Review blog

Click here for link to thhe review blog RSS feed Click here for the ReadPlus Review Blog RSS feed. Copy the link location into your feed reader.


Jun 27 2017

Where's my jumper? by Nicola Slater

cover image

Simon and Schuster, 2017. ISBN 9781471146213
(Ages: 2-5) Counting. This fun and humorous book with cut-outs and flaps counts backwards from 10. It features bold text with number words in capital letters and retro illustrations of orange, yellow, blue, pink, red and green. We see Rudy on the front cover, a bright blue rabbit holding an empty coat hanger and asking 'Where's my jumper?'. So, off we go, hunting around Rudy's house for his favourite jumper that was 'a little bit short and showed his tummy'. In each room he encounters a group of animals, from ten tumbling cats to two passing foxes. This isn't your average counting book with 'five kangaroos bouncing, four leaping lizards' though and it doesn't carry a repetitive or predictable pattern like most other counting books either. There are fancy-pants llamas jiving under a disco ball, prima pigerinas pirouetting in the kitchen and dogs riding ski lifts up the stairs. There are humorous and crazy illustrations that children will appreciate (a cat wearing jocks, an octopus taking a selfie in the pool, a shark in the swimming pool and a crocodile on the toilet). Children will enjoy following the trail of wool, opening the flaps and exploring the cut-through pages. The ending is actually a little bit confusing, especially for the younger end of the target age group: his youngest sister has taken his jumper but the trail of wool he was following was being knitted into a new jumper for him. It is great that there is nothing predictable about this book and that children need to discover for themselves where there are flaps and to follow the wool trail. It will be enjoyed by children as young as two for its rollicking rhythm and bright illustrations but those of preschool and school-age will get a lot more out of it and be more engaged.
Nicole Nelson




Jun 26 2017

Raymond by Yann and Gwendal Le Bec

cover image

Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781406362428
(Age: 5+) Recommended, Dogs, Behaviour. Raymond is a loved dog in the family. Each year the family treat him to a surprise birthday party, but one day Raymond has a big idea. Why shouldn't he sit with the family at tea. And so he does. After that it is a not a big stretch for him to do other human things, and soon all of the community's dogs are behaving like humans. They go to the theatre together, have their cappuccino mornings, and Raymond reads a magazine called Dogue.
When the family is out one morning, he goes to the offices of the Dogue magazine and asks for a job. He interviews a range of dogs and becomes so successful that he is soon a presenter on TV.
But then he is so admired that he needs security dogs to keep back his followers, a groomer to attend to his coat and nails each day, a secretary, and soon the only time his family sees him is on TV.
He becomes so stressed with all of the work he needs to do, his family persuade him to take a holiday.
Lying on the beach a ball is thrown near him and the old urge to chase the ball sets in.
He is cured and goes back to his family, quite content to be scratched behind the ears just like he was in the past.
This charming story of being satisfied with what you have, of having time to smell the roses, will resonate with younger children whose lives are filled with things that seem important at the time. An astute teacher could discuss with the class what is important to them, after reading how Raymond becomes a slave to his job, forgetting about the things that really made him happy.
The humorous illustrations will tickle the fancy of many readers as they see Raymond behaving as a human but make them question just what is most important to them.
With nods to the hipster generation, with its emphasis on screens, cappuccino and takeaway meals, this up to date picture book will leave readers with a smile of recognition.
Fran Knight




