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Friday Barnes: Last Chance

Friday Barnes: Last Chance

Friday Barnes: Last Chance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Barnes: Last Chance

R. A. Spratt

Puffin, 2023

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

9780143779247

Friday Barnes is the daughter of two highly-intelligent, eccentric physicists who are so disconnected from her upbringing that they called her Friday even though she was born on a Thursday.  She did have four siblings, all much older than her being born during the four-and-a-half years their mother had allocated for the task.  Friday was not scheduled and her birth was fitted in around a lecture her mother had to give in Switzerland.  Eleven years later, Friday had largely raised herself and she was happy with that.  Her greatest wish was to be unnoticed because you could do so much more that way like eating a whole block of chocolate at once without it being taken off you.    Unfortunately, it also means that you do not develop very good social skills particularly if you spend your time reading scientific tomes and educating yourself beyond the realms of anything a school could offer.

However, as well as the non-fiction her parents library consisted of, Friday had a penchant for detective novels because “being a detective allowed a person a licence to behave very eccentrically indeed” and she had honed her powers of observation and logical thought over the years.  But the time has now come for Friday to go to high school and given her parents haven’t even realised she is no longer in preschool, it was up to her to sort it.  She would have preferred not to go at all because she saw it as being all about “bullying, dodge ball and having to find a date for the prom” but the government was insistent that she do.  She tried to compromise by applying for university and passed the exam to study medicine but was knocked back on her age. 

So rejecting the idea of the Foreign Legion, the Peace Corps and being smuggled out of the country by people traffickers, after helping her ex-cop, private investigator Uncle Bernie solve a case she finds herself with the means to send herself to Highcrest Academy the best and most expensive boarding school in the whole country.  Her intention is to stay under the radar, do what she has to do and leave.  But things do not work out that way.  Right from the start, her nondescript self-imposed uniform of brown cardigans, grey t-shirts and blue jeans makes her stand out among the fashion parade that is the elite, wealthy students who also attend and being knocked down in the carpark on the first day doesn’t help either. Nor does being the brightest student in the entire school, being labelled “scholarship girl” by the school bully and being unable to help herself being able to point out the flaws and inaccuracies in the conversation and presentations of others. Antagonising the handsome, previously-smartest student Ian Wainscott adds to her woes, particularly when her roommate, the not-so-bright Melanie insists there is a romance blooming, something that Friday scoffs at. But their paths have already been inextricably interwoven…

Now, Friday, Melanie and Ian are Paris and they are discovering that the art scene is a hot-bed of crime as they investigate a mystery surrounding the Mona Lisa. Is the painting hanging in The Louvre a fake? And where is the original?

This is the 11th in this series  that was first published in 2014 and which quickly became a favourite among those looking for a story that had some meat to it with a heroine they could relate to, including Ms Then-8. Since then Friday’s adventures and escapades have garnered a wide and increasing audience, including Ms Now 16 who will be thrilled to get this one despite being eight years older.  But as well as the established fan base, this is such a timeless and quality series  the beginning of the school year is the perfect time to introduce it to a new generation of independent readers who not only have 10 others to fill their reading calendar but also another episode to look forward to in 2024.  Even if they read nothing else this year, this is a solid foundation for the future. 

Willa and Woof 3: Grandparents for Hire

Willa and Woof 3: Grandparents for Hire

Willa and Woof 3: Grandparents for Hire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Willa and Woof 3: Grandparents for Hire

Jacqueline Harvey

Puffin, 2023

128pp. pbk., $A12.99

9781761043338

Willa’s four-legged best friend is her albino wolfhound, Woof; her same-age best friend is Tae Jin whose name means “person of greatness” in Korean; and her old-age best friend is Frank Pickles who lives next door in the retirement village and is very old and very grumpy with crinkly skin and bags under his eyes.  Willa visits him almost every day and listens to his stories about how he used to race pigeons when he was younger, although now he only has Mimi in the aviary in his tiny back yard. 

But when the principal announces that there will be a Grandparents’ Day next week when the children can bring their grandparents to school to join in activities – a common event in many schools – Willa discovers that not everyone has a grandparent to ask or that some are just not in a position to attend, including herself.  So she sets out with a plan to make it a day that everyone can enjoy but sometimes plans don’t turn out the way you expect.

