Alien Invaders from Beyond the Stars/Night of the Creepy Carnival
Super Sports Spectacular/Trapped in the Games Grid
Random House, 2017
pbk., RRP $A19.99
Remember the frustration of finishing a book in a series that you have really enjoyed but you need to go to the library or the bookstore to track down the next one? Or worse, still, wait for it to be written and published? The solution seems to be having two books in one as with the new packaging of George Ivanoff’s very popular You Choose series. Now our students can have all the fun of following pathways through one book and when they are done with that, slip them over to read through another immediately. No waiting, No cooling of enthusiasm. Just more reading.
For a couple of decades at least, the choose-your-own-adventure stories have been popular, particularly with boys, as they like the interactivity and the gaming nature of them. So to be able to serve them up two at a time to aficionados not only encourages them to keep reading but also shows them that the library DOES have stuff that meets their interests and needs. That has to be good.
March 1942 – the Japanese have reached Indonesia and there is a constant stream of flights shuttling refugees from Java to the safe haven of Broome on the north-west coast of Western Australia. Russian flying ace Captain Smirnoff is piloting one of the last planes to leave Bandung Airport, an old DC3 stripped back to the bare minimum to allow for as many passengers as possible including five Dutch pilots, a trainee flight engineer, a mother and her 18 month old son.
Just as they are about to take off an official jumps on board and hands Smirnoff a package, tell him to “Take great care of this. Someone from the bank will collect it when you land.”
Unfortunately for Smirnoff, his crew and his passengers, the Japanese have switched their target to Broome and just an hour from their destination they are shot down. Despite injuries and continuing Japanese fire, Smirnoff manages to bring the plane down on the edge of the beach…
What happened next – the survival and rescue of the passengers; the finding and the contents of the mysterious package and the enigmatic man who became known as Diamond Jack are the centre of this intriguing true tale that still remains unanswered 75 years on. Should he have done what he did? Is “finders keepers” really the rule to live by?
Rudyard Kipling once said, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten” and in this new series from self-confessed history-hunter Mark Greenwood there are stories told that would otherwise have been forgotten, if they were ever widely known in the first place. Short, engaging reads written in short chapters, large font and liberally illustrated they are not only perfect for the young reader moving on to independent reading but also those who may not have yet unlocked the key. Greenwood writes an introduction that personalises the story as though he is talking directly to the reader, drawing them into this tale that is about to unfold and then, the tale told, he talks about the sources he has drawn on and provides a lot of extra information so not only is the story authenticated but there is scope for further discovery.
Something special to add to the collection and promote an interest in times past in a way seldom done. Australia- a country full of stories!
When bully Nate Grime and his sidekick Wart throw Artie’s only pair of shoes over the overhead wires, they start off a chain of events that not only brings down the Mayor of the town but also provides for a hair-raising crazy adventure that will appeal to boys in those mid-late primary years.
Artie only has one pair of shoes because after his dad, a trapeze artist, died a few years previously, his mother has been so deep on grief that she has confined herself to the couch all but abandoning Artie and his angry older sister, Lola. His best mate Bumshoe – (real name Alex Baumschule) suggests that they find paperbark trees to make new shoes from so Artie not only avoids his mother’s anger but can also go to school. It is while they are searching for the trees that they discover a cave full of possibly-stolen-stuff and its sinister guardians Mary, Funnel Web and Mr Budgie.
Populated with a number of eccentric characters who all become part of Artie and Bumshoe’s attempts to get the truth out as they search for Gladys Unpronounceable-enko’s tortoise Gareth which has disappeared and desperately avoid the clutches of the ruthless gang, Roxburgh has written and illustrated a rambunctious romp that pits the skinny, awkward kid and his overweight mate against bullies, mean teachers and desperate gangsters that many readers will put themselves in the hero’s shoes. In fact Roxburgh says, “”My oldest boy started to hit an age where I was conscious I was finding the books I was reading him as entertaining and amusing as he was,” … ”I thought I could write to that world, I could locate myself in that neck of woods and deal with that immature adventurous sense of play.
Because of his public profile, Roxburgh and his book received a lot of publicity when it was released in October 2016 and I was keen to see if the writing actually lived up to the hype. Pleased to record that it kept me reading to the end and that I could ‘see’ young boys particularly enjoying it and recommending it to their peers. A great start to the 2017 reading seasons.
The Night Santa Got Lost: How NORAD Saved Christmas
The Night Santa Got Lost: How NORAD Saved Christmas
Regency Kids, 2015
On a day long ago began NORAD’s tradition-
Tracking Santa’s red sleigh on his once-a-year mission.
Using radar and satellites – fighter jets too!
Reporting on Santa, wherever he flew.
But one Christmas Eve a blizzard rolls in and so Santa leaves the North Pole early much to the dismay of NORAD who weren’t prepared for the unscheduled start. And as the green blip disappears off the radar screen and there is no sign of Santa or his reindeer, panic ensues. A four star general and the Commander-in-Chief order the fighter jets into the air and every last piece of technology the US Air Force has is set to searching for Santa.
