Tag Archives: Humour

Astonishingly Good Stories – R. A. Spratt

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Penguin Australia

August 2022

  • ISBN: 9780143779261
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $19.99
The freakishly fantastic, amazingly awesome, insanelycompletelybonkerscrazyasafox terrifically talented R. A. Spratt is one of my favouritest authors and purveyors of outrageous snortles*, and well she knows it. She has perhaps been wondering why it has taken me so long to write this review of her latest blisteringly brilliant collection but in my defence I have this to say. I read the entire book cover to cover quite swiftly after it’s arrival but since then I have had it in my ‘relief teaching’ bag whereupon it has made an appearance on several occasions to entertain, amuse and, more importantly, educate some of the finest young minds in Queensland (if not the country).

Now with a day off at my disposal, due to having no voice left with which to teach, I am trying to catch up with reviews, and really it is dead lucky I had already read this latest volume, because there is no doubt that strenuous laughing of the Spratt-induced kind would further reduce my vocal capabilities, so that it would be unlikely to recover them at all within the next week – – and really, where would that leave my adoring fans? (ok, I’m starting to sound like Nanny Piggins now – possibly overdoing the cold&flu meds).

This is a gorgeously galumptious smorgasbord which I can verify will appeal to a wide range of readers of discerning tastes (and as it happens, some who claim to be non-readers). Whether some Nanny Piggins (gosh, how I admire that porcine legend!) providing great insights into famous myths, legends and other historical tales, a mini Friday Barnes mystery or a completely bogus story about big sisters (which reeks heavily of the author’s own household), kiddos from around Year 4 will roll about on the floor with delight with the completely over-the-top antics and adventures herein. I am truly devastated that I no longer have my Year 9 terrorists -I mean, English classes – because after their unit of work on Romeo & Juliet, (their introduction to Shakespeare – now I could definitely write a book on that experience!) I would have loved to share with them the Nanny Piggins version of the Bard’s tragedy.

Honestly, you’d be mad to leave it off your orders list – so get cracking and buy it before the business manager cuts off your budget for the year! Highly recommended for all lovers of the absurd from around Year 4 upwards.

*snortle:  A hearty laugh that is punctuated by a snort on the inhale.

The Book of Wondrous Possibilities – Deborah Abela

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Penguin Australia

  • 2 August 2022
  • ISBN: 9781761044021
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $16.99

From the opening paragraph this brilliant book simply sparkles with magic and adventure – unsurprisingly, for those of us who have followed Deborah Abela’s writing career for years!

My first encounter with this joyful creator was when, as the organiser of an extravaganza showcase at Marrickville Library, way back around 2004, I invited Deborah )who had just hit the kid lit lists with her Max Remy serie) to be our special guest for the kiddos. She was a huge drawcard then – and still is!

Your readers of such books as Inkspell and Pages & Co are going to flip out about this one. It has everything needed to enthrall and excite middle graders: a reluctant and self-doubting hero, a feisty girl to organise things, a sweet guardian, a nasty villain, a dubious pillar of society with a very strong-minded daughter – and a completely endearing pet mouse who will steal everyone’s heart – all tied up in a world of literary magic like no other.

Arlo Goodman has lived with his uncle Avery, in the bookshop, since his mother was tragically killed in a hit-and-run accident. When bolshie Lisette, runs into the shop and promptly hides from a particularly intimidating pursuer, Arlo’s quiet – and rather dull – existence is suddenly turned upside down. It appears his mother has left him a grimoire – a mysterious book in which the stories written are magically realised – and his own story is to help understand just how brave he truly is. Lisette’s grandmother has also died, under terrible circumstances, and now the girl’s inherited ability to magically write the stories of the grimoire is being sought by wealthy and sinister business tycoon, Marcellus, via his brutal henchman, Silas.

Mystery and adventure, humour and pathos all mix together to create this abundantly glorious new narrative from one of middle schoolers’ favourite writers. I, for one, would like to see more adventures from Arlo, Lisette and Herbert – just saying!. Congratulations Deborah on another superb read! Highly recommended for your kiddos from around Year 4 to Year 7.

Read more about Deborah’s wondrous writing during lockdown here and if you are a Sydneysider, get thee to the Glee party!

Willa and Woof 1: Mimi is Missing – Jacqueline Harvey

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  • Penguin Random House
  •  5 July 2022
  • ISBN: 9781761043314
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $12.99

Question:

What’s more exciting than a brand spanking new Jacqueline Harvey book?

Answer:

A brand-new Jacqueline Harvey series!!

