BOOK REVIEWS

By Georgina Gye


Shower Land 1: Break the Curse by Nat Amoore, illustrated by James Hart and published by Puffin Books.

Felix has a problem – several actually. His little brother Olly follows him around like an attack dog, unrelentingly firing corny jokes at him. Plus, it’s Monday and he always has a problem with Mondays. Escaping to the bathroom for a shower will hopefully give him a moment of peace.

 

However… it’s doesn’t. When Felix turns on the water, he is magically transported to somewhere totally unfamiliar. He is in a field, naked, and slap bang in the middle of two opposing armies. One, a proper army, the others, farmers with a problem. Corn gobbler dragons are destroying crops and the army refuses to help.

 

When stealing some clothes, he meets Elsie and her brother Noah. Together they head off to the local town market to help Felix get some advice on how to get back home. The crazy, and not so magical, Mystical Mago seems pretty sus, but does say Felix needs to find a problem and solve it in order to fix his own dilemma. But what problem can he fix? Elsie is positive that if Felix lifts the witch’s curse that makes her brother unable to speak, that will be answer.

 

Felix must find a way to make Noah laugh and all will be well. But will it work? There are a few problems that need solving and finding and solving them, proves tricky. Will he ever get back home?

 

Nat has given Junior Fiction readers a hilarious adventure about compromise, acceptance and family. Felix, Elsie and Noah are characters with heart, and perhaps the need to step back and look at life differently. Along with the brilliant illustrations of James Hart that capture wonderful moments in the story, readers will thoroughly enjoy this journey into Shower Land. I can’t wait for the next instalment and to see what happens. Will Felix ever break the curse?

 

For Ages: 7 -11 years

 

Number of Pages: 208

 

Published: February 2024

 

Themes: Family, compromise and acceptance


The Impossible Secret of Lillian Velvet by Jaclyn Moriarty and published by Allen & Unwin

The Impossible Secret of Lillian Velvet is the story of a 10-year-old girl, a pickle jar filled with gold coins, time travel and the incredible worlds of Kingdoms and Empires. It is part of the series that includes The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone.

 

Lillian Velvet lives a quiet, grey life with her grandmother. It flows with a predictability that would stifle most children, but Lillian Velvet is a different kind of child. She is thoughtful and kind and considering her upbringing, she has a depth of character that somehow ingrained in her. This is Moriarty’s seed that sprouts a wonderous fairy tale.

 

When Lillian receives a jar of coins for her 10th birthday, she is told she may wish to go to places she’s never been. Considering she has only really ever gone to the corner shop with her grandmother, the possibilities are plenty. Once her adventures begin, Lilian and the reader are drawn into such an imaginative world where so much is possible. But what does it mean? Why Lilian? Who is behind the tragedies that are engulfing the world of Kingdoms and Empires? When Lilian nears the end of her journey and pledge to save a small boy form death, the tension reaches fever pitch. The reader is left to watch on, helpless, as those who wish to manipulate Lilian gain the upper hand.

 

Jaclyn Moriarty again gives readers an incredible experience. The descriptions of the world of Kingdoms and Empires, the characters living there and what happens when Lilian is there, are absolutely captivating. Lilian’s beautiful character who experiences cruelty, deception, a loveless upbringing and manages to emerge as one of the loveliest characters. The themes of family, time travel, kindness and honour flow through this adventurous tale. Confident Middle Grade readers who enjoyed Tumble Glass by Kate Constable will love this book.

 

For Ages: 10-14 years

 

Number of Pages: 544

 

Published: October 2023

 

Themes: Family, time travel, kindness


The Littlest Penguin and the Phillip Island Penguin Parade by Jedda Robaards and published by Puffin Books

The story of the Little Penguins of Phillip Island is delightful and educational at the same time. We follow Little Penguin as she first leaves her burrow and explores her aquatic world with her friends Scruffy, Cheeky and Big Chick.

 

The Phillip Island colony is strong now that it is protected by the Nature Park rangers and all the hard-working people at The Penguin Foundation. But it hasn’t always been the case, their on-land habitat is not the only dangerous place they need to navigate. As we follow Little Penguin and her friends, readers see that there are many threats, both natural and man-made that can impact the lives of these little creatures.

 

Jedda Robaards has given us a beautifully illustrated, easy to read, fictional rendition of the life of the Phillip Island penguins. The last section of the book has interesting facts about the animals and online, readers can access teachers notes for further information. This little hard cover book is a useful and engaging introduction to younger folk about nature and humans and how we interact.

