Pre-schoolers will think it fun too. One to save for Father’s Day.

Bloomsbury May 2015

 I wanna by a Great Big Dinosaur (who doesn’t) by author illustrator, Heath McKenzie takes up where I wanna be a Pretty Princess left off. This time, there’s not a scrap of pink in sight, which is great news for McKenzie’s boy fan base and all those little girls who prefer scales, teeth, and claws to tiaras and tea parties.

I wanna be a great big dinosaur McKenzie follows a familiar formula however the perfect pouting princess tutor is replaced with with a meat-loving, liberal minded T-Rex who eventually succumbs to the selfless friendship of his little boy. Be sure to study the end pages, which reveal more of McKenzie’s easy to digest humour.

Scholastic Press May 2015

Ten Tricky DinosaursCounting picture books never lose their flavour. However, keeping them bright and engaging requires imagination, a good dash of silliness, and a sharp eye for detail. Amanda Tarlau and Karen Mounsey-Smith display all these in Ten Tricky Dinosaurs. Simple, kid friendly statements set up each numerical situation providing pre-schoolers with pages of visual exploration and rapture. It’s the illustrative details and visual challenges that I enjoy most about these books; ‘spot the ladybugs’ for instance. Makes you wonder if this really was how the countdown of the dinos’ great demise occurred.

Koala Books May 2015

Jurassic FartsPerhaps my favourite of the pickings today is Jurassic Farts A spotter’s guide. (Please, no judgement) For the dinosaur enthusiast, this is the penultimate, non-fiction (and I use that term loosely) guide book to complete their paleontological board book collection.

P. U. Rippley, the ‘author’ of this unique and oddly informative text, invites young palentologists on a tour of the Ordovician, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods, stopping along the way to spend time with ten intriguing prehistoric reptiles and sea creatures. Some are instantly familiar, others require a second look. However, one thing is for sure, not one of us would be able to recognise these creatures from their farts…until now.

Jurassic Farts illo spreadThanks to Rippley’s short and sassy explanations and Evan Palmer’s wind assisted illustrations PLUS an easy to use, number referenced audio recording of each dinosaur discussed, now everyone can appreciate the deadly long-range stink of the Mamenchisaurus.

Sublime, silly slapstick humour with enough fact and fart sounds to hold the interest of 3 – 6 year-olds and perhaps their fathers for hours.

And the best part? You can change the batteries in the sound device. Unlike the common bottom burp, this promises to be a gift that lingers on and on and on…

Scholastic Australia May 2015

PS Mum, this is for you – Mother’s Day picture book reviews

Unconditional love, tolerance and understanding; all qualities most mothers possess in spades. They warrant gratitude every single day, not just on Mother’s Day. So this year, before you load up mum with a bed full of toast crumbs and good intentions snuggle up to her with one of your favourite ‘I love you’ reads. Here are a few picture books to get you in the mood (or for you to help your little ones on their way to a blissful Mother’s Day!)

Our Love GrowsOur Love Grows by Anna Pignataro has a sublime que sera sera flavour to it created by Panda Pip’s repeated question, ‘When will I be big?’. His wise Mama calmly explains that with the passing of time, he is growing as surely as the world around him that is also continuously altering. Petals fall, seasons change, footsteps grow bigger in the snow, and babies that once fit snuggly into a mother’s embrace become too large for arms to hold but never hearts. A beautiful poignant reminder that the passing of time never diminishes a mother’s love, rather it augments it. Pignataro’s illustrations will melt your heart.

Scholastic Press March 2015

Blow Me a KissFirst published in 2010, Blow Me a Kiss by Karen Collum and Serena Geddes, captures the spirit of innocence and belief that the very young enjoy sharing so vicariously. Samuel shares his kisses with a range of unsuspecting rather grumpy individuals as he and his mother go about their daily tasks, unwittingly infecting all those around him with joy and happiness. Playful text springs alive with Geddes’ bouncing illustrations. A love fest for the soul.

New Frontier Publishing paperback March 2015

Grandma the Baby and MeNew additions to any family can result in times of turbulence and tribulations. In Grandma, the Baby and Me, Grandma understands this better than anyone does, especially when Henry’s new sibling joins them. Life skids off kilter for Henry as he adjusts to new family dynamics and the feelings they stir up. Fortunately, Grandma’s special little hand squeezes help reinstate Henry’s tolerance and love. Emma AGrandma the baby and me illo spreadllen tells Henry’s tale with expressive warmth and adroit pre-schooler perception enhanced by Hannah Sommerville’s beautiful watercolour illustrations. A touching portrayal of the significance of secondary carers and grandparents in a child’s life.

Omnibus Books September 2014

Hooray It's a New Royal BabyHaving lived through the birth of baby George in Shh! Don’t Wake the Royal Baby! and his first birthday in Happy Birthday Royal Baby!, the Cambridgeshire corgis are about to have their world rejigged once again. Announcing the new picture book by Martha Mumford and Ada Grey, commemorating the imminent second arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Hooray! It’s a New Royal Baby!

While the titles may not invigorate the imagination, this series of books provides royal lovers and young families alike with enough colour and laughs to tie them over from one headline to the next. This book shows everyone in the palace experiencing unmeasurable pomp and excitement as Royal baby No. 2 makes his way into the palace.

George however is not as amused. The Duke attempts to appease his royal first born with a new pet goldfish, which is brilliant at first but quickly Shh Don't Wake the Royal Babybecomes boring.

