Monthly Archives: September 2014

Romeo & Juliet – Retold by Jim Pipe, Illustrated by Penko Gelev


Romeo & Juliet – Retold by Jim Pipe, Illustrated by Penko Gelev

Graffex series

Book House, UK, 2014

via INT Books (Tom Danby)

48 pp. RRP $15.95


If, as I have just experienced, you have students who struggle with Shakespeare, this series could prove a valuable complement to your collection. My Year 10 boys have just done a unit on Romeo & Juliet and while we steered clear of reading the play in full, instead selecting passages, watching the film, live performance from Grin & Tonic and so on, many still had some problems.

I took this slim graphic volume in for them to look at, and several commented that they now understood a particular part or made notes using the book.

Firstly, the graphic format breaks the play down in a storyboard type format which is easy to follow. Secondly, while the ‘speech’ is still Shakespearean, there are footnotes to ‘translate’ into modern day language. This running glossary is probably the most beneficial aspect of this version. Additionally there are several pages at the back with information about Shakespeare, his work and his times plus an index. A useful page as a frontispiece, pictures the characters with their names and relationship to Romeo and Juliet.

The only disconcerting note for me is the illustrator’s tendency to have the characters look like muddy-faced trolls – Juliet is far from attractive as she scowls with her troll-face to swallow her potion. In fact, they all look very unpleasant – whether they are the good guys or not!

That being said I think this would be very handy for those students who need a simplified version and visual connection to help them grasp the main ideas and themes of Shakespeare. Others in this series included A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Hamlet, Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice.  There are also other classic stories published in the same format – see the publisher’s page here,

The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe – Romain Puértolas


The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe – Romain Puértolas

Random House Australia

ISBN: 9780857983503

Published: 01/07/2014

Imprint: Vintage Australia

Extent: 320 pages

RRP $32.99

As you may guess by the rather unusual title, this is a rather difficult book to define except to say that it is wildly hilarious, totally improbable and a fabulous read.  If you mashed up some Monty Python, some Borat and some Mel Brooks and turned them all into some kind of Marx Brothers escapade, you’d be getting close.

I’ve been reading this for the past week while supervising exams and so on at the end of the term and found it perfect for shorter periods of time – reading a chapter or two in a sitting.

To give you some idea of the crazy plot, we start with a very bogus Indian fakir arriving in Paris with a counterfeit €100 note and a borrowed suit because he wants to buy a new bed of nails – which he had seen in an Ikea catalogue back in his home village. His plan is to be in Paris for 24 hours only – just long enough to buy the bed and go home. After misguidedly hoaxing a Gypsy cab driver with his fake money, he ends up in Ikea fascinated by its offerings – which for him include a smart Parisienne woman who buys him lunch and indicates she would also love dessert – of a kind. He declines this overture –regretfully and not without some deliberation but is intent on his mission. Having no actual  money he certainly can’t afford a hotel so decides to stay the night in the bedding department at Ikea. Cue ensuing chaos as the Gypsy cab driver alerts Ikea staff to the possibility of a bogus Indian in their store and Asjatashatru, the fakir, leaping into a wardrobe to evade night staff and the game is on.

The story unravels with the wily Indian being transported – one way or another all over Europe at a pace that takes his (and the reader’s) breath away. Along the way meeting friends and foes, having uncanny good fortune and some narrow escapes, the Indian finds himself examining his life, his misdeeds, his growing feelings of love for his Parisienne Marie and the ‘universal desire to seek a better life’.

A rollicking romp of laughs all the way. Suitable for senior students and adults.

Nightmares – Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller


Nightmares – Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller

ISBN: 9780552571920

Published: 09/09/2014

Imprint: Corgi Childrens

Extent: 368 pages

RRP $16.99

Charlie Laird has several problems.

1. His dad married a woman he is sure moonlights as a witch.
2. He had to move into her purple mansion, which is NOT a place you want to find yourself after dark.
3.He can’t remember the last time sleeping wasn’t a nightmarish prospect. Like even a nap.

Charlie is eleven years old and not very happy. In fact, he’s exhausted and constantly terrified by the awful nightmares he has night after night.  Ever since his mum died and his dad remarried, Charlie’s life has become worse by the day – or so it seems to him. Even at school, there seems to be no escape because despite the fact that his long-time friends still stick by him, they are all being menaced by the horrendously scary new principal.

Gradually, Charlie discovers that it is not just his dreams that are being taken over and in fact, the whole of Cedar Creek is in danger of becoming lost to the real world forever.

Facing fears is never easy but Charlie does this with the help of not only his Cedar Creek friends but also some newly acquired Netherworld friends when he crosses through the portal between waking and dreaming for real.

Spooky enough to be exciting, but not in any sense graphic or nasty, this is a super book for children to respond to about their own fears. The humour throughout moderates the suspense and the reader is able to explore  themes such as friendships, support and solidarity, grief/loss, being judgemental and accepting differences.

