Archive | February 2015

Paper Planes

Paper Planes

Paper Planes










Paper Planes

Steve Worland

Puffin, 2015

pbk., 208pp., RRP $A16.99




The beige town of Waleup sits in the beige landscape of rural Western Australia and generally life goes on there in a beige kind of blur. Life for Dylan is fairly beige too, particularly since his mother died and his father has sunk into a deep depression, often not rousing himself from the couch for days on end.  The one thing that brings Dylan alive is Clive – a large bird of prey that he feeds a rasher of bacon each day on his way to school.  That is until a student teacher comes to town and initiates a paper plane flying competition.

Remarkably, Dylan folds a paper plane in the way his mother taught him that flies further than anyone else’s although because it is wind-assisted he cannot claim a record.  However, it does open up opportunities for him to compete in the Australian junior flying competition (and perhaps even a shot at the World Championships in Tokyo) giving him a focus and an interest that he has not had for some time.  But Dylan has many battles to overcome – his father’s inability to support him; a rich-kid bully who thinks winning is everything; the costs of getting to Sydney and Tokyo- and he learns as much about himself and other people as he does about flight.  But Dylan is not alone and with the support of his fabulous 90 year-old grandfather and the current world champ Kimi, he pushes on towards his dream.

This is the novel of the highly-successful film Paper Planes that captured the imaginations of so many during the recent school holidays and because of the huge potential for learning about science, technology, engineering and maths from paper planes I purchased my own copy.  Although there is a difference between writing a screenplay and a novel, nevertheless it was an engaging read that I think many who have seen the movie will enjoy.  It offers huge scope to collaborate with classroom-based teachers to explore a wide range of curriculum areas and for that alone, it should be in your collection.  I even found myself seeking out the greatest, addictive time-waster of 10 years ago where I once ranked in the top 100 000 in the world!

Even if you don’t want to organise a competiton in your school, your students will be really pleased they can now enjoy this story in print as well as on the screen.

Clementine Rose and the Ballet Break-In


Clementine Rose and the Ballet Break In

Clementine Rose and the Ballet Break In











Clementine Rose and the Ballet Break In

Jacqueline Harvey

Random House, 2015

pbk., 160pp., RRP $A12.00


Just in time to delight all her fans at the start of the school year is the latest adventure of Clementine Rose, who is so like the readers she so appeals to.    This time, with her ballet lessons having finally begun, Clementine’s dance class has been invited to perform at the reopening of the village hall.  And like so many young girls, she discovers that ballet is not all about tutus and dancing elegantly en pointe.  In addition to those issues, there’s trouble between Angus and Joshua when Joshua discovers Angus is involved in the ballet and thinks he is a sissy-pants.  An incident occurs in a soccer game that might put the whole performance in jeopardy.

Miss 8 Loves this series and disappeared for a couple of hours with this one in hand, devouring it in one read!  Like many girls of her age she dreams of being a ballerina but she also likes the realism of the stories too.  As one who has been involved in “boy-sports” since she was little, she relates to Angus’s dilemma although she was bewildered that these gender divides still exist.  This sparked a lot of discussion and shows that this series has a lot of substance in the storylines.

If you don’t yet have this series in your collection, then its addition would make you a hero of all those who are just emerging as independent readers still requiring the supports that early ‘chapter books’ offer but who want realistic, relatable characters and a sound, engrossing storyline.  Use these notes and activities to host a Clementine Rose literary lunch for them and discover the others in the series on her own blog


13 Words

13 Words

13 Words











13 Words

Lemony Snicket

Maira Kalman

HarperCollins, 2014

pbk., 40pp., RRP $A14.99




Word Number 1: bird                    The bird sits on the table

Word Number 2: despondent         The bird is despondent.  In fact, she is so sad that she hops off the table to look for something to cheer her up.

And so begins this new story from Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events) that continues his penchant for quirky but thoroughly engaging stories.  Bird hops off the table to explore the cake (Word Number 3) that is in the box under it and is joined by dog (word Number 4).  Together they eat the cake and then while Bird gets busy (Word Number 5) Dog goes off in his convertible (#6) and meet Goat (#7) and together they look for things that might cheer Bird up.  They decide on a hat (#8) and so continues a wonderful tale that compels the reader to make connections between words like “haberdashery”, ‘panache’ and ‘mezzo-soprano’.

