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Stacey Casey and the Lost City

Stacey Casey and the Lost City

Stacey Casey and the Lost City

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stacey Casey and the Lost City

Michael C. Madden

Nancy Bevington

Big Sky, 2024

164pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781922896667

Stacey Casey’s father is a terrible inventor. But now, despite years of failed inventions, he has created a functioning time machine.  But instead of sending him back in time, he turns their entire house into a time machine, transporting everyone and everything in it back into history, although they still have access to parts of 2022 like mobile phones and the internet.

In this, the third episode, while Stacey, her dad and the baby dinosaur have escaped back to 2022 after robbing a bank with Ned Kelly, Oliver was captured by the evil Isla Palmer. But now he has turned up at their home but as an old man…  Travelling back to 1964 to rescue him, and to stop an evil woman from stealing a powerful artifact and taking over the world, Stacey and her friends  take on a dangerous quest that takes them to a place outside of all time and space as they team up with the world’s most famous philosopher, Plato, to explore the lost city of Atlantis. And somehow, they have a dinosaur to return to its mum…

This is a series best read in order so there is continuity of the narrative but it is one that will appeal to those who prefer to go back in time rather than forward for their reading matter.  Atlantis, a mythical island in the Atlantic Ocean born in the imagination of Plato has always held intrigue for many, and this story may even inspire young readers to delve deeper into its origins, opening up new reading horizons.

11 Ruby Road: 1900

11 Ruby Road: 1900

11 Ruby Road: 1900

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11 Ruby Road: 1900

Charlotte Barkla

Walker Books, 2024

192pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781760657949

Ever since her Great Aunt Mildred picked the vacant block on the new housing development as a child in 1863 because she loved its giant Moreton Bay fig tree, it has belonged to Dorothy’s family and now they have moved from the country to the city to live in the house and run the store that Mildred’s mother established.

But city life  is very different to the rural one Dorothy has known. Ruby Road is bustling – full of families and children, horse-drawn carts and even a mysterious dog – and there are many other changes such as having to go to school and crossing swords with Miss Armstrong who insists on perfect printing of letters and needlework , despite Dorothy’s love of writing stories which she does in her secret writing room. Meeting a young Asian boy who also likes to write stories, Dorothy not only finds an outlet and audience for her imagination, but is also exposed to prejudice and racism, particularly towards the Chinese who were blamed for “taking all the gold” from the gold rush and inspired the White Australia Policy, as the colonies united to become one country. Inspired by a declaration by her Aunt Esme that she wouldn’t marry and be the possession of a man, Dorothy dreams of being a famous actress and independent and writes a play that she persuades the neighbourhood children to perform. But then a conversation between her mother and Esme about women having the right to vote and have a say in their lives, inspires a change of focus… and hopefully, a change in thinking for many.

Somewhat akin to the concept of Nadia Wheatley’s classic, My Place, this is the first in a series tracing the stories of the occupants of 11 Ruby Road in Brisbane, introducing young independent readers to the lives of those who lived in the times, as well as the genre of historical fiction.  It opens up many avenues of Australia’s history to explore – federation, racism, the status of women- all of which give today’s children an insight into how things were and an opportunity to investigate how and why they have changed.

A series worth following and offering to those investigating or interested in this country’s history in a way that makes it meaningful and accessible.

The Knight of Little Import

The Knight of Little Import

The Knight of Little Import

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Knight of Little Import

Hannah Batsel

Carolrhoda Books, 2024

40pp., hbk., RRP $A37.99

9781728450995

Compared to the big and boisterous city of Biggerborough, Charlie’s home town of Little Import is very staid and sedate, which is extremely embarrassing for someone who is supposed to slay monsters and keep people safe.  But in reality, Charlie had never even seen a monster, let alone fought one, and she spent her days reading about them in her Big Book of Beastly Brutes and imagining them.

 

But what she didn’t realise was that the slow demise wasn’t being caused by the brashness of Biggerborough and the knights there fighting mile-high monsters and ogres, but by a host of little monsters  that were hiding in plain sight in her own town.  It starts with her helping the baker get rid of the Triple-Tier Hungerbeak who has been eating his pastries every night for a week and the word of her knowledge and bravery spreading…

This  is one of the most original stories I’ve read and reviewed for a long time, one that will have readers of all ages engaged in Charlie’s adventures.  As each character presents Charlie with their problem, there is a description of the monster in a separate box and so astute readers will want to use the clues to see if they spot it before Charlie does.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

The ending is a delightful surprise demonstrating that solving small problems can lead to big changes, not only in Little Import but also in life itself, offering a subtle message that having the courage to confront small issues when they arise can prevent bigger problems.  The old adage “A stitch in time saves none” comes to mind and older readers might want to probe the meaning of that. 

