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The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn

Kate Gordon

UQP, 2020

184pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780702262821

Lonely orphan Wonder Quinn lives in the attic of Direleafe Hall with only a gloomy crow for company. Every year she hopes to make a true friend and every year her heart breaks when she doesn’t.

But when a spirited new student, Mabel Clattersham, befriends her in class, Wonder’s dreams seem to be coming true. As the girls grow closer, Wonder discovers her friend has a list of strange wishes: Throw a pie, leap into the sky, break someone’s heart…

What is Mabel’s big secret? Can Wonder protect her heart from being broken all over again?

This is a beautifully written ghost story with a difference.  Rather than being scary, this is a gentle ghost who craves a friend and becomes one, celebrating friendship, love, acceptance and belonging while embracing grief as a natural emotion that we all experience. This is a sensitive story, and despite its larger font, illustrations and short chapters, probably more suited to more mature readers who are able to read between the lines as well as along them.  The reader is not told that Wonder is a ghost, although there are clues from the get-go that perhaps she is not an ordinary schoolgirl for the astute reader to pick up – that fact that she is watching the girls arrive at school from her perch on the roof yet is unseen and undetected by either the students or the staff is one such indicator. It is also what I would have told my students is a tissue book – be prepared to shed some tears.

Normally, this is not my preferred genre but its evocative title, superb selection of vocabulary and imagery, its sensitivity and its uniqueness kept me engaged till the end.  One to look for and put into the hands of just the right reader.

 

 

Skydragon: Skydragon 1

Skydragon 1

Skydragon 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Skydragon 1

Anh Do

James Hart

Allen & Unwin, 2020

232pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9781760876364

When a mysterious glowing purple ball ignites their home while they are innocently making pizzas for tea, only Amber and her brother Reggie emerge from the inferno alive but both are badly injured, Reggie in a coma. Weeks later, watching from her neighbour’s fence Amber sees what remains of her home demolished in a very hush-hush operation.

Five years later, with Reggie still in a coma and Amber reminded daily of the events because of the scar on her face, she is  the butt of nasty comments and bullying from her peers who refuse to see the girl beyond the scar. The only constant is her fascination with dragons and her only joy, the beauty of the insect world. But something very strange happens when she trips and falls while on an insect-watching excursion with her class and is surrounded by a swarm of deadly hornets…

Afterwards, Amber knows she has been given an incredible power, but was it a freak accident, or was there something she was supposed to do with it?  Controlling her new ability might be the hardest thing Amber has ever done. Especially when she is running for her life.  Who is her mysterious enemy? What connection does he have to Amber’s past? And, most importantly, does Amber have what it takes to truly become . . . Skydragon?

This is a brand new series from the prolific and talented Anh Do, aimed at those who are straddling that invisible divide between needing the support of short chapters and illustrations and reading complex novels.   There is the familiar background of school but also the twist of the legacy of that glowing purple ball that opens up all sorts of possibilities for adventure. At the top end of the readership for this blog, but one for the more independent 8 year-olds to aspire to. 

 

The Secret Garden: The Story of the Movie

The Secret Garden: The Story of the Movie

The Secret Garden: The Story of the Movie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Garden: The Story of the Movie

Frances Hodgson Burnett

Linda Chapman

HarperCollins, 2020

224pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

 9780008340070

First published in 1911, The Secret Garden is the story of Mary, a  sickly, neglected, unloved and unwanted 10-year-old girl whose care has been mostly left to the servants who care for her English family in colonial India. After her parents die in a cholera epidemic, she is sent back to England into the care of her unknown uncle Archibald Craven  at his isolated mansion Misselthwaite Manor on the Yorkshire Moors. 

At first, Mary is rude and obnoxious, disliking everything about her new circumstances but eventually she warms to Martha Sowerby who tells her about her aunt, the late Lilias Craven and how she would spend hours in a private walled garden growing roses. After his wife died in an accident in the garden,  Mr Craven locked the garden and buried the key.

