Monthly Archives: July 2018

Other Worlds #3 & #4 – George Ivanoff



Penguin Random House

RRP $14.99


#3 Game World


May 28, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s


George’s new series will be just as popular as his previous offerings I predict and this one particularly is clearly going to have huge appeal to the ‘gamers’ in your reading audience.

Hall is not very special in his own estimation – a little podgy and a little ordinary – but when he’s gaming he’s the ace HallsOfAwesome and hard to beat.  His ‘greatest online nemesis’ RandomizerBian he also somehow considers a friend, as he doesn’t really have many in real life and when his worthy opponent seemingly disappears from the game they play he starts to dig deeper.

Then very weirdly Hall finds a way into the game – or is it the game?

In a virtual reality that is in the midst of a ferocious battle between humans and computers Hall needs all his geekness to not only survive but to get home again. And when he comes face to face with his adversary the game really changes – for them both.


#4 Dark World



May 28, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s


In this volume George takes his readers into a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by zombies –yep, got them right there! Newt (short for Newton) is a scientifically minded girl who really doesn’t care for Rowan (son of hippie health-freaks) but when they both end up facing the Dark World they are forced to work together to stop the evil that threatens all existence.

Newt and Rowan have to not only deal with some dire machinations but also reconcile their individual views on science and ‘magic’.  Giant hairy spiders that emerge from a body are not everybody’s idea of a mage’s familiar but then – neither are forces trying end the existence of every living thing.

This series is certainly going to keep readers on the edge of their seats. I would highly recommend them for kids from around ten years upwards. The manga style cover art will also appeal to many.

3rd August

An exciting and enjoyable morning spent listening to George’s energetic presentation hosted by Moreton Bay Libraries here in Redcliffe and then joining George, Penguin Random House publicist Talie, plus two lovely MBC library staff for coffee and chat.

George had children from two local schools thoroughly engaged as he spoke about his writing and his passions – science fiction, fantasy, computer gaming, Dr Who and Pokemon ;-). It was so interesting to hear how George has woven his enthusiasm for certain topics into his books such as the You Choose series (so hugely popular with  my readership!) and now the new Other World series.

And of course a real delight to be able to engage in some lively conversation with him and other library folk while we enjoyed some stunning Redcliffe winter weather and a view of the water.


Thank you so much PRH and George – as well as MBC library service!

The Girl Who Thought Her Mother was a Mermaid – Tania Unsworth



Harper Collins Australia

ISBN: 9781788547796

ISBN 10: 1788547799

Imprint: Head Of Zeus – Zehpyr – GB

On Sale: 24/09/2018

RRP $14.99

This is a quite lovely blending of old selkie folklore, fairy tale and a young girl’s search for her own true self as well as her lost mother.

Stella feels she is always the odd one out and really not like other girls. Of course they don’t know she sleepwalks or has a terrible fear of water despite her longing to be near the ocean but they do sense the strangeness of her. Since her mother died when she was young her dad has retreated into his own grief space and spends even more time with his high-powered job and the travel it involves. It’s not that he doesn’t love Stella he’s just not always around and Mrs Chapman the housekeeper and whichever latest nanny is present are poor substitutes for the closeness a young girl needs. When Gramma comes to live with them she certainly is a comfort to Stella but her grandmother’s mind and memories are beginning to slip away and that makes Stella even sadder.

Small fragments of memories, chance comments and some of her mother’s beautiful little sketches begin to coalesce in Stella’s mind until she forms a rather fanciful theory about her mother. What if her mother was actually a mermaid?

Stella’s daring adventure to unravel the truth is not just about finding out about her mum. She also discovers much about herself along the way – as well as her father and grandmother.

This is beautifully and believably told and would appeal greatly to sensitive readers from around ten years upwards.

Definitely recommended for your collections

Max Champion and the Great Race Car Robbery – Alexander McCall-Smith



Bloomsbury Children’s


July 2018

RRP:  $19.99

Alexander McCall-Smith has long been a favoured writer for adults for me – in fact I’m listening to one of his audio books in the daily commute at present.

I’ve bought several of the young Precious series for the library as so many of my Juniors just love detective stories but this is the first of his children’s books I’ve read that is on a different topic altogether.