Giving life to the words are the amazing illustrations of Maira Kalman which have been described in the Kirkus review as “gorgeous, Matisse-like, gelato-colored”.  They force the reader to engage with them drawing you in to discover a range of unexpected delights that are just as original as Snicket’s storyline.  It’s as though SNicket and Kalman have decided to take the iconic format of a children’s basic word book and turn it upside-down.  Not only have they used words that kids know but they’ve also chosen some of those that they love to learn.  What kindergarten word list contains “panache” and “despondent”?  Add to that, instead of the words being isolated and disconnected, they’ve turned them into a story that puts them in a context that demonstrates their meaning and makes a most appealing story. 

This book works on so many levels apart from just being plain fun.  Students could make a list of the most delicious words that roll of their tongues; they could make their own list of thirteen words and try to weave them into a story; they could make a chart of all the different types of hats and classify them as sunsmart or not; and given that Bird is still despondent at the end of the story they could speculate on what might make her happier.  It’s a book that keeps on giving and has something for each age group you share it with.

Check out this book trailer for a sneak peek!

Minton Goes!

Minton Goes!

Minton Goes!










Minton Goes!

Anna Fienberg

Kim Gamble

Allen & Unwin, 2015

pbk., 260pp., RRP $A19.99



Once upon a time there was a boy named Hector who lived beside a volcano with his pet salamander, Minton.  But despite having mangoes for breakfast and pineapples for lunch, Hector was really sad – unbearably, bone-achingly sad. Because, apart from Minto, Hector was lonely because he was the hottest boy who ever lived and Minton was the only creature who could get near him.  The Hottest Boy Who Ever Lived is the reader’s first introduction to Minton and it is the first story in this compilation of eight books about this popular character.  Minton is no ordinary salamander – he’s adventurous and curious and always up for something new despite the gloomy predictions of his best friend Turtle.

When they were published as separate books, it was seldom this series spent much time on the shelf and now a new generation of newly-independent readers can share in Minton’s adventures as he goes sailing, driving, flying, trucking – even underwater until he finally meets up with Hector again.  Lavishly illustrated in colour by Kim Gamble, this is the perfect stepping stone series for those just venturing into the world of novels, especially those in K or Yr 1 who are already independent readers. At the end of each story there is a how-to-make segment that just begs to be part of a design-make-appraise activity as students investigate the science of movement and the development of transport and there are teaching notes available. 

So pleased that these have been republished and available to a whole new group of readers either as a read-aloud or a read-alone. 


You wouldn’t want to be in the trenches in World War One

You wouldn't want to be in the trenches in World War One

You wouldn’t want to be in the trenches in World War One












You wouldn’t want to be in the trenches in World War One

Alex Woolf

David Antram

Book House 2014

pbk., 32pp., RRP $A12.99


Subtitled “A hole you’d rather not be in” this is an ideal introduction for younger students to World War I.  The reader is given the persona of one Tommy Atkins, an underage but enthusiastic English lad determined to do his bit for King and Country and then in a chatty commentary which is filled with facts and accompanied by appealing cartoon-esque illustrations is led through the process from joining up to training to being in the trenches on the Western Front.  Life in the trenches is exposed for what it was – rats and lice, bully beef, bread and biscuits, cold and wet and being under fire.

While remaining factually true the presentation is one that tells what happened but without the gory bits, the parts that we as adults know but kids don’t have to yet. For example, Tommy is wounded at Messines but the next part is about being back in England with family.  Scattered throughout are handy hints such as “To detect enemy tunnelling, drive a stick into the ground and hold the other end between teeth to feel any vibrations.” 

This is an ideal addition to your WWI/ANZAC collection, just right for the reader who wants to know what happened but for whom fiction doesn’t appeal.  While the guide age group is Years 5-8, a mutre student in Yr 3+ would find it an engaging read. 

Being Jack

Being Jack









Being Jack

Susanne Gervay

HarperCollins, 2014


pbk., 167pp., RRP $A14.99






Jack’s back!!! In the final episode of this contemporary realistic fiction for younger readers that includes I am Jack, Super Jack and Always Jack, Jack is back along with his Mum who has beaten cancer, sister Sammy, Rob his surf-crazy stepdad, Nanna of the purple undies, best friend Anna and Christopher from the Tran Bakery, as well as Ponto his potato/onion experiment which may one day feed the world – or not.


For an almost-13 year-old, Jack has dealt with some really big issues in his life – being bullied, his mum’s illness, her remarriage – but there is one more mountain to climb.  Jack’s last memory of his dad is his back as walks down the street saying he’s not coming back and for Jack to be good.  Jack can’t quite bring himself to see Rob as his dad now, and as he sees his friends interacting with their dads he starts to wonder about where his is. But how will wanting to find him affect his mum and his relationship with Rob?  With the help of Nanna he starts to search, but when he does find him the reunion is not all that he wants it to be. 