Aside from the obvious aspect of frightening nightmares, it is also a wonderful opportunity to examine the ‘fear’ of a new step-parent and changes in the family dynamic. Charlie could not have been more wrong about his ‘step-monster’ Charlotte and discovers for himself that sometimes it is easy to misinterpret the actions and appearances of others.

Multi-talented Jason Segel says he also had nightmares as a child and this was one of his motivations for writing this novel for middle-school kids – the first in a proposed trilogy.

Highly recommended for readers of about 9 years and up. Visit the Nightmares website here for activities, videos and more information.

Regal Beagle – Vijay Khurana & illustrated by Simon Greiner


Regal Beagle – Vijay Khurana & illustrated by Simon Greiner

ISBN: 9780857983701

Published: 01/10/2014

Imprint: Random House Australia Children’s

Extent: 128 pages

RRP $14.99

What a delight it was to spend a few moments reading this delightful nonsensical piece of whimsy from Vijay Khurana at the end of a long tiring day!  This is a perfect little book for newly independent readers venturing into chapter books with a lot of fun, easily identifiable ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ plus a very insightful example of not judging on appearances alone.

When a very much loved Queen of a small kingdom dies leaving no heir, the country is temporarily at a loss as to their next move. Searching through long forgotten archives, the protocol is discovered. Should the ruling monarch die without an heir, the throne goes to the king or queen’s best friend. In this case, the Queen’s best friend is Lucy – her beagle.

Despite the protestations of the conniving and clearly nefarious Lord Runcible, who has his own designs on the crown, Lucy is duly crowned and begins her reign with impressive success, despite being a canine.  However, Runcible contrives a dastardly plan to remove Lucy and seize power for himself. As one might imagine, Lucy is rescued by a most unlikely saviour – but that would be a spoiler if I told you, so you will just need to read it for yourself.

Very much in the vein of the Dick King-Smith books (such a long-time favourite of mine and, I know, of many children) this really is a refreshing and enjoyable read.  I think it would make an excellent read-aloud for classes of smaller humans as well as a terrific take-home book for those who are spreading their reading wings.

As I’ve said to many students over the years – often you need a ‘lolly’ book. A break from the intense or well-meaning texts with layers of meaning- not that there is anything wrong with those at all. This week, this was my ‘ lolly’ book – sweet and satisfying.

Highly recommended for readers 7 -9 particularly, both boys and girls.

Coming soon – teacher notes will be available at the Random House link here.

Deadly D & Justice Jones: Rising Star (Book 2) – David Hartley and Scott Prince


Deadly D & Justice Jones: Rising Star – David Hartley and Scott Prince

Magabala Books

September 2014

ISBN: 9781922142504

Paperback 192 p.

Middle Primary

RRP $12.99

Deadly D and his friend Justice Jones are back again in another deadly adventure – this time not only with the footy flavour but an alien angle as well. David Hartley and Scott Prince have teamed up once more to provide Middle to Upper primary students, particularly boys but also all NRL lovers, another terrifically engaging read.

Deadly D has a curse, secret to everyone except his mum and his best bro, Justice. When he gets angry he turns into a huge hulking man with great physical strength and skills. That’s how he came to be playing for the Broncos alongside his heroes like Jonathan Thurston and Ben Barba.  Ordinarily just eleven year old Dylan, recently relocated to Brisbane with his mum, going to school and mucking around with his mate,  on weekends Dylan becomes Deadly D, a fast-rising top league player attracting much attention from fans and media. One particularly unsavoury newspaper reporter however seems to know more than others, and is continually harassing Deadly. Fortunately, he meets with a very satisfying end after some threatening moments.

Meanwhile, Deadly and Justice are less than enthused when their rather eccentric and footy mad teacher ,Mr B, sets a group task of making a billy cart and puts the two boys with new girl Taylor Niela. Both boys find her pretty but standoff-ish and snooty, though remarkably knowledgeable about physics and the scientific way to design the fastest billy cart ever.

They temporarily forget their chagrin over this however, and the whole class is ecstatic when they win the school attendance prize – a day trip to Dreamworld with the Queensland State of Origin team. The day starts off with a greeting at the Indigenous centre, followed by some huge fun in the waterpark – with the two authors making the most of opportunities to poke some gentle fun at some of the Origin heroes. Who would have thought that big Sam Thaiday would be afraid of heights and almost chicken out of going down the Wedgie waterslide, whimpering for his mum?  Sam’s resulting comical wedgie of his canary yellow speedos will give many readers a good chuckle.

In the midst of all the excitement, Deadly and Justice see stuck-up Taylor sneaking into the dingo enclosure to disappear underground mysteriously. When they follow her, they find out why she seems so different, how it connects with Deadly and his curse and how Deadly can help others in a really significant way, albeit at a cost to himself.

