Monday, November 7, 2011

Children's Book Reviews - Nov 2011

This is another of my regular posts on recently released books that have been sent to me for review. The titles in this post are all from British and Australian publishers Walker Books, Bloomsbury and Allen & Unwin.

1. Picture Books (0-6 years)

'All the Way to WA: Our Search for Uncle Kev' Roland Harvey (Allen & Unwin)

Roland Harvey is one of Australia's best-loved illustrators. This new book is a companion to its wonderful predecessor, 'To the Top End' that was shortlisted in the 2011 CBCA Children's Book Awards. The book takes the reader on a journey across the vast territory of Western Australia.  It is written as a travel log in narrative form. From Kalgoorlie to the Bungle Bungles it will take the reader, amusing, informing and captivating them along the way. Uncle Kev, a former professor of hydraulics is reported missing on a mission to find the fabled Bearded Night Parrot. We travel along as we find the clues to the Bearded Night Parrot, and hopefully Uncle Kev. The first single dropping from the 'extinct' parrot, a cooking pot and the remains of scorpion curry... and so it continues. There is no better way to traverse WA than with the wonderfully detailed images and amusing narrative, woven into the journey across this wonderful part of Australia. Highly recommended. RRP is $AUS 24.99 with an eBook version available.

'The Scariest Thing of All' Debi Gliori (Bloomsbury)

A little rabbit named Pip has lots of fears.  He was scared of "all the usual things...some unusual ones...and some that were just plain weird". There were tree stumps that he was sure were a giant wood troll, bubbles in a pond that he was sure were caused by a gobbler and so on. He kept adding his new daily fears to his list and, it was enormous. How could he overcome these fears?  No-one seemed able to help him. Then one day, when things can't get any worse, he flees into the dark woods to escape an unexplained noise, and has to face up to all his fears at once. This delightful book with intricate images of animals and landscapes, all vividly coloured and filled with amazing detail, will keep young children coming back for one more read. RRP $AUS 16.95

'Bilby Secrets' Edel Wignel, illustrated by Mark Jackson (Walker Books)

This is delightful non-fiction picture book that teaches us in narrative form about the life of the wonderful bilby, an Australian marsupial. It traces the events of a typical day for mother and baby, and the perils of native and feral animals as the baby Bilby tries to survive life in the Australian landscape. Edel Wignel's story keeps the reader interested, while Mark Jackson's brightly coloured illustrations add drama and detail to this piece of discovery learning in narrative form. Children aged 2-6 will love this book. It is also a great book for classroom-based units and learning.  RRP $AUS 29.95

2. Younger Readers (6-9 years)

'Neville No-Phone' Anna Branford, illustrated by Kat Chadwick (Walker Books)

Neville is the only kid in his whole class without a mobile phone. Well, that's what he says to his parents as he tries to persuade them to buy him one. Neville enlists the help of his mate, Enzo. Surely, they can work out how to get Neville a phone. They are determined to achieve the goal, and an opportunity comes in an unexpected way.  But it brings with it equally unexpected consequences. Will Neville sort this out?  This is a funny short novel for young readers. Ideal for boys and girls aged 7-9 who have just entered the truly independent stage of reading and are beginning to devour lots of books. RRP $AUS 15.95

'Note on the Door and Other Poems About Family Life' by Lorraine Marwood (Walker Books)
This is an excellent collection of poems about children's lives. The poems are arranged in a number of categories, including family, holidays, school and play. The poetry is deceptively simple, but it is engaging and relevant to children's lives. Whether it's the funny 'There are many lingoes in my house' that is based on over-hearing the repetitive patterns of family members' conversation on the telephone, or the more serious 'Cat Burial', children will be able to connect these poems to the events of their own lives. It is a well designed book with a mix of text, image and lots of white paper. The latter is essential for children not accustomed to reading poetry. This would be a great first book of poetry for any child aged 6-9 or a lovely book to read with and to children of younger ages.

3. Independent Readers (10-13 years)

'The Truth About Verity Sparks' by Susan Green (Walker Books)

Verity Sparks is unusual girl.  She has almost perfect memory and is good at finding lost things. But when she goes to live with an unusual family she finds that there is mystery in her past.  Verity is a thirteen-year-old orphan who works as a milliner in Victorian London. When she is wrongly accused of theft and dismissed from her job, she goes to live with the Plushes, who run a Confidential Inquiry Agency. Verity helps them solve cases and slowly becomes one of the family. But her own past begins to reveal itself to her. Who were her real parents? Is she the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter? Who is sending poison pen letters about Verity to the Plushes? Who doesn’t want them to learn the truth about Verity Sparks? This is an adventure/mystery with a dash of the supernatural thrown in which most 10-13 year olds will enjoy. 

'The Sleeping Army' by Francesca Simon (Allen & Unwin)

Francesca Simon is well known for her very popular 'Horrid Henry' series. Its main character is Freya who lives in Britain and finds herself in another time and place. And these are unusual times when people still worship the Viking gods. Her life has also been disrupted by her parents' divorce. It begins when one night she is with her father on his night shift at the British Museum. As she views the exhibits one by one, she is unable to resist the urge to blow a ceremonial horn from a Viking tribe - Heimdall's Horn. She does so, and in the chaos that follows she finds that her world has changed. She has woken three chess pieces from a state of enchantment - the slaves Roskva, Alfi, and Snot the Berserk. All are summoned to Asgard, land of the Viking gods, and they are sent on a perilous journey. Their mission is to restore the gods to youth.  This is a rollicking tale that children 9-12 years will enjoy. RRP $AUS 22.99

'On Orchard Road' by Elsbeth Edgar 

Jane’s world has been turned upside down. She has a brand-new sister, and her family has moved to a small town, leaving behind everything she knows. But friendship can emerge in unusual places. A mysterious older lady, a curious boy and an amazing garden prove her wrong. This is story about mystery, romance, friendship and hope. The book deals with many themes, including loneliness, friendship, bullying and, the ability to cope with change in your life. It is novel that girls aged 10-13 will enjoy.  RRP $AUS 16.95

'Darius Bell and the Crystal Bees' by Odo Hirsch

This is another wonderful book from Australian Odo Hirsch (who now lives in London). It is the sequel to 'Darius Bell and the Glitter Pool', which won the 2010 CBCA Children's Book of the Year award.  In this story, Darius and his friends solve a new problem, the mysterious disappearance of some bees. Curiously, the bees on the Bell estate are dying. There will be many consequences, the most serious of which is that Mr Fisher the gardener and his family, will have to leave the estate. Darius Bell knows that something must be done. This is a story with lots of fun and humour, mystery and problem solving. Children aged 10-13 will love this book.  RRP $AUS 15.99.

'The Coming of the Whirlpool' by Andrew McGahan

Andrew McGahan is well known as an author of adult fiction.  This is his first novel for young adults and is part of a new series called 'Ship Kings'. Dow Amber is not a sailor, but he is driven by a strange urge to head for the sea. He is drawn to the great grim bay known as the Claw. He hopes to learn there about sailing, but he finds only a fearful people who scarcely dare sail at all. They have been cursed by a monstrous whirlpool that haunts the bay, stealing away their sons.

One day, the rulers of the entire world - the proud and cruel Ship Kings - arrive in the Claw. Their fine, tall ships fascinate Dow, as does a mysterious girl who lives aboard their flagship. This is a dangerous attraction. The question is, does his future somehow lie with the Ship Kings? Or will he be called upon to descend to his death, when the terrible whirlpool rises once more? Older readers 12-15 will enjoy this book of fantasy and adventure. RRP $AUS 22.99

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