Archives

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Midnight Kittens

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Midnight Kittens

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Midnight Kittens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Midnight Kittens

Allison Rushby

Bronte Rose Marando

Walker, 2022

144pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9781760654030

1872.  Miss Strickland’s School for Girls of an Enquiring Mind and Penny Pickering’s mind is wandering, as it often does, in Miss Pugh’s lessons.  She’s sketching ideas about what might happen if bears invaded the school when her daydreams are interrupted by a summons to the principal’s office. 

Although she has often dreamed of being taken away from the school by her Aunt Harriet who writes very popular short stories known as “penny dreadfuls” (hence the nickname other girls in the school have given Penny), she is most surprised when it actually happens and she finds herself on the way to Mr Toddington’s Museum of the Curious and Absurd with her aunt, the pet monkey Jones and the surly Mr Crowley.  For there is a mystery about some strange kittens to be solved… and Penny finds herself actually drawing on those boring lessons from Miss Pugh, not only to solve it but to think of a solution that means win-win for everyone.

With an intriguing cast of characters, but not so many that the reader loses track, and short chapters, this is a great new series for younger readers who enjoy mysteries, that takes them back to a time when beliefs and attitudes were very different so the plot is very plausible and the atmosphere for more mysteries is established, particularly as this story ends on a cliff-hanger setting them up for the next episode – just what has happened to her parents because the cryptic postcard her aunt gives her makes no sense… 

Is it a case of “dreaming with eyes open” or “be careful what you wish for”?

 

 

Pow Pow Pig 3: On the High Seas

Pow Pow Pig 3: On the High Seas:

Pow Pow Pig 3: On the High Seas:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pow Pow Pig 3: On the High Seas

Anh Do

Peter Cheong

A&U Children’s,  2022

168pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9781761065675

It is the year 2050 and the world is in trouble. In 2030 the rich animals of the world voted to stop helping the poor and as they became richer, forever seeking bigger and better while discarding their unwanted things instead of sharing them, creating a huge amount of waste.  And then the fighting started.

But all is not lost and Piccolo Pig (aka Pow Pow Pig) , inspired by his parents’ role model has yearned to join CHOC (Creatures Helping Other Creatures) to help make the world a better place through small acts of kindness. So as soon as he was old enough he joined, and now, after three years of training it’s Graduation Day. But he and his friends Danielle Duck (aka King Fu Duck), Chelsea Chicken (aka Cha Cha Chicken) and Barry the Goat (aka Barry the Goat) are not in the A Team but the Z Team.  So they are the last to be picked when it comes to world-saving missions,

So when a call comes in and they are the only ones left, it is up to them to save the situation.  Although they live in 2050, they have time machine that allows them to travel back in time but sometimes it doesn’t work as it should.

In their first adventure, An Unexpected Hero, they end up in the Middle Ages and in the second, Let the Games Beginin Ancient Greece!  This time they land in the 17th century and join the crew of the SSS Super Show Ship which includes a grizzly bear in a tuxedo, a jaguar on a unicycle, a fox flipping between the sails and some pygmy marmosets juggling apples!

This is the third in this new series from the ever-popular Anh Do, more for younger independent readers as it is all the attributes required to support their transition to novels including a larger font, a light-handed layout and many illustrations.  But, as with his other series like Rise of the Mythix, embedded in the thoroughly modern characters , action, adventure and humour, there is an underlying message that gives the story more than just fleeting entertainment value. By making the heroes creatures often associated with being underdogs and having them as the Z Team readers can learn that success can take many forms, that not all battles are won with might and power – a tea towel and a broom can be very effective when used cleverly – and that the desire to do well has to come from within. They can also visit other time periods in an exciting adventure, providing a gentle step into the concept of history and offering an insight into life in those times that is much more fun that facts and figures.

Anh Do is a prolific storyteller, and one of our most popular currently, and those who enjoyed the first two will be thrilled there is now another with more promised. 

 

 

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zadie Ma and the Dog Who Chased the Moon

Gabrielle Wang

Puffin, 2022

272pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

 9781761046513

Zadie Ma’s passion is writing stories, and she has discovered that sometimes they come true – as they did with the story of Little Ant Cassandra when the ants miraculously disappeared before her mother could spray them , and Little Kit who was a fox who could sing and the next day, she saw exactly that outside her window.  

