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Friday Barnes: Last Chance

Friday Barnes: Last Chance

Friday Barnes: Last Chance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Barnes: Last Chance

R. A. Spratt

Puffin, 2023

288pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780143779247

Friday Barnes is the daughter of two highly-intelligent, eccentric physicists who are so disconnected from her upbringing that they called her Friday even though she was born on a Thursday.  She did have four siblings, all much older than her being born during the four-and-a-half years their mother had allocated for the task.  Friday was not scheduled and her birth was fitted in around a lecture her mother had to give in Switzerland.  Eleven years later, Friday had largely raised herself and she was happy with that.  Her greatest wish was to be unnoticed because you could do so much more that way like eating a whole block of chocolate at once without it being taken off you.    Unfortunately, it also means that you do not develop very good social skills particularly if you spend your time reading scientific tomes and educating yourself beyond the realms of anything a school could offer.

However, as well as the non-fiction her parents library consisted of, Friday had a penchant for detective novels because “being a detective allowed a person a licence to behave very eccentrically indeed” and she had honed her powers of observation and logical thought over the years.  But the time has now come for Friday to go to high school and given her parents haven’t even realised she is no longer in preschool, it was up to her to sort it.  She would have preferred not to go at all because she saw it as being all about “bullying, dodge ball and having to find a date for the prom” but the government was insistent that she do.  She tried to compromise by applying for university and passed the exam to study medicine but was knocked back on her age. 

So rejecting the idea of the Foreign Legion, the Peace Corps and being smuggled out of the country by people traffickers, after helping her ex-cop, private investigator Uncle Bernie solve a case she finds herself with the means to send herself to Highcrest Academy the best and most expensive boarding school in the whole country.  Her intention is to stay under the radar, do what she has to do and leave.  But things do not work out that way.  Right from the start, her nondescript self-imposed uniform of brown cardigans, grey t-shirts and blue jeans makes her stand out among the fashion parade that is the elite, wealthy students who also attend and being knocked down in the carpark on the first day doesn’t help either. Nor does being the brightest student in the entire school, being labelled “scholarship girl” by the school bully and being unable to help herself being able to point out the flaws and inaccuracies in the conversation and presentations of others. Antagonising the handsome, previously-smartest student Ian Wainscott adds to her woes, particularly when her roommate, the not-so-bright Melanie insists there is a romance blooming, something that Friday scoffs at. But their paths have already been inextricably interwoven…

Now, Friday, Melanie and Ian are Paris and they are discovering that the art scene is a hot-bed of crime as they investigate a mystery surrounding the Mona Lisa. Is the painting hanging in The Louvre a fake? And where is the original?

This is the 11th in this series  that was first published in 2014 and which quickly became a favourite among those looking for a story that had some meat to it with a heroine they could relate to, including Ms Then-8. Since then Friday’s adventures and escapades have garnered a wide and increasing audience, including Ms Now 16 who will be thrilled to get this one despite being eight years older.  But as well as the established fan base, this is such a timeless and quality series  the beginning of the school year is the perfect time to introduce it to a new generation of independent readers who not only have 10 others to fill their reading calendar but also another episode to look forward to in 2024.  Even if they read nothing else this year, this is a solid foundation for the future. 

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

Terry Pratchett

Corgi Children’s, 2022

304pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780552578929

Rats! They’re everywhere –  in the breadbins, dancing across tabletops, stealing pies from under the cooks’ noses. So, what does every town need? A good piper to lure them away. That’s where Maurice comes in! A streetwise tomcat with the perfect money-making scam.

Everyone has heard the stories about the piper and the rats, and con-cat Maurice finds a stupid-looking kid with a pipe, and has his very own plague of rats – strangely educated rats who are highly intelligent, can speak and have a sense of morality. 

But in Bad Blintz, someone is playing a different tune and now Maurice and his rats must learn a new concept: evil….

While this edition is a tie-in to the movie that is about to be released, the original was the 28th novel in the bestselling Discworld series, a series set on a flat, circular world balanced on the backs of four elephants which in turn stand on the back of a giant turtle. Typically, the stories are inspired by classic literature, in this case Robert Browning’s, The Pied Piper of Hamelin.  While the series itself is primarily aimed at adults, this one is for children and Pratchett was awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal for it. There are twists and turns that older readers are more likely to appreciate so this might be one best shared in conjunction with both Browning’s story and the movie.

The Champ (series)

The Champ

The Champ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Champ

The Champ 1

9781760526870

Rock ‘n’ Roll

9781761065620

Anh Do

A & U  Children’s 2022

192pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

Popular and prolific storyteller is back with a new series for young readers transitioning to novels with all the supports these readers need including action-packed plots and relatable characters who have a touch of superpower to turn them from ordinary to extraordinary in times of need.

