Saturday, January 26, 2013

10 Exciting New Books for Independent Readers

In my last post I reviewed 12 new picture books (HERE) that I wanted to commend. In this post I review new books for more independent readers aged 8 to 12 years.

'Chook Chook: Mei's Secret Pets' by Wai Chim (University of Queensland Press, 2012)

This is a lovely novel for younger readers that tells the story of Mei, a Chinese girl whose father has died. She now lives with her mother and brother. One day she finds two small chickens and tells no-one except her brother. As the chickens grow older it becomes more difficult to maintain the deception and eventually the inevitable happens. Her mother finds the chooks (Australian for chickens!) and eventually they are sold to a frightening man at the markets. Mei is convinced she will never see her chickens again. But she discovers that they are still alive and available for sale, so she sets out to earn enough money to buy them back. A surprising twist at the end leads to an equally surprising resolution.

The author, Wai Chim drew her inspiration from a traditional Cantonese nursery rhyme and the rich memories and stories of her parents growing up in Hong Kong and mainland China, Wai Chim. It is a wonderful story with warmth and joy that takes the reader into the daily lives of a Chinese village, a small family, and the characters and life of a Chinese marketplace. Children aged 6-9 will enjoy reading this excellent novel from a first time author.

'Diary of a Rugby Champ' and 'Diary of a Taekwondo Master' by Shamini Flint & illustrated by Sally Heinrich (Allen & Unwin, 2012)

Children aged 6 to 9 years might already have discovered Shamini Flint's very funny series of diary books. Each is based on the life experiences of Marcus who, while a whiz at maths, is not so great at sport which others (mainly his Dad) seem to think is important. The titles in this series of 100 page illustrated books are easy to read for most newly independent readers, and children seem to find them to be very funny. This new title begins as follows:

Okay - I get it.
I really do.
I'm not a complete idiot.
Sport is dangerous.
Rugby is the latest sport that Dad feels will help to make Marcus the complete kid. As in each of the diaries, Marcus quickly assesses the game and sees at once the problem for him:
Anyway, Dad's lost it. He wants me to play rugby.
Rugby is different to soccer and cricket.
In soccer and cricket, you get hurt by accident.
In rugby, they hurt you on purpose!
On purpose!!
Sally Heinrich's multiple line drawings that feature on every page add to the fun and make the books even more readable. Boys who are reluctant readers will love these books.

You can also read the attempts by Marcus to succeed (or is that survive?) soccer, cricket and taekwondo. All four books in the series are priced at $AUD 9.99

3. 'LOLs Best Jokes for Kids', by June Factor and illustrated by Mic Looby (Allen & Unwin, 2012)

Joke books are a great addition to any collection of books. Children of all ages will pick up a good joke book and read it. And what's just as good, they will involve others in their reading, 'Hey, listen to this one'... This is 110 page book is an excellent collection of Australian jokes brought to us by June Factor, who is an academic and writer who will be known perhaps best for her wonderful series of books she wrote in the late 1970s until the early 1990s based on children's playground rhymes and chants (HERE). Titles like 'Far Out, Brussel Sprout!', 'Unreal, Banana Peel!', 'Out of Sight, Vegemite!' and 'Roll Over, Pavlova' entertained children and adults alike (and still do). This book is just as funny and an entertaining addition to her previous work. Mic Looby's wonderful line drawings also add to the fun and readability of the book. Suitable for children aged 6-10. Boys and girls will love it. It's also available in a Kindle edition (here).

4. 'Kizzy Ann Stamps', by Jeri Watts (Candlewick Press, 2012)

Kizzy is a nine year old living in the 1960s who is about to start school an integrated school for white and African Americans. It is 1963, a year of monumental change in American life as the first key steps are taken to dismantle segregation. Kizzy is not keen to be at the integrated school, as she struggles to be in a place where many still don't want her. The story is told through her letters and journal entries written for her new teacher, who believes in integration and encourages Kizzy. It is a moving story that offers a child's perspective and experience of prejudice, intolerance and discrimination. A challenging book for readers aged 9-12.

5. 'Whirlwind: The Grimstones 3', by Asphyxia (Allen & Unwin, 2012)

This book is the third book in a series of gothic fairy tales that are the work of Australia’s premier Deaf artist, Asphyxia. Asphyxia established her internationally acclaimed performing arts company of the same name in 1999. She is a circus performer who branched out into puppetry and tours Australia presenting theatrical productions where she tells stories 'physically and with sign language'. Asphyxia is supported by a team of creative artists and arts administration professionals. The story is a delightful tale of friendship, family life and responsibility. This is a gothic fairy tale without sinister happenings, dark characters or scary events. It follows 'Hatched: The Grimstones 1' and 'Mortimer Revealed: The Grimstones 2'.

Martha Grimstone has inherited her father's gift for music and can play notes that will bring sunshine, breezes and rain, and send clouds scudding across the sky. But she can't yet turn back a storm. She believes that if she can convince Grandpa Grimstone that she can be trusted to leave the valley, that she might just be able to work this out.  She knows just where she needs to go, but after a disaster with some precious fabric she is in trouble.  Perhaps two angora rabbits that she has named Tillipilli and Ziphwort will help her. But how will she conquer the whirlwind? The 120 page story of Martha's latest adventure is presented in diary form with illustrations based on the puppets and miniature home that Asphyxia has created for her shows. Children aged 7-11 will enjoy this simple and wholesome fantasy. 

