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The School for Talking Pets

The School for Talking Pets

The School for Talking Pets

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The School for Talking Pets

Kelli Anne Hawkins

Beth Harvey

HarperCollins, 2021

336pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781460759202

When shy 12-year-old Rusty hears a cat talking on the television news about a secret school for pets on a hidden island, and the school’s principal announces a competition for children to submit why they and their pet should be accepted, he is very excited.  After all, what could be better than getting to understand his blue-tongue lizard Bongo than having it talk to him? His father seems to be grumpy all the time since is mum died and doesn’t even seem to notice him much and although he is liked by his peers, he’s not one of the in-crowd.

So he writes his “25 -words-or less” and to his surprise he finds himself at the school for a week! But once on the island, things don’t go to plan. Already concerned that he and Bongo won’t meet the standards of the other winners from Japan, Germany, England and the USA,  Rusty must work with them, a terrifyingly tattooed gardener, and a multitude of clever animals to save the school from the clutches of the two secret agents who have come to shut it down so their controllers can use the  animals for their own purposes,  and that is overwhelmingly hard for someone who has only one friend at his regular school because of his lack of self-confidence and shyness.

Described as “Doctor Dolittle meets Willy Wonka” this is a story for independent readers that has a unique plot but a familiar theme – that of “the child least likely…” finding themselves in a situation where they have to put their insecurities aside for the greater good of those around them and, in doing so, finding an inner strength they didn’t know they had. But deep down, regardless of all the external praise for his actions, like all kids, he just wants the recognition and approval of his dad, the most significant adult in his life.

When I offered a pile of review books to Miss 10 to choose those she wanted to read, this was the top of the pile and I think it will be the same for any young independent reader who wants something different but solid that has heroes and villains and just a touch of the extraordinary.

Who’s This Little Chick?

Who's This Little Chick?

Who’s This Little Chick?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who’s This Little Chick?

Auntie Aldang

Little Steps, 2021

32pp., hbk., RRP $A24.95

9781922358370

When a little chick hatches from a little rock in their garden, Jay and Essie go on a mission to find her family.  Assuming that because she hatched from an egg. they go to the chicken zoo to search.  But while they find all sorts of different chickens, none of them are the little chick’s parents.  Will there be a happy ending?

Told in rhyme, this story follows a familiar theme of searching for a parent by comparing the baby’s characteristics to those of the adults, but this has the twist of introducing young readers to some of the different species of chooks that there are, beyond those that are more familiar.  Some of very strange but sadly, this little chick isn’t like them at all.

As well as that aspect, young readers can also consider whether chickens are the only things that hatch from eggs, and they could even start to compare their own looks to those of their parents so they can see the various features they share that make them a unique blend of genes. 

Was the little chick even a chick? Perhaps a story that initiates the discussion about where they came from. 

Pax, Journey Home

Pax, Journey Home

Pax, Journey Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pax, Journey Home

Sara Pennypacker

Jon Klassen

HarperCollins, 2021

256pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780008470289

A year has passed since Peter and Pax have seen each other, since the separation of a once inseparable pair.

The war is over but the land has been left desecrated and deserted as the water supplies have been poisoned by heavy metals. Peter’s father has died in questionable circumstances and although Peter is back living with Vola, and his grandfather visits regularly, he believes that everything he loves he hurts and they leave him so he is determined to shut the world out and live alone.  After all, he is nearly 14.  

And so, the boy-man sets out on a journey to reclaim his old home; to join the Water Warriors, a band of people painstakingly cleaning up the polluted waterways to restore life -flora, fauna and human – to it;  and to keep the world at arm’s length and out of his heart forever. That way he can keep those he might love, safe. But is that possible?  He certainly didn’t count on meeting Jade, let alone her insight and wisdom. 

Meanwhile, Pax has adapted to the wild he did not seek; and has become father to a litter of kits, one of whom is an inquisitive, feisty female whom he must protect at all costs, particularly after she drinks deeply of the contaminated water. And as they continue their long journey home, Pax continually picks up the scent of the boy who abandoned him…

This is one of those stories that stays with you long after you reluctantly turn the final page, not just because of the power of the surface story but because the layers and  currents that run through it,just like those of the river that is at its heart – the river that put Peter back into old territory and provides Pax with safe passage from humans and predators. Although Pennypacker believed that she would not write another novel after Pax, clearly deep within her she knew there was more of this story to be told and this is the compelling sequel, one that kept me up well past my bedtime as I immersed myself in it, wanting to finish but knowing that when I did I would be left with that feeling that comes when an absorbing plot and great writing come together.

If you have mature, independent readers who can appreciate the nuances and parallels of what is between and beyond the words  then this is the duo for them.  Less sophisticated readers will enjoy the story for what it is, but it is those who are able to reach down to the deeper waters below the surface who will most appreciate it. 

Outstanding. 

