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Supersquirrel and the Crazy Rain Maker

Supersquirrel and the Crazy Rain Maker

Supersquirrel and the Crazy Rain Maker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supersquirrel and the Crazy Rain Maker

Russell Punter

Josh Cleland

Usborne, 2024

80pp., pbk., RRP $A12.99

9781805315889

The Animal Action Squad is a top secret organisation of superheroes dedicated to fighting crime, and Supersquirrel is one of its operatives.  With her undercover occupation as a taxi driver, and her superpowers including being able to fly extremely quickly, x-ray vision and superhearing, she has to outwit the fiendish criminal mastermind Dr Drizzle and his sidekick Rocky who have stolen a top secret formula meaning danger if it gets in the wrong hands.

But she can’t do it alone – she needs the reader’s help, and this is what sets this remarkable little book aside from so many.  Part stepping-stone novel, part graphic novel, it is packed full of puzzles and clues that the reader needs to solve, making it as interactive as a print text can be.  Being directly involved as a character means the reader has to engage with the story, the text and its illustrations rather than a skim-read-what’s next book.  It can be read alone or shared as participants stop to consider what they have learned from a particular excerpt and how it fits into the overall scheme of things, encouraging deeper thinking, reflection and synthesising information. Although it doesn’t require making decisions to determine the path of the story, it could lead to an interest in the choose-your-own-adventure genre. 

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

This is the first in this series that I predict will become a must-have as it reaches out to newly independent readers, including those who are beginning to think that reading doesn’t really hold much for them.  So much more fun than pressing or tapping buttons just to accumulate a high score.  

Extreme Planet: Journey Through The Amazon

Extreme Planet: Journey Through The Amazon

Extreme Planet: Journey Through The Amazon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extreme Planet: Journey Through The Amazon

Rob Lloyd Jones

Wazza Pink

Usborne, 2024

16pp., board book, RRP $A19.99

9781805312185

This is a board book with just 16 pages, but in those 16 pages the reader is taken on the most remarkable journey along a river that is the world’s largest drainage system and which, because of the forests through which it flows, has been called “the lungs of the earth”. 

Through remarkable illustrations that leap off the page and a lift-the-flap format that make it interactive and thus more engaging, the reader is introduced to the Amazon’s flora and fauna in the canopy, along the river, in the jungle and on the ground as well as some of the peoples who have lived there for over 10 000 years. 

But this is not a mere travel guide and neither does it tell the entire story for there is so much more to be discovered.  Its purpose is to begin raising awareness of this remarkable, crucial landscape that is critical to the health of the planet. but as we are told, “While you’re read this book thousands more trees have been cut down [and] at this rate, the Amazon rainforest will be gone.” And so will its ability to counteract some of the pollution that is pumped into the planet’s atmosphere each day.

Part of the Extreme Planet series which includes Journey to the Earth’s Core, in which young readers are introduced to some of the amazing habitats of Earth and their inhabitants, in a way that is accessible to them through both format and text, it inspires a desire to know more as the narrative directly embraces the reader as their boots “squelch on the rotting woods and fallen leaves” and insects scurry through the gloom because so little sunlight reaches the forest floor. But beware – bright and colourful as they may be, some are deadly… Use this link to see for yourself.

A peek inside...

A peek inside…

And for those who do want to know more, there are the usual Quicklinks which are such a unique and integral part of this publisher’s presentations. Perhaps students could use what they learn and the format of the book to develop a wall display to help raise the awareness of their peers. 

One thing is for certain – by the time they have read this book, the word “Amazon” will be so much more than a large online shopping mall.  