 

 

 

 

For Ages: 4-8 years

 

Number of Pages: 144

 

Published: October 2023

 

Themes: Environment, animals and resilience


The Rebels of Mount Buffalo by Helen Edwards and published by Riveted Press

It’s 1998 and Clara, along with her parents, travel to the Mount Buffalo National Park to celebrate Australia’s centenary. It’s a holiday at the chalet they have enjoyed many times in the past, but this year is different. This year, Clara’s twin brother Darius is not with them. His death has torn Clara’s family apart. Her parents haven’t been able to find a way to exist together and have separated. Clara is left grieving not only her brother’s death, but the deep, dark hole of a lost family.

 

Clara is interested in visiting Mount Buffalo chalet again as she has done plenty of research for a school project about a young mountain guide, Alice Mansfield, who lived there in the 1890s. Guide Alice was an adventurous girl who explored the area and knew it so well, she guided travellers through the treacherous landscape. She was an early feminist and a keen photographer as well.

 

One night, Clara, while exploring an exhibition of Alice’s possessions, finds herself transported back in time to Alice’s cabin in the mountains, not far from where the modern chalet stands. Clara is fascinated by meeting Alice and while trying to figure out a way back to her own time, she learns first hand, about life in 1893.

 

Helen Edwards has given readers an interesting timeslip novel. Taking a real person and inserting a fictional one along-side creates an engaging narrative. Clara’s first-person perspective lets us into her thoughts and the elaborate journey to her healing and acceptance. We learn about life in outback Australia and gain insights into the themes of feminism, grief, family and courage. Readers who enjoyed timeslip novels such as Timefire by Nean McKenzie will like these real events intermingled with fictional characters.

 

For Ages: 9-11 years

 

Number of Pages: 208

 

Published: October 2023

 

Themes: Grief, family, courage and feminism


Blair Moon: How to be Cooler Than the Moon by Ashleigh Mounser and published by Ford Street Publishing

Blair Moon is a feisty, determined 11-year-old who is about to have her neat, predictable world turned upside down. Her mum has told her she has to go to school rather than be educated at the nursing home they live in.

 

Blair Moon is comfortable with her elderly friends Nancy and Edgar, and her education, which is of a very high standard. She feels she doesn’t need to “play” with other kids or get used to interacting with different people. Blair Moon – who is only ever known by both her names – is horrified by her mum’s suggestion, and after trying to talk her way out of it, reluctantly goes to school.

 

There, she has to deal with the cool kids, navigate her way through pointless social situations and ultimately figure out a way to make it work for her. Enlisting the help of her new friend Poppy, Blair Moon decides to run for Student President. What follows is an adventure into personalities, social perceptions, and knowing when going too far, is too much.

 

Ashleigh Mounser has created a character who can be hilarious, frustrating, smart and ignorant all at the same time. Seen through the eyes of the main character, the reader is given a glimpse of how it could feel to have your world shifted off kilter and learn the lessons that friends, family and society are there to give.

The themes of friendship, belonging, social hierarchies, and gracefully accepting life’s lessons, are played out through the eyes of a very precocious protagonist. Middle Grade readers who enjoyed books like How to be Prime Minister and Survive Grade Five by Carla Fitzgerald will love Blair Moon.

 

For Ages: 10 -13 years

 

Number of Pages: 225

 

Published: October 2023 Ford Street Publishing

 

Themes: Belonging, acceptance, family and finding your way


Magic Awry by Sarah Armstrong and published by Hardie Grant Egmont

Magic Awry is the next instalment in Sarah Armstrong’s Big Magic series. This time, Tulsi is faced with an even bigger dilemma. Something is disturbing the flow of magic for both her and her mother, and Tulsi must go to a parallel universe to try and find a way to return things to normal.

 

Tulsi travels with her best friend Kit. He is desperate to see his father in a different universe – one where he hasn’t died. When they arrive, they are met by Efa who is there to help them. In this world, Efa and her mother Carys, believe Tulsi is “The Bringer” or the Chosen One. But something is wrong in this universe too. Nature is damaged and bad things are happening all over the countryside. Trees and animals in great numbers are dying as the magic is draining away.

In this universe, Tulsi’s grandmother Sylvie, has taken control and is seeking power over all magicians. Even though Tulsi had taken away Sylvie’s magic powers only three months ago, she has a strong following. Sylvie needs Tulsi to give her powers back so she can have total control.

 

Can Tulsi and the magicians this universe stop Sylvie and her band of followers from destroying nature? Will she be able to save Kit? And who exactly is the next Bringer?

 

Sarah Armstrong’s novel is an action packed, page turning adventure. Tulsi is a character built on different emotions and everyday worries that easily align with middle grade readers. Her friendship and loyalty to Kit and those around her are strong and engaging. The themes of caring for the environment and the connectivity of all living things runs through the novel in a way that weaves in beautifully with a story of friendship, ethics and a way of understanding our place in the universe.