Jun 26 2017

Dino diggers: Digger disaster by Rose Impey

cover image

Ill. by Chris Chatterton. Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781408872444
(Ages: 2-5) Dinosaurs, construction, teamwork. This cleverly combines two things that young children love: dinosaurs and diggers, and the bright, cartoon-like and action-filled illustrations will keep them engaged. This is just one in a series of dinosaur construction stories, each one containing a cardboard pop-out build-your-own project. This one has a build-your-own dino and digger. In each story the team of Dino Diggers 'put things right when they go wrong and never let you down'. This is a great motto for young children to hear and model their behaviour on. The dinosaurs have great names and personalities, like the grumpy Mr Ali O'Saurus and the clumsy apprentice Ricky Raptor. Today the team are building a car yard but it isn't long before they run into a problem: they've hit a water pipe. Everyone pitches in to fix the problem and their great teamwork means that they finish the job on time. Even the apprentice, who turned the plans upside down and created the problem is supported and valued, not ridiculed. There is great modelling here for young children: happy workers who are proud of their work and a team of boy and girl dinosaurs building, driving machines and working side by side. The construction language is also great: backhoe, cracked a water main, digging out the foundations, tower crane. Little ones who spot a construction site from a mile away will love this and the fact that the characters are dinosaurs makes it even more fun.
Nicole Nelson




Jun 26 2017

The Cherry Pie Princess by Vivian French

cover image

Ill. by Marta Kissi. Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781406368970
(Age: 7-9) Themes: Magic, Princes and Princesses, Castle Life. Princess Peony lives in a castle with parents the King and Queen and her six older sisters. Their lives are ordered and organised - even a visit to the Royal Library is strictly controlled. Whilst the governess quickly herds the older girls through, young Princess Peony expresses her interests in the recipe books. After she's hurried away by the strict Miss Beef, the chief librarian Denzil Longbeard notices a cooking book about pies and pastries is missing. For a short while, the youngest princess enjoys cooking in the castle kitchen, until the King finds out and bans her.
When a baby prince is born, his parents plan for an elaborate christening party and invitations are sent out to the most important people including magical creatures. The King refuses to invite the wicked hag; this of means there will be magical mayhem at the upcoming event.
The story switches focus to the Hag's preparation of a magical brew in her cauldron and the three fairy godmothers' plans to attend the party. Basil the talking cat observes the activities at the palace and reports to the fairies.
Just after her thirteenth birthday, feisty Princess Peony discovers that Mr. Longbeard, the librarian, was thrown in the dungeon for talking to her when she visited the library. She finds herself locked in the dungeon for speaking out of turn to her father. Of course, she escapes and with the help of Basil and the other prisoners, she's in the right place at the right time to foil the hag's plans to steal young Prince Vincenzo.
The Cherry Pie Princess is an easy to read junior novel written by Vivian French. She is a popular children's author who understands the interests of her young audience, girls who enjoy princesses, life in a castle and magical creatures. Marta Kissi's beautiful and humorous black and white illustrations display the adventures of the determined and creative Princess Peony.
Rhyllis Bignell




Jun 26 2017

Horizon by Scott Westerfeld

cover image

Scholastic, 2017. ISBN 9781743817605
(Age: 12+) Highly recommended. Science fiction, Survival, STEM. On a flight from the USA to Tokyo, eight teens on the plane are the only survivors when it crashes. But where they expect snow and ice, is jungle, with strange birds and even stranger noises. The eight must work together to work out what is happening to them, but this is difficult when the oldest in the group, Caleb, sees himself as the leader, and hates being questioned by the four from Brooklyn Science and Tech, en route to present their robots at the Robot Soccer World Championship in Tokyo. In particular Molly and he do not see eye to eye.
Yoshi goes off in search of water, while Molly experiments with the device she has found on the plane, something which appears to lift them off the ground. But once in the air they are attacked by shredder bird which tear into their clothing and skin, so they need to plan their journeys.
A wonderful story of methods used by the group to develop an hypothesis then work out a solution, this story is brimful of scientific argument and logic, as well as honing in on relationships and survival.
When some of the group leave to try and find out what its over the stone wall, the gravity machine comes in very handy to make their ascent easier. But hiding in a cave they are besieged by tiny robots, intent on stealing their mechanical objects. All is most curious until they find themselves inside a set of office like laboratories and they begin to work out where they are and what has happened, leading to an idea of how to get out.
This is a heart in the mouth story, Westerfeld cleverly leading the reader on making them try and work out what is happening, collecting evidence, using their reason to make deductions and hypotheses. But as they do not reach their destination at the end of this story, another story is in the pipeline. Westerfeld tells us that this is the first of seven books in the series, and is a mixture of Lost, Lord of the flies and Hatchet. This is easily accessible science fiction with the themes of survival and relationships uppermost putting the readers into the skin of the protagonists, drawing them into the lives on the page. I look forward to the next in the series.
Fran Knight