Fortunately, George discovers that babies are anything but boring and ‘much more fun than having a new goldfish’. He and the new Royal baby soon develop an unbreakable bond of sibling love, but is it enough to convince the Royal couple to have more children?

Bubbling with cheek and gaiety, Grey’s illustrations capture the Royal family verve with incredible likeness and a right royal jolliness that reflects this cute, family-orientated narrative.

Bloomsbury March 2015

 

Rounding up the Reindeers – Frivolous Fun Reads

Okay, so the countdown is on: Chrissy pudding curing away; Christmas turkey ordered; extra chairs stacked ready for those visiting hoards. Santa’s list might even already be on its way to the North Pole but you realise you have a few more stockings to stuff. Here are a bunch of playful festive reads that may be a little low on literary beef but will deck your halls with seasonal joy and verve. They are guaranteed to keep anyone up to six years-old thoroughly amused for at least as long as it takes to roast your Christmas turkey. And the best part? You can sing-a-long to just about every one of them!

One NightExcept this one,…One Night by Penny Matthews and Stephen Michael King is perhaps the least frivolous of the bunch being a heart-warming retelling about the legend of talking animals who magically relive the night Jesus was born every Christmas Eve at midnight. The conversational narrative paired with Stephen Michael King’s divine watercolour illustrations is so dreamlike, you’ll want to wish upon a star and listen out for the animals at midnight too.

Omnibus Books October 2014

Santa's Busy ReindeerForget about ten green bottles – Santa’s Busy Reindeer means red, as in Rudolph’s nose, is the new green. Ed Allen teams up with Sydney illustrator, Nathaniel Eckstrom as ten of Santa’s reindeer scramble madly to get a sleigh load of pressies delivered on time. Trouble is, they are too easily distracted for their own good. A jolly read-aloud counting book that embraces the sillier bits of the silly season.

Scholastic Australia October 2014

Keep an eye on your Christmas tree and everything under it because that bloke’s back and his Christmas appetite is bigger than a five year-old’s wish list to Santa.

There was an Old Bloke who Swallowed a PresentThere was an Old Bloke Who Swallowed a Present is bigger, brighter and even more ludicrous than previous Old Bloke and Old Lady books by P. Crumble and Louis Shea. Brimming with batty brilliance, this is visual gravy for your festive fare. It left me wondering though, how much that Old Bloke looks like someone I know. Possibly one of the best titles I’ve read in this series.

Scholastic Australia October 2014
The Twelve Days of ChristmasTake it down a gear or two with The Twelve Days of Christmas. Alison Jay’s distinctive fine art work gives this well-known song an almost vintage feel. The sumptuous illustrations are visually stimulating yet instil a genteel tranquillity in contrast to the frenetic rising tempo of the song, suggesting that you can have too much of a good thing. Merry makers be warned!

Koala Books October 2014

Amelie and Nanette SnowflakesFor little girls who want a bit more of a bedtime story to fall into dreams with, try Amelie and Nanette: Snowflakes and Fairy Wishes by Sophie Tilley. It’s all things soft and sugary just like the tops of the girls’ fairy cakes and just as sickly sweet in parts but then Christmas is the time to allow a bit of self-indulgence. Shimmering tinsel stars, enduring friendships and fairy wings are de rigueur for these two this Christmas.

Bloomsbury Children’s Books October 2014

Yikes Santa ClawsNeed something for the mini male monster masters in your life then whack Yikes, Santa Claws! by Pamela Butchart and Sam Lloyd on your list. It has dinosaurs, Santa, the word ‘poo’ in it and a nice lilting rhythm. Winner!

Bloomsbury Publishing November 2014

Ella and Olivia Christmas CountdownEJ Hide and PeekLet your slightly older readers snuggle up with these early reader chapter books as you digest the last of the fruit mince pies. Fans and followers of Ella and Olivia will be in raptures with their Christmas instalment of Christmas Wonderland, while EJ 10 recruits can join Emma Jacks as she discovers why Christmas can be full of surprises in Hide and Peek.

Scholastic October 2014

Deck the Shed with Bits of Wattle Glen Singleton’s illustrations just scream Australiana for me, which may explain why I tried to scream this picture book aloud to my family with such unbridled enthusiasm. Perhaps I should have relied more on the bonus CD thoughtfully included. Happy to report my rendition of this popular Chrissy carol did nothing to diminish their enjoyment of Colin Buchanan’s (along with Greg Champion) and Glen Singleton’s Deck the Shed with Bits of Wattle.

Syd Echidna is in the throes of sprucing up his shed for Christmas when a wretched willy-willy ‘undecorates’ all his hard work. Exasperated beyond exhaustion, Syd slips into a deep sleep while a troop of his best mates set to work on a bonza Christmas surprise for him.

Leg thumping, sing-along jocularity that will be getting lots of airplay around these parts this season. Because who doesn’t love a bit of song and dance at Christmas time? Make sure your kids are part of the fun.

Scholastic Australia October 2014

These aren’t even the tip of the iceberg, more a small bump somewhere near the top a North Pole-sized mountain of cool Chrissy reads available this season. Be sure to look around our other posts for more great kids’ titles.

If you’re looking for gifts with less focus on Christmas flavour but equal heart and soul, keep an eye out for my next post: Dim’s Top 25 Cracking Christmas Reads for Kids.