By Georgina Gye
The Goodbye Year is a story about finding your place among your friends and community as well as accepting that sometimes life can be a bumpy road. Harper is really looking forward to Year 6 as she and her classmates will get to enjoy the comradery and special privileges that come with your final year of primary school. She is also keen to see which captains badge she’ll get. When her best friends Cleo and Ro are given great badges along with her arch enemy Corey and she is left with the Library Captains role, she is devastated. Each recess and lunch her friends seem to be slipping further away as they have meetings to discuss various projects. Harper’s life is thrown another curve ball when her parents, both nurses, decide to do aid work in a war-torn country far away. Harper is left to go and live with her grandmother Lolly, who she hardly knows.
Living with Lolly isn’t bad, but Harper is finding it difficult to sleep. Something keeps on waking her up at 3am and she is beginning to sleepwalk. An old cadet badge she found on the way to school keeps on turning up in the strangest places and she is wondering if there is something wrong with her. Harper’s life is further thrown into disarray when schools are shut down during the pandemic. What with her friends seemingly abandoning her, trying to find something exciting about the library to engage her fellow students and her sleepless nights, she is growing more and more unsettled. When she sees a ghost in the library, Harper finds herself exploring another time that is eerily similar to her own.
What does this young soldier want and why is Harper the only person who sees him? His appearance and their conversations only manage to create more difficulties with her friends. Surely there must be a solution somewhere to be found in a thread from the past.
Emily Gales’ character Harper embodies the thoughts and experiences of so many kids in the past and recent times. The themes of friendship, family, resilience and empathy flow throughout the novel which combines the perennial ups and downs of the final year of junior school with modern experiences. The Goodbye Year gives a glimpse into a world inhabited by characters familiar to many, and readers will enjoy Harper’s journey and the unexpected twists it sometimes takes.
For Ages: 10-12 years
Number of Pages: 256
Published: August 2022 Text
Themes: Family, friendship and resilience
Purchase here: textpublishing.com.au/books/the-goodbye-year
Tumbleglass is a time-slip novel about the meaning of family and the secrets they keep. While painting a bedroom, sisters, Ash and Rowan, discover an old ring, and from that moment on, everything changes. They travel back in time to 1999 and land in their own house during a party. Ash is excited and joins the party, happy to experience the era and all it holds. Rowan is shyer than her older sister and tries to explore the house. She runs into a younger version of her mother and accidently interferes with time.
Shortly after, Rowan finds herself back in her own time but minus Ash. She must find a way to bring her back home and enlists the help of an old family friend. Verity knows the history of the house and tells Rowan that it is magical. They must work together to find pieces of glass from inside the house in different times.
Rowan travels back to the 1970s, 1940s and the 1900s. Each time she encounters residents of the house she has only known as her own. Each time, something momentous is happening and Rowan is drawn into the lives of those who lived there before. Can Rowan gather the things she needs before her family forgets that Ash ever existed? Can she be sure not to tamper with history or the lives of those around her? Time is running out and she must act quickly before her family is torn apart.
Kate Constable’s latest novel again tackles the idea of family. As with The January Stars, sisters are thrown together and must work out how to solve a problem that threatens the essence of their family. I really enjoy reading Constable’s explorations of the sometimes very complex relationships within a family, and what efforts siblings will go to, to save their greatest emotional asset. Rowan’s character starts out as a shy and an unconfident person, but as the stakes get higher, she finds within herself a strength she didn’t know she possessed.
For Ages: 9-13 years
Number of Pages: 320
Published: January, 2023 Allen & Unwin
Themes: Family, relationships, secrets and determination
Purchase here: allenandunwin.com/browse/book/Tumbleglass-9781760526962/
The Travelling Bookshop is on the move again, and this time the Cohen family arrive in a quaint English village just in time for the Puddling Muddlebury Dog Show. They set up their caravan near the village green and open for business. One of their visitors is Lord Melville-Timms and his incredibly headstrong English Bulldog, Bubbles. When he is asked to fill in at the last minute, as a judge for the dog show, he is delighted to help out. Unfortunately, judging also includes his Lordship and Bubbles opening the obedience trials with a glorious display of skill. Lord Melville-Timms is a very worried man. Will the books chosen for him actually help? It’s hard to say.
Katrina Nannestad’s Travelling Bookshop series is a delightful journey into the joy of imagination and the magical power of books. With flying sheep, expanding caravans and quirky characters, the reader is invited in for a time, to this extraordinary world. Mim’s narration gives the reader a cautious perspective and shows her gentle appreciation for the inner workings of her father’s mind. Little Nat, her brother, is always in the thick of the action and this time is obsessed with the letter C. Holding them all together, her father has a love of adventure that includes a fair amount of make-believe.