Shy and without a close friend until Sparrow moves in next door, Zadie’s dearest wish is to have a dog of her own and so she starts to write the story of a poor unwanted dog called Jupiter, who’s just waiting to be rescued by a loving girl like Zadie. Although Zadie can’t control which of her stories come true, perhaps this might be one of those that do. 

Interspersed with both Zadie’s stories and graphic novel elements, this is a new release from Australian Children’s Laureate, Gabrielle Wang, for independent readers who like a down-to-earth story featuring characters they can relate to.  For when Zadie sets off to find Jupiter, instead of minding the family’s shop, she does indeed find him and rescues him.  But then she realises that she can’t keep him because her mother will not let her have a dog, particularly as their relationship is somewhat strained… Will her story have the happy ending she dreams of?

Gabrielle Wang is the author of a number of books for primary-aged readers, including The Beast of Hushing Wood , each different and intriguing. This one, set in Melbourne in 1955, has a personal tinge to it as it is prefaced with a photo of her with her grandfather and the family dog and dedicated to “Rusty, and all the other dogs who were lost and never found their way home”. In fact, in an interview, Wang says “This novel is a special love letter to my very first dog, Rusty, who my grandfather found wandering around lost at the Victoria market in Melbourne. “

It also touches on some of the attitudes that were prevalent at the time, including issues of racism and the place of women and animals in society offering an opportunity to reflect on how things have changed – or haven’t.  Other stories with a similar timeframe  that could be companion novels are 52 Mondays  and The Unstoppable Flying Flanagan, both quite different but also with themes of family, friendship, determination and courage.  

 

 

 

 

Ming and Flo Fight for the Future

Ming and Flo Fight for the Future

Ming and Flo Fight for the Future

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ming and Flo Fight for the Future

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2022

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

9781460760208

When Ming Qong put up her hand in Mr Boors’ history class and asked him why they only ever learned about men in history, never girls, she had no idea the chain of events that she was about to set off.

Suddenly the class was silent and still, as though frozen in the moment, except for a strange, almost ethereal woman dressed in purple sitting in the window sill -someone Ming feels she knows but doesn’t.  The woman introduces herself as Herstory, the sister of History, a woman passionate about the part women have played alongside men as the centuries have rolled past and as frustrated as Ming that those stories have not been told because “men wrote the history books and they mostly wrote them to please kings or generals or male politicians.” Even though the women’s stories are there in letters, diaries and even old newspapers waiting to be discovered, the past was always viewed through a male lens. and then she offers Ming a way to travel back to the past for just 42 days, to see it for herself (even though it wouldn’t always be pleasant, pretty or comfortable) and be part of it although she, herself, would not be seen or heard and she couldn’t change anything that happened.

Ming is eager to accept, to be a girl who changed the world, and suddenly she is Flo Watson and she has what she wished for  It’s 1898, she’s scratching a living alongside her mother on a farm in the middle of nowhere and a severe drought, anxiously awaiting the return of her father with his drunken, violent temper and handy fists.  But that life changes when Ma dies of a snakebite and she finds herself living with wealthy Aunt McTavish in Sydney who believes in women having the vote, financial and legal independence, racial equality and universal education for children and who puts her time, money and energy where her mouth is. 

Ming, as Flo, sees, hears and engages in much as she works by her aunt’s side as they work with Louisa Lawson (mother of Henry whose later writings would be one of the windows to this world) and the Suffragist Society seeking signatures on a petition that will eventually see the entire continent united, yet it is something apparently insignificant that is actually the world changer…

Those familiar with Jackie French’s meticulously researched historical fiction know that she has been telling herstory in her stories such as The Matilda Saga for years, but this new series The Girls Who Changed the World focuses particularly on the stories of girls of the readers’ age.  (And, in fact, the final pages leave Ming and Tuan on a cliffhanger in the battlefields of World War I. )

However, the significance of this particular story at this particular time cannot go unnoticed given the results of the recent federal election and other recent events. For while Ming believes that what happened in the past explains the present, and we know that Australia became a federation in 1901 those original divisions, parochialism and desire for autonomy quickly became apparent during the response to the COVID 19 pandemic; and while women did, indeed, get the vote, the wave of female voters voting for women candidates in the federal election shows that there is still much about women’s lives and status that needs to be addressed and changed.