Max lives with his mum and his grandpa in a small house just big enough for them all – though Grandpa Gus sleeps in his own little shed. They don’t have much money but they do have a lot of optimism and a whole lot of love for each other. Grandpa fixes older style cars in his rundown workshop, Mum has a busy sandwich making business and even Max helps out by mowing lawns as well as washing cars that are in for repairs.

One day Max discovers that Grandpa Gus once had a very successful race car building enterprise and also a well-regarded rally driving career until it was all taken away by the ghastly Grabber family – rich, powerful and out-and-out cheats.

When an opportunity presents itself for Max to prove the nefarious actions of the Grabbers he seizes it without hesitation.

This is a simple feel-good story for newly independent readers that resonates with themes of honesty, hard work and confidence. Young readers will enjoy seeing the Grabbers get their come-uppance and as  read-aloud would provide much discussion on ethical behaviour and values.

Recommended for readers from around Year 2 upwards.

An activity pack can be found here.

Just a Girl – Jackie French




Harper Collins Australia

        ISBN: 9781460753095

  ISBN 10: 1460753097


August 2018

RRP: $16.99

Hail Mary,
Full of Grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus.

I’m not a Catholic – and though I was raised an Anglican I am not particularly religious in the Christian sense. However, since losing a child I do feel an affinity with Mary, who was a real person who lost her son in a terrible way.  Moreover I am fascinated by ancient history and in particular the ‘story behind the stories of the Bible’.

I am repeatedly awe-struck at Jackie French’s unparalleled ability to breathe life into history and this new narrative is no exception. I spent a few hours of my weekend on a sojourn in Roman-occupied Judea, circa 71 AD, and my senses were fully transported by Jackie’s marvelous writing: the warmth of the Middle Eastern sun, the chill of the winter rain, the surrounding smells of grass and goat and the hazy wood smoke, the taste of dried figs and sweetened wine and the dreadful clashing of swords and screams of victims.

Judith is fourteen years old, one of four daughters – two older and one younger – living with her mother and great-grandmother in a small rural village. With all their men and older boys away as part of the rebellion against Rome, the village women have had to adapt to different ways and in particular, Judith now relishes her role in minding the sheep and expertly using her slingshot to hunt meat for her family.

When her great-grandmother Rabba wakes her one night and demands to be taken down to the wadi and then sends Judith back for her little sister, the two girls have no idea that Rabba’s foreboding of disaster is about to eventuate.

The entire village razed by a ruthless Roman legion, the three survivors remain concealed safely in a cave, long ago prepared by Rabba and before long are joined by a young Roman slave as well as their rather reluctant goat.

The icy winter that follows with its many trials and struggles to overcome is often relieved by Rabba’s story-telling and feasts around the fire. In particular Caius, a ‘secret’ Christian all his life, longs to hear more of Rabba’s childhood friend Maryiam of Nazareth but Rabba is always reticent about the woman. When Rabba finally tells her story it becomes clear that the simple village girl who became the mother of Jesus was gentle, loving and courageous, and a faithful friend. Rabba herself is scornful of the ‘messiah myth’, her only interest being that of the woman who was her childhood friend and a good person.

People tend to forget that many bible characters were real historical people given the mystique with which many of them are imbued. For me it is the fascination of piecing together shards of information to build a picture of the actual circumstances (hence quite an addiction to documentaries on the history channel!).

Jackie has taken what little actual detail about the person is available about Maryiam/Mary,  and woven it with general factual information of the times to create a thoroughly plausible account of one family’s survival against the might of the Roman Empire.

This book will hold a valuable place on any library shelf or indeed, home bookshelf. I will be particularly promoting it to our Study of Religion and History teachers as part of my ‘read around your topic’ encouragement.

I highly recommend it to you for readers from around Year 5 upwards.

Teaching notes also available Just a Girl TNs FINAL

Dolls of War – Shirley Parenteau



Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9780763690694
Imprint: Candlewick
Release Date: February 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $19.99
New Zealand RRP: $22.99


This is another charming book in the ‘Friendship Dolls’ series. The last one I reviewed examined the narrative from a Japanese girl’s perspective when the American dolls were coming as gifts of friendship to her country.  This one takes another tack with the story of Macy, an American eleven year old in 1941 just after the attack on Pearl Harbour.