Leif the Unlucky Viking: Saga of the Shooting Star

Leif the Unlucky Viking

Leif the Unlucky Viking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leif the Unlucky Viking: Saga of the Shooting Star

Gary Northfield

Walker Books, 2023

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

9781406383416

Leif the wolf cub dreams of being a Viking explorer just like his dad, Erik the Red, but it’s tricky when you are smaller than most, clumsy and falls over his own paws a lot, and regularly split your pants. But he is an embarrassment to his family, hidden away when this father’s exploits are celebrated and almost despised by his older sister Freydis because regardless of his shortcomings, he is the heir to the throne of his father.

But he is undeterred by his misfortunes, and determined to prove his worth, he embarks on a secret mission to locate a missing shard from Thor’s hammer, the weapon of the Norse god of Thunder, which has landed far away in polar bear territory.  Armed with a map of the route and a magic cloak given to him by Thorbjorg the Witch, who believes he is destined for greatness, he sets off on his quest, accompanied by fellow adventurers Olaf the cranky duck, Toki the silly puffin and Flora the stinky musk ox. As they attempt to navigate across vast, dangerous lands, they must contend with hungry giants, fearsome polar bears and a sea beast as old as the gods themselves.

A step up from Murray the Viking in complexity, this would be an ideal next read for those emerging independent readers who love adventure, wacky characters and historical fiction, particularly the time of the Vikings.  With humour and the sort of craziness that many kids adore, this is original, engaging and something different to underline the value of determination, perseverance and not giving up. It introduces readers to some of the magical Norse mythology on which so many stories are based that may take their reading interests into new realms, but, above all, it is just a thoroughly good read. 

Murray the Viking

Murray the Viking

Murray the Viking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murray the Viking

Adam Stower

HarperCollins, 2024

192pp., pbk., ill., RRP $A11.99

9780008561253

Murray the cat enjoys living the good life with Fumblethumb the wizard, a life made even better when Fumblethumb accidentally turns one of Murray’s favourite buns into a bunny, complete with a cherry for a tail.  But when he messes up again and turns the cat flap into a gateway to adventure, instead of just the garden, then the fun really starts…

In this new series for newly independent readers consolidating their skills, the cat flap takes Murray and Bun back to the times of the Vikings.  where they are given an important mission  to travel to Troll Island to rescue Eggrik the Viking… if he hasn’t already been gobbled up by the trolls, that is. 

Simple text,  humour and full of illustrations that carry the story along at a rapid pace, this is a great stepping stone between everyday readers and novels that will have wide appeal because of its outlandish characters and original adventures, as well as introducing them to historical fiction, perhaps sparking an interest in the time period.  Something new to offer those moving forward on their reading journey as they go through their own cat flap of adventure to the world of stories.

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Mermaid’s Locks

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Mermaid's Locks

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Mermaid’s Locks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Penny Dreadful and the Mermaid’s Locks

Allison Rushby

Walker Books, 2023

160pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9781760655747

1872 and although Penny Pickering  has often dreamed of being taken away from Miss Strickland’s School for Girls of an Enquiring Mind 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 embroiled in curious mysteries which, with her enquiring mind guided by the echoes of Miss Strickland’s words, she is able to solve.

But this time, in the final episode in the series, instead of being focused on bewitched kittens, malicious mazes  or even her aunt’s new obsession of the appearance of a mermaid in the Thames, Penny is determined to use her logical mind to discover the whereabouts of her missing parents.   She has deduced that their departure was not planned; that they had disagreed with Aunt Harriet about her signing a new contract with the suspicious Mr Cowley and a planned publicity trip to the USA;  that the postcards she has received are dodgy; that Mr Featherstonehaugh (pronounced Fanshaw) is not the solicitor he purports to be and the weasel-like man she has seen with Cowley has something to do with the disappearance.  But what is the connection between these things, how can she uncover it and will she do it in time before the new contract is signed?

Young, independent readers who like mysteries, particularly those set in times past, will thoroughly enjoy this short series as they put themselves in Penny’ place and try to solve the mystery before she does.  

Silver Linings

Silver Linings

Silver Linings

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silver Linings

Katrina Nannestad

ABC Books, 2023

304pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780733342257

Rural New South Wales in 1952 – a new monarch is about to be crowned and for five-year-old Nettie Sweeney life is almost perfect.  She has a dad, three big sisters, a farm full of cows and a cat called Mittens, can read and write and even does spelling with Second Class because she is so clever.  But Nettie longs for a mother.  Her own passed away when she was born (leaving her with all sorts of misconceptions about babies and storks) and she would love to have one who has a gentle touch, sparkles in her eyes and lots of love and hugs to give.  But instead she has cranky Aunty Edith who is quick with her hands and even quicker with her tongue as she clings to the old ways.  