 

For Ages: 9 – 13 years

 

Number of Pages: 288

 

Published: July 2023

 

Themes: Environment, friendship and sacrifice


One Wrong Turn by Chenee Marrapodi and published by Fremantle Press

One Wrong Turn is a story about commitment, ambition, family and friendship. Amelia has been the top dancer at her ballet school for years. She believes she deserves it because she practices more than anyone else and it’s her life’s dream to become a professional dancer. Into her world comes Valentina, an Italian girl, new to Australia. She can perform a perfect triple pirouette with ease and Amelia is worried. The mid-year show is coming up soon and auditions being held. Amelia believes she will get the lead as usual but is devastated when Miss Lilly gives the role of Cinderella to Valentina.

 

How will Amelia tell her dancer mum that she hasn’t got the lead? And Valentina, who finds everything so new and confusing, how will she be able to keep up? Will her traditional Italian family even let her dance?

 

Chenèe Marrapodi’s debut novel gives an insight into the world of ballet and family pressures. Writing from experience, she brings to life a part of many a young dancers trials and tribulations. The themes of friendship, hard work, acceptance, bullying, family pressures and love run through this thoroughly engaging novel.

 

 

 

 

 

For Ages: 9 -11 years

 

Number of Pages: 288

 

Published: July 2023

 

Themes: Resilience, friendship, bullying and family

 


Hercules Quick’s Big Bag of Tricks by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Andrew Joyner and published by Allen & Unwin

Hercules Quick’s Big Bag of Tricks is a lively Junior Fiction book about helping others, friendship and finding wonder in everyday things. And of course, magic. Hercules really wants to buy a box of magic tricks so he advertises his services for 10 cents a job. The apartment building where he lives with his Aunt Alligator is full of quirky characters, all of them needing his assistance. Will he be able to save up enough money to buy his magic box before he is totally exhausted by all his money-earning jobs?

Ursula Dubosarsky has given younger reads a fun filled book with delightful characters and which promotes the ideas of acceptance, friendship and helping others. I especially liked the three magic tricks we got to learn at the end of each “Act”. The formatting of Hercules Quick’s Big Bag of Tricks is beautifully laid out with a combination of wonderful illustrations by Andrew Joyner and the breaking up of blocks of text into chapters and Acts. Joyner’s depiction of the hilarious rough-and-tumble Elk family, the indecisive Professor Calamari, confused turtle brothers, Mike and Herbert and the illusive Queen Claude lend a delightful energy to the narrative.

This is a book for readers who are beginning their reading journey as well as a great nightly a story-time read with parents.

 

 

 

 

 

For Ages: 6 - 9 years

 

Number of Pages: 224

 

Published: May 2023

 

Themes: helping others, acceptance finding wonder in the everyday

 


The Lonely Lighthouse of Elston-Fright by Reece Carter and illustrated by Simon Howe, published by Allen & Unwin

Corpse, Flip and Ghost reunite in this great second instalment of Reece Carter’s Elson-Fright books. After ridding the town of three evil witches, the friends find themselves facing another threat. Dangerous winds are circling and bringing with them a great peril that can’t be ignored.

 

Flip, Corpse and Girl must seek the help of seafoam sprites that are reluctant to join in anything to do with light-keepers. An age-old feud between Flip’s family and the sprites stands between them like an impenetrable wall. Both sides are at fault but have never resolved the shock of betrayal. As a consequence, Elston-Fright is unprotected from the evil magic of the Poltergusts.

 

A seafoam sprite called Wing decides to break with tradition and help Corpse find a special something that will hopefully defeat the deadly menace. Can the three friends, with the help of an age-old enemy, overcome the powerful Poltergusts and perhaps find some answers to Corpse’s identity?

 

Reece Carter has given readers another rollicking ride through the world of Elston-Fright. The themes of friendship, collaboration, trust and forgiveness all come together as the backbone of this story. Middle grade readers will love this adventure. I especially enjoyed Simon Howe’s illustrations and seeing Girl’s face at last.

 

 

 

For Ages: 8-12 years

 

Number of Pages: 352

 

Published: October 2023

 

Themes: Family, friendship, trust and forgiveness


Being Jimmy Baxter by Fiona Lloyd, published by Puffin Books

Being Jimmy Baxter is a story about family. Fiona Lloyd’s debut novel follows Jimmy and his mum as they escape a home beset with domestic violence. At first Jimmy is told they are going on a holiday but when his father finds them, they must move quickly and become someone else.

 

Jimmy is thrown into a new world and has no say in the matter. As he tries to adapt to a new name, town and school, his mum spirals into a depression that leaves her unable to get out of bed. Jimmy, while trying to avoid some bullies, and generally get on with life, meets Mac. A friendship begins that will support them both through rough times. Along with Mac’s favourite singer Elvis, of course.

 

Jimmy has to tackle so many things. His mother’s debilitating depression and the danger of his violent father tracking them down. He needs to work to feed the family and cope with school work, which is not his strongest skillset. He does all this with a fortitude and resilience that shines out in a gentle, persistent way. 