 

Pax

Pax

Pax

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pax

Sara Pennepacker

Jon Klassen

HarperCollins, 2017

298pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780008158286

War is coming and Peter’s father is answering the call to arms. But first he must deliver Peter to his grandfather’s care 300 miles away and before that, they must return the fox that has been Peter’s pet since it was a kit to the wild.

Pax and Peter have been inseparable since Peter found him, his mother killed by a car (as was Peter’s and their friendship has helped him come to terms with his anger and grief as his father dealt with his) and  his siblings having starved to death, so to abandon Pax to the wild  is heart-breaking.  But while Peter sort of understands why, Pax is bewildered when the car roars off while he is searching for a beloved toy Peter has thrown…

And so begins one of the most heart-warming, heart-wrenching stories of the love between human and animal that I’ve read for a long time. Told in alternating chapters between them, we follow Pax’s gradual adaptation to his new surroundings as he slowly comes to accept that Peter is not coming back, at the same time as we follow Peter’s journey back from his grandfather’s home determined to find him and reunite.  Neither feels whole without the other.  The author worked closely with an expert in fox behaviour, and as well as celebrating that limitless affinity that a child can have with an animal, tame or wild, she uses the two-voice perspective to explore and explain the issues in the story.

This is one for independent readers, or even a class read-aloud, with much to consider and discuss.  At the end of it, Pennepacker was not going to write another novel but eventually she did.  That book is  a sequel to this one – Pax: the Journey Home  – and it was receiving that to review that had me requesting Pax.  I am so glad I did. 

 

Cookie

Cookie

Cookie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cookie

Isabelle Duff

Susannah Crisp

EK Books, 2021

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

9781925820959

Right from the time he poked his head out of a shaky cardboard box on the back seat of the car, Cookie the Border Collie puppy loves Girl more than anything.  At first, it’s because she has a ball but it’s soon so much more than that.  With the boy called Stopit (and sometimes Shoosh) they go on walks to find the yummiest smells (with Cookie on a lead so Girl doesn’t get lost) and at night they both sleep in a cuddle.  

But sometimes Girl got really sad and didn’t want to play, a sadness so profound that it made her family sad too, and Cookie learns that cuddles and licks are even better than playing – because everyone knows you can lick sadness off.  But while the underlying causes of Girl’s sadness remain, she understands that Cookie is her responsibility and that she needs to get out of bed to attend to Cookie’s needs.  She has purpose… 

Written by a 19 year old, this is Isabelle Duff’s first picture book and she has drawn on her own experiences as a young student with depression, anxiety and anorexia and her parents buying her a puppy to portray Girl and Cookie. While she sought professional help, she found that there was a stigma attached to that by her peers so while the relationship between Girl and Cookie is a pared down version of her relationship with her own Saffy, it is one that not only will young children relate to but it also makes the issue of mental health accessible so conversations can start and perhaps start to break down that stigma.  This is particularly important as the “shadow pandemic” of mental health continues in our young as much as those who are older, but they don’t necessarily have the words to articulate their concerns. 

Despite the focus there has been on children’s mental health in recent years, clearly there is still shame associated with it and so by telling the story through Cookie’s voice, setting it in a typical family setting with a light touch of humour and through the interactions of all, demonstrating how Girl’s moods impact on the whole family, Duff shows  that this is something that can affect any family and anybody within it.  

The acceptance by educators that childhood mental health is a significant issue means there have been a variety of stories and programs that address it but if we are to have mental illness as “acceptable” as physical illness then the more stories our students hear, the more conversations we have then the more effective we can be so this is another valuable addition to the collection. .  To help this, teachers’ notes are available 

Rosie-May Blue: Mayhem at the Pet Show

Rosie-May Blue: Mayhem at the Pet Show

Rosie-May Blue: Mayhem at the Pet Show

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rosie-May Blue: Mayhem at the Pet Show

P. E. Woods

Pene Chadwick

Little Steps, 2021

125pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780648267430

Rosie-May Blue and her family have just moved to the township of Waterfall Way. While Rosie-May is excited about that, she is also worried about starting a new school and making new friends, particularly because she is missing her old friends dearly.

When Rosie-May’s pony, Carrie, goes missing, Rosie-May fears for the worst. Her newfound friend Ellie is a comfort at her new school and together, they share a love of horse-riding. However, will their friendship survive the secret that Rosie-May uncovers? Will the secret spoil Rosie-May’s chance at winning a prize at the Waterfall Way Pet Show?

This is a new series for newly independent readers that will appeal to that huge cohort of girls who love horses and anything to do with them.  With characters and situations that will resonate with them, they will see themselves embedded in the story, always a positive for capturing attention and ensuring satisfied readers.  Series are important element in developing competent, confident readers as there is not the need to establish new characters and their relationships and circumstances each time a new book is started – the reader can pretty much continue from where the last one left off – and so to have a new one that will have such broad appeal is always welcome. 

