Havoc! The Untold Magic of Cora Bell

Havoc! The Untold Magic of Cora Bell

Havoc! The Untold Magic of Cora Bell










Havoc! The Untold Magic of Cora Bell

Rebecca McRitchie

Sharon O’Connor

Angus & Robertson, 2020

320pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99


In Jinxed!, the first in this series, we meet  eleven-year-old Cora Bell who  is a foundling with no memory prior to her life with the elderly Dot and  her cat Scratch. They live in a room hidden behind a wall in the  crowded, industrial city of Urt, where everyone looks out for themselves, and their survival is dependent on scavenging and trading such as rare and exotic things – apple seeds, silver forks, shoe polish amidst fierce competition. Life takes a terrifying turn for Cora when she finds a few words scribbled on a piece of paper. She takes it home and says the words aloud. Suddenly, two plump, hairy fairies named Tick and Tock crash land in her path to warn her that she is in terrible danger. Cora has unknowingly summoned a sinister creature known as a Jinx.  Jinxes eat magical beings and once they have a scent, they never forget it. Cora is thrown headfirst into a world filled with magic, necromancers, shape-shifters, enchantresses, fairies, nightwalkers, witches and giants as her home is destroyed, her family goes missing and she’s pursued by the menacing and powerful Jinx.

Despite the danger she discovers the power of friendship, finds courage, and channels incredible strength against the overwhelming forces seeking to destroy her.

Now in this second episode, Cora Bell has accepted she is full of magic b without her protection bracelet, she is struggling to hold onto all the powers she has gained, especially the dark magic she took from the warlock, Archibald Drake. When she begins to have nightmares and visions, and unusual cracks appear on her skin, it is a race against time for Cora and her fairy friends to not only find a way to fix her magic, but also escape the hunters now chasing Cora, and search the magical world for her family.

Can Cora do it all before her magic takes control? Will she find her family? Or will she become . . . a Havoc?

Continuing the popular trend for storylines about ordinary children having extraordinary powers, this is a series for independent readers consolidating their skills and starting to explore the power of words that take them into worlds other than those they know. Miss 9, who started her fantasy adventure a few years ago listening to Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men is thoroughly enjoying it, being proud of her ability to read it to herself. The short chapters and the illustrations support her developing independence.

With the summer holidays on the horizon, this is a series worth recommending to parents who are looking for something special to put in the Santa Sack. 

The Time-travelling Caveman

The Time-travelling Caveman

The Time-travelling Caveman











The Time-travelling Caveman

Terry Pratchett

Doubleday Children’s, 2020

336pp., hbk., RRP $A32.99


For the newly independent reader who loves wacky humour, this is a brand new collection of short stories from one of the most popular authors for that audience at the moment.  

When Pratchett was just 17 and a junior reporter for his local newspapers, he started writing the stories in this book, often based on the people and incidents he was sent to cover for the paper, but embellished with a touch of Pratchett magic. With lots of crazy illustrations to enrich the text, this is a collection that will entice those straddling that decision of whether reading for pleasure is going to be a thing for them or not to keep reading.  Being short stories they are quick reads, complete in themselves and in a few minutes; but being Terry Pratchett they are well-written and well-rounded full of imagination and wit, perhaps leading the reader to more of his works like Father Christmas’s Fake Beard .


Pages & Co (series)

Pages & Co (series)

Pages & Co (series)














Tilly and the Bookwanderers 



Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales



Tilly and the Map of Stories


HarperCollins, 2018-2020

400+pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99



“From outside on the busy north London high street, Pages & Co looked like an entirely normal bookshop. but once inside it didn’t quite make sense how everything fitted inside its ordinary walls. The shop was made up of five floors of corners and cubbyholes, sofas and squashy armchairs, and a labyrinth of bookshelves heading off in different direction.  A spiral staircase danced up one wall, and painted wooden ladders stretched into difficult-to-reach corners.  Tall arched windows above made it feel a little like a church when the light spilled in and danced on the air. When it was good weather the sun pooled on the floor and the bookshop cat – named Alice for her curious nature- could often be found dozing in the warmest spots.  During the summer the big fireplace behind the till was filled to bursting with fresh flowers, but at is was October, a fire was roaring there…”

Does this not conjure up every booklover’s dream of a magical place, a bookstore where magic and mysteries, adventures and escapades beckon?  And for it to be the home of Tilly who prefers the company of book characters to the people in real life and, although not having been outside London, is a seasoned traveller within the pages of the books that abound on the shelves just shouts that this is going to be a series for booklovers and readers that will deliver all that is expected and more.

But what if your favourite characters could not only come out of the books and have real-life conversations with you but could also take you back into the book to have your very own adventure within the story? Tilly discovers that this is part of her relationship with her books and that, unlike other series where it is a secret power, this one is shared by her family,  There is much more to her grandfather and grandmother and the family’s history and lives than she ever imagined. Bookwandering is what this family does, and it might explain the mysterious disappearance of her mother and the absence of her father.