Summer loves sport, and there is nothing she would love more than to charge down the field towards an open goal, or soar through the air over the basket. She would love to be part of a team but instead she always seems to be the last one picked, probably because of her lack of co-ordination which even she recognises. Then one day something amazing happens and Summer discovers she is no longer the spectator but the superstar. The purple gloop that covered her and landed her in hospital has turned her life around. However what is magical for Summer is misery for her older brother Carl who goes from being a talented upcoming footballer to being in a wheelchair, and Summer finds herself with a lot more responsibility.

With her new expertise, Summer decides to enter contests to earn money to support her family, but as it turns out, there are far more important things for her to do, starting with sorting out a witch who looks strangely familiar and is causing trouble in her home town while keeping her new powers secret because  a government agency, armed with a robotic minion, begin to take an interest in her.  In the second in the series, she has to deal with the mysterious Book Witch again when everyone’s favourite rock band is kidnapped.

Younger readers who are just meeting Anh Do as an author will like what they read and easily be able to fit themselves into the story, perhaps even venturing into his many other series  as they wait for Summer’s next adventure, but those more familiar with his works, particularly SkyDragon may find parts of the plot familiar.  That doesn’t decry from the appeal of this new series as there is a reason Do is so popular and this is yet another way to get readers on the cusp of being independent to keep reading. 

 

 

 

The Pharaoh of Asco Express

The Pharaoh of Asco Express

The Pharaoh of Asco Express

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pharaoh of Asco Express

Jake R. Wilson

New Frontier, 2022

138pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781922326522

Whatever happens, no matter what, DO NOT step into Asco Express because you might just end up leaving with more than you bargained for…
When eleven-year-old Wesley stops by at a mysterious local shop to buy a drink, he does not realise the trouble he is getting himself into. CURSED by the fiendish Pharaoh AKAHTEN IX, Wesley and his friends, Marishana and Aiden, must solve the evil spell quickly or be trapped for all ETERNITY!

This is a new series for younger readers that not only introduces them to past times but also the mystery genre  Using modern children and time travel is a familiar hook to capture a new audience, and this story has the added bonus of a mystery set in Ancient Egypt, a time and place that fascinates many.  It includes a glossary of some of the people and objects encountered in the story so the reader can quickly check for anything they’re not sure of. With the ending setting the scene for the next adventure, this is a series that will appeal to those younger, independent readers who are looking for something different. 

As well as the story itself offering an opportunity to travel an historical path to explore life in Ancient Egypt, teacher’s notes  promote an exploration of the mystery genre generally, with explanations of the key elements of a strong hook, a crime, an investigator, a villain, clues, a twist and a conclusion which, in itself, invites readers to add other mysteries they have read to a list which could broaden others’ reading horizons.  

 

Where Seagulls Dare: A Diamond Brothers Case

Where Seagulls Dare:

Where Seagulls Dare:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where Seagulls Dare

The Diamond Brothers

Anthony Horowitz

Walker, 2022

256pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9781529501179

This is a new story heralding the return of a popular series from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s recounting the adventures of the world’s worst private detective, Tim Diamond (28), and his much more intelligent younger brother, Nick Diamond (14). Because of their popularity they have been re-issued over the years, each time gaining a new generation of fans, often moving on to read Horowitz’s more mature novels such as the Alex Rider series.

In this episode, Tim and Nick haven’t had a case for three months and are down to their last cornflake so when a glamorous woman comes into their office offering them a pile of cash to find her missing father, they think Christmas has come  Before they know it, they are caught up in a case involving bike-riding hitmen, super-hackers and a sinister far right organisation, the White Crusaders. The Diamond Brothers are in trouble over their heads. 

Even though it has a teenage protagonist and international criminals, it is written for the 7-9 age group, lightened with humour, puns. pop culture references and absurd situations characterised by titles that are spoofs of popular movies. Something to entice young males to keep reading and perhaps lead them on to other works by the same author. 

 

A Clue for Clara & Rita’s Revenge

A Clue for Clara & Rita's Revenge

A Clue for Clara & Rita’s Revenge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Clue for Clara 

9781760877699

Rita’s Revenge

9781761066009

Allen & Unwin, 2020-2022

320+ pages, pbk., RRP $A16.99

 

GREETINGS. AM LOOKING FOR A MAJOR CRIME TO SOLVE. PLEASE INFORM ME OF ANY RECENT MURDERS, KIDNAPPINGS OR JEWEL HEISTS IN THIS AREA.’

A scruffy chook, literally henpecked by the other hens, Clara has become addicted to the detective shows she sees on the humans’ television and now she wants to be a famous detective like her hero Amelia X with her own TV show. She can read claw marks, find missing feathers and knows Morse code and semaphore, but  being small and scruffy chook no one takes her seriously. But when she teams up with Olive, the daughter of the local policeman, they might just be able to solve the crimes that have been troubling the town of Little Dismal. 