Mary becomes interested in finding the secret garden herself and once she discovers the key, her life begins to change…

This version is based on the screenplay of  2020 movie which has finally been released and which many students will have seen.  Telling the core of the original story it evokes a magical world that encourages self-discovery and change and perhaps an interest in reading the original.  A stunning way to introduce a new generation to a classic. 

What Zola Did on Wednesday

What Zola Did on Wednesday

What Zola Did on Wednesday

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Zola Did on Wednesday

Melina Marchetta

Deb Hudson

Puffin, 2020

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

9781760895174

Zola is getting very busy after school these days.  She has her gardening club on Mondays and her knitting group on Tuesdays and she still has to find time to play with her cousin Alessandro and the dogs while trying to keep out of trouble.  But when her neighbour Leo’s mum, who is a police officer, brings home a new sniffer dog for training, things can only get interesting – particularly when her friend Sophia’s little turtle goes missing and Lola hatches a plan to find it…

This is the third in this series about Zola and her friends – a diverse group of kids who could live in any neighbourhood, anywhere. Their everyday lives are just like those of the readers who can see themselves, understand and relate to the friends, while being a stepping stone for  consolidating their new reading skills with a solid text combined with lots of illustrations, short chapters and humour.  Because the characters and events are so common,  the stories could be the inspiration for children to get together in ways they did in previous generations and be the foundation blocks of a new community as we find new ways to get together in these COVID times. Perhaps our new lives may not be so frantic that we don’t have time for the simpler pleasures of yesteryear.

There are seven stories in the series altogether and each one is as entertaining as the others. 

Kensy and Max 6: Full Speed

Kensy and Max 6: Full Speed

Kensy and Max 6: Full Speed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kensy and Max 6: Full Speed

Jacqueline Harvey

Puffin, 2020

384pp., pbk., RRP  $A14.99

9781760890025

Twins Kensy and Max are off on another mission for Pharos, this time set in the skifields of Switzerland. On this mission they are to infiltrate the mysterious but suspicious Van Leer family. Strange as the Van Leers are, proof of their misdeeds is scarce. Filled with the sort of action that only snowy mountain country can offer, these apprentice spies are determined to uncover the truth.   But when a surprising figure appears in the ski town, it seems there is more than one mystery to solve. 

Kensy and Max epitomise the sorts of kids we would all like ours to be – clever, resourceful, resilient and respectful – who lead the sort of lives that their readers can only dream of, particularly in these times. But for all that, they remain grounded and real, offering that magical mix of realism and escapism that has been the hallmark of successful stories for the upper primary age group for decades/

Whenever I ask Miss 14 what she is currently reading, a reread of the previous stories in this series is always on the list, as, having started it when it first appeared in 2018 she is keen to see what happens next to these heroes. In fact she often asks me when the next one is coming so after a long Canberra winter spent in trying circumstances, this will be most welcome in her letter box. Miss 9 has just begun the first in the series,  so this is going to be one of those wonderful reading experiences they will be able to share and talk about together.

 

Monty’s Island 2: Beady Bold and the Yum-Yams

Beady Bold and the Yum-Yams

Beady Bold and the Yum-Yams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Beady Bold and the Yum-Yams

Emily Rodda

Lucinda Gifford

Allen & Unwin, 2020

176pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781760529864

Monty lives on a perfect island in the middle of a magical sea. Sometimes the sea throws up something interesting … and Monty goes on an amazing adventure!

Everyone loves Bring-and-Buy Day, when Trader Jolly visits the Island with all the supplies Monty and his friends need.

