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Nov 22 2017

Tintinnabula by Margo Lanagan and Rovina Cai

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Hardie Grant Egmont, 2017. ISBN 9781742975252
(Age: 10+) Recommended. In this picture book for older readers, Margo Lanagan takes a young woman on a journey to Tintinabula in times of stress and distress.
In wild times and in wartime,
in times of fear and illness, I go
to Tintinnabula, where soft rains fall.

Tintinnabula is a story about moving from discomfort to peace,
from violence and uncertainty to a still, sure place.
It reminds us that our best friend in hard times
can often be ourselves.
(Back cover)
The reader is carried along with the young woman in the story as she flees the vision of monsters in a red background. She moves through windswept trees, past ruins and devastated lands until she finally reaches a quiet place where the grass is green and silver rains fall. The term Tintinabula means small tinkling bells and the young woman follows their sound to find that final good place that she needs.
Rovina Cai has produced memorable illustrations which swirl and twirl, brilliantly showing in reds the fear and need of the woman as she tries to find a peaceful spot to rest from the violence that surrounds her. This locale is depicted in greens and pale yellows, and the end paper finally has a glow of brighter yellow, leaving the reader with the notion that things can be brighter.
The idea that people in trouble can find a peaceful place within themselves is one that will resonate with readers and will be a comfort to those who are having problems, be they ones of mental illness or of war and violence. The ideas are complex and the book would be best suited to adults and teens or used by an adult with upper primary children.
Pat Pledger




Nov 20 2017

My magical life by Zach King

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Puffin Books, 2017. ISBN 9780141387574
(Age: 9+) Highly recommended. My magical life is a new series by author Zach King and he also just happens to be the star of the book. Zach is 11 years old and comes from a magical family. The opening pages of the book are like a photo album, showing colourful, cartoon style pictures of the characters you will meet throughout the story. Zach is in year 7 but is homeschooled. He has the chance to attend public school when his parents realise he might not have magic like the rest of his family. They hope a change of scenery might help Zach find his special magic object and then his magic.
When a magic trick at school brings Zach to the forefront of popularity, his path crosses mean girl Tricia. Zach doesn't even know how he did it but it is all over social media. Thankfully, Zach makes quick friends with Aaron and together they try and use Zach's magic to become more popular. When Zach discovers two caps that help him channel his magic, hilarious moments and detentions occur. Can Zach get back at Tricia and teach her a lesson? What does a locker full of chocolate pudding and an alligator in the principal's office got to do with it all?
My magical life is an excellent mix of drama and comedy. It is a novel with comic style images and readers will related to Zach's issues and life at school. They will get a laugh out of Zach's antics and the text will engage readers throughout the story. Zach is a great role model for children - a bit naughty, a good son, a good friend and all about being supportive to everyone. My magical life is highly recommended for boys aged 9+ but will be enjoyed by all readers.
Kylie Kempster




Nov 20 2017

Undercover princess by Connie Glynn

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Rosewood Chronicles book 1. Penguin, 2017. ISBN 9780141387567
(Age: 11-14) Themes: Fantasy. Boarding school. Princesses. Connie Glynn's debut novel Undercover princess takes inspiration from her love of Disney princesses and their stories. She shares this on her popular Noodlerella vlog and YouTube channel. This fantasy adventure story uses recognisable Young Adult literary tropes, well-known character types and settings, typical plot points and twists, and the prescient struggle of good and evil. Her familiar settings include an elite boarding school with its secret magical qualities and the old bakery where the orphan protagonist lives with her uncaring stepmother. Of course, there is a defiant princess from the magical kingdom of Maradova, who rebels against her royal destiny allowing Lottie to fulfil her dream of being a princess.
Lottie Pumpkin has studied incredibly hard to win a bursary to prestigious Rosewood Hall in spite of her difficult home life. Before her death, Lottie's mother has instilled in her a sense of self worth, with the mantra "I will be kind, I will be brave, I will be unstoppable." Meanwhile Princess Eleanor (Ellie) Wolfson of Maradova, finally has been allowed to leave her own country and attend the same school, in fact she is Lottie's roommate. Following a huge mix-up, Lottie takes on her royal role allowing Ellie to enjoy a normal life. There are the familiar highs and low of school life, friendships, bullying, secret messages to solve, as well as a quick trip to Maradova for Lottie to take on the role of portman, or undercover princess.
The text ranges from simplistic to extremely expressive, while the characters need more depth and back-story. Several scenes are somewhat confronting and more suited to a teen audience. This novel is the first in the Rosewood Chronicles series written for young teen fans that enjoy the fantasy genre.
Rhyllis Bignell