The large doll Miss Tokyo and her accompaniments of small dishes, tea set, parasols etc have been a special part of Macy’s life and also the museum of which her father is the curator. Macy’s mother, who has recently died, was raised in Japan and always had a fond association with that country’s people and culture. Macy and her mother always had a special secret relationship with Miss Tokyo, when they pretended to ‘talk’ to her.  Now that her mother is gone, Macy feels an urgent protector role to the doll.

When Pearl Harbour is attacked, Macy’s town like so many other Americans are enraged and retaliate by engaging in mindless violence against all things Japanese. Macy’s lot is not good and realistically her father senses that she would be better off away from their town and in a quieter locale.

There are many twists and turns in this narrative with Macy’s determination to protect the doll and protest the senseless knee-jerk responses.

All in all, it’s another fascinating read for the history and the insight into a fictional participant in this turmoil.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards – and if your school has Japanese as another language or even Lower Secondary students studying World War II a fabulous read for the back story of ordinary people.


Natural Born Loser – Oliver Phommavanh



Penguin Random House


July 30, 2018

Imprint: Puffin

RRP: $16.99

I just have to say straight up – it was really great to read a truly ‘feel good’ book. This is a perfect read-aloud for kids in around Year 3-6 to generate some inspiration and discussion on school cultures in a humorous but meaningful way.

Raymond is, in his own mind, a bit of a loser. He’s a follower not a leader, he’s not the smartest in his class, he can’t even score a goal in soccer but he does care about his school. He cares that the school his mum also went to has degenerated into a dodgy ‘joke’ that everyone including his almost perfect cousin speak of with scorn. When the school gets a new principal (after several who left in despair in rapid succession) there might be some hope. Mr Humble wants to reinstate prefects – not captains but a team who will work together for the school. Raymond has no confidence in his own chances but goes along with his friend Zain, super soccer star, for an interview with the principal and his simple comment that he wants the school to be better and like it was when his mum went there impresses Mr Humble enough to include him in the team.

A team of four with very divergent personalities and skills has a rocky start but it is Raymond’s good sense and ability to communicate honestly that begins to make a difference. Of course, his bold statement that air conditioning for the lower classrooms (which will cost $20 000!) at the first prefects’ assembly could possibly have been his ruin.  However, Raymond’s hitherto unsuspected ability to rally people together even the die-hard bullies of the school proves that he is really a leader not a loser.

The themes of friendship, teamwork, compassion, understanding and loyalty run through this narrative which happily has a great outcome. If you are looking to give your kids a bit of a pep up for this second half of the year this would be the perfect choice.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.

Dogs Galore!



A handful of doggy books for the canine lovers amongst us all…

My Dog Socks – Robyn Osbourne/Sadami Konchi

Ford St Publishing


ISBN: 9781925272826 (hardcover)

9781925272833 (paperback)

Publication date: October 2017 (hardcover)

March 2018 (paperback)

Price: AUD$24.95 (hardcover)

AUD$16.95 (paperback)


Although it has taken me a while to get to this book that does not diminish its worth in any way. In fact it has been included in the 2018 CBCA Notable Books list and very deservedly.

Many educators of younger children despair of what appears to be a growing lack of imagination and imaginative play in our little people.

This is a beautiful expression of the magic of a child’s imagination as he and his ‘ordinary dog’ share adventures in the bush, on the farm or at the beach.  With a rollicking rhythm and rhyming text chockfull of wonderful onomatopoeic language this makes for a perfect read-aloud. Every child will want to share stories about their own pets after this dog’s ‘tale’.

Highly recommended for children from around four years upwards.


Rescue & Jessica: a Life-Changing Friendship – Jessica Kensky & Patrick Downes/Scott Magoon


Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9780763696047
Imprint: Candlewick
Release Date: April 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $27.99
New Zealand RRP: $29.99

Based on the true life partnership of double-amputee Jessica (injured in the Boston Marathon bombing) and her service dog Rescue this is a book which will give young readers a real insight into the difficulties of living with a disability and how so many people are assisted with a trained service dog.

While Jessica was an adult when she met Rescue the book centres on a little girl called Jessica who faces the same tragedy as the grown up in losing both her legs. Rescue starts out as a Seeing Eye dog trainee but doesn’t quite meet the criteria. However, when his trainer decides he would make a perfect Service dog all falls into place perfectly.