The themes of family, adapting, the environment and taking time to appreciate the simple things in life flow through this story. It is filled with colourful characters and funny situations. The story draws you in from the beginning as any reader of the series would agree. It’s always fun to see what books Mim’s father chooses for his visitors and how such obscure titles could possibly be of use.
The illustrations by Cheryl Orsini add so much to the narrative. From picnics on top of the caravan, to dog breeds and cardboard cars, the characters come alive with all their eccentricities and fun adventures. Middle Grade readers will enjoy this next instalment.
For Ages: 7-12 years
Number of Pages: 256
Published: March 2023 Harper Collins
Themes: Family, Imagination and adapting
Purchase here: harpercollins.com.au/9780733342240/mim-and-the-disastrous-dog-show-the-travelling-bookshop-4/
The Lorikeet Tree is an exploration into the journeys families make in difficult and heart-breaking times. Twins Alex and Emily live with their father in a woodland farm in Eastern Victoria. Their mother died when they were young and now at fifteen, they are told their father is dying.
The contrast between their emotional turmoil and the peace and beauty of their farm, put a strain on the twin’s relationship. Alex is good at maths and building things but also is very sensitive emotionally. Emily has an inner strength and practicality that makes her father ask her to look after her brother.
The twins set about making their father’s last few months happy and relaxed. But when Alex keeps a kitten from a litter of a feral cat, Emily can’t believe he would risk the birdlife and small animals they have worked so hard to help re-inhabit the area.
Jennings explores the themes of love, loss, grief, family and the environment. The story is written from Emily’s point of view as an English essay. Set in four parts that cover the seasons of the year, the reader is taken into the world of the twins, sharing their love of nature and the tragic death of their father. The Lorikeet Tree in the title plays a major role in the narrative and is a great symbol of life and harmony within nature. Middle Grade readers will enjoy this gentle observation of life, death and everything.
For Ages: 11-14 years
Number of Pages: 192
Published: January 2023 Allen & Unwin
Themes: environment, death, acceptance and family relationships
Purchase here: allenandunwin.com/browse/book/Paul-Jennings-Lorikeet-Tree-9781761180095/
The Colourful World of Poppy Starr Olsen is a great collaboration between the skateboard champion and writer Jess Black. Readers are invited into Poppy’s busy life. Along with her family and friends Poppy has a lot going on. When she hears about a skateboard competition at her local Bondi Beach skate park, she is excited and tries to enter. While going through the forms she has to fill in, she realises there is no place to enter as a girl – it’s only open to boys!
Then, the comp itself is threatened by the local member of council who believes all skate parks are dangerous and lead to vandalism. Poppy, with the help of her family and the fantastic support of her friends decides to tackle these set-backs one by one.
The book is sprinkled with interesting facts about the history of skateboarding and the terminology of both skating and surfing. The layout flows well and is interspersed with fun pictures drawn by Poppy. Its chatty style makes it easy to read and the short chapters broken into sections add to the friendly vibe.
Jess Black has written over 40 children’s books and is the co-author to many more. Her style is perfect for this type of story based on a real personality.
This novel is a wonderfully positive glimpse into a famous Australian’s life, just before her career takes off. Poppy’s actions and thoughts through the book, showcase what dedication and effecting change can do to help create possibilities for all. The themes of friendship, family, advocacy, determination and the rewards of practising the thing you love, all are explored here.
For Ages: 9-11 years
Number of Pages: 240
Published: August 2022 Puffin Books
Themes: Family, friendship, advocacy and determination
Purchase here: penguin.com.au/books/the-colourful-world-of-poppy-starr-olsen-9780143778837
Mary-Kate Martin and her mum, Prof Martin, are visiting the lovely Greek island of Galinios were a construction site has uncovered ancient mosaics. The Prof has been called in to investigate the find which is delaying an extension to a famous sardine processing plant. Mythology tells that the island is protected by a two-headed hydra called AYO. Sadly no one has seen the creature for a while and the islanders have stopped celebrating its power to keep the surrounding waters safe and full of fish.
Mary-Kate meets Nikos and goes on is island tour while her mother checks out the mosaic. This quickly turns into and investigation and search for clues as to what has happened to AYO. There have been some unexplained incidents that are be blamed on the two-headed hydra but Mary-Kate is not so sure. With Nikos’s help, the two monster hunters follow clues and keep watch over the activities of the suspicious Legendary Pest Control crew.
The smiling face of Kyrios Famous Sardines, Katarina Kyrios, is a smooth talker who is keen to dismiss Mary-Kate and Nikos as two pesky kids. Mary-Kate knows there is something very wrong with the waters around Galinios and its problem starts at the sardine factory. Mary-Kate must overcome her fear of practically everything and her ability to see the worst-case scenario. With the help of her lucky objects and Nikos, she may well discover the secret of the two-headed hydra.