Dragons of Hallow (series)

Dragons of Hallow (series)

Dragons of Hallow (series)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dragons of Hallow (series)

Spellhound

9781761180057

Fledgewitch

9781761067365

A & U Children’s, 2024

352pp., pbk., RRP $A17.99

The first in this series begins… There are Three Great Secrets in Hallow, a country that loves secrets almost as much as it loves green jellybabies. No, I’m not going to tell you anything more about them. I am a loyal citizen of Hallow, and would never betray—
Oh, you have jellybabies?
Green ones?
Well, I suppose I could tell you a little more.
Come closer. Open your ears and your heart, and pass the green jellybabies.
I will tell you a story about an enormous magical pup, a child Queen and a very small minch-wiggin with the unfortunate title of Destroyer-of-Dragons…

And continues with a tale of “falsehoods, fortitude and friendship” about how a minch-wiggin, a Queen, and a rather large magical pup need to find the dragon that has turned their worlds upside-down-even if it means revealing all they want to keep hidden…

Two years later in Fledgewitch, life has moved on and Queen Rose is now twelve, and ruling Hallow with the Regent, Uncle Edwin and this story centres on ten-year-old Brim taken by Count Zaccar and Countess Xantha  to the School for the Prevention of Witches  because are the three Laws of Quill, carved in stone outside every town hall, and learnt by every schoolchild:
There shall be No Witches.
There shall be No Dragons.
There shall be NO SECRETS.

But Brim, despite having feathers sprouting from her elbows, and being the only one who can remember Snort, the Horned Glob, doesn’t believe she is a witch, one to be feared and outcast because of their dangerous, evil ways.

And so the story unfolds in a tale deeply rooted with themes of family, faith, loyalty and courage with engaging characters who display all those traits that we expect as they are pitted against dastardly, devious villains.  With its length, its seemingly unrelated stories  as well as the twists and turns in the plot, and the opportunity to put clues together if they are picked up, this is a series for fantasy-loving independent readers looking for something to sustain them over long winter nights, best read in order and best to read the first to establish the characters and their history and relationships – although these may not be what they seem.  

For those who want to know more about the author and how the series came to life, read this Q&A

 

 

Mawson in Antarctica: To the Ends of the Earth

Mawson in Antarctica: To the Ends of the Earth

Mawson in Antarctica: To the Ends of the Earth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mawson in Antarctica: To the Ends of the Earth

Joanna Grochowicz

A & U Children’s, 2024

272pp., pbk., RRP $A19.99

9781761180590

Sir Douglas Mawson. His face is on the $A100 note; he has streets, suburbs and places named after him scattered across the country; and  the longest continuously operating station south of the Antarctic Circle bears his name.

So who is he and what did he do to deserve these honours? 

To learn that we need to go back to winter in Antarctica in 1912, just months after Amundsen and Scott have reached the South Pole, and a young Australian driven by his passion to contribute to scientific knowledge leads the Australian Antarctic Expedition intent on establishing research bases on the continent and sub-Antarctic islands to explore and chart the east Antarctic coastline  and learn from it.  As disaster befalls his team and gradually they perish, Mawson finds himself alone but is so determined to take both data and specimens back to base that he struggles on alone for 30 days, arriving just a few hours after the ship sent to retrieve the party had left..

Mawson’s remarkable tale of determination, endurance and resilience is retold in this absorbing narrative non fiction, the latest addition to this series which includes the journeys of Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton . Using a range of primary and secondary sources, its polar historian author tells the stories of these early pioneers of Antarctic exploration in a way that brings them to life, with all their foibles and faults as well as courage and tenacity, engaging the reader in a way that facts and figures, bare statements and grainy photographs can’t.  

And for those for whom a 272page book might be a bit daunting, there is also Douglas Mawson in the brilliant Meet… series, so an  opportunity for all to know a little about this remarkable real here. 

My own connections to the Antarctic were outlined in my review of Into the White – Scott’s Antarctic Odyssey but these are stories of real-life heroes that don’t require that sort of legacy to inspire their reading – these are for any independent reader of any age who enjoys true stories of doing the seemingly impossible, particularly in times when it is the human endeavour rather than the technological wizardry that determine success or otherwise.  Who knows – introducing a young person to this series just might be the trigger for a lifetime.