And having solved the crime and prevented the theft of some sheep, but in the process having made the ducks look less than the courageous creatures they perceive themselves to be, the ducks are ticked off and are seeking revenge.  They decide they are going to make Clara’s life a misery but brave as they profess to be, none is willing to lead the charge.  Until Rita, in disgrace for offering poetry at the recent Talent Night, volunteers in an effort to seek redemption.  But But Rita finds more than revenge on her mission. She uncovers a dastardly plan to chook-nap the clever chicken that will take them both a long way from home.  But her unlikely friendship with a small human and the help of some street-smart birds just might save the day and inspire an epic poem!

This is a LOL duo for the newly independent reader who likes something completely wacky and entertaining, written in an easy-to-read unique diary format with plenty of other textual supports while being thick enough to impress peers!  Both see the human world through a different lens offering interesting insights as well as hilarious observations and misinterpretations, but more than that, they validate the importance of being yourself regardless if that is a little different to the norm and the expectation of others.  Young readers who see themselves as being a little outside whatever is currently accepted amongst their peers will delight in seeing both Clara and Rita rise above the pack (flock?) to triumph. 

 

Pirate Queens

Pirate Queens

Pirate Queens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pirate Queens

Leigh Lewis

Sara Gomez Woolley

NatGeo Kids, 2022

64pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781426371950

In 1995, September 19 each year was proclaimed International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Created as a bit of fun by two friends in the US, in Australia, at least, it has become a major fundraiser for Childhood Cancer Support with schools getting involved in a range of ways to support students and friends.  According to the Cancer Council, it is estimated that, on average, about 750 children aged 0-14 are diagnosed with cancer each year in Australia with leukaemia accounting for about 33% of cases, and brain cancers, 25% so it is likely that a school will be supporting a student through this –  if not yours, then nearby.

Thus, what might have been a frivolous suggestion more than 25 years ago, can now have a significant impact on those we know and this new book from NatGeo Kids can provide an opportunity to investigate the lives of some of the women who were just as fearsome as the more well-known males such as Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Captain Hook or even Jack Sparrow.  As is often the case with history, the past is viewed through a male lens because men were viewed as the gender capable of writing and reading, they became the scholars, and thus wrote the history books which were mostly written to please kings , generals or male politicians and so only portrayed the male perspective.  

Thus, even though there have been female pirates since the dawn of piracy, including Ching Shih (aka Zheng Yi Sao)  who tormented the South China Sea with her fleet of 70,000 raiders in the early 19th century, our children have grown up with male-dominated images and stereotypes.

Easy to read with lots of detailed illustrations, the author has trolled the few resources that do still exist and this collection of six stories of powerful female pirates who forged their own path is but a small part of the stories of other women whose stories have been lost or forgotten. Spanning the Caribbean, the Irish and North Seas, the Mediterranean and even the Pacific, this is a fascinating look into the lives of these women that had me more intrigued that I imagined and immediately I could see its place in a serious study of these seafarers who not only captivate young readers in folklore and fiction but who also were real and shaped history so that International Talk Like a Pirate Day could have a legitimate place in the curriculum and thus, its associated fund-raising boosted.

Older students might investigate the qualities of leaders and leadership and whether rule by fear is the most successful way, while perhaps the next pirate a younger child draws might even be female!

 

The House at the Edge of Magic

The House at the Edge of Magic

The House at the Edge of Magic

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The House at the Edge of Magic 

9781406395310

The Tower at the End of Time

9781406395327

Walker Books, 2021-2022

240pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

Crouched behind the stacked crates of the fishmonger’s stall in the market, Nine’s muscles are tensed, her senses alert waiting for just the right moment to snatch the lady’s handbag… For the streets are her world and stealing treasures for Pockets, the leader of the gang, is her life and she knows all the tricks of pickpocketing and all the twists and turns of the alleys and lanes  back to the Nest of a Thousand Treasures. He’s called her Nine because she in the ninth member of the gang, offering her a place to sleep and the odd meal in exchange for the things she steals.  

But Nine dreams of bigger things, a better life and when she steals a house-shaped ornament from a mysterious woman’s purse, things begin to change… She knocks on its tiny door and watches in wonder as it grows into a huge, higgledy-piggledy house squeezes between its neighbours. Inside are characters as strange as the house – Eric the housekeeper troll who is lost without his feather duster; a Scottish wooden spoon who wields a sword and Flabberghast , a young wizard who’s particularly competitive at hopscotch… But they have all been put under a spell by a wicked witch, a spell that only Nine can help them break before the clock winds down and which, while offering her a better life means she will have to sacrifice the thing that is dearest to her…

While the time and place of this new three-part series aren’t identified, it is reminiscent of the Dickensian world of Oliver Twist and Fagin but with magic and fantasy thrown in. But there the similarities end for Nine is not Oliver – she is clever, smart and thanks to her visits to the local library where she is actually welcomed, very well-read, and her willingness to save her new “friends” is more about giving herself a prosperous future than any altruistic concerns for them. She is determined to find the strawberries that Pockets says don’t exist… But then, given her life so far she has never known friendship and kindness and her defensiveness and self-interest have been built on the walls of self-protection. So, if she succeeds in breaking the spell, will she be able to just walk away with her prize?  