Created for independent readers or perfect for classroom read-alouds, this is a series that really needs to be read from the first one in order so that the subsequent adventures have context but it will have the book lover hooked from the start, regardless of their age, and wishing they too could bookwander into the magical, mystical world of their favourite characters.  I just loved it!!! Once your students know about it they will be queuing up!


Pirate Stew

Pirate Stew

Pirate Stew










Pirate Stew

Neil Gaiman

Chris Riddell

Bloomsbury, 2020

48pp., hbk., RRP $A22.99


Their parents are having a night out and so have hired a babysitter, but he is not your regular carer.

His hair was grey. His face was scarred.

Right leg a peg, left hand a hook.

He grinned a grin and said, “my card.”

It read

Long John McRon, Ship’s Cook.

Soon joined by others, each the quintessential stereotype of a pirate crew member, they set about feeding the children but it is no ordinary food they concoct.  They make pirate stew.

But rather than joining in the fun and games as all sorts of things are thrown into the pit, the children remain dubious, if not worried, , because if they eat the stew they will become pirates too. But nevertheless, a night of adventures lies ahead which gets even more interesting when their parents arrive home and hungry, devour the children’s bowls of uneaten pirate stew!

This is the most delightful tale from an author absolutely dedicated to getting children to read through entertaining stories, and so richly illustrated that it is impossible to summarise it in a few lines for a review.  Starting with two children who faces show what they think of their parents having a night out and who do not embrace the possibilities of having a pirate cook for a babysitter,  Gaiman’s rollicking rhyme and Riddell’s detailed illustrations offer an adventure that can be and demands to be read again and again and again. Just what was in those doughnuts?  The twist in the ending is unexpected and sets up a whole lot of opportunities for asking “what if…”.

Here’s a taste…

A wonderful opportunity for children and parents to find their treasure…. 


Time for Adventure, Daddy

Time for Adventure, Daddy

Time for Adventure, Daddy










Time for Adventure, Daddy

Dave Hackett

UQP, 2020

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99


The little girl has a fun day of adventures and activities in mind, taking a picnic to explore the great outdoors while the sun is shining.  But Daddy has other things on his to-do list, like doing the laundry, picking up the toys and all the other chores that can fill in a day not spent at work. But when he finally relents and goes, the little girl gets more than she bargained for…

Using his iconic cartoon style in full colour, Hackett has added another to his series of stories that celebrate family life and encourage parents to seize the day and enjoy the time they can with their children. Both parent and child will enjoy sharing this book as it reflects daily life and both will see themselves in the situations. 

Role reversal books are hugely popular with our littlest readers as they feel themselves empowered as they imagine what could happen if they were in charge, so this book, and the others in the series, are perfect for getting little ones interested in books and the stories and adventures they hold. One to recommend to the parents of your preschoolers. 

Sherlock Bones and the Sea-creature Feature

Sherlock Bones and the Sea-creature Feature

Sherlock Bones and the Sea-creature Feature










Sherlock Bones and the Sea-creature Feature

Renée Treml

Allen & Unwin, 2020

288pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Sherlock Bones, a talkative tawny frogmouth skeleton, and his companion Watts, a mute, stuffed Indian ringneck parrot are joined by Grace, a sassy raccoon in the second in this series, with a new mystery to solve in their natural history museum home.  Drawing on his years as an exhibit in the museum, this time Bones is exploring a new exhibition focusing on the life between reef and shore. It includes a mangrove forest and shallow coral reef habitat. When Sherlock overhears a that a swamp monster has been sighted, he gathers his team to investigate. At first Sherlock Bones suspects Nivlac, a quirky octopus with a talent for camouflage–and tank pranks. But then, loud bellowing leads Bones and the team to the mangroves, where they find a horrifying long-haired green beast…

This graphic novel is quite different to the books for preschoolers that we generally associate with Renée Treml although her eye for detail is still evident as she includes an amazing amount of detail and information in the backgrounds of the illustrations. Nevertheless, with its humour and using the technique of Bones telling the story as a conversation with the reader, it is an engaging story for the newly independent reader in a format that offers much more than just a tale told well.  Treml’s skill as an illustrator is teamed with her environmental science degree to produce something quite different.

Rain Before Rainbows

Rain Before Rainbows

Rain Before Rainbows










Rain Before Rainbows

Smriti Halls

David Litchfield

Walker Books, 2020

32pp., hbk., RRP $A27.99


Rain before rainbows. Clouds before sun. Night before daybreak. A new day’s begun…

With pictures as stunning as its title and as gentle as its message, this is a beautiful book that encourages children to hang in there, that whatever they are facing right now will pass and there will be a brighter time coming. The text is quite simple on the surface as the girl and her friendly fox climb mountains, face dragons and endure dark days as they strive towards their dreams.  Along the way they discover that there are friends to help, alternative paths to follow and ropes to hold on to as they seek the treasure of a new day.  While younger readers can follow along seeing the journey in a literal way,  it is the metaphorical message that will resonate with the older reader who is able to operate at a more abstract level.

