The Champ (series)

The Champ

The Champ











The Champ

The Champ 1


Rock ‘n’ Roll


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 Courage of Magnolia Moon

The Courage of Magnolia Moon

The Courage of Magnolia Moon











The Courage of Magnolia Moon

Edwina Wyatt

Katherine Quinn

Walker, 2022

160pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


If Magnolia Moon were an entry in her young brother’s book of facts that she is “minding” until he is old enough to read it, it would say, “Magnolia Moon is ten years old (almost eleven). She is good at secret keeping, magic making, tree whispering , feather finding and dancing the Heel and Toe Polka (which she has been practising for the school barn dance). She has three best friends: Imogen May, Casper Sloan and Reuben the angel boy, although she is not so friendly with mathematics. She has a cat called Atlas and is getting her very own bedroom soon…”

In this, the third in this series,  she has to dig deep to find the courage to move forward in a range of everyday situations – like going to the dentist, or repairing her relationship with her best friend – that will be familiar to lots of the young independent readers who enjoy her adventures and may be inspired to face each day a little braver, too.. 

Each chapter is a separate episode in her everyday life but because of the setting, characters and events, the story has a continuity that spans a year of Magnolia’s life.  Easy to read with a few illustrations, this is a series that will appeal to young girls just finding their independence as they navigate the world of the ups and downs of family and friendships.

Pages & Co.5-The Treehouse Library

Pages & Co. 5-The Treehouse Library

Pages & Co. 5-The Treehouse Library












Pages & Co. 5-The Treehouse Library

Anna James

HarperCollins, 2022

416pp., 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 it 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  for in the first in the series she discovered her father was a fictional character and she, herself, was half fictional.  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. As she and her best friend Oskar search for her missing mother, they meet the powerful but sinister Underwood family, search for the mysterious  Archivists and encounter the Sesquipedalian, a magical train that uses the power of imagination to travel through both Story and the real world. It is owned by Horatio Bolt who specialises dodgy dealings as a book smuggler trading in rare books, and his nephew Milo…

In this, the second last in this series, Tilly and Milo hurtle towards their final showdown with the Alchemist, and the stakes are higher than ever – though there is always time for hot chocolate!
Milo Bolt is ready to be the hero of his own story. With Uncle Horatio trapped in an enchanted sleep by the power-hungry Alchemist, he sets off with his new friend Alessia to find a cure and save them all.  Their journey leads them to the magical treehouse – home of the Botanist, the Alchemist’s sworn enemy. Against the clock, they hunt for the cure: foraging in the Secret Garden, challenging Robin Hood and confronting the mighty Jabberwock.

But the Alchemist will stop at nothing to unlock the powerful secrets of The Book of Books, and Tilly, Pages & Co. and the whole world of imagination are under threat as a battle for the fate of bookwandering is set in motion…

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. Miss Now 12 is going to be delighted when her copy arrives in the post as she has been hooked on this from the start.

And if you have readers looking for similar stories about magical bookshops, suggest The Bookseller’s Apprentice and The Grandest Bookshop in the World.  to tide them over while they are waiting for the final of Pages & Co., probably about this time next year.  In the meantime, those who haven’t ventured into the doors of this magical place have time to catch up! 


Willa and Woof 2: Birthday Business

Willa and Woof 2: Birthday Business

Willa and Woof 2: Birthday Business











Willa and Woof 2: Birthday Business

Jacqueline Harvey

Puffin, 2022

128pp., pbk., RRP $A 12.99


Willa’s best old-age-friend Frank hates birthdays, but that’s not going to stop her from throwing him the greatest surprise party ever!

Willa plunges headlong into party planning and things immediately start to go wrong. Why don’t older people look forward to and celebrate birthdays as enthusiastically as the young?  She’ll need all her problem-solving skills (with the help of Tae, her best same-age friend, and her trusty sidekick Woof) to save the celebration!

Can Willa pull off the surprise?

This is the second in this new series from popular Jacqueline Harvey, with the third, Grandparents for Hire due in January, ensuring young readers do not have to wait long between reads for the next episode to whet their appetite.  As with the first, it is created for younger readers who are consolidating their skills and need quality writing, interesting characters and relatable plots, supported by short chapters, a larger font and illustrations.  