There is a plethora of fantasy books in the children’s book market at the moment with characters and plots whose limits know only the bounds of their authors’ imaginations, but this one stands out because of Nine and her emotional growth as she begins to understand that there is more to life than the untold wealth promised by the glowing jewels imprisoned by the witch’s spell.  The characters are not scary and unimaginable – we can all picture a troll, a wizard and a wicked witch and what can be confronting about a game of hopscotch?

As soon as she saw them on my desk, Miss 11 claimed these for herself and had her nose in them – now she must wait patiently for the third and final, although its title and release date remain as mysterious as Flabberghast’s house.  

Get Me Out of Here!

Get Me Out of Here!

Get Me Out of Here!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Get Me Out of Here!

Foolish and Fearless Convict Escapes

Pauline Deeves

Brent Wilson

A & U Children’s, 2022

64pp., hbk., RRP $A29.99

9781760526993

The publisher’s blurb for this fascinating book reads … “

Full of crims, crooks and rascally runaways, this fun and light-hearted non-fiction title is a colourful celebration of our convict past Meet the convicts behind Australia’s most rascally, dastardly prison escapes. Gifted geniuses or total goofballs? You be the judge! Featuring Moondyne Joe, Mary Bryant, and a guy who put on a kangaroo skin and hopped away (literally), this fun and engaging collection brings our country’s early colonial past to life.”

And, indeed, it is a ‘fun and engaging’ read for older students who want to know the stories behind the stories of some of those whose names have become a familiar part of our history, 

But, IMO, the ‘fun and engaging’ is found in the stories surrounding the stories behind the stories, which reflect that author’s experience as a teacher librarian and an understanding of not only how students like to read but what they want to know.  

To begin, each person’s story is told as a narrative, some in the first person, and as well as their story, there is also a short explanation of what happened to them after their exploits – whether their escape was successful,  they were caught and punished or…  There are also two pages of Fun Facts after each chapter that expand on the circumstances of the time. For example Mary Bryant ‘s story is followed by information about female convicts and alerts the reader to other stories that could be followed, while others include explanations of vocabulary and other tidbits that add colour and interest. There are the usual glossary and index as well as suggestions for further research that offer other child-friendly books to explore.

Each chapter is set on bold background colours with lots of cartoon-like illustrations that will appeal widely.

 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

All in all, this is an intriguing book that will add insight and understanding into our past in a way that is not the usual dry recounts full of facts and figures.

Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast

Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast

Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pearly and Pig and the Great Hairy Beast

Sue Whiting

Walker, 2022

224pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9781760653590

When the special phone rings in the middle of a storm, a phone that is a secret landline of the Adventurologists Guild and only meant to be answered by qualified members of that group, Pearly Woe is sent into a panic,  Her parents are members, she is not, but they should have been home hours ago and it keeps ringing – MOOOO, MOOOO, MOOOO. Should she answer it and break the rules or does she use her initiative and pick it up because such non-stop ringing is so unusual?

For despite being able to speak 27 languages, including some animal tongues,  Pearly Woe is one of the world’s greatest worriers and her over-active imagination creates a dozen different scenarios for even the most common situation. But when she does finally lift the receiver, hearing her mother’s voice does not bring her comfort – instead the strange message with its cryptic clues set off a chain of events that even Pearly’s imagination couldn’t have conjured.  Pearly’s parents have been kidnapped by Emmeline Woods, who is not the nice character she portrays on screen, and who demands that Pearly hand over Pig, her pet pig  whom she talks to all the time to ease her anxiety.  Alarm bells are ringing loudly already but seeing Woods shoot Pig with a tranquiliser gun  galvanises Pearly into mounting a rescue mission that sees her in the icy wastes of Antarctica and having to confront her worries, fears and imagination in ways the she would not have dreamed possible. 

This is a fast-paced, intriguing adventure for young, independent readers who are beginning to want some depth to the stories they read and the characters they meet.  While there are subtle environmental messages embedded in the story, it is Pearly’s anxiety and self-doubt that many will relate to personally, while others will cheer her on to believe in herself and overcome those fears.  It can be amazing how our love and concern for those who are most precious can spur us to do things we never though we would be capable of… even if we can’t speak 27 languages to help us out.

To me, the mark of a quality story is if I can hear myself reading it aloud to a class, and this is definitely one of those.