Jun 21 2017

Beyond the wild river by Sarah Maine

cover image

Hodder and Stoughton, 2017. ISBN 9781473639683
(Age: Senior secondary-adult) Recommended. This is a terrifically well researched novel, and the story, and indeed the plot, are finely wrought. I was captivated by the settings, described in rich detail, from the new city of Chicago to the wild lands and rivers of northern Ontario. Responding with violence to a burglar, one dark night on a Scottish estate, a man is killed, a story is constructed, and a very young Evelyn Ballantyre learns one version of events that she accepts but with both a sense of having been told what was best for her to know and a feeling that this version was not the true story.
From a Scottish estate to the wilds of Ontario, Maine captures a world of change, taking us from Scotland, on a sea voyage to the United States in 1893, where the characters visit the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, described in rich and fascinating detail, and then go into the wilds of Canada to inspect, we deduce, an investment of Evelyn's father. This is a fine section, introducing us to a little known area and history for most readers outside of Canada or the USA.
The story that ensues is a sequel, in a sense, to that terrible night on Evelyn's father's estate in Scotland. Strangely, and indeed oddly, it seems that the characters who were at the estate on the night of the murder have come together for a journey up the Nipigon River, in Northern Ontario, 13 years later. We realize that Ballantyne has controlled all of this, with the characters of the past all in close proximity for a trip that will be challenging.
Whilst it is not clear to us just what will happen, we are given plenty of clues so that we are aware that some kind of dramatic event will take place as the tension builds up day by day on that journey. The terrain is described in wonderful detail, the atmosphere of the Nipigon River and the campsites particularly featuring as places of wonder for the European visitors. We read about the way that campsites were positioned near the river, how the fish were caught, and we learn something of the indigenous people of that region. All of this is absolutely captivating.
That the conflict would be resolved is expected, but somehow the resolution is just a little tawdry, and the characters involved in it demeaned by the decisions. Yet in a sense the decisions and actions are consistent with the characterization. Just as we readers might have liked a happy ending, her resolution is consistent with her characterization. Her strengths are in this narrative consistency, in her richly detailed settings, and in her capacity to create a story that is reminiscent of its time, its place and the characters that she has created. This is a fine adult and older adolescent romantic and historical novel.
Elizabeth Bondar




Jun 21 2017

Margherita's recipes for love by Elisabetta Flumeri and Gabriella Giacometti

cover image

Simon and Schuster, 2017. ISBN 9781471162695
(Age: 15+) Well, this is a delicious read, a feast for the senses. The writers almost dare us to not relish or enjoy the food, the convoluted love stories, the solving of issues of love, loyalty and friendship all set in the delightful towns and countryside of Italy. Flumeri and Giacometti have previously written radio programs, novels and a number of screenplays. In this novel, they focus on food and love that are depicted as inextricably linked, choosing an ideal setting that is a feast for all the senses, the adventures mostly taking place in the enticing, glorious green hills, vineyards, old homes of the small towns of Tuscany.
The story has a complexity that is used to build up the requisite tension, and the outcome, while perhaps predictable, is a satisfying one. However, it is not the characters who dominate this food-lovers' novel, but the food itself. Described in richly evocative phrases, food, in its powerful effect on the emotions and behaviour of the characters, is really the star of this story. Food dominates, and is used to create tension, to solve issues, to bring people together, be it for friendship, family issues, business or love. Descriptions of meals are passionately described, and we are persuaded to see how the particularly powerful, sexually arousing effects of dishes that persuade people to like, love, or indeed to disdain, others. Melodramatic it may be, but it is a happy, well-written and quite simply enjoyable book that brings a smile to the face and enjoyment not dissimilar to watching a good cookery program on television.
Elizabeth Bondar




