Shockingly Good Stories

Shockingly Good Stories

Shockingly Good Stories











Shockingly Good Stories

R. A. Spratt

Puffin Books, 2021

240pp/. pbk., RRP $A19.99


Begin a collection of short stories with the foreword…

This collection of short stories was created to be shared during a challenging time. They were written to be read aloud, preferably in silly voices. So be brave, set dignity aside and go for it.”

Couple that with tips like inserting family members into the roles of the wicked and the weird to personalise the stories and adding in a shouted BOOM or KAPOW deliberately to startle the child so they don’t fall asleep before the end and you know this will be collection that will engage and entertain,  But better still, have the creator of the stories be the same person behind such memorable characters as Nanny Piggins, Friday Barnes and the Peski Kids   and immediately you are building anticipation  for a fun family reading time. 

Fractured fairytales, new adventures with Friday Barnes and a host of other weird and wacky adventures make this a great collection to share and there is also a collection of 75 stories on Spratt’s Spotify channel. Details are on her website.

And having shared and laughed your way through all the tales, the backword encourages the reader to make up some “outrageously silly and unbelievably wild’ stories of their own, even providing a blank page to get them started!!!

Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : The Lady with the Lamp

Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : The Lady with the Lamp

Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : The Lady with the Lamp












Carly Mills Pioneer Girl : The Lady with the Lamp

Jane Smith

Big Sky, 2021

120pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


On a trip to Sydney before being sent to boarding school in Brisbane, country girl Carly Mills visits the sights and sites of Sydney’s past with her new friend Dora. At Customs House they are refused admission because the exhibits are being changed. but when Carly picks up two shawls that drop off a trolley she is told to keep them as they are probably being discarded.

But what she doesn’t realise is that hers has a magic of its own when she puts it on- it transports her back in time to meet some of the influential women in  history.

In this, the fourth in the series, Carly is in London on holiday and finds herself transported back to the mid-19th century where life and expectations for women were very different from modern times and she meets the iconic “lady with the lamp” Florence Nightingale recognised as being the founder of modern nursing, travelling with her to the battlefields of the Crimea.

Much has been written about Nightingale and her exploits and achievements over the years, but with nurses so much in the frontline of this new battle with COVID-19, this is a timely release that allows young independent readers to learn about the early beginnings of this profession and how far it has come because of the courage and determination of women like its subject. 

 This  series mixes fictional characters like Carly and real-life women who have shaped the world, thus bringing history alive in a more personal way. By becoming involved in the narrative, perhaps even putting themselves in Carly’s shoes, the reader understands how the lessons the characters learn can be applied to the modern world. Other in the series focus on Caroline Chisholm, Dr Lilian Cooper, and Dame Nellie Melba, with Amelia Earhart, Marie Curie and Miles Franklin to come.  

Big Quiz Book: 1001 Brain Busting Trivia Questions

Big Quiz Book:1001 Brain Busting Trivia Questions

Big Quiz Book: 1001 Brain Busting Trivia Questions











Big Quiz Book: 1001 Brain Busting Trivia Questions

National Geographic Kids, 2021

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


Twenty years ago, while hanging out the washing, I had an idea for a quiz for students in Year 5 and 6 that would be about Australia and Australians and be made freely available online so students all over Australia could participate to develop their information literacy, their digital literacy and communication skills.  The Quizzard of Oz was a huge success both online and off when I eventually offered it on CD so schools weren’t tied to my timeframe of marking 150 quizzes each Monday night!  

When the name and concept were hijacked and patented by an app company, the quiz eventually morphed into Backpack Bear (because I didn’t have the means to fight a legal battle) and to this day, students are demonstrating their love of these sorts of trivia contests by eagerly competing.  

So this new publication from the ever-popular NatGeoKids  is the perfect addition to any teacher’s or family’s collection if they want to tap into this fascination.  Arranged in 9 categories (covering geography, history, creatures, science and technology, space, sport, music and the arts and food) there are 69 separate quizzes of multiple choice or true-false questions (including answers and a lot of fun facts) as well as a monster tie-breaker. While participants might guess at the answers, there is also scope to investigate them thoroughly and perhaps discover a whole lot more about the topic at the same time. 