That’s right folks! In case you’ve missed the excitement of last week’s release AND – can you believe it? – television ads to promote it! – Jacqueline’s super new series Willa and Woof sprang to life amid great rejoicing.

Your little readers from around Year 2 upwards will fall in love with this new cast of characters, just as they have with all the old familiar crew from this hugely successful and popular author.

Eight-year-old Willa lives with her family in a friendly cul-de-sac. Her best four-legged friend is Wilfrid, the albino wolfhound, known as Woof, her best same-age friend is Tao and her best old-age friend, Frank.  

Willa visits Frank almost every day in the next-door retirement complex and even though he’s a bit of a crusty old curmudgeon, she seems able to make him smile. She also loves to help him with his last remaining pigeon, Mimi.  So, when Willa discovers that Mimi is missing, she is very upset and certain that the disappearance is entirely her fault – she really can’t remember if she latched the aviary door securely.  Willa is determined to find Mimi as swiftly as possible, but then Frank goes missing as well! What on earth is happening?

Willa is every bit as adorable as Clementine Rose and Alice-Miranda so fans of these two will welcome her arrival with great enthusiasm. The whole story is imbued with joy and warmth which make it a pleasure to read.

Welcome Willa and Woof! Don’t miss out on picking up this completely adorable introduction – I’m already looking forward to the next instalment!

The Chime Seekers – Ross Montgomery

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Walker Books Australia

November 2021

ISBN: 9781406391190
Imprint: Walker

RRP: $18.99 Au , $21.99 NZ

Some of us of a certain vintage have enduring memories of Jareth, The Goblin King (aka the divine David Bowie) taking away baby Toby when Sarah becomes so frustrated with her little brother that she wishes him gone. Ross Montgomery has combined that idea with traditional English folklore of faerie and created a fantasy adventure that will thrill readers from the first page.

Yanni is angry. He is angry with his parents for taking him away from the little house in town where he has lived all his life, because it is too small. He is angry that their new place is not just in the country but in a horrible place called Fallow Hall, where everything is bleak and bare. He is angry because they have not gone for their usual summer holiday to visit his grandparents in Greece and he misses his Yiayia terribly. He is angry because now he has to put up with his annoying cousin, Amy. And most of all, he is angry because his parents have baby Ari and she alone is the reason for all the other calamities.

When Yanni and Amy are left to babysit Ari, all Yanni’s angry thoughts come together in a rush when the children accidentally allow an evil faerie into the house, and baby Ari is kidnapped, with a changeling left in her place. Despite his resentment of his little sister, Yanni cannot allow her to be trapped in the faerie world and together with Amy, he goes through the portal into a whole other Fallow Hall where the two cousins must use all their wits, skill and resilience to face down the trickery and cruelty of Lorde Renwin.

This is exciting and a tiny bit scary, thankfully with moment of humour to offset the tension, with so many rich characters and plot twists that able readers will thoroughly enjoy every moment of the perilous journey. Side by side with the quest are some lovely insights into family relationships, courage, sacrifice and ingenuity. It is the sort of book one just gobbles up because the unbearable urge to know what happens next is overwhelming. Sophisticated and astute readers from around ten years upwards will relish this and I thoroughly endorse it as a fabulous addition to your collection.

Beijing Tai Tai – Tania McCartney

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Exisle Publishing

2012

ISBN: 9781921966156

RRP: $14.99

I first met Tania when she came to my Canberra school as our author guest around ten years ago, and she and I just clicked from the first moment we spoke to each other. Since then it has been my honour and pleasure to be her friend. I have reviewed her books, been in awe of her talent (and her effortless elegance!), commiserated with her over slights and unjust decisions, laughed at silliness, virtually hugged each other many times and continue to be mad friends. When she offered up her book, of which she had some surplus copies, I jumped at the chance to read it.

It’s not exactly a travel book nor is it exactly a memoir but it combines both of these elements into a fabulous mash-up of anecdotes and vignettes that describe the experience of a very Aussie wife and mother living an ex-pat life in one of the strangest, most foreign (to us!) and downright quirky countries possible. I delighted in reading this over a few nights as I relaxed back into ‘school’ nights and loved, for one thing, that I could read one or two or more accounts depending on my level of tiredness.

I laughed out loud, I sympathised with Tania’s plight when bewildered or baffled, I snickered at her, often, caustic commentary on aspects of the Sino-experience and found her recurring mention of shopping totally hilarious – especially knowing her for such a total style-icon!