When Dad marries Alice, all Nettie’s dreams come true and the Sweeney home overflows with laughter, love and a new philosophy of looking for the silver linings in everything rather than the dark clouds.  When her baby brother. Billy, is born he becomes  the light of Nettie’s life and her world is perfect.  Until it isn’t…

Those who are familiar with five-year-olds, and even those who aren’t , will laugh out loud all through the beginning of this book as we see life through the unfiltered lens of Nettie and her doll Fancy Nancy.  And they will empathise with the unsophisticated five-year-old who has to handle the family tragedy in her own way because she just isn’t mature enough to know of any other. Her naivety endears her from the beginning and her resilience and courage as events play out inspire. While the big issues of PTSD, loss and depression that are confronted could be anywhere, anytime,  by placing them in the early 50s Nannestad distances them enough from the reader’s here and now for them to be acknowledged but not necessarily absorbed. And for those of us old enough to know better, how will we ever think of Queen Elizabeth II as anything but “the mongoose of the British Umpire” again? 

It’s a rare author who can write a story for young children in a way that has adult readers turning page after page because there has to be a solution, and Nannestad is one of those.  As with The Girl who brought Mischief, this one had me reading past my bedtime because I was so enamoured of Nettie and needed to know there was a happy ending.     

This is one for independent readers who like real-life stories (it is based on family happenings) and if you are preparing a list of books for Christmas stockings, this should be on it.         

Secret Sparrow

Secret Sparrow

Secret Sparrow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secret Sparrow

Jackie French

HarperCollins, 2023

256pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

9781460760468

September 1978 and Arjun is walking to the local mall when he hears the roar of a flash flood approaching and sees the river become a turbulent mass of brown, white-flecked water with cars bobbing along like plastic bath toys.  Miraculously a motor bike appears and he is urged to climb on, as the rider heads to the only high part of this flat landscape that should never have been built on – a grassy knoll that boasts only a small carpark and a rubbish bin on a pedestal. 

As surprised as he is by the ferocity and the swiftness of the flood, he is even moreso when he discovers his rescuer is an elderly woman! And that she is  a woman with an amazing story to tell as the waters rise and she makes him climb in the rubbish bin and use old newspapers for warmth and has the wisdom to know his thoughts need diverting from both the  current situation and the fate of his mates trapped in the mall.  It is a story of going from growing up in an English village during World War I to being commandeered into serving her country despite being only 16;  to being torpedoed by a German U-boat while crossing the English Channel to living and working in the hell of the trenches of France… all because she learned Morse Code while competing with her older brothers and became so fast and accurate her skills had been noticed.

But this is not just Jean McLain’s story told to keep a young lad calm and distracted – this is the story of at least 3600 women who were used as signallers as she was during World War I who not only signed an oath that they would never divulge their role even decades after the war was over but whose service was never formerly recognised and so they received only their Post Office employee pay while they served and had to pay for their own medical treatment if they were injured, and whose army records were deliberately destroyed by the authorities because of their embarrassment at having to admit that they not only had to rely on women to serve, but the women had excelled. To have to admit that so many had been able to step up and cope in situations that required “physical strength, mechanical knowledge and the courage to work under fire” when such physical and emotional circumstances as war and its inevitable death were seen as “unwomanly”, was an anathema to many men and so not only were individual stories never told, they were lost altogether.

But, using her usual meticulous research, author Jackie French has brought it to light, as once again she winkles out those contributions of women to our history that seldom appear in the versions of history told by men.  So as well as Arjun being so intrigued by Jean McLain’s story as the night passes, dawn appears and she teaches him to use her long-ago skills to summon help, our more mature, independent readers (and their teachers) can also learn something of that which we were never told.  Because, apart from those in the roles like Jean McLain who could be prosecuted for sharing their wartime adventures even with their family, there was an unwritten code of the survivors of all wars that the horrors would not be shared because, apart from being horrific, unless you were there you would never understand.  But now at the age my grandfather was when he died, I have learned a smidgeon of what it must have been like for him on the notorious Somme and can only wonder at how he went on to become who he did.  