Karen Foxlee has given readers another great adventure. The island of Galinios and its famous monster need help and Mary-Kate and her new friend Nikos, stand up to the challenge. Mary-Kate’s fear of the unknown and habit of thinking about all the bad things that can happen, are an insight into anxiety and possible remedies that may help combat the situation. Freda Chiu’s illustrations are clever and full of character. Mary-Kate’s special red sparkly shoes and the hydra itself capture the excitement and atmosphere perfectly. Readers will enjoy this next instalment of Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters.
For Ages: 6-10 years
Number of Pages: 304
Published: November 2022 Allen & Unwin
Themes: Anxiety, bravery and perseverance
Purchase here: allenandunwin.com/browse/book/Karen-Foxlee,-illustrated-by-Freda-Chiu-Trouble-with-the-Two-Headed-Hydra:-Miss-Mary-Kate-Martin's-Guide-to-Monsters-2-9781760526634/
In this second book of the Prometheus High series, we join Athena and her friends Marceline and Godfrey as they start another school year. This time, their classes are being held aboard a zeppelin which is moored above the pyramids at Giza, and Egyptology and raising the dead are top of the agenda in the class room.
Athena is also trying to help Marceline find out more about her beginnings. Being a “Creation” is part of Marceline’s secret and Athena is the only one who knows she’s not exactly human. They are trying to find “The Book of Creators” which will possibly tell them where she was created and by whom. Marceline has distant glimpsed memories of her time before ten years ago and is becoming obsessed with knowing as much as she can.
Against a background of hidden tombs guarded by booby-traps and mummified warriors, the students learn their craft. Some, however, are not only concentrating on class. Drew and his side-kick Emily, are up to something seriously dodgy which may well end extremely badly. They have roped Godfrey in by sneaky lies and as Athena and Marceline are off doing things without him, he unwittingly helps Drew.
The characters must find their way through mazes and spooky mummy infested pyramids. They have to try and calm a very angry re-awakened Princess and find a precious treasure. Athena and Marceline need to decipher the Book of Creators and live to put that knowledge towards discovering Marceline’s creator.
Stuart Wilson has given us a jam-packed adventure. The opening scene in the library and the one on a school excursion to inside a pyramid, are fabulous and edge-of-your-seat exciting. The friendship between Athena and Marceline is tested to breaking point as the friends try to overcome so many deadly obstacles. The themes of friendship, trust, loyalty and self-belief run throughout this great next instalment of Prometheus High. Middle grade readers will not be able to put this book down.
For Ages: 8-12 years
Number of Pages: 320
Published: August 2022 Penguin Random House
Themes: Friendship, loyalty and self-belief
Purchase here: penguin.com.au/books/prometheus-high-2-the-books-of-the-dead-9781761042263
Berani, which means Brave, is a story about standing up for what you believe in. Malia lives with her Canadian mother in Indonesia. Her beloved Indonesian father has died and Malia and her mother will soon move back to Canada so she can finish her schooling there. She comes from a life of privilege and uses a class project at her elite school to build awareness of habitat decimation by the palm oil industry. Her online petition, signed by hundreds of fellow students, gets her into big trouble at school and with her family. Her teacher has been suspended and may lose her job if Malia doesn’t apologise.
Ari lives with his uncle and while having the opportunity to go to school, he must work hard at the café his uncle owns as well. The little eating house is popular as it has two attractions. A parrot called Elvis Presely who sings and an orangutan called Ginger Juice who lives in a small cage. Ari knows he is lucky. His cousin Suni, who is smart and would so love to go to school, can’t because the families can only afford to send one child to school — he is a boy and Suni is a girl, so she doesn’t get to go. Ari hasn’t visited his family for a long time partly because he feels guilty for being the one given the opportunities.
When Ari and Malia’s paths cross, Ari is handed the petition Malia has been working on. It explains that animals left homeless by humans exploiting the forests, should at least be re-sheltered and given the chance to be released back into the wild. It also explains that keeping animals like orangutans as pets is illegal. Ari is spurred on by this and is determined to persuade his uncle to let Ginger Juice be released into the care of one of the rescue teams. He contacts Malia and together the plan Ginger Juice’s rescue.
Michelle Kadarusman’s novel is about the environment and animal cruelty. It is also about how we perceive ourselves, where we fit in our own world and the need for individuals to stand up and participate in debates about the things they believe in. Malia, Ari and Ginger Juice all have voices that need to be heard and take the reader on their own journeys. Ginger Juice’s voice in particular, is so sad and bewildered that it breaks your heart. Readers will enjoy this story about self-belief and tenacity.