Nov 20 2017

Zombie's Birthday Apocalypse by Zack Zombie

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Diary of a Minecraft Zombie book 9. Scholastic, 2017. ISBN 9781743818350
(Age: 7-9) Themes: Zombies, Friendship, Birthdays. The popular fan fiction series continues with Zack Zombie's preparations for his epic thirteenth birthday party. His birthday falls on Halloween making it an extra special celebration. With his plans to host a Larry Snotter party, Zombie realises that he needs to find a job to finance his expensive costume. On Tuesday when he tries to find his human friend Steve to discuss his party, he has disappeared. As he checks out the nearby woods, Zack observes a strange occurrence amongst the other villagers who are walking around with large pumpkin heads.
With his neighbourhood preparing scary Halloween decorations in their front yard, Zack helps Old Man Jenkins with his old Zombie horse. Mr Jenkins' old bones keep falling apart and he offers him a job grooming the horse. With a competition for the scariest costume at school, talk of a Zombie Apocalypse, the mob villagers disappearing and trying to organise his birthday party, Zack is keeps busy. The final scenes of saving the mob of pumpkin head villagers using the school oval sprinklers and Ursula the Witch's potion prove exciting for Zack and his friends.
Zombie's Birthday Apocalypse is a fun junior novel, packed full of familiar characters, Minecraft images and the strange lives of Zack, his family and friends. Humour, grossness, body jokes and plenty of Minecraft activities are just right for the fans of this popular series.
Rhyllis Bignell




Nov 17 2017

Cinderella by Jane Ray

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Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781406377842
(Age: 4+) Recommended. Diorama, Theatre, Classic tale, Fairytale. A three dimensional representation of the classic tale of Cinderella is offered within the covers of this book in six pop up dioramas. Each double page presents a scene from the fairy tale, with side flaps giving the story, and the central offering a diorama of the action presented in the text. In the first diorama, we hear of Cinderella and her two lazy stepsisters. We see Cinderella sweeping in the kitchen while her stepmother and stepsisters lounge about, in an adjacent room preening, drinking tea and eating cake. They are magnificently dressed, whereas Cinderella is dirty and disheveled. The page is cut out so that the action stands out from the background. Through the cut out foreground we can see into the garden beyond.
Each double page is full of interest, and children will read the text eagerly looking at the picture presented, searching out the details of the story.
The book is subtitled, A Three-dimensional Fairy-tale Theatre, and the side flaps are like curtains opening on the scene presented, making the viewer's eyes focus on the opening of the stage curtain and what is then revealed.
A different outing for the classic tale will be eagerly used by young careful readers.
Fran Knight