This is a story about trust, resilience, optimism and hope that will empower young readers to have the courage to keep moving forward, to follow their dreams, to see obstacles as opportunities and to be willing to be open to new things and be proactive.  That, for all the storm might be noisy and scary, there is nevertheless beauty in it and  the calm on the other side is savoured even more deeply because of the contrast.

These themes of courage, resilience and hope are featuring in many recent books for our young readers but given the calamity that has been 2020, it could be argued that the more we have access to the better, because at least one of them has to resonate and reach out to a child in need.  And if it does, then the work of the author, illustrator and the adult who placed it in their world, is done. 

Skydragon: Skydragon 1

Skydragon 1

Skydragon 1










Skydragon 1

Anh Do

James Hart

Allen & Unwin, 2020

232pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99


When a mysterious glowing purple ball ignites their home while they are innocently making pizzas for tea, only Amber and her brother Reggie emerge from the inferno alive but both are badly injured, Reggie in a coma. Weeks later, watching from her neighbour’s fence Amber sees what remains of her home demolished in a very hush-hush operation.

Five years later, with Reggie still in a coma and Amber reminded daily of the events because of the scar on her face, she is  the butt of nasty comments and bullying from her peers who refuse to see the girl beyond the scar. The only constant is her fascination with dragons and her only joy, the beauty of the insect world. But something very strange happens when she trips and falls while on an insect-watching excursion with her class and is surrounded by a swarm of deadly hornets…

Afterwards, Amber knows she has been given an incredible power, but was it a freak accident, or was there something she was supposed to do with it?  Controlling her new ability might be the hardest thing Amber has ever done. Especially when she is running for her life.  Who is her mysterious enemy? What connection does he have to Amber’s past? And, most importantly, does Amber have what it takes to truly become . . . Skydragon?

This is a brand new series from the prolific and talented Anh Do, aimed at those who are straddling that invisible divide between needing the support of short chapters and illustrations and reading complex novels.   There is the familiar background of school but also the twist of the legacy of that glowing purple ball that opens up all sorts of possibilities for adventure. At the top end of the readership for this blog, but one for the more independent 8 year-olds to aspire to. 


The Secret Garden: The Story of the Movie

The Secret Garden: The Story of the Movie

The Secret Garden: The Story of the Movie










The Secret Garden: The Story of the Movie

Frances Hodgson Burnett

Linda Chapman

HarperCollins, 2020

224pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


First published in 1911, The Secret Garden is the story of Mary, a  sickly, neglected, unloved and unwanted 10-year-old girl whose care has been mostly left to the servants who care for her English family in colonial India. After her parents die in a cholera epidemic, she is sent back to England into the care of her unknown uncle Archibald Craven  at his isolated mansion Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire Moors. 

At first, Mary is rude and obnoxious, disliking everything about her new circumstances but eventually she warms to Martha Sowerby who tells her about her aunt, the late Lilias Craven and how she would spend hours in a private walled garden growing roses. After his wife died in an accident in the garden,  Mr Craven locked the garden and buried the key.

Mary becomes interested in finding the secret garden herself and once she discovers the key, her life begins to change…

This version is based on the screenplay of  2020 movie which has finally been released and which many students will have seen.  Telling the core of the original story it evokes a magical world that encourages self-discovery and change and perhaps an interest in reading the original.  A stunning way to introduce a new generation to a classic. 

Shoo You Crocodile!

Shoo You Crocodile!

Shoo You Crocodile!











Shoo You Crocodile!

Katrina Germein

Tom Jellett

Little Book Press, 2020

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99


The class of preschoolers are at the museum when suddenly they are confronted by a large crocodile!  With its crocodile teeth it is intent on biting the children’s feet. CHOMP CHOMP CHOMP.

But instead of running the children stand their ground and STOMP STOMP STOMP and ROAR ROAR ROAR frightening it away. Or have they?

This is one of those books that our youngest readers are going to love because there is no way they will just sit and listen to it.  They HAVE to join in with the sound effects, the louder the better so the crocodile is sent back to where it came from.  The brilliant illustrations ,the repetitive text, the concept of the story and its ending are engaging enough but the urge to make this a full sensory experience will be irresistible.  This is the sort of story I loved sharing with my little ones – our aim was to be so loud that those around us would smile and know that we were engrossed in the enjoyment of the story.  Can there be a better experience?

A peek inside....

A peek inside….