But this Bring-and-Buy day is different. Instead of Trader Jolly, there’s a sneaky new trader called Beady Bold. And he’s arrived with a boatload of trouble. As well as pretending he has taken over from Trader Joe, he treats them with contempt, trying to give them less for their goods than they are worth  The yum-yams are yummy, but they’re not what they seem and soon the island and the islanders are in trouble.  All seems lost until Monty comes up with a daring plan after he sees something through his trusty spyglass…

This is the second in this series for newly independent readers and it promises to cement the series as a firm favourite for those looking for a modern piece of escapism with just the right amount of magic.  The first, Scary Mary and the Stripe Spell  was published in April as people were confined to their homes and since I posted it to Miss 9 she has been asking for the next one.  When I asked her why this series, she said that it’s because she likes how smart and brave Monty is but of all of them –  Tawny the Fearless Lion, Clink the Shipwrecked Parrot, Bunchy the Elephant Magician, Sir Wise  the  owl,  she really likes Marigold who runs the island café the best.  (Her daddy is a chef so perhaps she has visions of being Marigold one day.) She says she likes the way they are still friends even though sometimes they make each other cranky and how they all work together to sort out big problems when they have to – a timely message for us adults, perhaps. 

A prolific author, Emily Rodda is perhaps best known for her ground-breaking Deltora Quest series and I would certainly have these dusted off when readers come looking for more, as they wait till January for the third in this series. 

 

From Stella Street to Amsterdam

 From Stella Street to Amsterdam

From Stella Street to Amsterdam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Stella Street to Amsterdam

Elizabeth Honey

Allen & Unwin, 2020

432pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9781865084541

In 1995 Elizabeth Honey wrote 45 & 47 Stella Street, a story told by Henni Octon, writer-to-be. of what happened to Zev, Danielle, Frank and Briquette the dog and everyone else when The Phonies moved into their street and started to spoil everything. It was funny and fast, and very scary and they never knew what was going to happen next! Over the years more tales were added to the series , and each time a new one was released there was a reserves queue that necessitated buying multiple copies! 

Now, 25 years on, there is a new addition that is not only a great read in itself, but which could well spark a stampede to read the original stories in the series, (So search your shelves to see if you have the others on hand in readiness!)

In this one, Henni’s stubborn old neighbour Willa insists on returning to her childhood home in the Netherlands for a wedding, and Henni leaps at the chance to be her travelling companion. ‘Lucky duck! Fantastic opportunity!’ That’s what everyone in Stella Street said. ‘Oh boy, chance of a lifetime.’

But during the long flight to Amsterdam, Willa reveals to Henni the real reason for her journey: a terrible family secret stretching back to the Second World War. As Henni makes friends with more and more of Willa’s relatives, she must decide if they should know the truth. And is that the only mystery?

Talking about the original, Honey said she “wanted to write about kids who were open and robust, ingenious, tenacious and funny” and  “families [who] are strong and enjoy life. They go through ups and downs but basically they stick together.” And that basically sums up this t=story and the series – they are about characters and situations that our children can relate to, feel-good stories that have all the tension and drama required to keep the reader engaged but which have “a happy ending, not in a Disneyland way, an Australian way.” 

I love books that open up other avenues for readers, books that compel them to keep reading beyond the pages and it is SO good to see this one because not only is it likely to entice the readers to seek out those prequels but they’re going to venture into a series that quite possibly their parents read and enjoyed, opening up the possibilities for all sorts of discussions and memory-making.  The enduring power of print vs the fleeting influence of the screen!!!

Marshmallow Pie (series)

Marshmallow Pie (series)

Marshmallow Pie (series)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cat Superstar

9780008355852

The Cat Superstar on TV

9780008355890

The Cat Superstar in Hollywood

9780008355913

HarperCollins, 2020

128pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

Marshmallow Marmaduke Vanilla-Bean Sugar-Pie Fluffington-Fitz-Noodle is a big, fluffy (and grumpy) cat. He LOVES the easy life: lazing in the sunshine, eating Shrimp Crunchies and annoying Buster, the dog downstairs, from the safety of the balcony above. Now living with the shy Amelia in a top floor flat in the city, instead of the quiet country life he was used to, he already thinks he is a star, but Amelia is determined to make it official when she sees an advertisement for cats to audition to join a casting agency for film and television.  And so begins a life of grooming and training and the limelight…

This is a great new series for newly independent readers who still need some support and who love cats.  Given the photos that one sees on social media of cats in all sorts of finery, that would seem to be a very broad target market and so this series is going to please a lot of young readers.  Told by Marshmallow Pie himself, in the supercilious , no-fools-entertained, I’m-entitled voice that you just know matches his personality, the author of the Dotty Detective series brings her characters to life in a way that will delight those who have cats and who have been dreams for them.