As with the first book, this is an easy to read and fun book which will engage many reluctant readers from around 9 years upwards. Hartley and Prince are onto a winning formula here and hopefully, we can expect to see more from them.

The One and Only Jack Chant – Rosie Borella


The One and Only Jack Chant – Rosie Borella



Australian Pub.:

March 2014


Allen & Unwin


A & U Children


Young adult fiction

Suitable for ages:


RRP $15.99

The One and Only Jack Chant

Amber has finished school and her friends have all left town – scattered to universities and other places but somehow Amber is just not sure what she wants to do or where she wants to go. Biding time and wanting to earn some money while she decides, Amber does a three month training as a carer for the elderly and is able to secure a job in the local nursing home. Tranquil Banks (or Tranquil Blanks to locals) has only been open for a year and so the facility has been a welcome addition to the community and people are happy knowing their elderly residents are being cared for by professionals.

However, Amber shortly realises that the philosophy of the facility’s owner/manager Mrs Ingersoll is not always aligned to the best interests of her senior citizen residents – nor is she supportive or even appreciative of her hard-working staff.

Amber enjoys the work and is very capable and compassionate with her charges but is baffled by both their references to a mysterious ‘Jack’ and then her own meeting with this strange boy who looks like he’s from another place and time. As is revealed, Jack is indeed from another time, having suffered at a tragic accident at the very same location of the new Tranquil Banks over eighty years previously.

When Amber’s much-loved elderly neighbour Vera is unwillingly forced into the nursing home by her family, it is Amber and Jack who join forces to support her in her final requests. Jack’s mysterious calling to this place and connection with the residents is revealed in the process.

Curiously, this is another recently received review book which has resonated on a personal level for me given my mother’s situation in a very similar nursing home and at times, this made me feel like slapping Mrs Ingersoll, the owner, sharply 🙂 –  I was heartily pleased to see her outcome and the initiative shown by Amber to take the nursing home to a new and improved future.

As Rosie Borella’s first novel this is both competently and engagingly written with deft touches of humour as well as pathos. Described as a ‘coming-of-age- story, it is that and more as Amber discovers more about herself, the elderly and others as well as her path in life. It is certainly insightful into a sadly too common treatment of our elderly by some, and the saving compassion of others to provide our older people with a dignified, comfortable and happy twilight. The sweet romance between Amber and the enigmatic Jack is delightful and readers will relish the interaction between the two.  Readers will also no doubt empathise with Amber’s somewhat turbulent relationship with her parents – a common theme for sixteen year olds everywhere.

Highly recommended for Upper Primary/Lower Secondary with particular appeal to girls.

Emilio: Through My Eyes – Sophie Masson


Emilio: Through My Eyes – Sophie Masson



Australian Pub.:

June 2014


Allen & Unwin


A & U Children


Children’s fiction

Suitable for ages:


 RRP $15.99

Emilio: Through My Eyes

Sophie Masson continues the excellent work in this series by providing readers with an action-packed and vivid account of one boy’s experience in Mexico City. Emilio Lopez lives with his mother, a moderately successful businesswoman, in one of the world’s most dangerous cities. Rife with crime, conflict and ongoing raging drug wars, Mexico City is a place of stark contrasts between the have’s and have-not’s, the criminals and the law-abiding citizens and the guilty and the innocent.

Kidnapping for ransom is an increasingly used tactic by drug gangs particularly in this city. When Emilio’s mother is kidnapped purely on the basis of her upcoming partnership with an American company, their family is plunged into intense despair and a frightening nightmare. Working closely with the family, the police and a sympathetic liaison officer, support the family as they work against the clock to save their loved one.

Emilio is an engaging character with a strength and determination that is both mature and admirable. The warmth of his family is a bulwark to his distress in this awful episode of his young life.

Not so graphic nor confronting as to be disturbing, but realistic enough to impress on young readers the dangers faced by other children in less fortunate circumstances, this novel would shape the reader’s understanding of the conflicts experienced in other countries. Further, there will be some students who have come from similar situations for whom this novel will resonate. Caution would be advised before sharing this with some who may find it too strikingly traumatic in an echo of their own personal experiences.

Additionally, readers are introduced to the vibrant and colourful Mexican culture and traditions, enhancing their world view (connecting to the Australian Curriculum in the Literature strand as well as Geography).

Allen & Unwin have provided excellent teaching notes here and a book trailer here. There is also a video interview with Sophie Masson here.

This is #4 in the ‘Through My Eyes’ series conceived by Lyn White and a portion of the proceeds goes to UNICEF. While I have not read others in the series, if they are of this calibre, I believe they would all be a very worthy addition to your shelves for Upper Primary to Lower Secondary.