“I thought you’d call one day, Jack.”


“I thought you’d call one day, Dad.”


Intertwined with his search Jack also finds himself in the centre of a bullying pack again – this time it’s his close friend Christopher who bears the brunt of it via social media – and Jack has to use all the understanding and skills he has learned when he was the victim to bring about justice and a resolution.  All the time, he is learning as much about himself, his relationships with family and friends and his place within them as he is about the world around him. And you just know that as he celebrates his thirteenth birthday he is going to have the knowledge and resilience to get through his teens safely.


Gervay has created such a realistic family and such endearing characters that they could be any reader’s family and that adds immensely to the appeal because it is so easy to empathise and put yourself in Jack’s shoes and try to make the right decisions.  If you had the evidence against your arch enemy that Jack does, would you consult them about using it before you did?  This is just one of the dilemmas that Jack faces which really just hold up a mirror to the real life issues that we all have to face at times.  Jack’s uncertainty, anxiety and desire are part and parcel of the life of our students and for them to be able to read about themselves in such a well-written and entertaining way will not only help them feel they are normal but also help them understand that books and reading are for them.


This is a series that needs to be in every collection and promoted to staff and students alike as must-reads. Written with a blend of humour and drama, they have such powerful messages about survival wrapped up in such a well-crafted series that you just know this has come from real life.


Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret

Archie Greene and the Magician's Secret

Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret












Archie Greene and the Magician’s Secret

D. D. Everest

Faber & Faber, 2014

hbk., 240pp., RRP $A16.99



In a secret world deep beneath the hallowed halls of the Bodleian Library in Oxford lies the Museum of Magical Miscellany, a repository of all the world’s magical books and artefacts saved from the fire that destroyed the ancient Library of Alexandria and then again from the Great Fire of London in 1666.  It is into this world that Archie Greene finds himself when he receives a mysterious gift on his 12th birthday, a gift that has been waiting 400 years to be delivered and which turns Archie’s life upside-down so that within 24 hours he has been uprooted from the comfort of his grandmother’s house (and she has gone on a mysterious mission) to the quirky Oxford residence of his previously unknown cousins Bramble and Thistle Foxe.  He discovers that not only does he bear the mark of the Flame Keepers of Alexandria – those who find, mind and bind the books that are not yet within the safe confines of the Museum – but he is also a book whisperer.  He can hear the words of the books as they rustle their pages to tell their secrets.

Immediately, Archie is thrown into a tricky situation as he discovers that his birthday book is one of the Terrible Tomes, one of the seven most dangerous books of dark-magic ever written and one which the Greaders (those who seek the magic for their own wicked purposes) would dearly love to have.  As he learns more and discovers the secrets of the books, Archie realises the important role he has to play in protecting and preserving the ancient lores so the magic arts remain safe. He also starts to learn a little of his own life, something his grandmother has tried to keep a secret since his parents and sister died as she protects him from the past.

Archie is a likeable lad who is, predictably, bewildered at this new life and all that is happening to him, which makes it easy for Everest to build the fantasy world so the reader learns about it along with Archie. Did you know there are three types of magic?  The first is natural magic which comes from the creatures and plants and forces of nature; the second is mortal magic, that created by magicians using instruments and other devices; and the third – the most dangerous – is supernatural magic which draws on the power of the spirits and other supernatural beings. There are also five lores to be adhered to so there is not another disaster like that of 1666.  As all this is as new to Archie as it is to the reader, there is both empathy and understanding as he makes choices that he believes are for the best and we learn about being brave and courageous and he is well supported by the other well-drawn characters in the story.  And there is just enough real history in the storyline to make it all tantalisingly true.

This is a story of magic and mystery that has more twists and turns than the underground passages of the Museum of Magical Miscellany.  It is a well-written page turner that has a host of characters, both good and evil, and right from the start the reader is never really sure just who can be trusted and who is not quite who they seem.  While, on the surface, it seems an easy read for the young independent reader, it may be more suited to those who are able to follow various plot strands and multiple characters simultaneously.  It would make an excellent read-aloud, encouraging listeners to be not only waiting for the next chapter but also the next addition to the series.

Parallels will be drawn with another series involving an orphaned boy who discovers he “has the magic” and has to fight against the evil mortals but that’s pretty much where the similarities end.  This is a fresh and new story where “bookshelves are enchanted, librarians are sorcerers and spells come to life” that is not quite as dark as You-Know-Whom. Archie Greene will become a favourite and I will be waiting for Archie Greene and the Alchemist’s Curse, coming later this year.