While the groundwork was laid by the likes of Louisa Lawson and Aunt McTavish, who were those who carried it forward, who continue to do so and who might be dreaming with their eyes open to take it even further?  Seems to me that there might be scope for each of our students to investigate and write a story to add to this one…

A Lighthouse Story

A Lighthouse Story

A Lighthouse Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lighthouse Story

Holly James

Laura Chamberlain

Bloomsbury, 2022 

48pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99

9781526624123

“On bright summer days, Eva visits her Grandad…

But this is no ordinary trip because it begins with a boat ride on a small boat to a rocky island because Eva’s grandad is a lighthouse keeper.  Eva loves her Grandad but she loves lighthouses almost as much as she bombards him with millions of questions about the what, why, where, who and how of these structures that seem to have their own mystical appeal.  

And so interspersed with the story of Eva and Grandad sharing the daily routine of maintaining the lighthouse, the reader is given all sorts of facts about them – who knew that even  their external paint pattern was so significant – their purpose, their location, their upkeep, their range, as well as cloud formations, stars in the night sky and the wildlife that surrounds the lighthouse. There is even the remarkable story of Grace Darling, the legendary lighthouse keeper’s daughter who rescued so many. 

Give me a book with a lighthouse on the cover and I can’t resist – I’m straight back to my childhood at the very south of the South Island of New Zealand where I grew up with the local lighthouse sweeping its reassuring beam over my bed in its rhythmic pattern each night, and on clear nights, the distant Dog Island lighthouse too.  So although my grandad wasn’t the lighthouse keeper, so much of Eva’s story brought back the best memories. 

 

Apart from me though,  this is a book that will resonate with so many who are familiar with lighthouses as there are over 350 of them dotted around our coastline. While there are no longer any manned, nevertheless they still hold an appeal and Eva’s  journey back into another time will help those who are fascinated by them, not only understand their function better but also have an even deeper respect for those who looked after them, and, through their efforts. so many others.  

The perfect companion to  The Lighthouse Keeper series – another favourite!  

Tyenna

Tyenna: Through My Eyes - Australian Disaster Zones

Tyenna: Through My Eyes – Australian Disaster Zones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tyenna

Through My Eyes – Australian Disaster Zones

Julie Hunt & Terry Whitebeach

A & U Children’s, 2022

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

9781760877019

They huddle low, nostrils burning from the smoke. A wave of despair flows over Tye. Nothing will survive this firestorm. The bush and everything she loves will be lost.

It’s the summer holidays, and Tye is staying at her grandparents’ lodge at Chancy’s Point in Tasmania’s beautiful Central Highlands. But her plans for fun with best friend Lily and working on her pencil pine conservation project are thwarted as fire threatens the community and the bush she loves – and when Tye discovers Bailey, a runaway boy hiding out, she is torn between secretly helping him and her loyalty to her grandparents.

As the fire comes closer and evacuation warnings abound, Tye is caught up in the battle of her life. Will she and Bailey survive? What will happen to her beloved pencil pines and the wildlife at risk? Can she and her close-knit community make a difference in a world threatened by climate change?

This is the latest in this series that offers fictionalised accounts of world events that help our older, independent readers not only understand what happened but allows them to process it.  By giving each story a central character such as Lyla who endured the devastating Christchurch earthquake in 2011, the story becomes one of courage, resilience and hope rather than an historical recount with meaningless facts and figures. It offers the ‘colour and detail’ to the stark monochrome sketches of news reports, websites and other information-only sources.  

Like its predecessors, Tyenna is a well-written, well-researched blend of imagination and information that above all, tells a story of one girl’s experience -sadly one similar to that of  so many of our students who faced that dreadful Black Summer of 2019-2020 when the whole of the east coast of the country seem to be alight – and shows that it is OK to have been scared and fearful, but that natural human resilience can prevail. The first to focus on an Australian disaster (it will be joined by Mia later this year), it will resonate with many in one way or another and thus, if you have a system that places trigger warnings in your books, this may be one to consider.  