Telling each participant’s story turn about readers will follow the progress of each until the final very happy resolution. The book includes information about the non-profit organisation  that trains such dogs for service with those with physical disabilities, hearing impaired and autism.

This is a wonderful book to share with children in our pursuit of empowering them with empathy.

Recommended for readers from around Year 3 upwards.


Dingo – Claire Saxby/ Tannya Harricks


Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9781925381283
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Release Date: April 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $24.99
New Zealand RRP: $27.99

This is a simply stunning addition to the series Nature Storybooks – narrative non-fiction intended to satisfy children’s thirst for knowledge on nature as well as their joy in stories.

As Mother Dingo leaves the den and her sleeping pups readers can follow her through the dusky Victorian Alps as she hunts for food for her growing litter. On each page is another fascinating fact about dingoes as well as the absolutely gorgeous and bold oil painting illustrations.

Another paragraph of general information concludes the text as well as an index for easy reference to specific points.

A fabulous addition to a collection to explore Australian native animals.

Teaching notes here.

Highly recommended for readers from around Year 1 upwards.


A Stone for Sascha – Aaron Becker


Walker Books Australia

ISBN: 9780763665968
Imprint: Candlewick
Release Date: May 1, 2018
Australian RRP: $27.99
New Zealand RRP: $29.99

This is a beautifully executed wordless book which will invite much discussion in a shared reading. On the surface it’s a story about a young girl grieving the death of her dog – and who of us does not know that pain when one of our family pets goes over the Rainbow Bridge?  On a deeper level as one explores the double spreads it is an examination of the cyclical nature of time, history and civilisation as well as the rituals and customs of other cultures. Something as simple as a special rock can carry with it the memories of ages past and also seal the memories of the present with a special significance.

This is not a book to be lightly dismissed in a single reading but will demand peeling back layers over repeated sharing and conversation.

I would highly recommend this is a visual text for sharing with children from around Year 4 upwards.

The Dog with Seven Names – Dianne Wolfer


Penguin Random House


July 2, 2018

Random House Australia Children’s


If you have someone like my Miss Small who fell in love with A Dog’s Purpose (and now is adamant about wanting a golden retriever!) this is going to be the perfect read.

It’s  not just the story of one special little terrier x dingo pup but a fascinating look at the impact of the Second World War on a part of Australia, that has been largely ignored by history texts.

When a little runty pup is born on a station in the Pilbara his chances of survival are slim. Elsie’s father is a tough boss with no time for sentiment but as times prove tough, he relents and gives Elsie the pup as her Christmas present. From that time onwards Elsie and her Princess are inseparable. All seems perfect but then the War creeps closer and closer to home and Elsie’s family must leave their home and her father refuses to countenance little Princess going as well.  Elsie is heartbroken and promises to find the little dog as soon as she can when the family is settled into their new home.

Meanwhile Princess is taken on by a stockman who assures Elsie he will find the little dog a special home. From Princess to just Dog, the little terrier survives many adventures and mishaps eventually finding refuge with Doc of the RFDS but also becoming a much loved mascot of the remote hospitals, their staff and patients. The tiny dog with an unwavering determination to be reunited with her Elsie sees much despair and terror but also hope and courage.

This is indeed a magical story filled with special moments and demonstrating the loyalty of rare and memorable animals. Readers will be both sad and happy along with Princess and also learn much about Australia’s history.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.

Surf Riders Club 2: Bronte’s Big Sister Problem – Mary Van Reyk



Hachette Australia

FEB 27, 2018 | 9780734417923 | RRP $12.99


As I predicted the first in this series has been very popular in our library – after all we are in the beautiful Sunshine Coast and surfing is a prime pastime! So I have no doubt at all that this second in the series will be just as eagerly pounced upon by our girls.

While the first book centred on Ava’s move to her new community this one moves focus to another member of the Surf Riders Club, Bronte. The club is going strongly with the girls all continuing to help each other improve their surfing skills and encouraging one another in all efforts. They are very excited about their upcoming first competition but Bronte is having some difficulties. Ever since her older brother Oscar went away to uni the dynamic between Bronte and her older sister Carrie has changed – and not for the better.