 

Fiona Lloyd’s novel, set in the early 1990s, is an exploration of the complex issues that face people in an era that in many ways has not changed. Themes of family, courage, mental illness and domestic violence all come together in a surprisingly heart-warming story.

Here, the cruelty is outweighed by kindness and concern, as Jimmy’s life reaches a climax that cannot be avoided.

 

For Ages: 10 - 14 years

 

Number of Pages: 240

 

Published: July 2023

 

Themes: Resilience, domestic violence, depression and friendship


Sunshine on Vinegar Street by Karen Cormer, published by Allen & Unwin

Freya has been thrown out of her comfort zone. Her dad has taken a job across the country and she has had to move with her mum far from friends and her beloved basketball team. She has gone from being the best in her group to having to prove herself all over again.

 

Life is complicated by the fact she now lives in an apartment on the eleventh floor and she is terrified of elevators. The cool kids at school don’t want to include her in the team and try to block her in every way. Freya feels shut out and can’t see a way to make her life better.

 

Karen Comer’s verse novel captures the feelings experienced at the age of 12 and how tricky it is to navigate one’s way through change. The fabulous thing about verse novels is that they are perfect for readers intimidated by long chapters and thick blocks of text. This Middle Grade novel invites readers on an enjoyable voyage of managing expectations, emotions, phobias and basketball.

 

For Ages: 8 – 12 years

 

Number of Pages: 304

 

Published: May 2023

 

Themes:  change, family, friends


Honey and the Valley of Horses by Wendy Orr, published by Allen & Unwin

Honey and the Valley of Horses is the magical tale of a family trapped in paradise. Honey, her parents, NanNan and baby brother Rumi, escaped the city when “illness swept the world.” Packed into the family’s ice cream van were all the possessions they needed to live in the countryside until they thought it safe to return to civilization.

 

When they discover a hidden valley inhabited by wild horses, they were unaware that the path that leads back to the city disappeared behind them. They were trapped in an idyllic place but always dream of going back to their family and friends.

 

Befriended by the horses and guided by the animals’ uncanny knowledge of their surroundings, the family settled into a routine. As the seasons passed and they worked the land, they thought about what they’d left behind. Honey and Rumi were little when they arrived but seven years have passed and now they are all faced with a desperate situation. Honey’s dad is seriously ill and Honey must find a way out of the valley and find a doctor.

 

Wendy Orr has created a fragile magical paradise. A welcome escape from an infected world, but it comes at a price. It is a study of how the perfect can sometimes hide flaws. Of how families can learn to adapt. The themes of resilience, adaptability, family, bravery and pure belief are all explored here. Young Middle Grade reader will love the descriptions of how the family lives and the beautiful relationship Honey has with her horse, Moongold.

 

For Ages: 9 - 13 years

 

Number of Pages: 224

 

Published: August 2023

 

Themes: Resilience, family and belonging


Hamlet is Not OK by R.A Spratt, published by Penguin Australia

R.A Spratt has given us another humour-filled novel. This alternate exploration of Shakespeare’s Hamlet is great. (I wish it had been around when I had to study it). The main character Selby, comes from a family of high achievers and is struggling with school. She is disengaged and avoiding homework – quite successfully, until Parent-Teacher night rolls around. Her parents are furious and not only ban TV and anything fun, they hire her a tutor.

 

Dan is a friend of her brother and Selby is not thrilled to have to spend time with him. They work after school in Selby’s parents book shop and her first task is to read Hamlet. Selby HATES reading.

 

Somehow, Selby’s reading of Hamlet transports her and Dan to a real-life enactment of Shakespeare’s play. They encounter Hamlet, his father’s ghost, his mother, uncle, school friends Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and poor Ophelia along with all the major plot elements of the play. Selby is struck by Hamlet’s behaviour and the casual violence enacted throughout the play and decides to try and set things right – or at least lessen the death toll.

 

What follows is adventure that explores the themes Shakespeare was so fond of. Anxiety, depression, delusions, unrequited love, loyalty, family and insanity. Though Shakespeare had different words for some of the emotions that ran so strongly through his characters, here we get to see them through modern interpretations. Selby’s struggles with what looks like classic dyslexia and compulsion to set things straight morally, all come together to give the reader the suggestion of a different angle to view the world.

 

For Ages: 13 + years

 

Number of Pages: 224

 

Published: July 2023

 

Themes: Family, dyslexia, depression, morals


Picasso and the Greatest Show on Earth by Anna Fienberg, published by Allen & Unwin

A dog called Picasso, a grieving girl and a boy with secrets of his own. Anna Fienberg’s latest novel is an exploration of relationships and finding the joy in the everyday.

 

Frances has moved to a new house, is going to a new school and has a new puppy. Her dad is a journalist who is overseas working on a story in Pakistan and her mum is either working or avoiding her daughter. Frances feels alone and moving has not helped the family with their grief over the death of her little brother, Henry.