Eventually he is found buried deep in a snow drift but now it is too late to get all the presents to the children in the traditional way of reindeer and sleigh, so once again the bigwigs put their heads together and come up with a most audacious plan that involves NATO and other US allies, battleships, cruisers, submarines, helicopters, C-17s, trucks and tanks and every other sort of transport available to the military. And for those places where “The children love Santa, but the leaders say no”, there are Special Ops, Navy SEALS and tough Army Rangers.
Will their mission succeed? Will they get to all the children of the world in time?
Dedicated to the children whose parents “allow us to live in a world where we have the freedom to believe in Santa Claus” this is a very different story for Christmas, one that acknowledges those who serve by showing them in a less-that-traditional setting. NORAD (North American Aerospace Defence Command) is a joint United States and Canadian military organisation and for over 60 years it has tracked Santa’s flight each December 24. Children can watch where he is by going to the website or downloading an app so they know when they have to get into bed after their tour of the local Christmas lights as more than 1500 people trace his every movement through 47 radar installations in Northern Canada and Alaska, alerting them to when Santa actually leaves the North Pole, and satellites at about 22,000 miles above the Earth with infrared sensors, which see the heat coming off of Rudolph’s nose. In addition, there high-speed digital SantaCams set up around the world to catch a glimpse of him passing by the different cities.
Written in the vein of The Night Before Christmas this is one that even older children will enjoy. While predominantly American and with several pages of explanations at the end, nevertheless it will resonate particularly with children whose family members are in the services.
The blurb reads, “Stop your mum picking her nose, read the secret diary of a dog, catch a bus and then let it go, discover how one slice of toast can make you the most popular person in school, start wearing a crown and give up eating pig-nostril gruel, use a wrecking ball to defeat a bully, show your big sister the very scary secret in your wardrobe, unleash the awesome power of chips, live in a house that gets wiped clean more often than a bottom.”
But there is so much more to this collection of short stories from a master storyteller who seamlessly switches between the poignancy of Two weeks with the Queen, the gaiety of Toad Rage and the seriousness and sincerity of the Once series. Gleitzman himself says, “Nine stories, and I’ve made them different lengths because different parents have different ideas about how long a person should be allowed to read before turning the lights out.”
With a title designed to attract that reader who loves to makes sure parents and teachers have a stomach-churning moment when they see it, nevertheless there are serious undertones to each as the central character of each tries to grapple with a big problem affecting family or friends using a thought process and logic that are particular to that age group. Creativity is alive and well in children – until the formality and seriousness of school try to quell it.
Along with Give Peas a Chance and Pizza Cake, these stories which give the author “a break from the stiff neck and stiff brain you sometimes get writing book-length stories” might seem a long way from the stories Gleitzman commonly crafts and which he is so valued for, but as he says, he would” hate to forget that in stories a laugh can have a teardrop as a very close neighbour.” However, despite the sombre notes this is a collection that will keep those newly independent readers, particularly boys, reading and help them transition to the next phase of their reading journey – which will probably be a Gleitzman novel – as they show that even short stories with wicked titles can have great, credible characters and a depth of plot that makes reading so worthwhile.
Parents, teachers and teacher librarians are blessed to have such a gifted writer as Gleitzman on their side.
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away – well it was actually 1977 and the world was very different then – George Lucas released the first of his Star Wars movies and such was its impact that almost 40 years on those who saw it then are still fans and every day it gathers a new cohort, young and not-so-young. Such was the success of the original, plans for more were made and in 1980 it was followed by The Empire Strikes Back and in 1983, The Return of the Jedi.
Since then there have been prequels and sequels and a massive merchandising franchise that it holds the Guinness World Records title for the “most successful film merchandising franchise. With the 40th anniversary clearly in sight this is only going to grow and so the release of a graphic novel -the preferred book format of so many- is sure to build a whole new legion of fans.
Containing the three original films, now dubbed Episodes IV, V and VI this release will appeal to those who are already devotees (so many of my family and friends have asked for the review copies) as well as gather new ones. For those in school libraries it will add another dimension to your Star Wars collections of both fiction and fact which never seem to stay on the shelf and always have a long reserve list, in my experience. Now the core of the phenomenon is accessible to even the most reluctant reader or new English speaker in print format and that alone, makes it a must-have.
And a certain Christmas stocking is sorted for me!
Over by the dirt pile all the heavy machinery is lined up ready for another hard days’ work on the construction site. Bulldozers, diggers, loaders, graders – they are all there in this charming counting rhyme that will hold appeal for preschoolers. Using onomatopoeia and lots of movement, little ones will be encouraged to join in as the machines work and don’t stop till night falls and it is time to rest. They will love counting each of the baby machines and anticipating how many there will be next.