Properly credited, the questions could become the basis of a new quiz set by a teacher to occupy students during this time of lockdown, encouraging both the student and their family to get involved in the research,  or for those what-do-I-do-when-I’m-finished? moments as an alternative to the ‘read a book” answer.  I know from my experience the hours it can take to build quizzes with questions so to have 1001 on tap would be very welcome.   And a link to the Nat Geo Kids’ website would be a bonus as there are even more quality activities there.  Suddenly, staying at home is looking very entertaining!


Space Detectives

Space Detectives

Space Detectives











Space Detectives

Mark Powers

Dapo Adeola

Bloomsbury, 2021

176pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


Connor and Ethan are spending their summer holidays aboard the world’s first orbiting city, Starville , a gigantic space station sailing silently as it orbits Earth and home to over a million humans and aliens. This single city,  brimming with skyscrapers, parks and even an artificial sea is enclosed by a huge, strong glass dome  like a vast snow globe, and is bursting with celebrities and the mega-rich. But Connor and Ethan are too busy selling ice cream to see the sights.

However, neither of our heroes can resist a mystery -they had solved many back home on Earth – and when they discover the space station is hurtling on a collision course with the moon they know they need to step in. This is a case for the SPACE DETECTIVES!

Can Connor and Ethan find the culprit and save Starville from its impending doom?

Fitting perfectly into this year’s CBCA Book Week theme of Old Worlds, New Worlds, Other Worlds, this is a new series for young, newly independent readers who like the idea of a mystery mixed with science fiction so anything can happen.  And concluding with an epilogue that sets up their next adventure it promises to deliver for those who like to get to know their heroes better as the series unfolds. 

When someone recently asked for recommendations for series for this demographic to help them consolidate skills and grow their reading, all the old-familiars were suggested – many popular when I was in the library full-time 20 years ago- and while they remain quality reads, this is a new series that could be added to the list. It has all the right ingredients to engage those young lads looking for excitement and adventure. 

What Zola Did (series)

What Zola Did (series)

What Zola Did (series)

What Zola Did (series)

What Zola Did on Thursday


What Zola Did on Friday


What Zola Did on Saturday


What Zola Did on Sunday


Melina Marchetta

Deb Hudson

Puffin, 2021

96pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

This great series for newly independent readers continues with the  release of three new titles and concludes in September with What Zola did on Sunday.

Readers first met Zola, her cousin Alessandro and her friends last year in What Zola Did on Monday  when she roped her Nonna into helping rebuild the community gardens and as her adventures continued in subsequent books, so the community got to know each other and bonded. And so in these latest releases, even though she continues to get into strife – forming a band and upsetting a cranky neighbour, painting Nonno Nino’s little yellow boat; helping Nonna with her prized tomatoes; and joining in the fun of the St Odo’s Day fete – she still manages to bring the community together so that instead of being isolated individuals as they were to start with, there are now friendships and love and laughter.

Inspired by her own daughter who was intelligent but reluctant to read, Marchetta has written this series with its humour, relatable characters and all the supports for those building their confidence with novels, so that others can grow as her daughter did. She has taken parts of her daughter’s character and family members and events and melded them into stories that not only her daughter was able to relate to, but just about every other child in Australia.  While there is a vast variety of characters, settings and plots in children’s stories today (as opposed to the good vs evil didactic tales of the past) those that resonate with readers, particularly reluctant ones, are those in which they see themselves, where they can put themselves into the events and become a participant rather than an observer.  So creating something with a big family, cousins who live in the house behind you, a hole in the fence to climb through so you can play together and a street of diverse interesting neighbours to explore means that this has wide appeal for so many. 

It’s a perfect series to binge-read during this lockdown and inspire the children to get to know their communities better when they are allowed out to play again. There are teachers’ notes available  and Thursday has an activity pack that could be used as inspiration for children to build their own for the others in the series. 