 

When Frances meets Kit, she sees in him a true artistic talent and an acceptance of her and her obsession with bacteria. His quiet love of drawing and nature and the strength he gets from them, slowly help Frances to see the world differently. Kit, too, has his secrets, and as the book unfolds, readers are taken on a journey of heartache, friendship and the need to talk about our fears.

 

Anna Fienberg’s characters all have flaws that at times can cripple them. But their willingness to embrace change and explore more than just their immediate lives, gives the book its joy. The themes of grief, guilt, isolation, family and the importance of sharing a burden are all explored here. This is a gentle, thoughtful novel that invites the reader to join its characters on a voyage that will change their lives.

 

 

For Ages: 10-14 years

 

Number of Pages: 384

 

Published: July 2023

 

Themes: Grief, family and friendship


Huda Was Here by H. Hayek, published by Allen & Unwin

Huda Was Here is the second book that brings us an adventure with the fabulous Huda. This time she and her brother Akeal are trying to get their father his job back. He was a security guard that patrolled their neighbourhood, but he did it so well, there was no more crime. He has had to travel far away to find work and cannot visit often. Huda has a strategy to get him back. A series of planned raids will surely make it necessary for him to return.

 

Between garbage bin ransacking, chalk graffiti and other urban chaos, Huda and Akeal discover the possibility that there is something more serious going on. With the help of a new friend, Fadey, they hope to find out exactly what is happening.

 

Hayek has given readers another character filled tale. Huda is a larger than life, fiercely protective girl who is totally prepared to take control of any situation. Her interactions with her big brother Akeal range from serious, mutual love and respect to downright funny. We are given an insight into the trials and delights of a family that is living in multi-cultural, contemporary Australia. Themes of courage, family, problem solving, conflict and current financial stress, all come together in an enjoyable and easy to read story of modern times and age-old family unity.

 

 

 

 

 

For Ages: 9 -13 years

 

Number of Pages: 288

 

Published: April 2023

 

Themes: Family, courage, multi-culturalism and siblings


Wylah, the Koorie Warrior: Custodians by Jordan Gould and illustrated by Richard Pritchard, published by Albert Street Books

Join Wylah on this second epic adventure in the Koorie Warrior series. She has managed to unite the five Guardians but now must battle the Dragon Army and the evil men controlling it.

 

Tribes have been captured and taken to search for gold. Once they have revealed where their totems are, the invaders can gain ultimate power. Elders, refusing to cooperate, along with their fellow tribespeople are caged and exhausted but strong in their resistance to Captain Frye and the head of the Imperial Alchemy, Livingstone.

 

Can Wylah find them in time and fight off the many creatures and enemies sent to find the totems?

 

Jordan Gould has given readers another action-packed quest full of engaging characters and villainous bad guys. The way of life known for generations is at risk and the burden falls on Wylah to save the day. Her struggles with confidence and responsibility play out amongst a rich world whose background is sourced from indigenous language and culture.

 

The illustrations of Richard Pritchard enhance the fast-paced energy found throughout the book and his portrayal of some of these imaginary creatures are fabulous.

 

 

 

For Ages: 8+12 years

 

Number of Pages: 360

 

Published: May 2023 Albert Street Books / Allen & Unwin

 

Themes: Bravery, family, resilience


Timefire by Nean McKenzie and published by Midnight Sun

Timefire is an intriguing story that follows Gilbert Black as he travels through some of Australia’s worst bush fires. Gil and his dad Nathan, live in rural Victoria and there is a bushfire coming their way. For Gil, these fires hold part of his family history. His mother disappeared during the Black Saturday fires in 2009 when he was a baby. She had been accused of starting the fires just like Gil is now.

 

Gil meets a tall stranger who persuades him to walk into a fire. Gil has always been drawn to fires and can predict when they are coming. Gil’s main objective is to find out what happened to his mum who he misses and who he believes can answer his questions about his family and its affinity to fire.

 

As he travels back in time to each fiery moment he meets ancestors who will, in the future, travel just like him. They all have a sacred duty to perform. Is it Gil’s time to sacrifice himself to the fire or can he possibly reverse this endless cycle?

 

Nean McKenzie has given Middle Grade readers a great glimpse at pockets of Australian history which still impact upon us. Her characters come alive on the pages as harbingers of climate change and the deadly choices the world is making today.

 

 

 

 

For Ages: 9 - 13years

 

Number of Pages: 196

 

Published: July 2023 Midnight Sun Publishing

 

Themes: Climate change, family, responsibility


Spellhound: A Dragons of Hallow Book 1 by Lian Tanner and Illustrated by Sally Soweol Han, published by Allen & Unwin

From the moment I read the first page of Spellhound, I was hooked. The inviting, chatty voice of the narrator, combined with the descriptions of the of the three main characters drew me in straight away. 