This is the third in this series for younger emerging readers following Mimi is Missing and Birthday Business with the fourth due in April, making the wait in between episodes not too long and thus being ideal for demonstrating how books in a series build on each other so the characters become more and more familiar and thus, more real. They begin to care about what happens to them, an essential if they are to finish the book. 

Series are an important part of reading development and are so much more than a commercial decision to attract readers back. Because the reader is already familiar with the characters, the settings and the likely storyline they are able to bring their existing knowledge to the read, predict what is likely to happen and be empowered to tackle more complex stories, using and honing their developing skills as they do so. Each book completed offers a sense of accomplishment and builds a desire and momentum to complete the series, making the choice of the next read easier while continuing to affirm that they can become a “real reader” and encouraging them to seek other books by the same author or in the same genre, ever widening their reading horizons.    

It’s worth finding innovative ways to display series so they are easily accessible by even the most reluctant reader and build on their intrinsic popularity. Authors like Jacqueline Harvey who create characters like Willa and her friends and build stories around things that are really familiar to young readers do so much to make the teacher librarian’s job so much easier. 

 

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile: Junior Novelisation

Bernard Waber

Adapted by Catherine Hapka

HarperCollins US, 2023

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

9780358755432

When 12-year old Josh Primm and his family move to New York City, they are surprised to discover a crocodile living in their attic – a crocodile that is fun, playful, and can sing! Josh and Lyle become best friends but then Lyle’s former owner turns up to claim him for a new musical act and despite the issues Lyle has caused with a neighbour, the Primms realise how much Lyle means to them and that they need to keep him as part of the family.

Based on the original story by Bernard Waber , this is the novelisation of the film currently so popular with young children, making it an ideal addition to any family or school collection as we encourage them to read and revisit the fun they have shared.  Knowing the scenario will support those who are consolidating their skills while others may seek out the original as well as others in the series and others by the same author,  expanding reading horizons beyond the screen.

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

Terry Pratchett

Corgi Children’s, 2022

304pp., pbk., RRP $A16.99

9780552578929

Rats! They’re everywhere –  in the breadbins, dancing across tabletops, stealing pies from under the cooks’ noses. So, what does every town need? A good piper to lure them away. That’s where Maurice comes in! A streetwise tomcat with the perfect money-making scam.

Everyone has heard the stories about the piper and the rats, and con-cat Maurice finds a stupid-looking kid with a pipe, and has his very own plague of rats – strangely educated rats who are highly intelligent, can speak and have a sense of morality. 

But in Bad Blintz, someone is playing a different tune and now Maurice and his rats must learn a new concept: evil….

While this edition is a tie-in to the movie that is about to be released, the original was the 28th novel in the bestselling Discworld series, a series set on a flat, circular world balanced on the backs of four elephants which in turn stand on the back of a giant turtle. Typically, the stories are inspired by classic literature, in this case Robert Browning’s, The Pied Piper of Hamelin.  While the series itself is primarily aimed at adults, this one is for children and Pratchett was awarded the prestigious Carnegie Medal for it. There are twists and turns that older readers are more likely to appreciate so this might be one best shared in conjunction with both Browning’s story and the movie.

Funny Kid Catastrophe

Funny Kid Catastrophe

Funny Kid Catastrophe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Funny Kid Catastrophe

Matt Stanton

ABC Books, 2022

240pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780733341991

Absolutely, definitely, does not under any circumstances does Max want a cat. So why did Mum and Dad just bring one home? And it’s about to ruin his life.

With the prospect of  being First Kid of Redhill because his mum has decided to run for mayor, and thus retiring as Funny Kid, 11 year-old Max is contemplating all the power, attention and kudos he will have in that position when his parents return with something for him.  But it’s not a security detail, a limousine, the keys to the city or even a five dollar note with hi face on it – it’s a cat from the local animal shelter. But Max is not a cat-person – he thinks such people should seek medical help – so how is he going to cope with this gift and still maintain his dignity, integrity and position as First Kid?