Jun 21 2017

The curious case of the missing mammoth by Ellie Hattie

cover image

Ill. by Karl James Mountford. Little Tiger Press, 2017. ISBN 9781848694484
Bong! Oscar is woken by the town clock striking midnight and strange noises in the street. As he looks out his window he sees a huge, hairy woolly mammoth. Instead of being scared, he is dressed and outside in a flash where Timothy the mammoth explains he is searching for his little brother. Together they continue the search which leads them to the town museum where the door opens a crack to reveal the inhabitants have come alive and are having a party. Continued through the interactivity of gatefolds, lift-the-flaps and speech bubbles the search progresses through the various sections of the museum until... It is certainly the most extraordinary hour of Oscar's life.
Apart from kids' universal curiosity about the mysterious creatures of the past, this is a book that will delight young children as they explore it over and over as it combines so much information as the quest continues. There is so much detail included that there will be something new to explore and learn with every reading. It is certainly an intriguing way to help them discover their world and enjoy having to be part of the action to move the story along.
Barbara Braxton




Jun 21 2017

Bring me the head of Ivy Pocket by Caleb Krisp

cover image

Ill. by John Kelly. Ivy Pocket series; book 3. Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781408858721
(Age: 9+) Highly recommended. Themes: Orphans and orphanages; Jewellery; Ghosts; Supernatural stories; Mystery and suspense stories; Ghosts; England - Social life and customs - 19th century. This is a fabulous conclusion to the Ivy Pocket series, here ghosts are laid to rest, answers to mysteries revealed and lost friends rescued. This feisty protagonist faces dangers head on, relying on her quick thinking, fighting skills, acerbic dialogue and fun disguises to rapidly race through across the country and into an alternate kingdom.
Ivy's final missions are difficult ones; she needs to rescue Anastasia Radcliff and young Rebecca Butterfield from dreadful circumstances. Of course, the evil henchwoman Miss Always and the creepy little Locks are chasing her across country, causing her trouble at every turn.
As Esmeralda Cabbage, Ivy returns to Butterfield Park, scene of a previously disastrous birthday party ready to confront Lady Butterfield, Countess Carbunkle and Estelle Dumbleby. Hidden beneath a secret passage in the ballroom is Anastasia's prison and Ivy is there to assist with her friend's escape. With the concerns about the Clock Diamond not working and her enemies closing in, Ivy's bold antics and her willingness to overstep the boundaries are fun to read. Ivy's exploits in the fantastical world of Prospa are intense as she confronts her nemesis, delves into the mystery of the Shadow and races against time to find the portal back into the real world.
John Kelly's comical drawings display some of Ivy's most intense scenes; the Countess and her headdress of peacock feathers in flames and Ivy's triumphant tea party are highlights.
Calvin Krisp's Bring me the head of Ivy Pocket will delight those readers who have enjoyed the exploits, adventures and quirky character of this fun female protagonist. This series is perfect for a Middle Primary class novel, as the author's humorous narrative is engagingly alliterative, deliciously descriptive and certainly attention grabbing.
Rhyllis Bignell