Zola, her friends and their adventures have become a friend over the last 18 months or so and it’s sad that the series is complete, but I’m glad they were in my life. 


Max Booth Future Sleuth – Map Trap

Max Booth Future Sleuth - Map Trap

Max Booth Future Sleuth – Map Trap












Max Booth Future Sleuth – Map Trap

Cameron Macintosh

Dave Atze 

Big Sky, 2021

125pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99


If you have a map, you must know where you’re going… but Max isn’t so sure. 

It’s 2424. Super Sleuth Max Booth is uncovering the secrets of 20th century gadgets with his faithful but slightly neurotic robodog, Oscar. There are sinister characters and challenges along the way.  So, when Max and his brainy beagle-bot, Oscar, find a 400-year-old navigation unit, they’re shocked to discover that it still seems to work. They trace its owner’s last journey and find themselves on the road to very big trouble!

Far from home, Max and Oscar cross paths with a bunch of bungling burglars, trying to zip away with a precious piece of old-tech art. Max and Oscar will need to map out a rapid plan to catch the thieves and navigate their way out of danger!

This is the 6th in this series that follow the adventures of 25th-century detective, Max, and his robo-dog, Oscar, as they investigate objects from the ancient past – the long-lost 20th and 21st centuries.  Written for younger capable readers who enjoy sci-fi, but appreciate the connection to their own world to keep the story and their understanding grounded., it also offers opportunities for reflection about how we live and the things we use and do and how these might be viewed in the future. Fast-paced, it offers something different that might open up the world and genre of sci-fi for young readers who aren’t yet ready for the plethora of post-apocalypse literature that is becoming so prevalent in YA lit these days. 

A series to recommend to those who enjoy adventure mixed with science.

The Ballad of Melodie Rose

The Ballad of Melodie Rose

The Ballad of Melodie Rose












The Ballad of Melodie Rose

Kate Gordon

UQP, 2021

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


When Melodie Rose is abandoned on the doorstep of Direleafe Hall with just a note pinned to her coat, she realises she must be a ghost. Her memories have vanished and her past is dim, but strangely, she is not sad. With the three other ghostly girls Florence, Lucy and Nell who also haunt the school and Hollowbeak, the gloomy crow on her shoulder, Melodie has never felt more at peace. Finally, she has a place to call home.

But just as she is finding her place and coming to terms with the past, a Lady in White arrives with plans to flatten the beloved school  Melodie Rose must act fast to save all she holds dear. But what can one powerless ghost do? How can her new friends and Hollowbeak help? 

This is the second in this series for younger independent readers, a companion to The Heartsong of Wonder Quinna CBCA 2021 Notable, yet, at the same time, it is a stand-alone story. Like its predecessor, it is a gentle ghost story, sensitive and poignant and beautifully written with a focus on being true to oneself, and having the courage to do what you know must be done even if it is scary. 

Again Gordon has selected vocabulary and painted pictures superbly so  that the story becomes alive in the mind, even for those who are only just venturing into this genre. Rather than being scary, it celebrates kindness, love and friendship, and grief becomes just another one of the normal human emotions. For those who are in its midst, there is understanding and hope embedded in Melodie’s continued optimism and strength to keep on trying.  The use of the word “ballad” in the title is entirely appropriate.

One to recommend for those who want something that wraps around them.


Funny Kid Prank Aliens

Funny Kid Prank Aliens

Funny Kid Prank Aliens











Funny Kid Prank Aliens

Matt Stanton

ABC Books, 2021

288pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99


Max is back in the 9th in this series that has become the favourite of so many young independent readers, especially boys.

Bored as during the school holidays despite the Mayor having organised a fun fair to entertain them, yet not wanting to join in the Clean Up Redhill movement Max decides that it would be much better to prank the people in the toilet queue at the un_Funfair. And because that is successful he dreams bigger and better, answering the Mayor’s call to “put Redhill on the map” by trying to convince the residents that aliens have invaded.