While we would all like to protect our kids from the disasters of modern times, natural or otherwise, that can be an impossible task as the world now comes to them in the palm of their hands, but stories like this can offer insight, understanding and a feeling that they too, have come through the other side – often shaped by it but also more resilient and courageous because of it. 

 

 

Arthur: The Always King

Arthur: The Always King

Arthur: The Always King

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arthur: The Always King

Kevin Crossley-Holland

Chris Riddell

Walker, 2022

240pp., hbk., RRP $A39.99

9781406378436

Some time in the late 5th to early 6th century. an obscure Celtic leader called Arthur fought against the invading Anglo-Saxons but it would seem, that anything about him beyond that is open to conjecture among historians as the debate rages on the legitimacy of the historical treatises that document his deeds.

However, despite that, hundreds and hundreds of stories and poems have been written about him, covering each stage of his life from his magical conception at Tintagel, his childhood with older brother Kay in the west of England, his pulling of Excalibur, the sword from the stone, being crowned king of England at age 15 and his formation of the Knights of the Round Table.  And although these appear to be just the inventions of medieval writers, they are as popular today as they were 800 years ago. 

In this extensive collection of the stories focusing on Arthur, author Kevin Crossley -Holland says he has shaped it ‘to tell one story illustrating each stage of Arthur’s dream of a Golden Age such as the world had never seen before, and the idea behind it.” So all the familiar names and characters  like Sir Lancelot, Sir Kay, Sir Galahad, Guinevere and Merlin are featured in these eleven stories as once again, Arthur’s life at Camelot is played out for another generation, each with a “strong moral sense of what’s right, what’s wrong, and how we’re all part of it.” 

Described as “the definitive retelling of the legends of King Arthur” this is a lavishly illustrated book that is suitable for both independent readers, and those wishing to share both the stories and their insight into medieval life that they offer. There is a reason that there have been so many tales that have sprung up about King Arthur, and they they have endured for centuries – this is an opportunity to continue both the legend and the legacy. 

 

The Rat-Catcher’s Apprentice

The Rat-Catcher's Apprentice

The Rat-Catcher’s Apprentice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rat-Catcher’s Apprentice

Maggie Jankuloska

MidnightSun, 2022

192pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781925227949

It is 1665 Rats have infested homes and alleys in Marie Perrin’s  provincial French town. Twelve-year-old Marie is set to become a maid, although she hungers for adventure. However, one mistake alters her fate and as punishment she is forced to apprentice for an intimidating rat-catcher. Away from her parents and twin brother, and handling gnarly rat traps under Gustave Renard’s unusual mentorship, Marie must overcome a new set of challenges which come after a plague enters her town.

This is an absorbing story for mature independent readers, made even moreso because of its parallels with today’s life where it is COVID-19 that has run rampant.  Despite the time difference, the  preventative measures of masks, social distancing, hand-washing and isolation that Gustav insists his wife and Marie follow are the same as those employed today!  But Marie also has to contend with a society built heavily on the distinctions and privileges (or lack of them) imposed by class and one’s station in life, as well as being female-although the latter doesn’t deter her as she dreams of a life of freedom unfettered by her gender.

While some readers may feel confronted by Marie’s predicament, the author has created credible, well-rounded characters whose lives reflect the times in which they are set, but are even more intriguing because they can relate to the conditions of a pandemic – tough enough for some even with modern science, communications and vaccines. Despite the depths of her despair at times, Marie is spurred on by Gustav and Marion’s belief that the bad times will pass and there will be joy again, and that, in itself, is a reason to share this story with your older students.

A debut novel by an author to look for in the future.

An Eagle in the Snow

An Eagle in the Snow

An Eagle in the Snow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Eagle in the Snow

Michael Morpurgo

Michael Foreman

HarperCollins, 2016

272pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

780008134174

November, 1940. Coventry has been bombed by the Germans and Barney and his mother have been left with nothing so they are on the train to London on their way to family and shelter in Cornwall.   But just as a neatly-dressed stranger enters their compartment, a lone Messerschmitt 109 begins strafing the train.  The engine driver makes a desperate dash to an upcoming tunnel, eventually stopping the train safely inside. 