It is estimated that World War I claimed the lives of some 16 million people worldwide, 9.5 million of which were military deaths. It is also estimated that around 20 million were wounded, including 8 million left permanently disabled in some way. Of those lives lost, 54 000 were young Australian lads who were so eager to sign up for this grand new ‘adventure’ that they lied about their age and 18 000 young Kiwis who, like my grandfather, believed it was their duty to fight for “King and Country”. But only now, through stories like this and The Great Gallipoli Escape, are we learning the real story and through the questions she has her characters ask and answer are we being encouraged to question things for ourselves, not just about the war but also what we stand for. Often in the story Jean McLain is spurred on by her belief in her need to  “do her duty” and that her actions are saving lives, but then she poses the same situation to Arjun. “What are we worth if we don’t do our duty to each other? What kind of life is it if you don’t love someone or something enough to die for them? What matters to you, eh?’ 

As well as teaching us about the past, French inspires us to think about the future – and that is a gift that only writers if her calibre can give our students. 

  

Game On: Glitched

Glitched

Game On: Glitched

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Game On: Glitched

Emily Snape

EK Books, 2023

192pp., ill., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781922539410

A series of misdeeds, including covering the neighbour’s cat in bright pink paint, has got Max and his brother banned from screens for an entire weekend, something that is devastating for both of them particularly with an online gaming competition in a couple of days,  So Max has resorted to practising his moves in his head, at the same time as trying to write a history essay for another competition but is distracted because his mother is going on a date with his history teacher.  To distract him from that, he goes to the toilet but because his brain is every-which-way, he forgets to wash his hands – and that’s when things start to go wrong…

Because his brother Liam is hiding in the bath playing on a phone he has found and suddenly the boys find themselves travelling through time, back to earlier versions of their home town, in the time of the dinosaurs, the Stone Age,  and the days of the Romans.  And if they are ever to get back to the now, they have to solve riddles while carrying out tasks and dodging dangers… all before the battery runs out or they are discovered by their mum. 

A sequel to Shrinkle and written to draw reluctant readers into print stories, the author says, “Reading should be a pleasure and it was my aim to write books that pull you in and hook you from the start. Hopefully, then you can’t help being moved by the characters as they grow and develop. I love comedy in books, but funny books also have to have heart, believable characters, and a great plot that keeps you reading till the very end.’

Using a modern premise of being drawn into a game, with characters not unlike themselves, and the sort of fast-packed , immediate action including countdowns, levels and time limits, this is the sort of story that will pull even reluctant readers away from their screens. They might even like to speculate on what might happen if they (or Liam and Max) were drawn into their own favourite game, a concept which, in itself, might spark story-writing and a group display of possibilities. Some might like to be inspired by the Lego Masters television series and recreate the world of their game, or perhaps investigate the origins and history of their own town

Odelia and the Varmint

Odelia and the Varmint

Odelia and the Varmint

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Odelia and the Varmint

Jenny Moore 

New Frontier, 2023

275pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781922326713

When a pair of unruly fictional pirates escape out of her mother’s book into Victorian London, 11-year-old Odelia Hardluck-Smythe’s lonely life is turned upside down…

After the sudden death of her father leaves her family struggling financially and emotionally as the life of luxury and comfort that they knew disappears, things change dramatically in the Hardluck-Smythe’s household,  Trying to support her children, Odelia’s mother spends her time writing an adventure story for a publisher who has rejected all her work so far, while Odelia makes sure the family are able to survive on a daily diet of toast (the only thing she can cook).  But when the villain of her mother’s story, pirate Captain Blunderfuss, the ship’s cook and Dog, the oddly named ship’s cat, suddenly come to life and appear in their house, their lives take a remarkable turn.

But rather than freaking out, even though Captain Blunderfuss and Cook are rude, dangerous and obsessed with marzipan fruits, the family adjust to having these unexpected guests, and Odelia sees an opportunity to join the pirates in a search for the treasure she believes her father hid in the family home prior to his death. During their search, Odelia learns that varmints, villains and heroes may not always be as easily identified as they first appear. Who is trustworthy? And while Odelia thinks pirates mean treasure and treasure means buried chest of precious jewels and riches, she discovers that it can have other meanings too.  

Despite their somewhat gloomy circumstances, the drama of both the setting and the situation are offset by Captain Blunderfuss continually mispronouncing and misusing the language, which Odelia has to translate to make sense, such as when he promotes her to ship’s basin (bosun) and his regular cry of ‘Ankles away!’ (anchors) offering some light relief as well as the opportunity to explore various terms and phrases.  Written for independent readers who like a swashbuckling adventure and mystery, it takes them to Victorian England, a time many will still be unfamiliar with, offering insight into a life where industrialisation in just emerging, far away from the one of instant communication and gratification that they are more likely to know. 

As well as exploring a world so different to their own, the endpapers and the teachers’ notes could both take the reader into the world of steampunk, or even into historical fiction generally, opening up a world of new reading adventures.