Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: Castle in the Sea (Quest of the Sunfish 2)

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Castle in the Sea (Quest of the Sunfish 2)

By Mardi McConnochie (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $14.99     ISBN 9781760290924

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

The sailing adventures of Annalie, Will, Essie and Pod continue in the second ‘Quest of the Sunfish’ book, as they desperately search for Spinner. The story picks up about three weeks after the foursome escaped from Little Lang Lang Island, armed with the names of four important scientists. This novel focuses on their quest to find and talk to each scientist in the hope they’ll find Spinner. Their journey is highly dangerous. Aside from the ongoing threat of roaming pirates, they need to remain hidden from the Admiralty and, especially, Beckett (who is still pursuing them relentlessly). Then there’s the weather. The book begins with a ripper of a storm that causes two characters to become lost at sea … and the action never loses pace thereafter.

As per the first book, this is a highly gripping page-turner. The chapters are short, and there’s action aplenty. Mardi McConnochie slips in a few more details about the Collodius Process and why the research must be kept hidden from the government at all costs. She also clearly sets the direction for the closing novel in the trilogy, to be released in September 2017 – the foursome must make their way to the final scientist on the list, who lives on a mysterious island with extremely guarded borders.

McConnochie occasionally offers the occasional recap as to what happened in ‘Escape to the Moon Islands’, but reading the first book is necessary to appreciate the background of the journey. There is also very little focus on the personalities and background stories of Annalie, Will, Essie and Pod in this one. The characters might not seem particularly interesting, or even likeable, without having read the first novel in the series. (The first novel has, incidentally, been shortlisted for the Readings Children’s Book Prize 2017.) The novel should appeal to 9–12-year-olds who like adventure stories, along with readers who have an appreciation and love for science.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/06/the-castle-in-sea-quest-of-sunfish-2.html

Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers X Marks the Spot

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Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers X Marks the Spot

By Kate & Jol Temple and illustrated by Jon Foye (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $12.99     ISBN 9781760291945

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Jimmy Cook is, to put it simply, an explorer. Actually (if you can excuse his modesty), he’s pretty much ‘the greatest explorer that ever lived’. After he discovered the third grade, in the first book in this series, he was rather inspired by the historical feats of  ‘the other Captain Cook’. In this, the second ‘Jimmy Cook’ story, he has found a humungous dinosaur footprint … so now he’s busy digging away to find its bones. And give it a name. (‘Jimmyosaurus’ anyone?)

Much to his teachers’ annoyance, Jimmy seems to have developed quite a team of student diggers at the school … especially since he found that map marking X for treasure. Forget the dinosaur, he is about to discover something better … something real. Can he get to it before that show-off, Alice Toolie, does?

Jimmy records his daily adventures in his journal, noting always the weather that day (eg ‘hailstones the size of rhinoceros beetles’) and drawing a picture to illustrate his inventory (eg the ‘arm of a robot toy’). The inventory and weather observations don’t always have any bearing on the story, but are amusing introductions to each chapter. The journal entries are interspersed with funny black and white penciled illustrations by Jon Foye. Almost every page features an illustration, making the design highly attractive to readers aged 7 – 10.

The three talented creators behind this book have released four children’s books together including I Got This Hat, the book selected for National Simultaneous Storytime in 2016. Their complementary styles work well together, offering the right blend of humour and action, with a dash of nonchalance. Jimmy’s innocent observations about his world are laugh-out-loud funny. Can’t wait to see what he discovers next!

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/06/captain-jimmy-cook-discovers-x-marks.html

Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: The Blue Cat

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The Blue Cat

By Ursula Dubosarsky (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $19.99     ISBN 9781760292294

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘“If that cat could speak,” she said, rolling her eyes to the ceiling, “imagine the stories he would tell.”

Personally, I felt I would rather not know.’

The blue cat appeared around town about the same time as Ellery did, according to the narrator, Columba. Ellery is a new child at her school, a European refugee who doesn’t (ordoesn’t want to) speak. The blue cat is thought to have come from one of the navy ships at the wharf. Was it tossed overboard, or did it flee? Columba and her next-door-neighbours, who have befriended the cat, can only guess at the cat’s background as they quietly contemplate the atrocities it has probably seen. (‘… His body shakes when he’s asleep with secret anger dark and deep.’)