How to Build a Home

How to Build a Home

How to Build a Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Build a Home

George Clarke

Robert Sae-Heng

Farshore, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780008587895

At a time when some of our students are living in less-than-ideal conditions and the term “housing crisis” seems to be mentioned incessantly, houses and homes are receiving more attention than usual.  And it’s not just the lifestyle programs with their innovative construction techniques and fancy interior design that are featuring – it’s the provision of one of the basic needs of human beings -shelter. And because it is a basic human requirement there are homes all around the world, each different from each other is shape, size, construction and materials, yet all providing for that same purpose. 

In this new addition to the Little Experts series, architect George Clarke examines the who, what, and how of construction of a home in this modern time providing an introductory insight into the processes involved from design to the build to the completed product, demonstrating why it is a more complex task than it appears and why there is no magic wand to the problem of not enough for everyone. But there is hope as forward-thinkers  explore new materials like the fibre from mushrooms or the seed pods of the cacao tree and even consider new technologies that might automatically adjust the room temperature by measuring body heat. 

As well as the basic explanation of home building, readers are invited to “think like an architect” and redesign their own bedrooms, offering all sorts of scope to plan and design model homes using anything from old shoeboxes to Lego or letting the imagination go wild with dreams that may become reality.  Why not have a toilet that analyses the products it collects for potential illnesses? Or a window that changes the ‘view’ to whatever will calm and relax the viewer at the time? In the past, and even now for some, the size of the home was a status symbol that announced the owner’s level of prosperity to the world and the power they wielded – in the past some countries introduced chimney and window taxes as revenue raisers – and today fewer and fewer young people envisage owning their own homes because of the cost.  Perhaps, after reading this, our young people will consider the purpose of the home and  there will be a shift in thinking to value more environmentally friendly dwellings that just do their job of providing shelter and something more than a tent in winter won’t just be a pipedream. 

This is another in this excellent series which looks at the ordinary and discovers the extraordinary.  

The Secret Doorway

The Secret Doorway

The Secret Doorway

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Doorway

Catherine Sheridan

Little Steps, 2023

236pp., pbk., RRP $A18.95

9781922833297

Anna and her brother Peter are about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, leaving their home in Australia for a holiday in Ireland. Just before they leave, Anna has a dream about black birds, a huge, gnarly tree and an old key, and being in danger. But despite having special gifts of seeing and feeling things that others cannot, Anna has no idea that what she dreamed may become reality.

Their holiday home backs onto a forest, and having met up with some local kids and enjoying camping in the backyard, when a peculiar fog lit by strange lights roll in,  they can’t resist investigating and find themselves in a world of magical folk and mysterious happenings.  But getting back to their home isn’t as simple as finding the fence and climbing over it… 

The subtitle of this book – the first in a series – is “Four  go on an Adventure” and for those of us of a certain vintage it immediately stirs images of the much-loved stories by Enid Blyton and certainly the connections continue as the story unfolds and the children find themselves in an enchanted forest having to help those who live there but facing situations that have to be confronted and solved.  While there are many portal stories for young independent readers to choose, this is one that is a safe, gentle escape, perhaps the next step on from The Magic Faraway Tree series that they can now read for themselves; maybe  even a gateway to those series about The Adventurous FourThe Famous Five, and The Secret Seven connecting them not only to the stories of a bygone era that sparked daydreams but also to their older relatives who may have enjoyed them just as much.  

The Bother with the Bonkillyknock Beast

The Bother with the Bonkillyknock Beast

The Bother with the Bonkillyknock Beast

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters (series)

The Bother with the Bonkillyknock Beast

Karen Foxlee

Freda Chiu

Allen & Unwin, 2024

288pp., pbk., RRP $A15.99

9781761470226

Although a rather anxious child who prefers  to make lists so she can plan and manage her life because she doesn’t cope with change well, nevertheless Mary-Kate Martin has left the sanctuary of her grandmother’s home to travel the world with her mother whose life is spent on mystery-solving adventures such as why the Woolington Wyrm was causing such destruction in a quiet English village, and an equally strange creature was bothering Galinios, an idyllic Greek Island. 