And one thing leads to another….

Stanton is very much in tune with what kids in those middle years like to read about, particularly characters that they can relate to and secretly wish to be.  The place that the edgy humour of Jennings, Gleitzman and Milne played in their parents’ childhood is now being filled by him with great success, demonstrating that good stories with lots of humour and over-the-top situations are always winners, particularly if they have a slightly serious side that anchors them in reality and adds depth to the story.

He now has his own YouTube channel that features lots about his writing and drawing, including this intro to Prank Aliens with the promise of much more to come including a sequel to The Odds

Young, independent readers will be rapt.

Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows

Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows

Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows











Wednesday Weeks and the Tower of Shadows

Denis Knight & Cristy Burne

Lothian Children’s, 2021

250pp., pbk., RRP $A16.95


Wednesday Weeks never wanted to be a sorcerer’s apprentice. She’d rather study science than magic. But when her cloak-wearing, staff-wielding grandpa is captured by a power-hungry goblin king, Wednesday must find a way to embrace her magical heritage and rescue him from the dreaded Tower of Shadows.

Luckily, she’s not alone. Her best friend Alfie is a prime-number fan and robotics expert who’s all-in on Wednesday’s epic plan involving parallel universes, swords of power, and a wise-cracking talking skull.

But it’s going to take more than science, magic, and the world’s cutest robot to take down this bad guy. Because the goblin king is playing for the ultimate prize – and Wednesday and Alfie just walked into his trap…

In a world of magic, can science save the day?

Independent readers who love a story that combines magic and science with great adventure will adore this new series that does just that.  Drawing on the skills of Knight who loves science fiction and fantasy, and Burne who loves science and who has a mission to ” blend STEM and creativity to enthuse, engage and empower” this is a story featuring a smart, feisty female and her best friend who find themselves having to use real-life science to save themselves from the predicament they get into as they travel the Nine Realms, inspiring the reader to perhaps take a greater interest themselves.  This is made possible with the addition of a few activities included at the end of the book and with several more in the teachers’ resources, it is an ideal story to promote to your science and maths enthusiasts. 

Described as being perfect for those who love  Nevermoor, Artemis Fowl and The Witching Hours, the even better news is that Wednesday Weeks and the Crown of Destiny, the second in the series, will be out in September, so not long to wait.  

Pranklab: Practical science pranks you and your victim can learn from

Pranklab: Practical science pranks you and your victim can learn from

Pranklab: Practical science pranks you and your victim can learn from













Pranklab: Practical science pranks you and your victim can learn from

Chris Ferrie, Byrne LaGinestra, Wade David Fairclough

Sourcebooks eXplore, 2021

224pp., pbk., RRP $A24.99


It is school holidays, many children are stuck inside because of COVID or the weather and it won’t be long before the “I’m bored!” refrain starts. 

So this new book that features 25 experiments that disguise themselves as pranks will be the ideal solution because both the perpetrator and the victim can learn a lot about science in the process. Using everyday household items, kids can exploit the laws of physics, biology, and chemistry through entertaining (and perfectly safe) activities. Each prank is in a separate coloured section and includes easy-to-understand instructions, step-by-step diagrams, and diary-style illustrations. Additional notes in each prank explain the science behind the fun.

Each begins with a list that indicates the victim, the mess, danger and funniness levels, the degree of science involved and the materials required.  There are warning sfor any potential problems, clear instructions with easy-to-follow diagrams, as well as an explanation of the science and even the opportunity to learn and do more to extend knowledge and understanding, such as The Wet One examining why plastics can be problematic.  

Even though the authors are highly qualified scientists (Ferrie at the University of Technology, Sydney; LaGinestra and Fairclough both at Sydney high schools) they have brought both the science and language levels down to those in mid to upper primary offering a lot of learning and a lot of fun in the same package.  Recommend this to parents – who may at first hate you, but then will appreciate your dedication to their child’s scientific learning.