For Ages: 8 – 12 years
Number of Pages: 224
Published: August 2022 Allen & Unwin
Themes: Self-belief, environmentalism, belonging
Purchase here: allenandunwin.com/browse/book/Berani-9781761068027
What a wonderfully spooky adventure this is! Corpse is a ghost who has fashioned a body for herself out of candle wax, seaweed and shells. She lives with her friend Simon, a Huntsman spider, on “the-rock-that-doesn’t-exist”, that sits in a bay near “the-town-that-nobody-visits”. Corpse shares the rock with three witches, Gorflunk, Scraggleknee and Worse Witch. They know she exists but have never quite managed to catch her and dispose of her — forever.
Corpse can perform some simple spells to help her survive, but she and the witches depend on the sparkling ore that comes from the Spellspring on the rock. Unfortunately, this ore is running out and from the moment Corpse is told by a fading ghost she must escape the-rock-that-doesn’t-exist and find a treasure that was stolen from her, she is catapulted into an action-packed race to find it before the witches. She is helped by her lost but now found, friend, Girl, a fellow ghost. Corpse and Girl must be on their guard and dodge the evil witches, avoid Death Proper, outwit the double-dealing Merchant and outrun killer skeletons.
Reece Cater has created an incredibly rich world for Corpse to inhabit, full of characters so easily pictured, due to words filled with humour and imagination. As Corpse races through her adventure, the reader is swept along with her on a wave of creepy characters and fearsome situations, all of which she needs to overcome. Corpse’s voice is endearing as she tries to work her way through her complicated life with mostly only a spider for company. Her insights into her circumstances and the possibility of finding her own personal history draw in the reader and invites them to join her in her quest.
The illustrations by Simon Howe are wonderful. The drawings of Corpse, graveyards and the occasional mushroom (my personal favourite thing to see) are detailed and suit the narrative perfectly with danger sitting alongside hints of hope. The last picture in the book is one of my favourites. Reece Carter’s Corpse is a character that will become a cherished friend as the series continues.
For Ages: 8- 13 years
Number of Pages: 352
Published: October 2022 Allen & Unwin
Themes: Friendship, family and fortitude
Purchase here: allenandunwin.com/browse/book/Reece-Carter-Girl-Called-Corpse:-An-Elston-Fright-Tale-9781761066788
The Book of Wondrous Possibilities is one of those books that needs to be kept on nearby bookshelves, close at hand, to give to friends who feel the world is just a bit too big for them to explore. It is the story of Arlo who lives with his Uncle Avery in his book shop. He has a friend called Herbert who is a mouse, and Arlo believes that the world he has discovered inside the bookshop is all he needs. He was bullied at school and has had to face the devastating death of his mother.
When he meets Lisette, or rather when Lisette crashes into his shop begging for a hiding place, Arlo’s life is set on a course that will change him forever. Lisette delivers a parcel to him from his mother. It is a girmore — a magical book with fairy tale stories that come true.
His mother has written one about Arlo and his adventures to save a princess locked in a high tower.
As Lisette is homeless, due to her building being condemned and her grandmother dyingshe stays with Arlo and his uncle while they try to discover what exactly is going on with the building where she and her grandmother lived. The evil Silas Grey has something to do with it and his boss, Marcellus Preston, must also be responsible for all the bad things that are happening in the city.
They meet Viola, Marcellus’ daughter and ask for her help. Viola lives in a mansion with her father and is home schooled. She rarely leaves the house and is fiercely protected by her father’s love. Viola would like to escape and mix with other children but her father is worried they may taunt her because of her limp. Viola broke her leg so badly as a small child that even after numerous operations she still has one leg shorter than the other. Her father blames himself and swears he will keep her safe no matter what.
Deborah Abela has created a world full of characters that you either want to form a cheer squad for, or boo so loudly they disappear in a puff of smoke. Arlo is a boy who has been knocked around in his life and as a consequence has lost any confidence he once had. Lisette is a fiercely loyal character whose determination and encouraging attitude help guide the other characters along. Uncle Avery and Professor Griselda are delightful and Silas Grey, a truly evil man. Marcellus Preston lives in a bubble of yearning for perfection, his wealth protecting him from the realities of life. His young daughter Viola, is the embodiment of kindness and faith in oneself.
Together these characters move through the story inviting readers on a journey of self-discovery and acceptance. Courage, friendship, loyalty and betrayal are all interwoven through the narrative, giving the reader a ringside seat.