As Christmas and New Year fade into the distance, this is the ideal read for young independent readers- those who have met Max already in his previous 10 adventures and those who are about to get to know one of the most successful characters in Matt Stanton’s amazing collection.  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. In this one Max learns about being open-minded – perhaps he converts to being a “cat-person” after all- as well as the power and pitfalls of social media.

Apart from being an entertaining read in itself, it sets the reader up to explore not only the others in the series, thus taking care of their holiday reading, but also exploring some of Stanton’s other works  including his new series, Bored.

 

The Book of Wondrous Possibilities

The Book of Wondrous Possibilities

The Book of Wondrous Possibilities

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book of Wondrous Possibilities

Deborah Abela

Puffin, 2022

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

 9781761044021

Since his mother died in a hit-and-run accident, Arlo Goodman lives a quiet, solitary life with his Uncle Avery in a run-down flat above their bookshop. Solitary from choice, and home-schooled, he has no friends, except for his pet mouse, Herbert. However when a girl called Lisette bursts into the shop and begs him to hide her from a murderer, closely followed by the most terrifying man Arlo has ever encountered, his life changes forever.

For she has a parcel for him from his mother!  She has sent him a grimoire – a book of magic spells and invocations, or one itself that is magic – and to his surprise, when he tentatively opens it,  there is a story called The Courageous Journey of Arlo Goodman written by his mother!

And so begins the most amazing adventure in which Arlo discovers just how brave he really is as he tries to protect this rare book from falling into the hands of  the wealthy but sinister business tycoon, Marcellus, who has set his brutal, scary Silas to get it no matter the cost. 

It seems appropriate to start a new year with a book called The Book of Wondrous Possibilities, particularly one in which the main characters face demons, both external and internal, and discover their inner strengths and courage that enable them to not only survive but flourish. Abela has created characters that are relatable but added that touch of magic that takes the story above being an unlikely narrative of two kids facing danger that ordinary children wouldn’t, into the realm of “If Arlo could…” or “If Lisette can…” As many of our students face new challenges in this new year, this is one to offer them to give them that boost that they might need.

It was the perfect title to pop into the book pouch I made Miss 11 for Christmas as she starts Year 7 in a high school where she knows no one… I know she is looking forward to it as a year of wondrous possibilities. 

 

The Christmas Pig

 

 

 

 

The Christmas Pig

The Christmas Pig

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Christmas Pig

J. K. Rowling

Jim Field

Little, Brown 2021

312pp., hbk., RRP $A39.99

9781444964912

Jack loves his childhood toy, Dur Pig. DP has always been there for him, through good and bad – starting school, the break-up of his parents’ marriage, moving house, starting a new school, his mother’s remarriage, a new step-sister who is mean… Whenever there is change to be faced, DP is there for him and it doesn’t matter that he’s getting a bit grey and worn and has had surgery on his eyes because he has his own special smell and always knows exactly what is troubling Jack without even having to be told.

Until one Christmas Eve, something terrible happens – DP is lost. Fed up with step-sister Holly’s nastiness (but too young to understand she is fighting her own demons too), he responds by calling her a loser.  To a gymnastics champ who has just lost an important competition, that is a red rag to a bull and Holly throws his precious DP out the car window onto the motorway. Jack is devastated – even though Grandpa searches, DP is not found and all Jack can imagine is DP lost and alone in the dark, cold and wet.  He trashes his room in anger, and doesn’t want anything to do with the replacement Christmas Pig that Holly buys, throwing it into the corner. 

But Christmas Eve is a night for miracles and lost causes, a night when all things can come to life… even toys. And when strange voices waken Jack he discovers that despite his treatment of it, the Christmas Pig has a daring plan: together they’ll embark on a magical journey to seek something lost, and to save the best friend Jack has ever known…

J. K. Rowling’s name will forever be associated with the world of Hogwarts and Harry Potter, and this story has all the charm and originality of those but for a younger audience.  It is a much simpler narrative style and many young readers will relate to the upheavals in Jack’s short life and his attachment to DP, the one constant in a turmoil of change.  I could hear myself reading it as either a bedtime story or as a class read-aloud, and that, to me, is the hallmark of something quite special.  Of the thousands of books I’ve read to children over the 50+ years I’ve been doing that, only a handful reach those heights.  So, definitely one to put in your teacher toolbox or on the parent’s shelf to become part of your Christmas Countdown. 