Aside from my political leanings, I couldn’t do it, I admit. I considered teaching in international schools and China and Hong Kong were among ones for which I interviewed years ago – and it was a close thing I admit, but I just couldn’t go through with it. So I takes me hat off to anyone who does take such a leap of faith – particularly with small children in tow.

I found this a lovely and insightful read. Not only has it given me a close-up look at one of the world’s busiest cities but has also provided me with some extra connection into my friend’s spirit.

Thanks Tania for the chance to vicariously live abroad with you – I’ll pass on the spitting, street toilet habits, your aya and even the shopping!!

Highly recommended for anyone with a pulse and a sense of humour – also with an interest in daily life from a Westerner’s perspective in an Asian setting particularly. Thanks for sharing Tan!

Round the Twist – Paul Jennings

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Penguin Australia

  • February 2022
  • ISBN: 9780140342130
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $14.99
When an author has been voted Australia’s favourite by the children who love his work, over forty times – yes FORTY! – no one can deny his enduring appeal. When you tell your Welsh friend about this book, which combines both original stories and TV show insights, and she goes crazy because the whole family has loved RtT for years, no one can deny his global appeal either!

I was saying to someone just yesterday that, in our pursuit to promote new books, we sometimes forget that back catalogue titles also demand to be shared as each new crop of readers comes along. I am acquainted with so many young adults (that is, anyone younger than me) who exclaim with delight ‘Paul Jennings books!! That’s how I got hooked on reading!’. Going right back to my very first library, I never had any PJ books on the shelves. As fast as they were being returned, some other kid was grabbing them with ferocity.

Paul’s biography (such a delightful and also poignant read) gave readers some insight into his venture into TV script-writing, but it was pretty much slanted to more mature readers. This volume is one that the kids themselves can get into, as they re-visit some favourite stories, learn more about the actors as well as the entire process of creating one of the most successful Australian children’s series ever.

Kids who have yet to experience the absurdity of Paul’s stories but have seen the TV show, now on Netflix, will be keen to pick this up, and what a way to hook those reluctant readers! I would definitely share it with the readers in my new library, but this copy is earmarked to go express post to Wales!

Highly recommended for your readers from around Year 4 upwards – don’t miss out! it’s just TOO good!!

Sticky McStickStick: the Friend who Helped me Walk Again – Michael Rosen

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Walker Books

February 2022

ISBN: 9781529502404
Imprint: Walker

Australian RRP: $27.99
New Zealand RRP: $29.99

When I first read about Michael Rosen’s near-death Covid episode, I found it incredibly moving as this man is one of my most admired creators of children’s literature. Then I read, and shared, his article thanking Sticky McStickStick, and knew for certain that this was a not-to-be-missed book. And here it is, at last, and so very much worth waiting a while.

This, as with so many of Michael’s books, will touch the heart of many but, perhaps more importantly, will help children and their families come to grips with the struggle is the recovery from extreme and debilitating illnesses. One of the oft-repeated phrases two years into the pandemic is ‘long Covid’ and many accounts are emerging as people describe their ongoing difficulties along the road to a true recovery. Realistically, though our scientists have achieved great things with regards to vaccines and testing and so on, the lasting effects of the virus, in all its permutations, will continue to be a focus for research for years to come.

Michael couches his illness and subsequent rehabilitation in terms that will be readily understood by young readers, and offers an opportunity for important, indeed vital, discussion around the ‘afterwards’ of being infected or seriously ill. In typical Rosen fashion he manages to even make light of what must have been Herculean efforts in making those painful steps towards resuming a normal kind of life. The natural pairing with Tony Ross is, as always, inspired, as the illustrations so beautifully support the text with a full gamut of emotions.

I foresee this being a hugely significant book in primary classrooms and library as 2022 continues to unfold in a continuation of the difficulties of the past two years, and I would strongly suggest you put this on your order list and share it will all your primary students – and really, even secondary students as a conversation starter. Our kiddos need to know that hope is not extinguished, and that though recovery may be fraught, it is possible, more often than not.

Highly recommended for students from around Year 1 upwards.

Friday Barnes #10: Undercover – R. A. Spratt

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Penguin Australia

February 2022

  • ISBN: 9781761043659
  • Imprint: Puffin
  • RRP: $15.99

Some readers of this blog may recall my review of the ‘re-appearance’ of Friday and her cronies. My kiddos at school lost their minds when it hit the shelves so make sure you stand back again because the rush will be on. Now that Friday et al are all teens, the secondary kids are tremendously excited to get back into one of their favourite series from primary school. They still relish the clever plots, Friday’s quirkiness and the unravelling of mysteries but also to enjoy the growing romances and relationships. Naturally, where Friday is concerned, romance is never going to be a smooth ride. Naturally, since her stint in jail, Friday is even more emotionally fragile, something her best friend Melanie pinpoints very astutely.