But Barney is terrified of darkness and with no lights he can feel his panic rising.  The stranger has a box of matches but there are just five in it, and so, to distract Barney he lights one and begins to tell him a story…

There are two taglines on the front cover of this book, the first being “One moment that could have saved the world from war.”  And that is the story that the stranger tells Barney and his Ma.  An extraordinary tale based on the true story of Henry James Tandey, VC, DCM, MM, the most highly decorated private in the British Army in World War I, Morpurgo wrote the story after hearing of Tandey’s exploits and, like most of his stories, was compelled to  write it so that the unimaginable courage shown by those who have gone before becomes real for those of us who come after.

Which leads to the second tagline, this one from Jackie French- “Brilliant. Historical fiction at its most magnificent.” Because if there is an historical fiction novel with either Jackie French’s or Michael Morpurgo’s name on it then you know that not only are you in for a meticulously researched, intriguing read but that you will be changed for having read. And so it is  with this story.  Tagged as “the man who could have stopped World War II” Tandey’s story is woven into a narrative that reaches deep into the soul of anyone with direct ties to the carnage of the 39-45 conflict and makes them wonder how their own life might have been different if their father/uncle/brother/friend had not had to spend their youth in the hell that was Europe at the time. 

But this is not a facts-and-figures biography, although there is a brief synopsis of Tandey’s life included as a postscript – Morpurgo has taken the facts as they are known and woven them into a narrative that is as compelling for the reader as it is for Barney and his Ma.  Is there ever a time when doing the right thing could be the worst mistake you ever made?

This is a story for independent readers who enjoy real historical fiction (as opposed to a story set in another time) and who are ready to be entertained and educated at the same time.  It’s an easy read technically, but I, for one, wanted to know more and so new avenues have been opened for me to explore.  Not the least of which is once again, considering how my dad’s experiences as a POW in Stalag VIIIB and being force-marched across Poland as part of the German’s human shield shaped him and consequently, me.  

Pow Pow Pig (series)

Pow Pow Pig (series)

Pow Pow Pig (series)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Unexpected Hero

9781760526405

Let the Games Begin

9781761065194

Anh Do

Peter Cheong

Allen & Unwin 2021-2022

184pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

It is the year 2050 and the world is in trouble. In 2030 the rich animals of the world voted to stop helping the poor and as they became richer, forever seeking bigger and better while discarding their unwanted things instead of sharing them, creating a huge amount of waste.  And then the fighting started.

But all is not lost and Piccolo Pig (aka Pow Pow Pig) , inspired by his parents’ role model has yearned to join CHOC (Creatures Helping Other Creatures) to help make the world a better place through small acts of kindness. So as soon as he was old enough he joined, and now, after three years of training it’s Graduation Day. But he and his friends Danielle Duck (aka King Fu Duck), Chelsea Chicken (aka Cha Cha Chicken) and Barry the Goat (aka Barry the Goat) are not in the A Team but the Z Team.  So they are the last to be picked when it comes to world-saving missions,

So when a call comes in and they are the only ones left, it is up to them to save the situation.  Although they live in 2050, they have time machine that allows them to travel back in time but sometimes it doesn’t work as it should.

In their first adventure, An Unexpected Hero, they end up in the Middle Ages and in the second, Let the Games Begin, in Ancient Greece!  

This is a new series from the ever-popular Anh Do, more for younger independent readers as it is all the attributes required to support their transition to novels including a larger font, a light-handed layout and many illustrations.  But, as with his other series like Rise of the Mythix, embedded in the thoroughly modern characters , action, adventure and humour, there is an underlying message that gives the story more than just fleeting entertainment value. By making the heroes creatures often associated with being underdogs and having them as the Z Team , readers can learn that success can take many forms, that not all battles are won with might and power – a tea towel and a broom can be very effective when used cleverly – and that the desire to do well has to come from within. They can also visit other time periods in an exciting adventure, providing a gentle step into the concept of history and offering an insight into life in those times that is much more fun that facts and figures.

Anh Do is a prolific storyteller, and one of our most popular currently, so to be able to offer a new series for a new school year sets up the opportunity for an exciting reading year ahead.