For Ages: 8 - 12 years
Number of Pages: 288
Published: August 2022 Penguin Random House Australia
Themes: Friendship, family, acceptance and self-confidence
Purchase here: penguin.com.au/books/the-book-of-wondrous-possibilities-9781761044021
Runt is one of those books that makes you feel good inside. It’s the story of Annie Shearer, who likes to fix things and her quest to help save her family property from the clutches of a greedy, unscrupulous neighbour. Upson Downs is a small town that is shrinking even more because Earl Robert-Barren is intentionally blocking the flow of water through the area. Earl is a collector of things. He doesn’t necessarily need the things or even want to use them, he just has an unnatural desire to own them.
Annie and her dog Runt, have a special bond. Because Runt spent the first part of his life dodging people trying to catch him, he is incredibly agile. He can work his way around any set of obstacles so quickly and with such ease, it’s a thing of beauty to watch. There’s just one catch – he will only ever do these feats of wonder just for Annie. If there is any kind of human audience he sits and doesn’t move, no matter what commands Annie tries.
One day Annie overhears her parents discussing their double overdraft, and along with the threats from the horrible neighbour, she decides she must try and fix the situation. Also, in her spare time, she is trying to fix the drought and general lack of water by rebuilding her grandfather’s Rainmaker. She enters Runt into a regional agility course competition and against the odds, he wins. This means they are eligible to enter the Agility Course Grand Championships at Krumpets Dog Show in London.
Annie has a seemingly overwhelming mountain of obstacles in the way of her dream. The cost of the airfare and accommodation in the UK, beating the wildly confident Fergus Fink and his whippet, Chariot and most of all, the audience. How will she and Runt manage it? Will her parents be able to keep the farm? Will the nasty Earl Robert-Barren stop harassing everyone?
Craig Silvey’s middle grade novel is a lively tale of determination, family relationships and man’s best friend. I loved the references to Annie’s name, Shearer, and her family’s sheep herd, “Krumpets”, the famous British dog show and Earl the robber baron, oops, sorry, Robert-Barren. The illustrations throughout the book, by Sara Acton, are cheerful pictures that take the reader straight into the story. The little black and white vignettes add so much to the narrative. This is a gentle adventure with a positivity flowing through it that is instantly refreshing. The characters of Earl and Fergus, the dishonest and ruthless badies give a lovely counter balance to the positivity and enduring kindness of the inhabitants of Annie’s world. This is a must read for all gentle souls.
For Ages: 8+ years
Number of Pages: 352 Hard back edition
Published: October 2022 Allen & Unwin
Themes: Friendship, challenges in life and being yourself
Purchase here: allenandunwin.com/browse/book/Craig-Silvey-Runt-9781761067846
The Stand In is a contemporary YA novel about family, appearances and loyalty not only to yourself but to others. Lena is a top student at an exclusive boarding school where her fees are paid by the man who protects both her and her mother. He is a criminal business man from the same village in Poland as her mother and her aunt, who feels responsibility to provide for them in payment for a favour that saved his life.
Lena’s mum and her sister, who Lena is named after, had tried to escape poverty and been lured to Amsterdam with promises of jobs and a better life. Sadly, this was not the case and as a consequence they found themselves pregnant and in danger. Lena’s aunt and her baby died and her mum and baby Lena were rescued by Marek Krol and taken to London. When mum’s health deteriorated he moved her to Brentonwood Hall where she could be looked after and paid Lena’s school fees at a school nearby.
A new girl, Millie, starts at the school and she is shocked when she meets Lena. She says she is the spitting image of her friend Saskia and arranges a meeting between the two girls. By this stage Lena is worried about more than looking like a random girl. Their benefactor has been extradited back to Poland and she doesn’t know how long her mother’s care is paid till. She must make some money so her mum stays safe and well.
Saskia, who is the daughter of a scary London based gangster Bram Tassel, suggests a business arrangement to Lena. Lena will impersonate Saskia at some family gatherings while she goes off to have some fun elsewhere. She will be paid very well to be Saskia’s stand in and the thousands of pounds will pay for Lena’s mother’s care.
And so begins a series of social occasions that create a delicious, watching a train wreck kind of atmosphere. Can Lena manage her business relationship with the self-centred, manipulative Saskia? Is she up to something and how far will she go to get her own way? A J Rushby creates a great juxtaposition of characters here. Both girls have troubled family lives and the criminality of their male protectors is a factor that is dealt with very differently by their two very contrasting personalities. The tension and implied violence in this YA novel grow to a crescendo as the reader nears the end. Will everyone survive the catastrophic trajectory Saskia has set them on? The twist at the end not only adds to the stakes, but enhances the differences between the girls. It’s a thoroughly good read.