In my review of the first one, Mimi is MissingI suggested offering it to a reluctant reader and asking them to read it and assess whether it will be worth buying the additions that follow, and so this could be the consolidation read – is the series living up to expectations?  To extend their thinking, you could invite them to think about what more they learned about the characters in this new story and have them build a summary of characters such as this, so others can get to know them and follow the relationships…

This could then become part of a bigger display called Select-A-Series created by students summarising their own favourite series to persuade others to extend their reading horizons, as well as giving real purpose and context for reading as they become more critical readers, encouraged to pause and think about what they are reading rather than skimming the pages and looking for what’s next.   To add depth it could become part of a poll to find the most popular series for the year, making and building on the display for the entire year ensuring student-centred learning and participation.  

Federal Minister for Education Jason Clare is currently spruiking a proposal for providing teachers with lesson plans, returning to a cookie-cutter approach that focuses on the subject rather than the student, so this could be a way of providing something that meets curriculum outcomes but in a highly personalised way, 

Busy Betty

Busy Betty

Busy Betty












Busy Betty

Reese Witherspoon

Xindi Yan

Puffin, 2022

40pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99


Busy Betty has always been busy . . . even when she was just a baby!

When Betty gives Frank  the dog a big hug, she realizes he needs a bath, PRONTO! Her best friend, Mae, is coming over, and Betty can’t have the smelliest dog in the whole world! But giving Frank a bath is harder than she thought and just when everything seems impossible, with Mae’s help, Betty learns she can accomplish anything with perseverance, teamwork, and one great idea.

As a reviewer for children’s reading, I’m always wary of stories by those whose names are well-known for things other than writing stories for children – so often it is the name selling the book, rather than the quality of the story.  So it was a pleasant surprise to read a story that stands by itself and which will appeal to those who tend to get distracted easily.  Betty’s mind is always busy, with one thought leading to another and her actions following so that nothing ever gets done, or if it does, it isn’t done well.  In a time of instant gratification with the expectation that everything will be available in the flick of a click; when children’s lives seem to be so organised and busy and to sit and daydream or wonder or imagine is seen as time-wasting, this is a timely reminder that we need to learn to slow down and literally smell the roses.  To focus on one thing and enjoy the process as well as the product.  To focus to finish and enjoy the doing as much as the done.  To make and take the time to enjoy this story that moves along at break-neck speed and think about what it (and Betty) are telling us.  

Time to put the mindfulness techniques into play, breathe and enjoy. 

Two Puggles

Two Puggles

Two Puggles












Two Puggles

Michelle Guzel

Andrew Plant

Ford Street, 2022

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


When Spike and Ducky hatched they looked exactly the same, but as they began to grow, Spike got spiky and Ducky didn’t.  And that’s not all that changes.  How can “two brothers from the same mother” be so different?

This is an intriguing story about two of Australia’s unique creatures – the echidna and the platypus – who actually have more in common than it looks.  With overtones of both Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the ugly duckling and Eastman’s Are You My Mother?, it introduces the two monotremes in an entertaining way while also offering lots of information about them so little ones can learn.  Accompanied by Andrew Plant’s (I’m-a-fan) realistic illustrations that that embed the twist in the plot that makes you think, it is a delightful story of friendship, co-operation and using your unique talents for the common good.

And just for your Monday morning entertainment…

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


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.  


How to be . . . The New Person

How to be . . . The New Person

How to be . . . The New Person











How to be . . . The New Person

Anna Branford

Walker Books, 2022

128pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99


Hazel Morrison has a secret habit – pretending to make videos about everyday things. Eight important tips for successfully buttering toast! Putting your hair in a ponytail: a step-by-step guide! But when her family move to the outer suburbs, Hazel has to cope with starting at a new school where she doesn’t exactly feel welcomed. However, she does meet a new friend – her elderly neighbour Veronica,  But then Veronica has to move too.

So when a school project inspires her to create a real video, she knows just what her focus will be – a how-to guide for being “the new person” . . . because everyone, sometime, will meet one, or be one!