Friday is most definitely not avoiding big decisions (like working with her Uncle Bernie and Ian, her nemesis/boyfriend, investigating crimes) and she’s certainly not avoiding Ian and their growing romance (using the word very loosely). She is in fact, helping out her best friend’s brother in his hour of great need. Mel’s brother, Binky, is now living in the land of his beloved Ingrid and, following the directive of Ingrid’s stern father the King, is serving out the required term in the Norwegian army. All of this is fine but when Binky ends up being charged with dereliction of duty, he calls upon Friday to help him prove his innocence. Of course she does. But there’s more to come in Norway (and beyond): Princess Ingrid’s upcoming 21st birthday (and the mysterious incidents which keep preventing her return to Oslo), continuing art thefts across Europe, the reasons behind Binky’s set up and the connection with the Global Seed Vault.

Like all the Friday books this is a joyous romp with plenty of snort laugh moments but the growing depth to the plot lines, character development and interactions offers more for the serious and thoughtful reader. I’ll have great pleasure talking this one up in my new library in the coming weeks.

Highly recommended for your readers from Upper Primary to Mid-Secondary in particular. Thanks R. A. Spratt for another great adventure with everyone’s favourite daggy detective.

Clarice Bean: Think Like an Elf – Lauren Child

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Harper Collins Australia

November 2021

  • ISBN: 9780008470845
  • ISBN 10: 0008470847
  • Imprint: HarperCollins GB
  • List Price: 24.99 AUD

I am just sorry this one didn’t arrive in time for me to get it read and reviewed before Christmas because it really is a perfect gift to share with a young reader. In her own inimitable manner, Lauren Child, takes us into Clarice’s home and family with side-splitting results as they prepare for a festive season very different to their normal ones. No hundreds of potatoes to peel, nor a house full of people, nor Mum and Dad slumping with exhaustion. This Christmas is going to be QUIET.

For Clarice, who normally looks forward to Christmas so much, this does not feel right, and she is struggling to feel the Xmas spirit as she usually would. Without all the extended family expected for the celebrations, and even her bestie, Betty Moody, going to Japan (!!) for Christmas, no Advent calendar with tiny doors to open, and almost no money in her toadstool/piggy bank to buy presents, things are looking very gloomy and not the least bit tinselly sparkly.

As you would always expect, nothing runs smoothly for the Tuesday family from an issue with selecting the Xmas tree, the accidentally too-large turkey which ends up on the floor before being eaten by Cement, the dog and a random fox (in which no one believes), Clarice, being helpful, but mixing up the airmail parcels and more. All of which makes for all the hilarious mayhem we have come to expect from this talented creator. The interspersing of all the Ruby Redfort references, are just a crack-up of course as Clarice tries to follow the advice and sagacity of her literary hero.

Naturally it won’t matter one jot to your readers if this was on offer when school starts back, when Christmas and New Year are just a memory but equally, if you were buying this for a gift (for next Xmas!) or to add to your store of Xmas stories, just perfect. It is beautifully bound, with the dust-jacket being more Christmassy than the actual binding, but both still delightful, with lovely Christmas tree endpapers. And of course, Lauren’s illustrations throughout, as always, are charming and completely in keeping with the quirkiness of the narrative.

Highly recommended for readers from around 8 years upwards.

Rapperbee: poems to give you a buzz – Harry Laing. Illustrations by Anne Ryan.

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Ford St Publishing

October 2021

ISBN: 9781925804775

RRP: $14.99

Harry’s poems are a delight for both young and old. If you and your kiddos enjoyed his previous books, including MoonFish, this one will equally entertain you. Particularly for rollicking read-alouds or, for performances, (think 2022 assembly pieces!) this collection of funny and quirky verses will become part of your standard repertoire.

Rhymes, raps, songs, cheese poems, animal poems, shape-poems...combined with Anne Ryans’s highly creative illustrations will ensure this is not just a book for the classroom and teaching, I can guarantee your kiddos will want to claim this for their own reading pleasure.

Given I still have my childhood copy of Spike Milligan’s Silly Verse for Kids, much dilapidated and clearly well-loved, you will understand why I think this is just a gem of a book. My suggestion is that you grab a copy for your collection, either personal or professional and, may I also suggest that if you are a relief teacher this would be a super addition to your ‘bag of tricks’ for those one-off days in unknown classrooms.

Highly recommended for readers from around 7 years upwards.