Reluctant Heroes – Junior Novels That Conquer Doubt

Being the leader of the pack is not a role everyone relishes, especially if you are that shy kid who never kicks a goal or that odd sounding, looking kid whose school lunches never quite fit the norm. However it is often the most reluctant heroes that make the biggest impact and save the day. Being at odds with yourself and your perceived persona is the theme of these books, so beautifully summarised in their paradoxical titles. What I love about these two authors is their inherent ability to commentate messages of significant social weight with supreme wit and humor. It’s like feeding kids sausage rolls made of brussel sprouts.

Natural Born Leader Loser by Oliver Phommavanh

Raymond is stuck in a school with a reputation grubbier than a two-year-old’s left hand and choked with bullies. The best way he knows of fighting these realities is not to fight at all. Raymond is king of fading into the background especially when it comes to his friendship with best mate, Zain Afrani.

Zain is a soccer nut and self-confessed extrovert whom has a deep affinity for Raymond. He likes to flash his brash approach to bullying about much to the consternation of Raymond who happily gives up the spotlight to Zain whenever he’s around. Constant self-depreciation just about convinces Raymond that he’ll never amount to anything of much significance, which he is sort of all right with until their new principal blows his social-circumvention cover by appointing him as one of the new school prefects.

Raymond is as shocked as the rest of the school but reluctantly assumes the role along with a kooky cast of radically differing kids. Under the calm, consistent leadership of Raymond, this eclectic team not only manages to drag Barryjong Primary School out of its bad-rep quagmire by winning the hearts and minds of the students and faculty alike but while doing so, raises enough money for new air conditioners for every classroom.

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Be Brave – Picture Books that Celebrate Overcoming Doubts

Being brave, is less about being courageous and more about ignoring your fear because you simply cannot afford to waste any more time on it. Overcoming doubts and anxieties is something children face every day. Picture books like these encourage a heightened awareness of one’s own feelings and capabilities and in doing so banish fears and promote determination.

Where’s Bear? by Sarah Elliott Smyth and Nicky Johnston

Sophie represents a whole playground of children who spiral into anguish after they lose a precious toy, or in their eyes, a stalwart playmate. When Bear goes missing, Sophie embarks on an apprehension-filled journey in search of him that will have little ones perched on the edge of their seats. Thankfully, the cute ending reunites and delights. Johnston’s winsome illustrations elevate this heart-warming story of facing your fears and tenacity to the next level. Utterly endearing, this story will warm the cockles of your heart and encourage very young children to ‘never stop hoping’.

Empowering Resources February 2018

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Biographical Non-Fiction Picture Books

I was never much one for history, preferring even today, to live and learn vicariously through faction. Fortunately, thanks to the talents of some remarkable picture book creators, biographical accounts of famous and not so famous people literally come alive, enhancing history in the most beguiling way. I am elated to share some of the non-fiction picture book standouts available today and to admit, I am richer for them.

Little People, Big Dreams Series by Isabel Sanchez Vegara  and Various Illustrators

There are about ten books in this fascinating illustrated series spotlighting some of history’s most notable female figures in arts, science, aviation, and commerce. From Frida Kahlo and Amelia Earhart to Marie Curie and Agatha Christie, each beautifully crafted book presents the story of these women from their childhood to their most well-known achievement.   Vegara’s narratives are sincere and informative without being overtly florid or overloaded with facts and each book contains a pictorial time line of the featured woman at the end allowing readers to match their story with actual dates.  The common theme that you can be whomever you wish to be and do whatever you wish to do, is what makes this series so attractive for young readers, and older ones thirsting for a sense empowerment. An absolute inspiring joy to collect and cherish.

Quarto Group UK February 2016 – March 2018

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Dim’s Christmas Crackers List # 2 – Sports Books

I confess, I am not impressive with a bat or ball. Playing sports has never really been my thing. What I have discovered however, is that reading about sports is far more satisfying for me and if even if you don’t have a footy-mad under nine-year-old or even a book-crazy child, the following sports books may be just the ticket to igniting an appreciation for both, this Christmas.

