Reviews: Three More Titles in the Sage Cookson Series

I previously reviewed Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth as ‘zesty and refreshing’ (here), and the next three titles in this lively series are no different. Sally Murphy pours heart and spirit into her chapter books for emerging readers as she takes her ten-year-old protagonist on more cultural, and culinary, adventures.

In Fishy Surprise, Sage is excited to be able to take her best friend, Lucy on their next trip, where her famous chef parents, the Cooksons, will be filming in Crystal Bay. White sandy beaches, turquoise seas, and lapping up the goodness of the best fish and chips in Australia sounds like the ultimate in travel adventures. But despite Sage’s media-shy character, she seems to uncannily draw plenty of attention when she gets herself into ‘fishy’ situations. Sabotage and jealousy of someone from the past cause clashing waves, but her calm, rational thinking sees Sage thankfully escape the unsavoury ordeal.
Friendship, rivalry and personal safety lead as the prominent themes in Fishy Surprise. It is told with energy and a propriety that children from age seven can understand. I’m sure it’ll hook them from the beginning!

Singapore Sensation delves into the mystery of the pink haired woman who seems to be following the Cooksons from their home town to Singapore. Sage’s suspicion of the shady Nancy from the previous stories is aroused, especially when TV chef Mum, Ginger’s cook book manuscript goes missing. In between the chaotic worries of cook book theft and plagiarism, we are delighted to some sensational Singaporian delights of satay skewers, curry and prata breads, tranquil rivers, old colonial buildings and Sentosa Island theme parks. Finally, Sage’s answers are uncovered – perhaps next time she won’t jump to premature conclusions.
Singapore Sensation explores all things ‘sensations’, including a myriad of fascinating sights, the tastiest treats, and an emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows. It is engaging, whimsical, and straightforward to read for those youngsters hungry for a cultural, and suspenseful, experience.

Sage’s confidence in the spotlight is tested in Literary Launch as she faces the terrifying prospect of public speaking. Highly relatable, I’m sure, to many readers, the nine short chapters capture a glance at the thought processes and preparations necessary to overcome this apprehension. With a school presentation and her Mum’s cook book launch fast approaching, the household is buzzing with nervous excitement. The sensitive girl wants everything to run smoothly, and when cracks, and crumbs, begin to appear, Sage is unsure if she can cope. Disaster with cupcakes and congestion of traffic might just ruin Mum’s big day. But what better way to deliver a great outcome than by volunteering to speak at the launch… with practise under her belt, she’ll nail that school assignment.
This story is about learning to deal with stressful situations and challenging oneself in managing personal hurdles. Literary Launch is a light-hearted, enlightening and encouraging story that middle graders will speak of highly.

The Sage Cookson series showcases a delightful character in Sage; a real kid who makes mistakes but also makes the best of every situation. They are best read in succession to follow Sage’s journey and to reflect on the connections from one book to the next. Celeste Hulme‘s black and white sketched illustrations delightfully pronounce the mood of each chapter, and the handy recipes at the conclusions, and on the website, brilliantly engage the audience with this series. Recommended for budding chefs and travel adventure lovers.

New Frontier Publishing, 2017.

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Review – Sage Cookson’s Ring of Truth by Sally Murphy

Sometimes, you just need some good food, good spirit, or a good book to make your day, or week, or holiday season. Well, how about all three rolled into one? Sally Murphy’s Sage Cookson early reader series certainly satisfies. Here’s the latest book, ‘Ring of Truth’.

imageA bright, eager to please young Sage is the luckiest daughter of world famous TV star chefs, enjoying an exciting life of adventure, travel and delicious culinary delights. Content to take a back seat from the limelight, Sage Cookson is off on another enlightening trip with her parents to watch the filming in the beautiful Harmon Island. There they meet two sisters who will feature on the show; pastry chefs of the most scrumptious pastries, pies and bread. But the success of the segment, and Sage’s good-natured reputation, hang in the balance when one of the sister’s treasured emerald ring goes missing. Can Sage clear her name? Will they go on with the show? There is one ‘pie’-ticular piece of evidence that will reveal the truth.