Seahorses Are Sold Out

Seahorses Are Sold Out

Seahorses Are Sold Out

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seahorses Are Sold Out

Constanze Spengler

Katya Gehrmann

Gecko Press, 2021

40pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781776573868

Mika’s father works from home and he’s very busy! He can never find time for the promised swimming trip. So Dad allows Mika to choose a pet from the store while he finishes the project—something quiet like a mouse. But when the mouse gets lost, Mika goes back to the pet shop to buy a puppy to sniff it out and keep watch over it.  But when the puppy does a puddle in the bathroom because it doesn’t understand how to use the toilet, she goes back to get a seal who will oversee the proper use of the bathroom.  But when the seal wants to swim and the mouse can’t…  Sadly the seahorses have sold out.

And all the while the too-busy father doesn’t notice until finally he finishes the job he is working on.

This story of a single dad trying to balance child care and working from home will resonate with many at the moment, while that of the child wanting a pet for company will be familiar to many children.  And the extravagance of Mika’s solution will make them laugh.  But if the seahorses weren’t sold out what care would they need? Would they make the perfect pet that Dad wants?  Perhaps an opportunity to investigate these amazing little creatures.   

 

 

Who Fed Zed?

Who Fed Zed?

Who Fed Zed?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who Fed Zed?

Amelia McInerney

Adam Nickel

Allen & Unwin, 2021

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

9781760524432

This is  a picture book about Ted, Ned and Fred, Fred’s dog, Jed, and Fred’s fish, Zed.

Zed the fish is white and red.
His poo hangs down in one long thread.
The main thing, though, is what Fred said,
‘NEVER, EVER FEED ZED BREAD.’

Because feeding fish bread can kill them and although Zed survives this incident there are other problems that he is faced with.

This is a clever story that will engage young readers with its rhyming text and retro feel.  Teachers may well pick up on it because it appears to feed perfectly into the current push for phonics and “sounding out” to be THE way to teach reading but within the first eight lines there are three different ways of spelling the “ed” sound demonstrating not only the complexity of the English language and its spelling, but also the trickiness in teaching by this method and the confusion children feel when confronted by it, particularly as English is full of such anomalies.

That said, young children will love to listen to the poem as it carries them along on a wave of rhythm and they will be surprised by its ending.  They might even be ready to explore how the author created that rhythm paying attention to elements such as the number of syllables, whether they are long or short, stressed or unstressed to make a beat and thus the cadence of our language.  They might even want to create a list of other words that rhyme with Zed that the author might have chosen, thus building their vocabulary and spelling knowledge.   

But above all, and most importantly, it’s a story that will resonate with any young readers who have either a goldfish or a dog with fleas, or perhaps both. 

 

Piper Picks the Perfect Pet

Piper Picks the Perfect Pet

Piper Picks the Perfect Pet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piper Picks the Perfect Pet

Caroline Tuohey

Nicky Johnson

Ford Street, 2020

32pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95

9781925804591

Piper is going to choose a pet, but just which one should she get?  There are the usual choices of a dog or a cat but then, there are so many options within those two choices. A cuddly dog or a puddly dog? A tabby curled up in a ball? A Burmese that’s not fussed at all?

Or should she get something altogether different so she can win the prize at the school pet show? A long one? A thin one? A fussy one?

Choosing a pet is a dream for so many kids and when the reality strikes, it can be an overwhelming decision.  This is a fun book for young readers that has rhyme and rhythm (although not the alliteration that the title suggests), enhanced by illustrations that capture the text perfectly. But it is also a discussion starter as children examine the reasons for having an animal in the home and the sorts of things they have to consider before they choose.  It would be an excellent story to tie to this year’s CBCA Picture Book of the Year winner,  I NEED a Parrot, as they consider not just what they need but what the animal needs and what is involved in its care.  For example, if she chooses the python or the lizard, most states will require her to have a special licence.

There are teachers’ notes and activity sheets available from the publisher’s website.

I NEED a Parrot

I NEED a Parrot

I NEED a Parrot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I NEED a Parrot

Chris McKimmie

Ford Street, 2020 

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

9781925804287

Like so many little people, this little boy decides he needs a pet.  Not just any pet – he needs a parrot in particular. But while he feels ne needs a parrot, and is prepared to take care of it, what does the parrot need?

Apart from the enduring argument about whether birds of any kind should be kept in cages, the story opens up discussions about wants versus needs and whether the two concepts are interchangeable.  

McKimmie has a unique artistic style that makes his illustrations very childlike in appearance and this really speaks to his audience underlining the message in his text.  Not only does he use the first person to talk to his audience but the words are backed up with images that look like they have been drawn by the narrator offering a double-whammy to pay attention. Starting the book with the image of a cage and ending it with a big blue sky is a powerful mechanism that will remain imprinted in the child’s mind, another technique that reinforces the message. There are many layers to this book that, on the surface, seems quite simple – a case of how less can indeed be more.

This book won the 2020 CBCA Picture Book of the Year Award , a worthy winner if the criteria is a story’s ability to open the minds of readers and challenge or change their thinking.

Teachers’ notes are available, and if it is sold out in your bookstore, contact the publisher.