Friday, November 6, 2015

New Titles for Young Independent & Reluctant Readers Aged 6-12

I'm always looking for good literature that children who can read independently will find engaging. Lots of books come across my desk for review and here are eleven that caught my interest. I have arranged them in rough age order so that the first books are the easiest (children 6-8 years) and the latter books best for children 10-12 years.

1. 'Lilly the Elf' by Anna Branford and illustrated by Lisa Coutts (Walker Books)

Anna Branford emerged as a writer of excellent fiction for younger readers in the last five years and writes enjoyable page-turning books mainly (but not exclusively) for girls. There are now four books in this little 'Elf' series, I have seen just two at this stage. The books are centred on the main character that is a little elf who faces varied situations and challenges. The books are meant for very young independent readers who want to step up from picture books to something that 'looks' like a novel and is more challenging. The texts are very simple with between 20 and 30 words per page of large type and simple (but delightful) black and white line and wash drawings.

'The Elf Flute' tells how little Lily receives a surprise package with a silver flute one day from an aunt. But the flute proves more difficult to pay than she thought and emits only whiffles, not sweet sounds. Will she ever make it to the special concert?

'The Wishing Seed' tells how one day Lily (who lives in a tiny house under a bridge) has an encounter with a dandelion seed. She lets the dandelion drift away on the wind and makes a wish. But will her wish come true?

The books are engaging and will be a good source of reading material for children who can read alone at the grade 2 level.

Walker has also published 'The Midnight Owl' and 'The Precious Ring' in the series.

2. 'The Cleo Stories' by Libby Gleeson & illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Allen & Unwin)

Libby Gleeson is one of Australia's finest children's authors and Freya Blackwood one of our best and most successful illustrators. This is a wonderful collection of stories about Cleo a little girl with a giant imagination and curiosity. She is a wonderful character that five to six-year-old emerging readers will love. The situations and characters will be well known to these young readers. The stories cover friendship, life's frustrations and patience when waiting for special times, giving and receiving, being accepted.

Freya Blackwood beautifully illustrates the book with her characteristic watercolour images. All in all, it is a wonderful book for 'first' readers. The book was the winner in the Younger Readers category of the 2015 CBC Australia Book of the Year Awards.

3. 'Roses are Blue' by Sally Murphy and illustrated by Gabriel Evans (Walker Books)

Sally Murphy is a highly awarded and acclaimed Australian author who has written many fine books. She is a master of the verse novel that has characterised many of her works, the most successful perhaps being 'Pearl Verses the World' and 'Toppling'.

This is another wonderful book for younger readers (aged 7-9 years). Amber Rose and her family are dealing with tragedy and much change. Amber Rose struggles to accept that her wonderful Mum has gone, and while she loves her new mother, she misses her old mum. A beautiful touching book.

4. 'Kitten Kaboodle - Mission Two: The Lightning Opal' by Eileen O'Hely & illustrated by Heath McKenzie (Walker Books)

This is the second book in the 'Kitten Kaboodle' series.

Kitten Kaboodle is not just a cat, he is a detective! In fact, he is a very surprising cat; even his collar can freeze a dog at twenty paces. Kitten Kaboodle is the number one secret agent at CAT - the Clandestine Activity Taskforce. When the Disaster Organisation Group (DOG) sends an opal-chipped robot to find Kitten Kaboodle, he leads the canines to CAT Headquarters, and then all the way to Lightning Ridge. Can Kitten Kaboodle stop DOG from using the opalised dinosaur skeleton that lies beneath the desert sand?

The simple comic-like illustrations add to the fun of the text in these simple books of about 130 pages with large print and no more than 150 words per page. They are an easy read for readers aged 7-9 years. Younger boys will love the action and fun.

Children will also enjoy 'Mission 1: The Catier Emerald'

5. 'Diary of a Golf Pro' & 'Diary of a Basketball Hero' by Shamini Flint & illustrated by Sally Heinrich (Allen & Unwin)

Shamini Flint has been producing a number of these funny books (up to nine now) that appeal to that desire within most young boys and girls to become a great sporting stars. She covers varied sports including Taekwondo, Rugby, Cricket, Track & Field, Soccer and more.