Having laughed and cried through Old People’s Home for Teenagers and having seen the impact of the isolation of lockdown on all ages, it would seem to me that loneliness is at the root of the mental health issues of today’s generations.  While older people finding themselves alone after the death of a partner has always been a trigger point, and one to be aware of regardless of their “I’m OK” protestations because they “don’t want to be a burden”, the anti-social nature of social media is a new phenomenon.  Although it allows for easier connectivity, that connectivity can be done alone and in private without having to have face-to-face contact, without having to develop the skills of interaction or relationship-building, and without regard for the impact of the words on the recipient.  No wonder the teens in the television show, most of whom admitted that they spent hours upon hours in their bedrooms, lacked the confidence to mingle with others.

Thus, as we approach the end of another school year and children are facing having to start a new school, whether that’s in a new location or just moving on to high school, anxiety will be starting to build already as they contemplate being “the new kid” and all that that entails.  This book, written for young independent readers, deserves to be shared with our students to open up conversations that allow them to share their anxieties, to learn that they are all feeling the same way, and to develop strategies so they can believe in Veronica’s observation that “Wherever there are lots of people, there is always at least one nice person. You don’t always find them right away but sooner or later you usually do.  And after that, things get easier.”

IMO, instead of focusing on academics and grades and stuff in the last few weeks of the year, the greatest thing we can do for our students is to guide them along the pathway ahead, to show them that there are many walking beside, behind and in front of them, that the apprehension they are feeling is universal and that they can and will find that “one nice person.”  It starts with being one yourself.   


If someone has lost their smile, give them one of yours.

Bored: Frog’s Mystery Twin

Bored: Frog's Mystery Twin

Bored: Frog’s Mystery Twin











 Bored: Frog’s Mystery Twin

Matt Stanton

ABC Books, 2022

224pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


“I can get myself in all sorts of trouble when I’m bored … My name is Frog and this may have been a very bad idea. I’ve started at this new school and when you’re trying to fit in the best thing you can do is just try something totally crazy! Right?

Well, it seemed like a good plan. Only now Luisa has decided I’m her favourite person to make fun of, Evie thinks I’m completely nuts, Milo’s grumpy about something or other and I’m about to tell everyone the whole story about my secret twin brother with the same name. True story! I swear.”

We first met Frog in the first of this series from the author of Funny Kids and The Odds in which Stanton again demonstrates his ability to turn everyday situations and authentic characters that readers will recognise into stories that engage even the most reluctant readers. Now it’s his turn to be in the spotlight as he navigates being the new kid on the block and in the school, a situation that will be familiar to many readers.

As these wet holidays drag along, this could be the perfect antidote particularly with the promise of the third in the series coming soon, and readers being encouraged to send their reviews direct to Matt Stanton himself. 

Violin and Cello

Violin and Cello

Violin and Cello












Violin and Cello

Catherine Greer

Joanna Bartel

Alexander Lau

EK Books, 2022

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


While a high brick wall might separate the balconies of the two apartments and prevent the players from seeing each other, it doesn’t stop the music. One played a violin and the other a cello, and while each practised alone and at their own pace, both lonely, the music mingled.  And then the violinist had an idea and sent a secret message to the cello player.

Cello from a backpack.

Violin from a case

Each musician still played at their own pace.

It was tricky.

It took some time.

Then music flew from the violin and from the cello, too.  

And then the cellist made a paper plane and sent her own secret message to her new friend.  And together they played music from their balconies and connected many more than themselves. 

Learning and playing music can be a solitary activity, bringing pleasure to the music-maker but even greater isolation than has been enforced over recent times.  With between 45% of children (Australia) and 70% of children (UK) currently playing a musical instrument and even more (as many as 9 out of 10) wanting to learn -most beginning their classical music education with piano, violin or cello lessons- this is a story that will resonate with many young readers and show them that music is indeed a universal language and can indeed  “act like a magic key, to which the most tightly closed heart opens” as Maria Von Trapp declared in The Sound of Music. 

The score for the allegro and adagio movements of “The Mystery Friends”, the music which brings the children together, is  an original duet for violin and cello composed for the book by Australian composer, Alexander Lau, are printed in the book as well as being available via the links in this review.  Thorough teachers’ notes are also available so that even the most non-musical person like me can bring this book to life well beyond the words and pictures on the page.