 

Flax, Minch-wiggin and “Destroyer-of-Dragons-and-Protector-of-her-People”, along with a special Spellhound (dragon hunting) Pup accidently begin an adventure that will change their lives forever. Thrown – literally – into the World Below, above which their own world, the Floating Forest, hovers. There, they meet a human child and together they go in search of the Pup’s parent who may or may not, have been eaten by dragons.

 

This book is jam-packed with evil dragons (perhaps much maligned) Minch-wiggins, Spellhounds and Royalty being treated badly. Everyone, it seems, has a secret, and as the adventure unfolds, all must find somewhere deep inside themselves, the courage to forge ahead and save the day. The collaboration of unusual colleagues results in a funny, sometimes sad, and sometimes collective ‘ahhh’ moments kind of book. 

 

Lian Tanner has created the first in a series that will captivate Junior Fiction or early Middle Grade readers. The characters are beautifully portrayed and their worlds are created with imagination and humour. The illustrations by Sally Soweol Han spread throughout the novel are full of energy and emotion. The themes of friendship, self-belief, teamwork and the environment are beautifully interwoven in this grand adventure. 

 

For Ages: 7 - 11 years

 

Number of Pages: 352

 

Published: April 2023 Allen & Unwin

 

Themes: Friendship, teamwork and the environment

 


Philomella and the Impossible Forest by Doris Brett, published by Hardie Grant

Philomella isn’t having a good time, her life has been turned upside down. Her mum and dad have divorced, she has had to move from her beloved home and school and she hates it all – especially her dad. On the way home from school she discovers an unusual library and meets a were-dragon called Mary. And that’s when the adventure begins.

 

They travel to the Impossible Forest where bad things are happening and only Philomella and her new friends can help. The brave band of heroes must try and find Princess Rapunzel who seems to be the catalyst for the problem and figure out why the far reaches of the forest seem to be shifting and changing. There is an evil presence at play and they must stop it destroying the equilibrium of this beloved ecosystem. Philomella, with Mary, (the were-dragon) Gertrude (a Forest Dear) Ash, (who can talk to trees) and an excitable picnic basket, set off to find the contrary princess and along the way, must fend off all sorts of dangerous characters. Can Philomella help discover who is creating these dangerous ripples throughout the forest? Will the experience help her discover something about herself? 

 

Doris Brett is a writer and clinical psychologist who has written books of poetry, therapeutic storytelling and memoir. This Middle Grade fantasy novel is a delightful exploration of what it is to be yourself and how to let go of anger and to forgive.

 

 

For Ages: 9 - 12 years

 

Number of Pages: 336

 

Published: April 2023 Hardie Grant

 

Themes: Forgiveness, anger, self-belief


The Fix-it Princess by Janeen Brian and illustrated by Cherie Dignam, published by Walker Books

Princess Shona is worried. Mum-Queen and Dad-King took off on a quick trip, travelling on a Wing-Thing. They were hoping to enjoy a birthday treat on a flying machine invented by their daughter. But it’s been two days since they left and Shona is very concerned. She only has a portrait of her Nana to talk to, apart from some chickens and an ancient horse called Wildfire. What should she do? There’s no money to buy food and she’s getting sick of eggs. And on top of these worries, the hen house is falling down and she will have to fix it before she can start the search for her parents. Obstacles are piling up to prevent her from getting to the market in town to ask after her parents. The drawbridge is proving very difficult to manage and she must also pass close to the haunted woods. Shona, luckily has a great can-do attitude and finally manages to leave the castle. 

 

A few days later, when she is feeling particularly despondent, Shona hears singing and is immediately drawn to find whoever has such a beautiful, mesmerising voice. Whenever Shona sings, animals and people seem to get distracted and run away. She discovers Dragon who has a bad tooth ache and invites him back to the castle to fix it. Together they embark on an adventure, rescue mission.

 

Janeen Brian’s novel is a great in-between book that bridges from Junior Fiction into Middle Grade. With relatively short chapters, interspersed with the wonderful illustrations of Cherie Dignam, readers are drawn to the cheery, positive character of the Fix-it Princess. The themes of resilience, having a go, independence, friendship and family play throughout the story and give the reader a lovely light hearted positive experience.

 

For Ages: 7-10 years

 

Number of Pages: 160

 

Published: March 2023 Walker Books

 

Themes: Resilience, perseverance, family and friendship


Bad Grammar by Nathan Luff, published by Walker Books

Marcus Grady is a warrior and when he is playing his favourite game, he is invincible. In real life however, 12-year-old Marcus has no friends since Bashir flew out to India. He prefers playing Dragon Warrior, he doesn’t need other kids, especially the bully who demands Marcus hands over his lunch every day.