With the first two available now, and the third due in time for that January holiday slump, this series will be a just-right introduction to the world of novels and the fun of getting to know characters over a period of time and adventures. 

The Puffin Book of Big Dreams

The Puffin Book of Big Dreams

The Puffin Book of Big Dreams

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Puffin Book of Big Dreams

Puffin, 2020

256pp., hbk., RRP $A32.99

9780241438206

In 1940, Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin Publishing published four books for the children who had been evacuated to the country in wartorn England, and began something that 80 years on is still going strong in yet another time of world turmoil. Those four books were factual – War on Land, War at Sea, War in the Air and On the Farm – but within a year the first fiction was being published, amongst the early titles, Worzel Gummidge .

From the earliest days of those big dreams of establishing a publishing house dedicated to literature for children, to establishing the Puffin Club with its special badge, secret code and fundraising to purchase a piece of the Yorkshire coast to establish a Puffin sanctuary, hundreds of books with quality stories from both new and established authors in both picture book and novel format have been offered to our young readers all around the world. There have been many unique instances of recognition of both the books and brand along the way, and this compendium, published to celebrate this milestone birthday, brings together old and new in a collection of stories and excerpts that encourage newly independent reader to  dream wild, dream bold, dream far, dream brave, dream kind and dream forever.

As well as introducing new authors who may be the household names of the future, there are also stories from those familiar to a different generation who will delight in introducing their childhood favourites to their offspring, perhaps opening new horizons and genres to be explored and memories to be shared. Who could read about trogglehumpers, bogthumpers and grobswitchers and not want to find out more about what was aggravating The BFG? Wouldn’t my grandchildren like to know why I have such an affinity with this story and why I’ve shared it with nearly every child I’ve ever taught.

With more than 60 stories and poems in the collection, this one volume has the potential to become a year of bedtime stories as young readers follow byways and pathways into new worlds, realising the original dream of turning children into readers and making a little bird an instantly recognisable symbol of innovative, quality stories for generations.

IMO, this is the ideal book for the teacher’s toolbox, particularly a new graduate just starting on their journey because it is such a go-to for those times for a time-out and just experiencing joy and pleasure. Who knows where a rabbit-hole might lead….

The BFG

The BFG

The BFG

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The BFG

Roald Dahl

Puffin, 2016

224pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780141365428

When Sophie is woken by a silver moonbeam shining through a crack in the curtains, and, against the rules of the orphanage in which she lives, she gets out of bed to close the curtain she has no idea that her life is about to take her on the most amazing adventure and be changed forever.

For as she peeks out she sees a most amazing sight… coming up the other side of the street was something black. Something  tall and black. Something very tall and very black and very thin.

It is nearly 40 years since I first picked up this book by Roald Dahl, creator of classic characters like Willy Wonka and Miss Truncbull and as I read the first few pages, I could hear myself sharing the story with my students.  All these years on and countless students have met the iconic big, friendly giant as it has been my go-to book in so many situations.  Share the passage of his description, get the children to identify the keywords and then interpret these in drawing and discuss why each child’s work is different even though they started with the same information.  Drop coloured dye onto paper towelling, write your dream on it, put it in a jar and open it on  the last day of school to see if you still have the same dreams….

Using his gift for language that remains with us and his irreverence for adults, Dahl delights children with his tales and it is time now for the next generation to become fans, just as those who have met him previously have done. 

So, on this Roald Dahl Day 2020 introduce your students to one of the world’s greatest storytellers and let the fun begin.