For Ages: 14+ years
Number of Pages: 288
Published: October 2022 Scholastic Australia
Themes: Family, violence and loyalty
Purchase here: shop.scholastic.com.au/Product/100102419/The-Stand-In
Young Trilby Moffat has a lot to cope with. Her mum, Arwen, has been struck down with
Dream Sickness which has been plaguing their world for the last six months. People have started speaking in old or lost languages, cooking long forgotten recipes and sleeping. The sleeping part is the worrisome thing, because eventually the sufferer does not wake up. Ever.
In one of her awake moments, Arwen has arranged for them to travel by train to stay with great aunt Thumbelina Mince who runs the Lost in Time Antiques shop situated on the somewhat eerily named Nowhere Else Pier that stands at the edge of a great lake.
Trilby has landed in a place and time that are somehow being manipulated, throwing everything into confusion. When her aunt suddenly drops dead, she is the only person left in charge. Thumbelina always wore a special key that she said was very important and when her affable aunt dies, Trilby puts the key around her neck to keep it safe. This sets in motion a series of events that will test Trilby and not in a nice way. She has inadvertently become The Time Keeper.
While she is trying to decide what to do with a dead aunt and a sleeping mother, the evil Night Manager, Mr Colin arrives demanding she hand over the key. Trilby must, not only try to stay alive, she must somehow outwit Mr Colin’s nefarious plans and solve the mystery of where to find “the treasure”. With the help of her new friends Koji and Xipil she escapes from one dire situation into another. Will they be able to help fix time?
Kate Temple has created a wonderful world full of extraordinary characters and surprizing animals in this Fantasy novel. The narrator of the story is a Thylacine called Benjamin who happens to know a thing or two about the law. Trilby (who loves crosswords), is a sensible girl who works her way through her adventure with tireless verve and a strong talent for outwitting badies.
Another important element is the fact that everyone eats cake, and because time has stood still across the great lake, no one gets older or fatter. Each chapter is headed with a crossword clue relating to the continuing story which I had great fun deciphering, (the answers are at the end if needed). All in all, this story is an entertaining escape, all Middle Grade readers will embrace the feisty Trilby and line up for whatever comes next.
For Ages: 8- 12 years
Number of Pages: 220
Published: September 2022 Hachette
Themes: Family, overcoming adversity
Purchase here: hachette.com.au/kate-temple/the-dangerous-business-of-being-trilby-moffat-trilby-moffat-book-1
Kirra lives with her Nan on the Gold Coast and, at the beginning of the novel we find her depressed and worried. She has been having dreams since she turned sixteen, and they are coming true. Her most recent dream tells about the end of the world but her Nan has forbidden her to share these dreams with anyone. Kirra’s great grandmother had dreams too, and she ended up in a psychiatric hospital. Ever since Kirra’s brother died and her father left to work in the mines, Kirra has had counselling to help her with her loss. She shares her worries with her counsellor and only gets uneducated platitudes.
It is decided that Kirra should participate in a surfing competition at Jellurgal Point – the place her brother Wuz died doing the same thing. Nan believes this will shake Kirra out of her nonsense and allow her to move on with her life. Out in the waves, Kirra experiences something incredible and when she struggles to the water’s surface she finds herself somewhere totally different.
She has entered the ancient world of her heritage, the Yugambeh people. There, she meets Tarni, a girl who has the gift of ‘untangling languages” and Narn, a dolphin caller. Kirra’s ancestors believe in the great spirit N’gian who came down from the sky to join the people and living creatures he loved so much. He shared his powers amongst the people and since that time they have lived in harmony with surrounding believers. They know Kirra’s arrival is important, as a symbol she drew on her surfboard is one that represents their god.
But there is an evil force nearby that is threatening everything around them. Jiemba has been promised Tarni in a “joining” but he is not to be trusted. He and his followers believe in the evil spirit Malung and Jiemba has plans to take over all around him. Kirra, Tarni and Narn must defeat Jiemba before their world is decimated. He is strong and it will be a battle to the death if he is to be destroyed. Will they be able to save their world and will Kirra be able to travel back to her time?
The Upwelling is classified as a YA novel but I believe confident Middle Grade readers will enjoy it too. Lystra Rose has given us a time-slip fantasy novel but again, it is much more than that. On one level, it is a book about growing up, learning self-belief and finding where you belong. Luckily for readers, it is wrapped up in a beautiful allegory about good and evil. It is also one of the best books I’ve read that gives non-Indigenous readers a closer insight into Indigenous culture, lore and ancient lifestyle. This debut novel is definitely worth reading.
For Ages: 12 + years
Number of Pages: 400
Published: August 2022 Hachette
Themes: Self-belief, belonging and family.