3 – 7 years

Great Goal! Marvellous Mark! by Katrina Germein and Janine Dawson

This is an alphabet picture book with a lovely difference – it appeals to footy fanatical boys and girls who love AFL but also enjoy the thrill and anticipation of team play. Superb alliteration and spirited illustrations take readers from A to Z, through a wet and wonderful day on the field. I love the exaggerated use of letter repetition used to reinforce and introduce new word sounds. Sensational squelchy fun.

Ford Street Publishing 2017

6 – 9 years Junior novels for younger readers

Ballerina Dreams: A True Story by Michaela & Elaine DePrince and Ella Okstad

This is a gorgeous pretty in pink story about prima ballerina, Michaela DePrince. Abandoned in a Sierra Leone orphanage, then adopted by the DePrinces, it tells of Michaela’s rise from poverty and despair to attaining her dream of dancing on her toes and flying through the air after seeing a picture of a woman with pink shoes on her feet on a magazine cover. Poignant and gently inspirational. Highly recommended for those with a dancing dream of their own.

Random House for Children first published, Faber & Faber UK May 2017

Double Trouble Skateboard Stars by Felicity Carter and Louis Shea

Uncomplicated text and a sizzling storyline make these tales of friendship perfect for early primary readers. There are a few titles in this series about twin brothers, Thomas and Cooper, which will claim the attention of little lads but the premise of these identical troublemakers pulling pranks wherever and whenever they can has universal appeal.

Scholastic Australia February 2014

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Review – The BAD GUYS Episode 1 by Aaron Blabey

the-bad-guys-episode-1Admittedly, I’m a picture book fanatic, but I’m also an Aaron Blabey fan so I wasn’t going to let a 137-page chapter book with colourless illustrations stop me from exploring it. In fact, it made no difference to my level of reading pleasure; ‘The BAD GUYS’ is highly interactive and witty and kind of like a long picture book anyway.  

Characteristic to his style, Aaron Blabey has written a story with his slightly sick sense of humour, subtle message, clever use of language and with a twist on the expected. In eight hilarious, yet intense chapters, we join this mob of dangerous, dubious characters on their quest to take over the world. No, seriously, Mr. Wolf, Mr. Shark, Mr. Snake and Mr. Piranha are not as menacing as you might think. Actually, they are simply MISUNDERSTOOD. Actually, they want to be HEROES.

carThrough informal language, Mr. Wolf introduces the reader to each member of his gang; the accused ‘villains’, trying to prove their innocence. Funnily enough, there’s the occassional hiccup. His efforts are constantly challenged by his starving pals wanting something more wholesome than a little cupcake. Plus, it doesn’t help his case having Suspect Rap Sheets typed by the Police Department showcasing their criminal activities on display for all us readers to view.
So, Mr. Wolf proceeds to indoctrinate the crew into his Good Guys Club. Still not convinced, the gang set off in their ‘fully sick’, flaming cool car to rescue a kitty in a tree…with some ‘cat-astrophic’ results (don’t worry, the cat was not harmed).
Next on their mission, Mr. Wolf plans a 200 puppy rescue from a maximum security dog pound. What happens next is like a twisted fairy tale meets a twisted ‘Jaws’ movie. As if the illustrations weren’t comical enough, this whole scene is absolutely hilarious! And as if there weren’t enough surprises, is it a coincidence that our not-so lovable little Pig the Pug is found imprisoned in one of the cells!

4C44DAE3CC68D0F21D9C2E3183C7FD64613ACASo, do they turn out to be the type of heroes they had hoped? How do the gang feel about being ‘good guys’? Stay tuned for their next jaw-dropping adventure in The Bad Guys: Episode 2!

With its obvious references to traditional fairy tales and well-known ‘notorious’ personas, the plot is mostly straightforward, the language uncomplicated, and the humour dry, but also leaves room for readers to make inferences on the consequences of their actions and predictions for future episodes. The black and white illustrations actually suit this shady crowd perfectly. Being such a lively story as it is, a literally dull tone brings the levels to a perfect balance. Needless to say, Aaron Blabey‘s animations are completely satirical with their comic-style sequences and regular in-your-face boldness of big-eyed expressions and large, bouncy font.

‘The Bad Guys’ is a laugh-out-loud, unputdownable read with totally convincing edgy and quirky characters, sure to be a hit amongst 6-9 year old early readers.

Scholastic Australia, 2015.

View the book trailer here.
Visit Aaron Blabey’s website.