Carrie no longer wants to share in Bronte’s interests but instead wants, even insists that Bronte should tag along with her and ignore the ‘stupid’ Surf Riders Club. Bronte faces real dilemmas as Carrie urges her to ‘cover up’ to their parents – because ‘sisters stick together’.  Bronte has to really wrestle with her conscience as well have the confidence to stand up for herself and her friends and risk losing her sister’s trust.

The surf competition is pretty intense and the girls do themselves proud.  Even more importantly as Carrie’s importunate and deceitful behaviour unravels in front of everybody including their parents the sisterly relationship begins to heal and Bronte gains a deeper understanding of both her sister and her own need to be true to herself.

Another great read for young girls from around ten years upwards. This is exciting and dramatic and touches on many issues with which tweens can easily relate.

Highly recommended for girls – around Year 4 to Year 7.

Front Desk – Kelly Yang



Walker Books

August 2018

ISBN: 9781760650469
Imprint: Walker Books Australia
Australian RRP: $17.99
New Zealand RRP: $19.99

In a time when so many people are fighting so hard to achieve worldwide tolerance, empathy, inclusivity and acceptance seemingly against huge odds like powerful politicians, this book will bring to readers a real insight into the plight of immigrants.

Based on her own experience as the child of Chinese immigrants to the USA, Kelly Tang relates ten year old Mia’s account of the first few years for her family in America, wealthy land of the free and opportunity for all.

Mia and her parents come to America with high hopes after leaving the poverty of China behind. But the reality is far from their dreams. Despite having skills and qualifications Mia’s parents struggle to find even meanly-paid work in the US and the family live in their car while trying desperately to gain some foothold. When an opportunity to manage a small hotel with free accommodation comes along, the family are beside themselves with joy and relief. But owner, Mr Yao, is a mercenary exploiter who makes their lives incredibly difficult and at times even more impoverished. Along with this Mia is trying to fit in at a new school, where the boss’ son Jason is the only other Asian student in her class and like his father is unpleasant and nasty.

Her sojourn in the motel as she helps her parents by taking charge of the front reception desk opens Mia’s eyes to the extreme racism and exploitation exhibited by many Americans, including their own Asian boss. It is a sobering and depressing insight into a society that ostensibly prides itself on being the refuge of Liberty – “Give me your tired, your poor”.

One small girl is determined to overcome her language barrier, her lack of confidence and to make a stand against discrimination.  Mia’s journey is one of hope and inspiration and this novel would make a superb read-aloud for middle to upper primary classes paving the way for some deep conversation about equity and compassion.

This is beautifully written and Mia’s voice is compelling as she fights her battles with dignity and honesty.

Highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards

The Storm Keeper’s Island – Catherine Doyle



Bloomsbury Australia

August 2018

ISBN: 9781408896884

Imprint: Bloomsbury Children’s Books

RRP :$14.99

What a simply sparkling debut novel! It did take me two nights rather than my usual one (but I confess a little tiredness even after a week of holidays) but it was simply page-turning and thoroughly engrossing.

Fionn Boyle and his older sister Tara are going to Arranmore Island for the summer to stay with their paternal grandfather.  Tara, who is thirteen and has turned into a right little cow since her birthday, has been for a visit the previous summer but for Fionn it is his first experience of his ancestral home and his first encounter with his rather odd grandfather.  Fionn has plenty of time to become acquainted with his grandpa though as Tara has cut him right out while she aids and abets her ‘boyfriend’ Bartley (a thoroughly poisonous toad) in his quest to discover a long hidden secret.

That secret is to be a huge part of Fionn’s initiation into true island acceptance, and in fact his true inheritance, and that doesn’t just refer to the inhabitants. From the first day Fionn is bemused and intrigued by the overwhelming and obvious existence of magic running throughout almost every aspect of the island. He cannot ignore it as it keeps appearing in one form or another often when he least expects it.

Doyle’s plot has twists and turns a-plenty keeping the reader fully engaged with the very believable characters as they intertwine in past and present. In style and concept it reminds me of the masterful work of Alan Garner, blending mystical legend, magic and contemporary reality and, much like Garner, Doyle has taken a locale and its history well-known to her and woven a narrative that could well become a modern classic.


I really relished every word of this and look forward to reading her future work.

Very highly recommended for readers from around ten years upwards.