Virtually Christmas

 

 

 

 

Virtually Christmas

Virtually Christmas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Virtually Christmas

David Baddiel

HarperCollins, 2022

256pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9780008334321

It used to be the most WONDERFUL time of the year, but for years Christmas has been taken over by Winterzone.

All the things that made Christmas special are gone: the human connection, the baubles passed down through generations, even the rubbish cracker jokes.

Instead, Christmas is run by robots, while 3D holograms of Santa Claus called Santavatars check if you’ve been naughty or nice – and on Christmas Eve, all of the presents are delivered by ZoneDrones instead of Santa’s reindeer!

But when they stumble on a curious clue, eleven-year-old Etta and her friend Monty find themselves thrown into a fight to bring back Christmas. Racing against time and against the might of Winterzone, they must find the real Santa – before the true meaning of the festive season is lost forever . . .

In some ways, our children are used to Christmas being virtual with travel restrictions meaning a lot of family get-togethers are being done online, and as a consequence, a lot of the long-held traditions and rituals have been let go.  So as well as being an engaging read for young independent readers with a unique-till-now theme, it is also an opportunity for them to reflect on the things that they would miss most about Christmas if they were taken away.  What are the things that their family does that make it a personalised experience, the things they will continue to do with their own children in years to come?  What have they taken for granted? What do they want to reinstate?

For many, Christmas is about family and making memories and there is a lot of effort put into making it a magical time but what do our children actually take on board?  And perpetuate? This is an entertaining story in itself, but with the capacity to encourage some great what-if thinking…

The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure

The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure

The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Magic Faraway Tree: A New Adventure

Jacqueline Wilson

Mark Beech

Hodder Children’s, 2022

285pp., hbk., RRP $A35.00

9781444963373

2856pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781444963380

Seventy-plus years ago, the stories of Enid Blyton were the core of the young child’s reading diet.  A trip in the magic wishing chair or a visit to a land through the mysterious cloud above a huge tree were a much-anticipated part of the bedtime routine introducing us to the fantasy genre and leading us on to read series like The Famous Five and The Secret Seven  or any other of her 700 books and 2000 short stories for ourselves. 

Such were the memories made that that generation went on to share her work with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and some, like me, went on to become teachers and shared them with a new class of fans every year for 50 years!!! So to discover that Jacqueline Wilson had been given permission to weave new adventures among the branches of the Faraway Tree so new, modern readers can share the magic and mystery made this high on my list of review requests.  And I’ve had my nose in it all afternoon not only meeting the new and familiar characters like Silky, Moonface, the Saucepan Man and Dame Washalot among others but recalling my own introduction to them all those years ago and the joy and wonder I’ve brought to children over the years when I have shared them.  

In this new adventure, Milo, Mia and Birdy are on a countryside holiday when they wander into an Enchanted Wood and following a rabbit who can speak to them through the thick forest with its mysterious whispering leaves, discover a beautiful tree that stands high above the rest. The Magic Faraway Tree is home to many remarkable creatures including a fairy called Silky, her best friend Moonface and more. Little Birdy is only too happy to find that fairies are real. Even her older brother and sister are soon won over by the magic of the Faraway Tree and the extraordinary places they discover above it.

Keeping true to the original concept, including the writing style, this is both a nostalgic visit to past pleasures as well as the gateway to reading the entire series which remains in print.  IMO, this is one of the best series to introduce young readers to reading novels because each chapter is pretty much complete in itself making it ideal for a both a read-aloud session and a read-alone session, yet there is the continuity of both the storyline and the characters to be able to pick it up and set it down without having to orient yourself to a whole new read.  While there is drama in each chapter . the plot remains straightforward so there are not too many twists and turns to confuse the novice reader. 

My well-thumbed, well-read 1971 editions of the series have pride of place on my bookshelf, and this new adventure will be sitting there with them too, ready for when my grandchildren are ready to read it to theirs.  Hachette, the publishers, kindly sent me a hardcover version but it is also available in paperback at a more accessible price so more generations can lose themselves in the magic.  

The Champ (series)

The Champ

The Champ

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Champ

The Champ 1

9781760526870

Rock ‘n’ Roll

9781761065620

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.