Thursday, May 29, 2014

10 Great New Books for Children Aged 7-14 Years

1. 'Crooked Leg Road' by Jennifer Walsh (Allen & Unwin)

Whispered secrets, a missing boy, a hidden shack and a mysterious family ... the stage is set for another exciting, real-life adventure from the author of 'The Tunnels of Tarcoola'. 

It's the end of a long, hot summer, and mystery is the last thing on the minds of friends Kitty, David, Andrea and Martin. Then Andrea spots a strange van parked behind David's house, and a few days later, he disappears. Kitty is convinced he's been kidnapped - and that the secretive new boy has something to do with it - but David's family say he's safe. Only why won't they say where he's gone?

The friends don't know it, but they've stumbled on a sinister plot involving a criminal gang, a planned kidnap, and a school event that could go very, very wrong. This is an excellent and gripping tale that children aged 10-13 will enjoy.

2. 'Alexander Altman A10567' by Suzy Zail (Black Dog Books)

Alexander is a fourteen-year-old Jewish boy who has been sent to Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII. Here like others he must learn to trust others in order to survive. Like many Holocaust novels it is based on a true story. Like other Jewish people captured and imprisoned by the Nazis, Alexander's identity is taken from him and a number tattooed on his arm that he knows by heart - A10567. He knows that to survive Auschwitz, he has to be tough and at first trust no-one. But when he is given the job of breaking in the commander's new horse, he sees that their survival is linked to the survival of the soldiers' horses. Alexander sees the fear in the animals and seeks their trust. If he wins their trust he might just survive. 

This is a beautifully written and challenging story from an emerging writer that children aged 11 to 14 years will enjoy. Suzy Zail was previously a litigation lawyer, but now she writes full time. Her first novel for young adults, 'The Wrong Boy', was short-listed for the 2013 Children's Book Council of Australia Book of the Year Award in the Older Readers category.

3. 'No Stars to Wish On' by Zana Fraillon (Allen & Unwin)

A little boy's spirit shines amid some dark truths in this tender and memorable novel about being taken from home and put in an orphanage.

This is a fictional story that draws on knowledge of the experiences of institutionalized children; often called 'Australia’s Forgotten Generations'. Jack is a positive boy who is deaf and reads lips. In spite of his disability he remains optimistic about his possible return to his family. Like the other children in orphanages of the time, he has been taken due to the lack of care he had received at home. The Nuns who run the institution where Jack lives offer them a tough life where punishment is common.

There are many interesting characters in the novel, no doubt based on the experience of children in care. We meet Samson who was sent there by his mother, and Charlie who works in the laundry where he is regularly burnt by the copper used to heat water and clothes. Some children are even used for medical experiments. The work in the kitchen is hard and injury is common.  Jack's job is to clean the 'holes' where children were detained for additional punishment. This is a well-written book that tells an important story. It will be difficult to read for many but it is an important book that will help many to understand what once happened to orphaned and neglected children and the need to guard against such abuses in the future. The book will challenge children aged 10 to 13 years.

 Zana Fraillon was born in Melbourne, but spent her early childhood in San Francisco. She now lives once more in Melbourne with her family.

4. 'The Billy That Died With Its Boots On: And Other Australian Verse' by Stephen Whiteside (Walker Books)

I tend to be hard to please when it comes to collections of short verse for children. There are so many already that it is hard to find something new. Stephen Whiteside has managed to put together a collection of very funny and original work. I've tested the work with some of my grandchildren and they agree, there is some funny stuff here. Like 'I'd Like a Pet Brontosaurus', 'The Dragon at the Chookhouse' and the poem that gave us the book title 'The Billy That Died With Its Boots On'. As you can see, there is a decidedly Aussie slant to this collection, but children from other countries will enjoy finding out what a 'billy' and a 'chook' are, the story of Simpson and his donkey, and much more. There is some wonderful read aloud material here that any teacher of children aged 7-12 would love to have and share.

Stephen Whiteside's collection is aided by the delightful black and white paper cut illustrations by Lauren Merrick (a new illustrator). He is an acclaimed Aussie poet who has been writing rhyming verse for over thirty years. His work has been highly acclaimed, including being awarded the Children's Poem of the Year in the 2013 Australian Bush Laureate Awards.

5. 'A Very Unusual Pursuit' by Catherine Jinks (Allen & Unwin)

'A Very Unusual Pursuit' is the first instalment in what should be a wonderful new fantasy series (the 'City of Orphans' trilogy).  It is set in Victorian London, where squalour sat alongside splendour. Where the houses of the rich were not always that far from the houses of the poor, open sewers, a seedy underworld and of course, the gruesome and frightening 'bogles'.

Monsters have been infesting London's dark places for centuries, eating every child who gets too close. That's why ten-year-old Birdie McAdam works for Alfred Bunce, the bogler. With her beautiful voice and dainty looks, Birdie is the bait that draws bogles from their lairs so that Alfred can kill them. 

One life-changing day, Alfred and Birdie are approached by two very different women. Sarah Pickles runs a local gang of pickpockets, three of whom have disappeared. Edith Eames is an educated lady who's studying the mythical beasts of English folklore. Both of them threaten the only life Birdie's ever known. But Birdie soon realises she needs Miss Eames's help, to save her master, defeat Sarah Pickles, and vanquish an altogether nastier villain. Catherine Jinks, one of Australia's most inventive writers, has created a fast-paced and enthralling adventure story with edge-of-your-seat excitement and chills.

The book is also available in the USA with the title 'How to Catch a Bogle'. Readers aged 11-14 will enjoy this engaging fantasy. It has been shortlisted in the Children's Book Council Australia Awards for 2014.