Purchase here: hachette.com.au/lystra-rose/the-upwelling
What a stonkingly good read this collection is. Sitting down and reading a short story is one of the best things you can do. In a world where it seems we are all time-poor, a book like this is just the thing to fill that story shaped hole in our lives.
Join Nanny Piggins and the Green Children as well as Tammy and her mum while they re-tell some of the Greek myths, fables and fairy tales we are familiar with. Unbeknown to most of the world, many of these legends and tales have been incorrectly adapted to fit the human perspective. Originally of course all the main characters were distant relatives of Nanny Piggins herself. Very generously, she doesn’t hold a grudge against these ancient narrators, but happily sets the current readers straight on exactly who was who.
Romeo and Juliet, George Washington, Sisyphus and the Trojan Horse are just some of the tales covered in this treasure trove. At the end of some of the stories, Spratt has added some very handy “Storytelling Tips”. I especially took note of Storytelling Tip #3 where she advises giving your restless child the opportunity to “do and interpretive dance” while listening to you read. I am a total sucker for interpretive dance and will be following this tip assiduously in the future.
R.A. Spratt’s humour and insights into the continual silliness of humans and their bedtime stories, are a joy to read. The abundance of chocolate related references does make it necessary to add a health warning with this review. Please make sure you have plenty of cake nearby, or some small squares of chocolate at least – just in case.
For Ages: 9 - 11 years
Number of Pages: 240
Published: August 2022, Puffin
Purchase here: penguin.com.au/books/astonishingly-good-stories-9780143779261
Friends Hannah Plum and Patti Woo are back on holiday together with Hannah’s dad, Byron and Patti’s mum, Tulip. Their parents came together over their love of birdwatching and so the girls get another chance to not only spend proper time together, but also, perhaps do a little detecting.
While at an antiques fair, Hannah comes across a pile of things donated from a local grand old home. A beautiful hand painted fan with the words – “For love that’s ever true, meet where secret roses bloom” catches her eye and she can’t resist buying it. From this moment on the adventure begins. Hannah is approached by a woman who wants the fan too and is just a tad pushy about it.
The girls decide to check out Crabtree Hall, the home of the previous owner of the fan and discover that Lady Hope Crabtree died under tragic circumstances in 1869. They meet the current Lord Crabtree who seems to be having trouble with a destructive ghost. He has called in an Obscuro, a psychic to help get rid of the scary spirit.
Hannah and Patti agree there is more going on here that it seems and begin to collect information and clues. The girls must do their sleuthing away from their parents as they have been forbidden to detect and get into trouble – this however, does not stop them.
The tragic death of Lady Hope and the hints of a secret lover urge the girls on and into more mysterious events. Finally, with the help of a new friend and clever deduction, the girls solve the mystery of the Fatal Fan.
Lisa Siberry’s third instalment of the Plum and Woo series is a great adventure for younger middle grade readers. Her descriptions of Hannah and Patti’s conflicting personalities and interests are lively portrayals of the quirky ways that friendships work. The girls are loyal and brave and just a little bit naughty – a winning combination.
For Ages: 9 - 12 years
Number of Pages: 288
Published: August 2022, Hardie Grant
Themes: Friendship, family and betrayal
Purchase here: hardiegrant.com/au/publishing/bookfinder/book/the-fatal-fan-by-lisa-siberry/9781760507701
I really enjoyed this book. 13-year-old Cate Carson’s parents are divorced and she spends every second weekend with her dad. Each time, he goes to great effort to make her stay memorable. Cate is a writer of stories and her imagination is honed and nurtured by her father during their time together. Mysteries and daring plots are uncovered or explored and dissected during her stay, giving her craft never ending fuel. Cate doesn’t tell her mum details about her weekends away, they’re just for her and her dad.
Cate’s mum Lois has a partner, Sam who Cate gets on with just fine. When Sam is offered a job in London, life gets complicated and Cate is faced with some hard decisions. She doesn’t want to leave her best friend Elise and she especially doesn’t want to leave her dad. There is one shining part of her life. Her English teacher has entered her work in the Victorian Premier’s Short Story competition and she came second. Not only does she get a certificate and celebratory status at school, she gets $2000 prize money.
But as the time gets closer for a decision to be made about going overseas, Cate’s life takes a turn for the worse. Elise’s parents decide to divorce and her home life is so dreadful that Elise takes drastic measures in order to cope. Cate needs to make things better for her best friend, however she is distracted by court proceedings in her own family. She doesn’t want to go to London and begs her father to deny her mother the right to take Cate out of the country. Cate’s life takes another turn when she and her father are involved in an accident and her mother becomes even more determined to take Cate away. Her world has turned into a place that is filled with heartache and Cate is not sure how things will work out. It seems that there is always someone who misses out on the thing they want the most.
