Reviews – Ripping Mid-Grade Reads Two Wolves & Little Chef, BIG Curse

Mid-grade readers, tween fiction, early YA; call themLittle Chef Big Curse what you will, but books for 8 -13 year-olds must satisfy vital criteria. They require substance, humour be it belly-busting or cloaked as parody, and a completely honest rendering of imagination, no matter how fantastical the premise. Little Chef, BIG Curse and Two Wolves fulfil on all counts. Both are heftier reads for mid to upper primary aged kids (in excess of 200 pages). And ones I could have gleefully gobbled up again immediately I reached the end.

 Little Chef, BIG Curse is the debut work of Tilney Cotton and possibly one of the most exuberant reads I’ve enjoyed in ages. I’m not sure if it’s because of the foodie in me or the zealous, ribaldry with which Cotton writes but Little Chef, BIG Curse is utterly delectable and insanely moreish.

It’s an off-beat taTilney Cottonle about hapless 11 year-old, Matty Swink who dreams of being a famous chef. He is practically enslaved by the foul-tempered, mean-spirited Fenella as her live-in dishwasher. With no means, family or support, Matty’s future seems confined to sleeping under the sink in Fenella’s diner. But dreams as big as Matty’s cannot be suppressed forever and when the King of Yurp announces a grand Cook-Off and the chance to break a 500 year-old curse on his only daughter, Matty finally forges his way to fame and freedom.

This is a zinger of a tale tickling with intrigue, bubbling with soul and simmering with an underlying sinisterness that kids will find electrifying. Cotton’s brilliant mix of colourful characterisation and original one-liners like, ‘roll with pumpkins’ produces a story that is full of punch, flavour and fun. Peppered with a generous helping of comical metaphors (‘breath like dog poo’ is a favourite), sprinkled with danger and seasoned with revenge, Little Chef, BIG Curse has all the humorous and gross ingredients of a Morris Gleitzman adventure and some. Top notch nosh! That gets 10 out of 10 from me.Tristan Bancks RH

Scholastic Press February 2014

Tristan Bancks’ junior adventure books including the My Life, Nit Boy, Mac Slater Cool Hunter and the Galactic Adventures series rival those of Paul Jennings, Morris Gleitzman and Michael Gerard Bauer. Like kids 8 – 13 years-old, I can’t get enough of his quirky, comedy-loaded, layback style. Two Wolves however is a decisive departure from previous offerings aimed at the slightly older reader, demonstrating more drama, stronger conflicts and more thought-provoking themes. It blew my breath away.

Using the Cherokee Indian allegory that we all have good and bad (wolves) dwelling within us as the catalyst for conflict, Two Wolves explores moral dilemmas, innocence versus experience and family blood being thicker than water. Which wolf ultimately wins the internal battle depends on which one we feed, as thirteen year-old Ben Silver discovers.

Ben aspires to be a detective but naively lives in a world of limited resources and shaky real-life experience. He re-lives much of his life through the lens of an internal camera, ‘playing on the cinema screen at the back of his eyelids’.

This movie-making processing of events allows him to deal reflectively and safely with some pretty confronting issues, the most recent being the inexplicable, unplanned retreat into wildness with his parents.

Life on the run with them and his young sister, Olive, soon deteriorates into a painful battle of survival and family ethics. Ben is desperate to figure out what his parents are fleeing from and why but is uncertain of what to do with the truths he may uncover.

Ben’s most daunting concerns, apart from remaining alive with Olive, are the choices he is confronted with; right vs. wrong, family loyalty vs. honourable action. How Ben decides to end his movie makes for a gripping novel heaving with adventure and mystery.

Bancks’ delivery of Two Wolves is tight and crisp. Fragmented internal thought and observation are favoured over rambling descriptive narrative which keeps the reader firmly in Ben’s moments of extreme agitation. Ben is a believable hero. His naïve, almost tongue-in-cheek humour works beautifully against the darker aspects of this story resulting in a novel tweens can and will relate to even if they have never been in Ben’s situation.

Can money buy happiness? What scruples do you possess when it comes to family, or having to confess to a crime? Does deceit ever pay dividends? Two Wolves is destined to keep kids pondering over questions like these for months. Sensational stuff.

Random House Australia March 2014


Number 11 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #11

Unbelievable! by Paul Jennings

We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…


39.1% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.


Number 13 – Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books

Advent Calendar Christmas Countdown

Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books #13

Unreal! by Paul Jennings

We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Kid’s Books of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Kid’s Books between now and Christmas Eve…


37.6% of all respondents have read this book themselves, or read this book to their children.



“Thank you for your submission. We regret to inform you that it does not suit our current needs.”

These words, or similar, are common in the life of a writer. Okay, I’m sure that there are writers out there who no longer get such notes. I’m willing to guess, for instance, that it’s been a very long time since Stephen King has had anything rejected by a publisher. But for those of us who are not household names with a string of best sellers to our credit, rejection is still a daily threat — A pendulum with a razor-sharp blade, swinging above our heads, waiting to suddenly drop.

But the thing to remember here is that writers like Stephen King and JK Rowling did, once upon a time, before they struck it BIG, get a rejection letter or two. JK even discussed her rejections with Oprah.

A young Paul Jennings took his first rejection very personally. In Paul Jennings: A Biogrpahy, by Matthew Ricketson, he is quoted as saying:

“I wrote my first story when I was sixteen and it was turned down by the Women’s Weekly. I felt so rejected I didn’t write anything else until I was forty.”

Different writers will undoubtedly have different experiences with rejection. Some writers deal with it well… like water off a duck’s back. They pick themselves up and try again. Others not so well. You hear the stories of some writers who take rejection personally and who question their ability every time a piece of work is not wanted. But they deal with it, they move on, however torturously, and continue writing. And then there are those people who get one rejection and never write again… writers who could have been, but never were, perhaps never meant to be.

I think there are two important things to remember about rejection. Firstly, that it is not personal. It is the piece of writing that is being rejected, not the writer. Secondly, it is just the opinion of one publisher/editor. A piece can be rejected for any number of reasons other than the quality of the writing. It may not be what an editor is looking for at that time. It may be too similar to something else that has already been accepted. It may be a simple case of the wrong story to the wrong publisher at the wrong time.

But it can be a hard slog. I understand that. I had many years of rejections before I finally made my very first sale — an article about Melbourne’s Regent Theatre for a CBD magazine called Melbourne Agenda in 1994. And it was another few years of rejections before I had my first book — Life, Death and Detention in 1999. I get a lot fewer rejections these days (‘cause me righting has gotten gooderer) but I still do get them. Every time I send something off, I do so with a little bit of anxiety. Every time I send a piece of writing out into the world, away from the safety of my computer, I feel the threat of possible rejection.

Not that the threat of rejection is necessarily a bad thing. It certainly keeps me on my toes. It forces me to not be complacent about my writing. Most of all, it makes me even more determined to try harder and make the next sale. As far as I’m concerned, dealing with rejection is just part of being a writer.

Tune in next time for a post I haven’t even thought about yet. 🙂

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll make a list of every rejection I’ve ever had.