The mysterious blue cat disappears after hearing the blast of noisy sirens for the practice air raid. Columba bands together with Ellery, and her resourceful classmate Hilda, to search the streets of Sydney. But as the story transcends into a haunting alter-reality, we are left to ponder whether Columba is searching for a blue cat … or whether she’s searching inside herself for the answers to the meaning of the war.

Award-winning Dubosarsky combines her lyrical style with historical documents to tell this fascinating, fairy-tale like story of the friendship between a boy and a girl in Sydney, 1942. Her writing beautifully captures the innocence of children caught up in a war, starkly contrasted, for example, against a documented government order for ‘Enemy Aliens’ or a black and white photograph of Hitler at the Eiffel Tower.

The story targets 10–14 year-olds but will likely appeal to a wider readership, especially lovers of literary historical fiction. This powerful reflection on war will settle quietly in your heart and linger, long after the final page.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/06/the-blue-cat.html

Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: Diary of an AFL Legend

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Diary of an AFL Legend

Written by Shamini Flint and Illustrated by Sally Heinrich (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $9.99     ISBN 9781760295141

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Nine-year-old maths extraordinaire, Marcus Atkinson, is (shall we say) a good sport. (Not to be confused with the phrase ‘good at sport’.) He has so far bitterly sucked at cricket, track and field, basketball, tennis, soccer, swimming, taekwondo, golf and rugby. Yet there he is, at the opening of the tenth novel in this popular series, buried ‘under an AFL pack’. Oh Marcus.

Let’s blame his perfect cousin (Spencer) who should really know better by now, right? Marcus progressively messes up the rules of the game in his special, flawlessly uncoordinated way. Despite his father (the self-help book novelist) having a philosophical conversation with him about the pursuit of happiness, he stubbornly refuses to give up. There’s no way he’s going to let Spencer down. When Spencer and his father secretly come up with a way to help Marcus miss an important game, believing they are doing him a favour, Marcus finds a way to turn up anyway … and puts on quite a show.

This latest installment in the (non) sporting series for 7–11-year-olds is chock full of hilarious, face palm moments that we’ve come to love and appreciate from Shamini Flint. The format of the book matches the others. The story is told via diary entries, each highly illustrated with the amusing black and white cartoons of Sally Heinrich. (The majority of the text actually appears in speech bubbles within the illustrations.) The narrative in the diary entries connects to the text in the speech bubbles, so there is perfect flow between the two. For example, Marcus writes ‘I asked Dad …’ and then we see a cartoon of Marcus and his father with the question in the speech bubbles. The diary entries also feature the odd ‘post-it note’ from his sister, supposedly reading and annotating without his permission.

The ending was great – very credible and totally in line with Marcus’ character and, er, his sporting prowess. Shamini Flint has once again provided an entertaining read with a clever way of inadvertently teaching her readers the rules of a sport.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/06/diary-of-afl-legend.html

Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: Henrietta and the Perfect Night

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Henrietta and the Perfect Night

By Martine Murray (Allen and Unwin)
HB RRP $16.99     ISBN 9781760290245

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

Fans of Henrietta the Great Go-Getter will be pleased to discover this hardcover book by Martine Murray, featuring five new Henrietta stories.

Henrietta is just as spirited and adventurous as ever: ‘I’m an explorer of life, and that includes trees, bugs, animals and all mysteries.’ In this collection, she practices how to be patient and be a good big sister (‘The Waiting Game’), how to rescue somebody and make a friend at school (‘The First Day’), how to survive a sleepover with the pesky older brother of her best friend (‘The Sleepover’), how to save the school play when the lead gets stage fright (‘The School Play’) and how to adjust to life with a new baby brother (‘The Arrival’). The stories need to be read in sequence to be properly enjoyed, with the title alluding to the final story’s conclusion.

The book is illustrated in full colour by Martine Murray, award-winning author of How to Make a Bird and Molly and Pim and the Millions of Stars. Each double page features an illustration to break up the text, making this a great novel for readers aged 5 years and older who are starting to read chapter books. The design is likely to appeal to the age group too, with key phrases appearing in an alternate font of different size or colour.

Henrietta is ‘a Big Thinker’ and her thoughts and observations are highly amusing! The stories are told in first-person perspective, allowing the author to offer fantastic examples of friendship, courage and kindness without seeming to preach these values to her readers. (‘You only need one friend in a room full of strangers to feel perfectly happy.’) Henrietta is, at times, bold and sassy, at other times quiet and afraid, but the range of emotions she feels gives scope to her situations and makes her very real and lovable.