6. 'Song For A Scarlet Runner' by Julie Hunt (Allen & Unwin)

This fantasy adventure is the story of a young girl who is on the run for her life after bringing bad luck to her village. It is a tale of loyalty, survival and the search for freedom and will be enjoyed by readers aged 10-12 years.

Peat is on the run - forced to flee for her life when she's blamed for bringing bad luck to her village. She heads for the endless marshes, where she's caught by an old healer-woman who makes Peat her apprentice and teaches her the skill of storytelling.

But a story can be a dangerous thing. It can take you out of one world and leave you stranded in another - and Peat finds herself trapped in an eerie place beyond the Silver River where time stands still. Her only friends are a 900-year-old boy and his ghost hound, plus a small and slippery sleek - a cunning creature that might sink his teeth into your leg one minute, and save your life the next.

The book has been shortlisted in the Children's Book Council Australia Awards for 2014, as well in the inaugural 'Readings Children's Book Prize, 2014' and the 'Aurealis Awards, 2013'.

7. 'Maxx Rumble Soccer: Knockout' by Michael Wagner and illustrated by Terry Denton (Walker Books)

'Knockout' is the latest of Michael Wagner's funny books written for sports crazy boys aged 8-10 years. The soccer series sits alongside a set of nine Australian Rules books and eight cricket books. In this soccer series there are three books to date. In them you can follow Maxx, Rexx and the Stone Valley Saints through a tough season of soccer mayhem. The series is illustrated by brilliant and popular Australian illustrator Terry Denton.

"Don't worry, Rexxy," I said. "The Giants just THINK they're smart. I bet they're even dumber than us!" "IMPOSSIBLE!" said Rexxy. Eight teams. Three weeks. One winner! That's the Soccer Knockout competition. And the Saints want to be that winner. But before they even reach the second round, they must beat a team of total geniuses!

8. 'The Simple Things' by Bill Condon (Allen & Unwin)

I love Bill Condon's work; it always has an authenticity that is lacking in the work of many writers. But Bill seems to get inside the everyday experiences and minds of children. This delightful novel for younger independent readers is no exception. Stephen has to stay with his elderly Aunt Lola, who he has never met. The only thing he knows about her is that she sends him ten dollars twice a year, for which he always writes a thank you. But what does an eight year old say to a grumpy and scary old lady when he meets her. He wants to turn around and go home, but his mum says he'll need to stay.

But left to his own devices, and with the help of Lola's neighbour Norm, and his granddaughter Allie, he learns about some simple things in life like fishing, cricket, and climbing trees, not to mention family. And when Lola entrusts Stephen with a special secret, he realises that she has become more than an old aunt, she's now a friend. Readers aged 7-11 years will enjoy this book.

9. 'Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures' by Kate DiCamillo and illustrated by K.G. Campbell (Candlewick Press)

This brilliant novel is the second book which has won Kate DiCamillo the Newbery Medal, having also won in 2004 for 'The Tale of Despereaux'.

It is an hilarious and unlikely story. It begins with an overactive super vacuum cleaner and a tragic accident that involves Mrs Tickman and a squirrel that never saw the vacuum cleaner coming.  Flora tried to warn her but ... too late! However, Ulysses (the flying 'super hero' squirrel) has not been killed '...but rather is been born anew, with powers of strength, flight, and misspelled poetry..'. Flora too is changed and is about to discover many things about herself. Ulysses joins forces with Flora to deal with her mother.

The 233-page book is a mix of text, full-page fine illustrations and graphic (comic-like) pages, all in black and white. The illustrations of K.G. Campbell are delightful and are a great complement to the story. The book will enchant and engage the most reluctant of 7-12 year old readers.

10. 'My Life as an Alphabet' by Barry Jonsberg

Barry Jonsberg has written a number of very successful books for adolescents and in this case tween readers. This very funny book is no exception. This first person narrative is in a journal/diary form with a twist (the alphabet) and will engage readers 10-13 years. Twelve-year-old Candice Phee manages to amuse those around her despite the bizarre mix-ups and the confusion she creates. In the words of Candice:

This isn't just about me. It's also about the other people in my life - my mother, my father, my dead sister Sky, my penpal Denille, Rich Uncle Brian, Earth-Pig Fish and Douglas Benson From Another Dimension. These are people [with the exception of Earth-Pig Fish, who is a fish] who have shaped me, made me what I am. I cannot recount my life without recounting elements of theirs. This is a big task, but I am confident I am up to it.

Candice takes her through the alphabetical A-Z experiences of her life:
A is for assignment - A recount on her life, how could that go wrong?
B is for birth - "I wasn't there at my birth", well not "as a reliable witness", so what was it like?
C is for chaos - "Classrooms are battlegrounds."
And so on. Each chapter is a recount by Candice of some part of her life, and each is very funny. Barry Jonsberg does a wonderful job communicating an authentic voice for this slightly crazy (well at least quirky) twelve-year-old girl. Ten to twelve year old Girls (and boys) will love this book. It has been shortlisted for the Australian Children's Book Council Awards 2014.


Sue Bursztynski said...

I see you have some of this year's shortlist books there. I've read My Life As An Alphabet, which s indeed delightful(I think it may also be a YABBA book this year, can't remember). Not the others on this page yet. So many books, so little time! I'm getting my book clubbers to read the CBCA shortlist and vote in the YABBAs.

Trevor Cairney said...

Thanks Sue, lovely to hear from you. We all need to support YABBA! I also agree, "so little time" to read all the great books.