Nov 15 2017

The poesy ring: a love story by Bob Graham

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Walker Books, 2017. ISBN 9781406378276
(Age: 5+) Highly recommended. Themes: Love. Marriage. Artifacts. Historical evidence. The journey of a poesy ring given to a beloved in times long ago is full of significance as it is lost and then found nearly two centuries later, meaning the same thing for the couple today as it once did for the couple that lost it. A whole story can be evoked from the opening pages watching a young Irish woman gallop away from the sea, a tall ship disappearing into the distance. It is 1830 and she has thrown the ring away. It falls to the ground, spending time with the small animals and grasses that grow around it. An acorn that falls nearby grows into a huge tree before a deer finds the ring lodged in its hoof. The ring falls into a meadow, and when the farmer tills his soil, a bird picks it up. From there is falls into the sea only to be retrieved from a fishing net and sold. By now it is 1967, and a couple busking in the New York underground, take their earnings to a gold shop where they buy the ring and walk home together in the snow.
The ring has come full circle, finding a finger on which it can sit symbolising the love between two people.
This touching story of love, dedicated to Graham's partner of fifty years, Carolyn, will endear itself to all readers, showcasing the endurance and tenacity of love and its symbols. The inscription inside the ring, Love never dies, resonates through the story as the ring, buffeted by the passing seasons is eventually found in a shop in New York, bringing a small tear to the eye of all who read it.
Graham's soft watercolour illustrations show time passing from tall ships, then wartime destroyers and later a fishing trawler, while a man turns the soil with his plough, reaping the crop with a scythe, the images moving on to the escalator in the underground and the shops in the streets of New York. This book lovingly shows the passing of time and the enduring power of the little ring, lost and now found, a circle of love for a new generation. Younger readers will have a great time seeking the smaller pictures on each page, reflecting the passing of time, while older readers will ponder the timelessness of the gold ring and all that it implies. Graham successfully inhabits his books with the small things of life, the wonderful image of the ploughing man and his horses, the boots of the fisherman, the tattoo on Sonny's hand, the children giving money to the buskers. His books give a feeling of solidity, of family, of community and continuity, and no more so than here, with the ring coming full circle, to the hand of a woman in New York.
A wonderful interview of Bob Graham by Jason Steger of the Sydney Morning Herald can be found here.
Fran Knight




Nov 15 2017

On the free by Coert Voorhees

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Carolrhoda Lab, 2017. ISBN 9781512429138
(Age: 15+) Themes: Survival. Disasters. Resilience. Santiago has elected to undertake the Bear Canyon Wilderness Therapy Programme in the Colorado mountains as a diversion from the juvenile justice system. A small party supervised by two counsellors sets off on a demanding trek designed to encourage the attendees to evaluate their lives and take responsibility for the future. Santi's character is brilliantly depicted. He's a good kid who has made a couple of poor decisions which lead to serious consequences. I found myself nodding at the entirely realistic portrayal of a lad lacking parental guidance whose ethnicity and socio-economic background limit his opportunities. When drug offences lead to criminal bad company and a custodial sentence, I groaned, not just because Santi's choices were so obviously flawed, but because this is daily reality for so many young people.
It was also refreshing to see the Wilderness Programme presented as a well-intentioned but slightly delusional attempt to help troubled youths who treated it with some derision. This was partly due to their adolescent cynicism and posturing but also because its organisation and staffing were imperfect.
Victor is another trekker and is a thoroughly unpleasant character who enjoys inflicting discomfort and humiliation on his fellows. Again, the revelation of his past steers the reader to understand and feel compassion for a young man whose future could have been so much happier and more fulfilling.
The interaction and tension between Santi and Victor and other party members is realistically portrayed and a natural disaster which leads the pair to fight for life in the company of Amelia, one of the camp counsellors is entirely plausible.
This is a good survival story which could have been brilliant. The crafting of characters, setting and events in the context of wilderness adventure created a fast-paced and satisfying read which unfortunately lost its way a little after the disaster. The inclusion of another aspect seemed contrived and unnecessary, cluttering a story which was developing nicely on its own.
This is still a worthy read and I know it will appeal to those who enjoy survival stories where individuals have to use skill and resilience to overcome significant physical and mental challenges.
I'd suggest this suits readers 15+ and the text contains some profanity which achieves a nice balance in presenting realistic teenage dialogue which the readership will identify with, but which is not particularly offensive or gratuitous.
Rob Welsh