Within the ten short chapters is a plot that is straightforward and easy for early readers to grasp. Charmingly, the peppering of feeling and warmth throughout adds that extra flavour of drama and emotive goodness. Murphy cleverly integrates themes of friendship, sincerity and modesty within the exhilaration that unfolds in the final scenes. And decorated at each chapter heading are the rich, black and white pencil shadings of illustrator Celeste Hulme, tantalising our senses for what’s ahead.

imageInfused with zest and a sense of refreshment, Ring of Truth satisfies its readers with honesty, passion and aplomb. This series is a treat for all chefs in the making from age seven.

Check out Sage Cookson’s Sweet Escape, and Sage Cookson’s Fishy Surprise, out January 2017.

New Frontier Publishing, September 2016.

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Double Dipping – Living with Dodos and Alice – Picture book reviews

In a world of dwindling attention spans and narrowing fields of vision, it may be argued that the gaps between past and present are so expansive there is no reason to traverse them anymore let alone acknowledge past discoveries or other people’s situations.

New Frontier Publishing ignores this argument, offering two new courageous storylines within two beautifully presented picture books both worthy of much discussion and fawning over.

Adorable AliceThe first is Adorable Alice by Cassandra Webb and Michaela Blassnig. At first glance this picture book feels and looks too pink and perfect to be promising then I noticed Alice, plucky and bright, striding confidently across the cover into her story. So I followed her.

Like many young children, Alice lives in the here and now moments of life. She likes doing ‘something different every day’. What makes the week in question so special is her self-appointed mission of sensory-deprivation. Almost without conscience thought, Alice explores her home each day in a different way; with her eyes closed, her arms tied, her nose blocked and so on. Deprivation of one sense sharpens her others, which she discovers increases her understanding and enjoyment of the world around her, in spite of her familiarity with it.

Evocative narrative descriptions reinforce comfortable associations so that the reader is able to link the sound of grandma chopping with the smell of peaches for instance. Spatial awareness is enhanced for the reader as Alice makes her way to Grandpa by ‘listening, feeling and smelling’.

The coupling of Blassnig’s bright and bouncy illustrations with Webb’s sensory-laden sentence structure introduces young readers to their five senses and the importance of empathy in a sympathetically simple and tactile way.

May 2014

Edward and the Great DiscoveryFollowing New Frontier Publishing’s penchant for picture books with little pre-amble but plenty of thought provoking action and consequence is the stimulating, Edward and the Great Discovery. This is Rebecca McRitchie’s and Celeste Hulme’s first foray into picture books and it seems they have hit pay dirt. It could have something to do with my Indiana Jones obsession or my fascination with Dodos or maybe it is just the kid in me still hoping to make that marvellous discovery in my own backyard someday, but I was thoroughly entranced by Edward’s tale.

Despite an impressive family pedigree of archaeology, Edward has never discovered a single thing of greatness. Until one night, after filling his backyard with craters chance bestows him with not only a wondrous scientific discovery but also a deeper understanding of true friendship.

McRitche writes with understated sincerity giving children just enough hope and daring to intrigue them whilst at the same time gently exposing them to the wonders of natural history. It is a story that is both exciting and touching.

Hulme’s expressive illustrations , pleasantly reminiscent of Terry Whidborne’s work, feature spade-loads of sensitive detail; cushions for Edward’s bird to land on, real red-knit scarf to share warmth and love with, minute gems hidden deep within reality.Edward and his Egg

It is these kinds of treasures that children adore discovering in picture books for themselves and is why this proposed picture book series is a priceless find for expanding the attention spans of 4 – 6 + year-olds. I for one cannot wait to see what new adventures Edward uses his extensive kit on. Then again, I’ve always been drawn to archaeologists…

June 2014