In this third episode of this series for young independent readers, Mary-Kate and her granny are going to stay at a very quiet castle near a very quiet Loch in the Scottish village of Bonkillyknock. The perfect destination for reading beside fireplaces, going for long walks in galoshes and drinking cups of tea with Granny’s old friends. At least, that’s what Mary-Kate thinks.

However, this is no ordinary reunion – it’s a World Society of Monster Hunters’ conference. So, when an ear-shattering howl interrupts the convention, Mary-Kate isn’t too anxious. After all, the experts are on hand to investigate.

But when the castle kitchen is turned upside-down and the experts suspect the usually secretive Loch Morgavie monster, Mary-Kate isn’t sure the clues add up. Could there be some other kind of beastly problem bothering Bonkillyknock Castle?  Miss Mary-Kate Martin might only be a beginner, but she’s determined to get to the end of this monstrous mystery.

The first one in this series had me hooked with its setting in an olde English village, and so one set in a Scottish castle with its promise of a wild wintery landscape and warm comfort inside also had lots of appeal!  After all, there is a reason I live where I do.  And, like its predecessors, it is an absorbing read, even for one who is not a fantasy fan. As well as its appealing setting that just cries out for something out of the ordinary to happen, engaging characters and fast-paced action keep the reader turning the pages as they watch Mary-Kate develop from being that over-anxious child to one who is confident and more self-assured. And again, the beast is firmly grounded in local mythology – this time, the legendary highland fairy hounds known as the cù-sith (coo-shee) – perhaps sparking an interest in local legends.  What might Mary-Kate, her mother and granny encounter if they met an Australian bunyip or yowie? Perhaps, after researching them, they could suggest a plot outline for Karen Foxlee for the next episode, or maybe bring it to life in drawings as Freda Chiu has with the other monsters in the endpages of the story.  Or maybe just investigate the legendary creatures, totems and other emblems of the local First Nations peoples… 

So, as well as a captivating read, there is potential for so much more…

How Families Are Made

How Families Are Made

How Families Are Made

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Families Are Made

Dr Amir Khan

Donough O’Malley

Farshore, 2024

32pp., hbk., RRP $A19.99

9780008520885

No matter what the size or shape of your family – mum, dad and siblings; two mums; two dads; foster parents; single parent; several  generations – each person in the family started out the same way – “a group of special cells, and these were created when an egg was fertilised by a sperm.” 

Not so long ago when a parent was asked the inevitable “Where did I come from?”, the answer was to do with a stork or the cabbage patch; more recently seminal texts like Where Did I Come From? and What’s Happening to Me? caused outrage when they appeared on library shelves in primary schools, and just weeks ago a Sydney council tried to ban a book about same-sex parents from its shelves. So while the question remains as old as humanity, responses to it are gradually veering more and more towards the truth and reality, and in this new addition to the Little Experts series, the facts about reproduction, gestation and birth are given in both accessible text and clear illustrations while acknowledging that diversity in family structure and that “family” is much more than a coupling of male and female.  It includes a glossary that explains terms like “foster parents”, “gender identity” and “transitioning” in the same way it does “embryo” and “zygote”, thus normalising their meaning and use for all children.  

Despite the world, in general, having come a long way in acknowledging and accepting different family structures and the right for children to know the truth of their origins, including their biological beginnings, there are still those who find such topics too sensitive to discuss and so books like these must be in any school library collection.  Yes, there will be those who giggle or blush but that, in itself, is part of their maturing and IMO, the more information young people have the more likely they are to develop respectful relationships with those around them.  

Written by a qualified GP, well-known on television in the UK, and presented in such an objective manner amongst a collection of books that covers everything from vehicles powered by humans to superhero animals, it presents this topic as as natural and ordinary and everyday as it should be.  However, there will be those for whom the matter-of-factness may clash with their school’s beliefs or ethics about the provision of such information, so, for them, a preview may be wise.  