Nov 15 2017

Little Shaq: Star of the week by Shaquille O'Neal

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Ill. by Theodore Taylor III. Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781619638822
(Age: 6+) "Little Shaq has always wanted his own kitten, but his parents aren't sure he's responsible enough. When Little Shaq is chosen as his class's Star of the Week, he knows that this is his moment to shine, to prove to his parents that they can count on him. Will Little Shaq be able to show he's ready for his very own pet?" (Publisher)
Written by Shaquille O'Neale and illustrated in colour by Theodore Taylor III, the Little Shaq story is sure to turn into a popular series with young sports enthusiasts. This will fit nicely into the 'quick reads' section as it is set out like a chapter book and will not take the reader long at all to complete. The relatively large text with illustrations interspersed will act as a confidence builder for children striving to read the 'chapter book'.
The book celebrates family, friends and community and the simple language used is tailor-made to the target audience. Not only can Shaquille play basketball, I think he has also hit the nail on the head with this book. Suitable for students aged 6 and up.
Kathryn Schumacher




Nov 14 2017

The untold story of Father Christmas by Alison and Mike Battle

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Ill. by Lauren A. Mills. Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781408892343
"In olden times, when magic still filled the air, there lived a master toymaker and his wife . . ."
So begins this delightful retelling of the story of Father Christmas, beautifully illustrated and set in a land of deep forests, elves and magic.
The kindly toymaker and his wife discover that if you keep your heart full of love and wonder, dreams really do come true . . . .
Who doesn't love a traditional story at Christmas time? A beautifully illustrated and timeless story about how a toymaker and his wife became Mother and Father Christmas for children all over the world. The toy maker is a kind character, always seeing the best in situations, except for one thing - they did not have their own child. With similarities to The Elves and The Shoemaker, the old couple set about making toys for the children in their village. This is a truly beautifully written story that displays the true meaning of Christmas and the act of giving. It would be fantastic to talk to students about being selfless and what one can gain from displaying this quality. I can see the children shouting out 'it's Father Christmas' as I am reading the story as he is described as a toy maker throughout the book and not referred to as this until the very last page in the book. I am a sucker for a traditional story using traditional colours in the illustrations and this did not disappoint me. A welcome addition to the collection of Christmas books.
Kathryn Schumacher




Nov 03 2017

One Christmas wish by Katherine Rundell

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Ill. by Emily Sutton. Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781408885734
(Age:7+) Highly recommended. Themes: Christmas, Loneliness, Sharing, Decorations, Friends, Family. A modern fable, this story tells of a young boy's wish at Christmas and how his wish is fulfilled when he sees a star falling across the night sky.
It is Christmas Eve and he has been left with a new babysitter who falls asleep over her mobile phone in the kitchen. He takes the decorations from the strongly sellotaped box to hang on the tree, and is dismayed all over again that his parents have not replaced the broken ones. He attaches the damaged baubles and finds four more decorations at the bottom of the box: a toy soldier with a rusty drum, a fairy with damaged wings, a wooden horse on worm eaten rockers and a a bedraggled robin.
After he wishes on the falling star, he hears voices behind him and is amazed to see the four decorations asking for help to come down from the tree. From there the excitement of Christmas Eve, making friends and sharing with others takes on a reality of heartfelt proportions as Theo finds ways of making his friends happy. The horse is unscrewed from its rockers, and the robin helped to find someone who will teach it to sing as the five make their way to Mrs Goodyere's house. The robin stays to help her celebrate Christmas, remembering her dead husband, Arthur while she helps the robin sing. They find feathers along the way to repair the fairy's wings, and the tin soldier asks for help in finding someone to love. Theo cleans up his drum, and they head to the doll shop where they find a princess waiting for him. He leaves them guarding the infant in the manger in the town square while the horse makes its way into the sky. When Theo returns home, some magic happens for him as well when his parents return sooner than everyone expected after seeing a horse flying through the night sky and making them feel that they should return home to be with their family.
The warmth of the story is reflected in the detailed illustrations, reminiscent of books from long ago, with lots of Christmasy customs and images to pour over. Readers of all ages will get a thrill reading this lovely witty story and stopping to soak up the marvelous illustrations.
Fran Knight




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