In Diary of a Golf Pro, Marcus who is a maths whiz and not good at sport, tries valiantly to convince his far too persistent father that he does not want to play golf. Poor Marcus and his Dad end up in a match play event with hilarious results and a surprising ending. These are fun books that are a light and enjoyable read for children aged 6-8 years. The line drawings from Sally Heinrich make a great contribution to these amusing books. Tentative and reluctant boy readers will enjoy them.  

6. 'Ten' by Shamini Flint (Allen & Unwin)

Shamini Flint is in her own words "an ex-lawyer and stay-at-home mum who is determined to change the world through writing!" She has a good instinct for what young somewhat reluctant readers want in a book. Her Asian heritage and experience shine through in this book set in her native Malaysia.

Ten-year-old Maya lives for soccer. But no one in her small seaside town in Malaysia shares her obsession: her brother prefers hockey, the girls at school think it's a boys' game, and her grandmother just wants her to be a 'good Indian girl', even though with pale skin and an English father she's already a disappointment. Maya has other problems too. Her parents are constantly arguing, the new girl at school is getting everyone in trouble, and, worst of all, Brazil has just lost the World Cup. But Maya is determined that none of this will stop her from becoming a professional soccer player - the only problem is she's never even kicked a ball.

This is another fresh and authentic tale that grapples with intersection of sport, parental aspirations and children's efforts to he their own person, in spite of what others want or expect.

7. 'Tashi and the Wicked Magician and other stories' by Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg & illustrated by Geoff Kelly & Kim Gamble (Allen & Unwin)

Tashi is bold and clever, and tells the best stories ever! There's a Magnificent Magician with a greedy plan, a haunted house about to go up in flames, ruthless ruffians after a rare orchid, and a quest for the bravest person in the land to face the fire-breathing Red Whiskered Dragon.

This is another delightful book in the series of Tashi books that span a number of years. This latest offering is beautifully designed. My review copy was in hard cover and is a delight. It has 90 pages that are interspersed with beautiful illustrations. The stories are engaging and fresh.

Tashi and his friend Jack set out on four fabulous adventures of mystery and magic. Tashi tells tales of courage and daring when faced with a magician with a greedy plan, a haunted house that is about to go up in flames, ruthless ruffians after a rare orchid, and a quest for the bravest person in the land to face the fire-breathing Red Whiskered Dragon.

8. 'Cartboy Goes to Camp' by L.A. Campbell (Allen & Unwin)

This is a sequel to 'Cartboy and the Time Capsule' and the hapless Hal Rifkind (a.k.a. Cartboy) is off to summer camp. But this is a camp with a difference. This is a history camp where you churn butter, get to plant maize, get your own water from a local stream and can be punished for not doing chores! Hal's hillarious journal is filled with drawings, timelines and photos of this 'special' adventure to a camp where nothing has changed for 400 years. It's a very funny book that readers aged 8-10 will love.

9. 'The Ravenous Gown and 14 More Tales about real beauty' by Steffani Raff (Exisle Publishing)

In a day when princesses have been boiled down to beautiful ball gowns comes a new kind of fairy tale. Fall under the spell of a “Once upon a time…” where beauty is bigger than a reflection, where wisdom makes girls extraordinary, and where curses are broken through the strength and character of unlikely heroines. A magnificent collection of short stories written in fairy tale prose The Ravenous Gown captures the essence of a stronger, smarter princess – the kind that actually lives happily ever after.

This is a wonderful and funny book that intelligent young girls (in particular) will love. It is a collection of 'twisted' new fairy tales. Twisted in the sense that they don't follow the expected plot, or dish up the same 'unreal' characters. All that you have come to expect is turned on its head. Here is a sample in the first story from which the collection takes its name. A princess finds herself in the scullery of a castle in a mess and a fairy godmother comes to her rescue. The princess exclaims:

"I didn't think you actually existed. I thought you were just some convenient literary device used in fairy tales to grant wishes to deserving princesses who found themselves in need."

Each tale has more than a few twists and turns. You will find magic mirrors, dragons, a princess who could fly, a crystal castle and more.

Wonderful stuff!!

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