Each machine has a mama or papa surrounded by all the little ones learning what to do, a pictorial metaphor for our own little ones as they, too, are dependent on their parents as role models. “Children learn what they live” is so well demonstrated! Readers will enjoy thinking about the job each machine does and how they all have a special task to do while they work together to get the job done. They can examine the specialist role of each machine and how it is specially designed for its role and perhaps start laying the foundations of an engineering interest.
Bright, colourful and charming, this will fit very well in the Santa sack!
It is Sydney in 1791 and Barney and Elsie have settled into their lives with the Reverend and Mrs Johnson as the fledgling colony tries to establish itself. The Third Fleet has arrived and Captain Melvill is a guest at dinner. Little does Barney know that this will change his life for Melvill is in command of the Britannia, a whaling ship and intent on sailing into southern waters to plunder its riches now their human cargo has been safely delivered.
With a promise of earning enough money to buy stock for land he hopes to be awarded in time, particularly after the Johnsons have made it clear they will return to England, Barney is enticed to join Melville’s crew for the journey south. But the dream is shattered almost the minute he steps on deck and he is dismayed to discover that this is not a one-off experience – he is indentured for three years! Assigned to being up the mast as the lookout, Barney soon spots whales and he and the reader are plunged into the gruesome details of the hunt, the capture and the destruction of a magnificent creature. Because he is the one who gave the alert of its presence, Barney holds himself responsible for its death and wonders if he can really do this for another three years.
The second in the Secret Histories series and sequel to Birrung, the Secret Friend, this is another engrossing and engaging read from master historical storyteller, Jackie French. In the notes at the back she makes it clear that distasteful as they may be to the modern reader, whaling and sealing were the two industries which sustained our nation in those early years and enabled it to diversify so that other products like wool could take over.
Written for readers the same age as Barney, it traces Barney’s story through his own voice and his discovery of himself – a landlubber rather than a seaman – with a clarity that many of his age would not have today. At its most basic level there is scope for comparing the life of a child of Barney’s era and circumstance to one of a 12 year old in Australia in the 21st century and even to track the events that have occurred to bring about the changes. What do today’s children think those of the 23rd century might think about their lives?
French has not glossed over the details of the fate of the whale but viewed through Barney’s perspective which is sympathetic to the whale’s ordeal, it is perhaps a more gentle account than the reality and may well raise issues about how humans treat animals and why they do or did. There is an excellent opportunity to compare and contrast the perception and treatment of whales in the 18th and 19th centuries and their consequences to the current situation where they are revered.
As usual, Jackie French has crafted a tale that is a perfect standalone read as well as being an opportunity to dig deeper, behind and beyond the words. Teaching notes are available.
Can we ever have too many books about dinosaurs to entice our young people, particularly boys, to pick up a book and read?
Certainly in my school library I put all those with the 567.9 classification on a special shelf so they were easily gettable (and put awayable) because they were in constant demand and it was hard to keep up with the requests.
But this new title by explorer Simon Chapman is not just another book of facts and figures and pictures. Told in a semi-narrative style, Chapman tells the stories of various paleontologists who made the various discoveries across the world and fills the pages with incredible illustrations, pop-outs, pull-downs, lift-the flaps and other devices that make this one of the richest, most intriguing books on this subject I’ve seen. Every page is crammed with new discoveries to be made so the reader feels the anticipation of those early scientists as they pursued their quests.
From the 3D-like cover through to its glossary on the endpapers it is the most sumptuous, luxurious publication you just want to keep running your hands over it and investigating each page thoroughly to what makes a dinosaur, when and where they lived, what they ate, why they fought and why they became extinct.
Not only would this be a very welcome addition to a library’s collection, if I had a student who was passionate about this subject I’d be giving parents a heads-up that this might be an ideal item for this year’s Santa sack!
Orson loves to make things and he is always tinkering and experimenting. His latest idea is the most ambitious yet, but what does it take to build your very own planet? Can it be made with
A cup full of rocks
A dash of water
A sprinkling of metal
A lot of nothingness
A big bang …
BOOM! He has it – a tiny planet with rings around it, right there in his bedroom! But it seems that BUILDING a planet is the easy bit; taking care of it is a different thing altogether. Over time, Orson realises that his planet needs to be free and that sometimes you have to let go of the things that you love the most …
This is a quirky story that will appeal to the dreamers as Orson realises his dream after a lot of reading and research. Those with an innate need to invent and make will empathise with Orson’s need as well as his dilemma when he realises what he must do. But there is a deeper message here. When Orson tries to keep his planet happy by taking it to the movies but it doesn’t respond, he undertakes even more reading to find out what it really needed – thereby posing a big question for the reader. What DOES our planet need to keep it happy? What can we do to make sure that it is?
With its deceptively simple text and storyline and charming pictures, this book has the potential to spark an important investigation into all aspects of the environment and its sustainability.