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/05/henrietta-and-perfect-night.html

Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: Hotaka (Through My Eyes)

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Hotaka: Through My Eyes

By John Heffernan (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $16.99     ISBN 9781760113766

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

When media attention dwindles, we are left to merely imagine the after-effects of a natural disaster. How does a community recover from such a large-scale event? How do people unite to rebuild lives and towns when, in fact, so many are mourning their loved ones?

This novel, set in Japan, is the first in a promising new spin-off set of ‘Through My Eyes’ books (created by Lyn White) focusing specifically on natural disaster zones. The story is told from the perspective of a boy named Hotaka, and begins on March 11, 2011 – the day the northern coastline of Japan was struck by a tsunami that killed around 16,000 people. John Heffernan, who spent a month in the damaged Tōhoku region of Japan to research the novel, vividly describes the residents’ chaos and fear in a gripping, nail-biting introduction.

The story then cuts to 2014, three years later. The entire region is still a construction site. Many people are living in sub-standard accommodation. Hotaka is mourning both his friend, Takeshi, and his grandfather. Haunted by memories of that fateful day he tries to busy himself organising a memorial concert, enlisting the help of his two best friends (Osamu and Sakura). Sakura starts getting fired up about the seawall the government has arranged to build, and Hotaka doesn’t initially understand why. His beloved Uncle Yori explains it better: ‘We’re part of Nature. We can’t shut it out with walls. We have to livewith it, not against it.’

Sakura, whose own tragic past is eventually revealed, starts a major community revolt against the wall, against the government and against the construction company. Together with Hotaka, Osamu, and the power of social media, their campaign reaches far and wide … but it seems the corrupt mayor will stop at nothing to silence them.

This uplifting work of historical fiction, targeting readers aged 11–14 years, is a compelling read in or outside the classroom. Its themes cover family, friendship, identity, community and government corruption. A glossary, timeline of events, and list of websites has been included. The novel is a wonderful exploration of the positive community forces at play when disaster strikes, delivering a beautiful message: ‘Sadness is not necessarily the enemy of happiness … for the dark gives the light a place to shine.’

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/05/hotaka-through-my-eyes.html

Posted in Junior Fiction

Book Review: Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 7 – Scavengers

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Diary of a 6th Grade Ninja 7: Scavengers

By Marcus Emerson (Allen and Unwin)
PB RRP $12.99     ISBN 9781760295615

Reviewed by Daniela Andrews

‘“We will destroy you for rejecting our invitation, but not with bruises or black eyes …”

“It’s your legacy we’re after,” the boy said.’

Chase doesn’t think his enemies can get much worse than pirates, red ninjas and wolf packs. Then he meets a new breed of kids operating behind the scenes at Buchanan School: the ‘Scavengers’.

Sebastian lost his title of President at the end of the sixth book so … guess what? It’s election week! Chase is super proud of his cousin, Zoe, and best friend, Brayden, for running in the campaign. Then he gets ordered by the elusive Scavengers to join their clan as well as run in the election himself. They want to assert their control over the school by ensuring a Scavenger wins the presidency, and they plan to help him win. Chase is annoyed. Who do they think they are? When he angrily tells them he would never run against his cousin, nor join their ‘creepy little gang of rubbish pickers’, they furiously tell him to prepare for ‘a whirlwind of disaster’. And they’re not wrong.

To get revenge, they enter Chase into the presidency campaign themselves. They then create a stealthy, ‘smear’ campaign that first angers Zoe and Brayden, then the whole school. Chase has never felt so hated, but the Scavengers have threatened to turn on his friends if he tells people who is behind the campaign. In true ninja style, there’s no way Chase is going to let them threaten his honour: ‘Things have got better, and I’ve changed. I didn’t want to get lost in the crowd anymore.’

Fans of the series will love this latest book, which definitely shows some character growth and maturity. The story is action-packed and fast-paced. There are new characters to meet – Naomi, one of Chase’s ninja sidekicks, and Melvin, the school reporter. There are plot twists and betrayals, and there are discoveries … for not only will readers learn who the leader of the Scavengers is, but they’ll also find out who the mysterious white ninja is!

This review was originally published on the Buzz Words website:  http://www.buzzwordsmagazine.com/2017/05/diary-of-6th-grade-ninja-7-scavengers.html