 

Marcus’ happy life is turned inside out when it is decided he spends too much time on the computer and is sent away to boarding school where, hopefully, he will learn to make friends and overcome his gaming addiction. He arrives at Bourkely Boys Grammar and is horrified by what he sees. It is situated exactly in the middle of nowhere and even worse, there is no internet or computers. Sleeping involves balancing precariously in a hammock and the food is so bad that one boy, Trent, has lost a third of his body weight in just one term. Marcus is befriended by Fred who talks continually and Trent, Fred’s bodyguard. The prefects, especially one called Scarface, are brutal and bullying is commonplace. All Marcus wants to do is escape. 

                                           

Can Marcus find a way to leave this hell hole? Can he get to the one and only phone to call his parents? At every turn Marcus is presented with stumbling blocks that being a warrior, should make easy to overcome. As the students hurtle towards an unforeseen consequence of an overly exuberant history lesson and the toppling of a king bully, Marcus learns more about himself, and about friends, loyalty and forgiveness.

 

Nathan Luff has created a school that features in children’s nightmares, but not all is as it seems. Crazy teachers, a terrifying Principal, a library ghost and the half blind Italian bus driver all come together to create a wonderful adventure for junior and Middle Grade readers. Marcus’ thoughts and wonderful snippets from ‘The Warrior’s Guide to Everything’ create a character who will resonate with many readers. This re-release novel still packs a punch.

 

For Ages: 8 - 12 years

 

Number of Pages: 283

 

Published: April 2023 Walker Books Australia (originally released January 2013)

 

Themes: Friendship, bullying, video game addiction, resilience


The Hotel Witch by Jessica Miller, published by Text Publishing

Sibyl’s grandmother is the hotel witch at The Grand Mirror Hotel and Sibyl is her apprentice. Together they help the hotel and its guests wherever they are needed. They clean shoes and windows, help pastries rise, set tables and help guests when they have lost something or need more room in their suitcases. 

 

Sibyl’s mother is away on very important business in the Black Mountains, but she always writes interesting letters and visits when she can. Grandma instructs Sibyl, and on a daily basis must remind her that letting her mind wander or to daydream while casting spells can only lead to failure. Sibyl can’t help dreaming and thinking about possible case scenarios.

 

When Grandma disappears on the mysterious thirteenth floor of the hotel and objects begin to lose their shadows, Sibyl must try and solve the problem herself. With the help of her best friend Ahmed and a talking cat, Sibyl tries to fix the problem before it’s too late.

 

Jessica Miller has given readers a magical narrative full of wonderful characters. Sibyl’s struggle with concentrating and trying not to worry about things, are traits many can sympathise with. Her journey from young apprentice to confident sorcerer is beautifully played out against a backdrop of great imagination. The themes of family, believing in yourself, perseverance and bravery in times of trouble, are explored in this fun adventure.

 

 

 

 

For Ages: 9+ years

 

Number of Pages: 288

 

Published: March 2023 Text

 

Themes: Resilience, family and believing in yourself


A Message Through Time by Anna Ciddor, published by Allen & Unwin

Felix and his half-sister Zoe, are trying to get used to each other. Their blended family is on holiday in France and they have an afternoon free before they have to meet up again with their parents and leave. They are wandering around the ancient Roman ruins of a bath house when Felix finds a message in a bottle with instructions on how to travel back in time. Zoe scoffs but Felix thinks it’s worth a try, just for fun. As he is writing the magic word on the wall of the bath house Zoe grabs him and the two of them are propelled back 1700 years. As they begin to explore their environment they meet Petronia, a young girl of high rank. Somehow, in the mix of people and the excitement of the day, when they travel back to their own time, Petronia has come too.

 

The siblings agree they need to return her to her time and make what they hope is a quick trip back. Things get complicated when they discover Petronia’s sleeping body has stayed behind and her family have taken her to a healing spring to try and wake her up. What follows is a great adventure that introduces the reader to some very interesting historical information about the lives of Romans from all walks of life. 

 

Anna Ciddor’s time slip novel follows on from The Boy Who Stepped Through Time but is also a stand-alone book. Middle Grade readers will love this fast-paced, fun-fact filled, ancient adventure. While trying to avoid eating sparrows and hard, tasteless biscuits, and trying not to drown in the Rhone, the siblings must adapt to the social hierarchy. Felix is a loveable, if a bit clumsy character, whose rocky relationship with his step-sister grows through the novel. The descriptions of the houses and lives of this era are beautifully crafted. This voyage back in time will get readers wanting more.

 

For Ages: 8 - 13 years

 

Number of Pages: 336

 

Published: April 2023 

 

Themes: Family, friendship and perseverance 


Queenie in Seven Moves by Zanni Louise, published by Walker Books

Queenie and her mum have a big problem. The house they’ve been living in for years has been sold and they need to find somewhere else to rent. The trouble is, it’s the middle of the Pandemic and rental properties are scarce. Queenie and her mum start an odyssey that will take them on a journey that is far more than just moving house.