Jun 21 2017

The Mysterious Mr Jacob : Diamond Merchant, Magician and Spy by John Zubrzycki

cover image

Transit Lounge Publishing, 2017. ISBN 9780995359437
(Age: 16+) This story, claimed by William Dalrymple to be 'one of the most exciting narrative histories to come out of India', is indeed utterly fascinating. Set in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the story is centred on Alexander Malcolm Jacob, who arrived in Bombay in 1865. His parentage is unknown, seemingly because he mostly tended to claim different stories at different stages of his life. It is not a light narrative, its stories often complex and their 'truth' quite often questionable, yet it is, at times, so mysteriously fantastic that it seems as if he could have been a character in a fictional fantasy.
Jacob became well-known in his own world of commerce, in the Indian world of the time, particularly through his diamond-dealing, the stones he sourced often being worth millions. However, he was also known as a great magician, his complex tricks often being challenged as impossible, therefore judged to be real magic, and therefore unacceptable. As there appeared to be many for whom the tricks were too difficult to comprehend, he was ironically criticized for this very complexity, judged to be too close to real magic for the audience, who ranged from the wider European community of expatriates and those from the world of the Middle East, as it was known at the time.
Keeping to the narrative genre, Zubrycki creates a believable and indeed mysterious character whose fabulous wealth and control of his world seem to have been impossible, given his background. Indeed, it is this aspect that was so referred to so often in the work by his critics. His capacity to create apparent magic, the strength of his personality, his persuasive powers, his ability to buy and sell works of art, particularly fabulous jewels, made him renowned across British India, and abroad. He is said to have bought diamonds from Australia, to have had friends in many countries, to have worked impossible sleights of hand that could not be analysed, which added to his mystery, and yet, before he lost his wealth, status and friends, he appears to have been charismatic, mysterious and to have been a consummate magician. He was interviewed by pragmatic journalists, and even these non-believers wrote that there was something unreal about this man's powers.
It would be a suitable book for older adolescents, as an informative and challenging account of an unusual man. However, I would suggest that this is not a book for younger readers because of its subject, its complexity, its literary/historical nature, its references to the real world of the Raj, and India in this historical period (comprehensible with an understanding of India's complex history), and because of the unresolved, and indeed mysterious aspects that are part of its complexity.
Elizabeth Bondar




Jun 20 2017

Julius Zebra: Bundle with the Britons by Gary Northfield

cover image

Julius Zebra series. Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781406373721
(Age: 8+) Ancient Rome. Animal stories. Gladiators. Humorous stories. Champion gladiator Julius Zebra returns in another crazy adventure accompanied by his zany animal friends. Life for the People's Champion should be exciting; everybody loves this zebra, he even signs hoof print autographs in the muddy streets of Rome. Emperor Hadrian has promised Julius his freedom after one last fight at the Colosseum, but the ruler has an alternate plan. Unfortunately, they have one more task to complete, a tournament in distant Britannia. Julius is disappointed as he was set to enjoy his upcoming holibobs, while Felix the warthog wanted to add to his extensive rock collection and Rufus the giraffe planned a relaxing fishing holiday. Instead, they must travel on a stinky sailing ship, far across the seas to an unknown place to fight in another tournament.
Septimus the gladiators' trainer is a hard taskmaster on board; he forces the animals to scrub the decks daily and sleep in hammocks inside the stinky hold. An attempt to dress in chainmail and escape the confines of the ship leads to a hilarious incident that requires the rescue of the crocodile, warthog, giraffe, lion and antelope.
Life in Roman Britain proves fraught with danger, the smelly streets of Londinium treacherous, and their holiday home a hovel near the small amphitheatre. The animals are quirky character drawn together in difficult circumstances, unaware that their opponents are mean fighting machines.
Gary Northfield's hilarious cartoons highlight how Julius and his friends struggle with life in an unknown land, as they prepare to face new combatants in the arena. The animals' irreverent dialogue is sharp, witty and sarcastic. This is another laugh out loud story, with plenty of jokes, gags and puns. These stories combine facts about Ancient Rome life with humorous scenes and silly animal antics.
Rhyllis Bignell




Archived Blog Entries
Latest News
Klaus Flugge Prize shortlist 2017
Branford Boase Award shortlist 2017
Stella Prize 2017
2017 YALSA Teens' Top Ten Nominees

ReadPlus Features
Print similar authors bookmark
Read similar authors
How to find lesson plans
Sample theme animation

Promote Reading
Value of School Libraries
Library, Reading development and the Internet
Free Rights of the Reader Poster