Little Ash (series)

Little Ash (series)

Little Ash (series)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Ash (series)

Sleepover Surprise

9781460764664

Big Break 

9781460764657

HarperCollins, 2024

64pp., pbk., RRP $A9.99

As the French Open gathers momentum, and Wimbledon on the horizon, the thoughts of many will be turning to tennis and remembering Australian Ash Barty’s win at Wimbledon in 2021 as well as her other achievements including being only the second Australian woman to be ranked #1 and holding that position for 121 weeks.  So this is a timely release of two more titles in this popular series for young, newly independent readers.  

As with the others in the series, each story deals with a situation that will be familiar to many.  In Sleepover Surprise, she hosts a sleepover for her friends, trying to make everything perfect for then, but she discovers that after all the fun and it’s time to actually settle down, not everyone feels confident not being in their own bed.  Her friend Ruthie is homesick and with her Gran being too far away to come to get her, Ash has to work out how to make her feel safe and okay.

Meanwhile, in Big Break, it’s the annual family tennis tournament at the beach and while Ash is ready, her little sister Ali has broken her arm. Ali is bewildered when Ash doesn’t pick her for a partner, but that’s because Ash has a plan that will mean Ali can join in properly and have fun too.

Like their predecessors, each story is bound up in themes of family, friendship and fun and show the readers that even the most extraordinary adults have had ordinary childhoods with all the activities and anxieties that they enjoy and endure too.  Those they admire most face similar dilemmas and choices as they do, making them more real and, at the same time, showing them that they do have power to determine things for themselves.

With 10 in the collection now, this is a series that, with its attention to theme, characters, formatting, and language choices, is ideal for those transitioning to “chapter books” and which will have broad appeal to those who like to put themselves in the shoes of their heroes.

 

Losing the Plot

Losing the Plot

Losing the Plot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Losing the Plot

Annaleise Byrd

Walker Books, 2024

144pp., pbk., RRP $A14.99

9781760656409

Imagine if you preferred to be playing any sport in the world on a Saturday afternoon instead of having to stop indoors to practise your reading.  Especially with a kid you have nothing in common with.  Or, on the other hand, you enjoy reading but you’ve been assigned the task of helping someone with theirs, someone with whom you have nothing in common and who wants to be anywhere else instead. 

And then, suddenly, one of the characters leaps from the pages of the book and you are dragged into it and a wild adventure….

That’s the situation for Basil Beedon and Terry Clegg, who are neighbours but the street they live in is the only thing they have in common.  But since Basil’s dad and Terry’s nan got talking and it transpires that Terry will be kicked off the football team if his schoolwork doesn’t improve. Basil has been assigned to helping him with his reading. Every. Single. Saturday. 

Because boys of that age who don’t like reading prefer a bit of action and gore, Basil chooses some of the original versions of the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm, but neither is prepared for what happens.  As they begin to read The Complete Fairytales of the Brothers Grimm  Gretel comes shooting out of the story in tears because her brother Hansel is lost and she needs their help.  So the boys are plunged into a dangerous world run by the Fairytale Alliance Network of Character Yunions (FANCY), where not everyone is what they seem, Hansel has been kidnapped and a plot hole threatens to destroy everything.

With its setting far from the saccharine depictions of early childhood picture book version of the fairytale, familiar characters yet very different from the expected, fast action, clever use of words , particularly acronyms, and a myriad of twists and turns in the plot, this is the first in a series that will capture not only Basil and Terry but other newly independent readers as they not only discover a different world of fairytales beyond those presented by Disney (not so long ago I met a bookseller who did not know that there was a version of Cinderella before Disney!) but also that there is a wide range of these tales to read and explore, well beyond the most familiar.  It is a story that opens up the familiar in an unfamiliar way, draws on the need for trust and compromise as friendships, relationships and alliances are built between unlikely companions, and celebrates the magic that reading, in itself, can offer.  One that not only works with this year’s CBCA Book Week theme but also that of 2021 – Old Worlds, New Worlds, Other Worlds.  

(And while they wait for the next episode, readers might like to explore Pages & Co or Temora and the Wordsnatcher.)