6. 'Slog's Dad' by David Almond & illustrated by David McKean (Walker Books, 2012)

This is an unusual book that isn't easily classified. It is a 60 page book that is graphic novel and conventional novel all in one. It deals with the pain of a boy who loses his dad after a terrible battle with disease, that ends with gangrenous parts of his body being progressively removed. First one leg, then another, then arms, then...death. It is a deeply metaphysical short work for readers aged nine to perhaps thirteen. The boy's dad has died, and the boy struggles with his death. We see this in the illustrations that parallel the text ,which could stand alone. In the illustrations we see boy dealing with loss. Slog misses his dad, and then one day, he seems to appear again. But is it his Dad, because he doesn't seem quite the same person?

Slog is convinced that the old scruffy man who sits outside the pork shop is his dad come back to visit him for one last time.  He had said that he'd do this just before he died. But could it really be him? Slog's mate Davie isn't convinced. This is a haunting and intriguing book that leaves the reader wondering, was this Slog's dad? Or is there a simpler explanation. A story of painful loss, a boy's efforts to deal with the horror and the emptiness this causes, and how he seeks to reconcile himself to the reality and finality of death.

7. 'The Adventures of Scarygirl', by Nathan Jurevicius (Allen & Unwin, 2012)

This book is a 200+ page graphic novel based on the cult character Scarygirl made famous by the online comic, game and collectable items of the same name. It is full colour and looks very much like the online world of Scarygirl, without the movement, sound and interactivity. The book has much less to offer the reader without an awareness and experience of the online world. With the online experience, the graphic novel is another entry into the world and adventures of this online character. It is suitable for children 8-12 years in age.

Scarygirl is abandoned on a remote beach and doesn't know who she is or where she's come from. No-one knows who she is and where she comes from. Blister, a kind of intelligent giant octopus, rescues her and tries to keep her safe. But Scarygirl has many dreams that contain scary visions. Who is the strange man haunting her dreams? Will Bunniguru help her unlock the mysteries of her past? Can she trust the wily forest dwellers? She has to leave the safety of Blister's protection and travel over the mountains to a distant city to discover the secrets of her past. Perhaps Dr Maybee's laboratory will offer some answers. Or will his dark forces be the end of her?

8. 'The Grunts in Trouble' by Philip Ardagh and illustrated by Axel Schaffler (Nosy Crow, 2012)

This is the fifth book written by Philip Ardagh about a rather unusual family, the Grunts. It follows 'The Grunts in Trouble', 'The Grunts all at Sea', 'The Grunts on the Run' and 'The Grunts in a Jam'.  Mr and Mrs Grunt are a disgusting and unsavoury couple that live with their son Sunny who they abducted when they saw him pegged on a clothes line.  If you loved Roald Dahl's outrageous exploits with the Twits, then you will enjoy the Grunts. Their 'adopted' son is an odd-looking boy, with his left ear higher than the other (probably from the clothes peg) and spiky hair which never goes flat. This weird and improbable family ends up in numerous equally improbable situations.

9. 'Fair Dinkum War' written and illustrated by David Cox (Allen & Unwin, 2013).

This is a picture book for older readers aged 7 to 12. It is a narrative recount that tells the story of a child and his family who move from a sheep station to the city to live during World War II. This simple narrative tells of the day-to-day challenges and experiences. He watches from the school grounds as American soldiers, tanks and equipment roll by, and he sees men dig zigzag trenches across the school playground for shelter from bombings. He speaks of the challenges of food coupons, blackout curtains, late night air raid sirens, collecting rubber and metal for the war effort, and also the daily experiences of deliveries by horse and cart.

David Cox is a Walkley Award winning illustrator who has had a long career in newspapers. His picture books delight readers of varied ages with their cartoon-like illustrations and descriptive text. This book is a companion to 'The Road to Goonong' (2011) that was named as a Notable Book in the CBCA awards in 2012.

10. 'I am Ivan Crocodile' by Rene Gouichoux and illustrated by Julia Neuhaus. English adaptation by Michael Sedunary from a French book (Berbay Publishing, 2012)

Ivan is a six year old who like many children finds he is not always understood at school. He's different alright, and feels it, but while he's loved at home and defended by his teacher, other children taunt him. The illustrator Julia Neuhaus uses a mix of drawn images and photographic collage to good effect. Real faces stare at Ivan as they jest and make fun of him.

As his fears and frustrations grow and Ivan creates an imaginary crocodile friend, and sees himself as a crocodile too. This is not a simple story about a child with an imaginary friend. Gouichoux invites the reader to consider difference, the way we see it, and how we treat those unlike ourselves. Children who see themselves as square pegs in round holes will relate to this book, as will their parents. With careful and sensitive treatment by primary school teachers significant discussions could be initiated about bullying and difference.

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