 

Queenie loves music and plays her father’s acoustic guitar but she lacks the confidence she needs to perform. When the time comes to perform in the end of year concert, Queenie backs out when she realises her old friend Sparrow is singing the same song. No matter what people say to encourage her, she always backs out.

 

Queenie and her mum are a team. Ever since her father died, when she was very young, they have done things together. But since they started looking for somewhere to live, things between them have changed and Queenie hasn’t quite figured out why. In one of their stays Queenie gets to know classmate Dory a bit better. He’s a chess whiz but also knows how to record her songs and up load them to Spotify. When she has to move on, Queenie struggles with the ever-increasing hopelessness of trying to find somewhere to live. Each place they go to is different from the last and each time Queenie realises she must step up and “put on her big girl pants”. 

 

Will she and her mum ever find a place to live? And will Queenie ever get the courage to perform in front of more than three people? How will she manage her renewed friendship with her singing rival Sparrow? All these things, as well as her mum’s new relationship, leave Queenie searching deep within herself.

 

Zanni Louis has given us a cleverly constructed insight into the lives of others. She shared Queenie’s journey herself and sheds a light on an element of the Pandemic that has been quietly brushed under the rug. The growing self-esteem Queenie evolves over the course of the story, helps her realise that when awful things happen they don’t always end as badly as imagined. This is a book about resilience, family, friendships and self-belief. Readers will enjoy this modern-day tale of urban adventure and quiet heroism.

 

For Ages: 10 - 13 years

 

Number of Pages: 240

 

Published: February 2023 Walker Books

 

Themes: Family, friendships, resilience, homelessness and self-esteem


Indigo in the Storm by Kate Gordon, published by Yellow Brick Books

Indigo Michael is lonely and angry, and she has good reason to be. She has been abandoned by her mother, (her father left years ago), and now she is living with a foster family. Luckily for Indigo, she has landed in the best place possible. Noni, her faster carer, and Noni’s niece Aster, are good people. They are patient and kind and only want Indigo to feel she belongs and is loved for who she is.

 

Indigo tries to fit into her new school but feels out of place there as well. Drawing helps her and sometimes eases the pain that her mother has left behind when she packed up and abandoned her. When Indigo meets Liam, also new at their school, she sees a revolutionary. Someone who wants to take action against an unfair world. They slowly form a friendship and decide to change the world.

 

Kate Gordon has given us a story that is both strong and wild, as well as quiet and contemplative. Indigo Michael, ‘born during a storm’, has always been wild, and will continue to be. Now, perhaps, she has direction and people around her who can believe in her and stand by, in support and love. This is a story about belonging, friends, creativity and the environment, and how, when all these elements come together in the right order, life can be worth living. Indigo’s voice is at times rebellious and at others small and fragile. Her search for herself is just starting and with the help of those around her, she may find a way forward.

 

 

 

For Ages: 9 - 13 years

 

Number of Pages: 195

 

Published: March 2023 

 

Themes: Friendship, belonging, family, environment


Waiting for the Storks by Katrina Nannestad, published by Harper Collins

Waiting for Storks is the third book in Katrina Nannestad’s series set during World War II. This time we join Zofia, a Polish 8-year-old who lives in Krakow with her parents and aunt. Zofia and her family struggle with the severe restrictions imposed by the Nazi invaders but even though their clothes are patched and they never have enough to eat, at least they have each other. 

 

Zofia’s life falls apart when she is taken away by soldiers and thrown into the back of a truck in the middle of the night. She has no idea what is happening and is terrified she will never see her family again. Blonde haired, blue eyed Zofia joins hundreds of other children just like her at a school to begin their German re-education. Slowly and sometimes violently, she is brainwashed into believing the new story of her life. She is now a German orphan called Sophia and with some guilt, she excels at fitting in. She is adopted by a top Nazi doctor and her life of poverty and discrimination is left behind. 

 

As the war comes to an end, Sophia’s life gets complicated and she is torn between two worlds. Katrina Nannestad has given us an insight into another version of life for children during World War II. She explores, through Zofia/Sophia, the emotions, confusion and terror of the children kidnapped to fuel Germany’s Lebensborn Program.

 

The themes of family, hardship, death, loyalty and survival all play out here in an exciting and captivating novel. This is a story of the horrible choices that had to be made by some the most vulnerable people in order to survive. It is also about hope and redemption. It is a complex set of thoughts beautifully crafted into a very readable novel.

 

For Ages: 12 + years

 

Number of Pages: 358 Hardback

 

Published: May 2022 ABC Books Au/ Harper Collins

 

Themes: Family, resilience, loyalty and identity


all illustrations have been done by Marianne Khoo & Ramona Davey who we love & appreciate more than they can ever imagine!

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