Barry Jonsberg’s A Little Spark, is a wonderful book about families and friendship. Cate and Elise’s friendship flows with humour and loyalty that frankly sets the friendship bar pretty high. Cate’s relationship with her father is a joy to witness and when things go wrong, the ending will have you reaching for the tissue box. Jonsberg’s characters are so alive, natural and believable. Their interactions invite you into their world and leave you wanting more. This book is a must-read for anyone who loves life and also loves to celebrate it.
For Ages: 10 - 14 years
Number of Pages: 256
Published: August 2022, Allen & Unwin
Themes: Racism, family, friendship, divorce and imagination
Purchase here: allenandunwin.com/browse/book/Barry-Jonsberg-Little-Spark-9781760526924
It’s 1872 and young Penny Pickering is a student at Miss Strickland’s School for Girls of an Enquiring Mind. Her parents are scientists who are often away. When they seemingly disappear, their solicitor asks Penny’s Aunt Harriet Marchmont to be her guardian. Harriet is a writer of exciting stories and has been a student at the same school and hated it. Penny isn’t so very happy there either, so when her aunt asks if she’d like to join her on an adventure, Penny naturally says, Yes.
Aunt Harriet, her assistant and publisher, Mr Crowley and Penny set off by train to investigate the case of the bewitched kittens. In the Museum of the Curious and Absurd little vignettes of stuffed animals mimic humans. In one, some rabbits study in a class room, there is a wedding of mice and some spotted kittens have a tea party. These are the kittens that supposedly come to life at midnight, bewitched by a spell.
Although Penny doesn’t believe she has an 'Enquiring Mind', she is no fool. She sees that there is something not quite right about the museum and sets about trying to find the truth.
Allison Rushby’s first book in this junior fiction series is a lovely read. Her characters some to life so well as they travel through the narrative. Penny’s relationship with her aunt and extraordinary pet monkey, Jones, grows as the story unfolds. There are baddies and goodies and underdogs and innocent victims – all, when combined in a nice old-fashioned tale give the reader an engaging experience. Bronte Rose Marando’s illustrations at the beginning of each chapter and the occasional full-page picture, give the reader a glimpse of the characters and settings. The illustration of the kittens playing is very sweet. Allison Rushby’s new book also explores the different belief systems that existed in Victorian times as well as introducing younger readers to the wonderful world of penny dreadfuls – the pre-cursor to modern-day gaming.
For Ages: 7 - 10 years
Number of Pages: 144
Published: August 2022, Walker Books
Themes: Family relationships, animal treatment
Purchase here: walkerbooks.com.au/book/9781760654030/
Andy and Eli live in a small town in far North Queensland. There are cane fields and mangroves around their place and they are used to being eaten alive by bugs and seeing crocs slowly swimming in the waters close to shore. When Eli’s cousin Jacob is charged with stealing jewels from clients who travel on the boat where he works, the two friends know he is innocent. With the help of twins, Bernie and Fletch, Andy and Eli are determined to find the real thieves.
This is not going to be easy, there are so many obstacles in their way. Turtle, Eli’s grandmother and Andy’s parents are always keeping a close eye on them. Then there’s the huge territorial crocodile, Sebastian guarding his territory. How will they get to the bottom of this mystery? Who can they trust and who or what is Ruby? There are so many questions and so little time.
Charlie Archbold’s novel for young middle grade readers is an adventure set in a place that is full of dangers. The friends come together, even enlisting the help of a school enemy, to try and figure out the problem and prove that Jacob had nothing to do with the crime. The themes of co-operation, acceptance, friendship and bravery are all covered here. The descriptions of the heat, humidity and scenery of the area evoke an atmosphere that enhances the feeling of tension and boiling troubles. The baddie characters are beautifully portrayed by “Sausage” and “Mash” and the lurking menace of Sebastian is never far away.
Readers will enjoy this mystery and will want to come back for more.
For Ages: 8+ years
Number of Pages: 208
Published: May 2022, Text Publishing
Themes: Friendship, loyalty, family and courage
Purchase here: textpublishing.com.au/books/the-sugarcane-kids-and-the-red-bottomed-boat
12-Year-old Willa just wants a quiet life. Working at the mill spinning yarn is not the best job, but since her parents disappeared in a cloud spell, there’s not much else Willa can do. The city of Bad Faith must live constantly under the shadow of the witches’ war. The Irontongues and the Silverclaws have been battling for years and their spells are constantly impacting on the inhabitants.
Sometimes Willa has a voice inside her head that tries to persuade her to do naughty things and she fizzes with feelings that need to be bought under control. When she is accused of being a witch, Willa is taken to the castle and put under the charge of witch tutor Gaspard. She has a year to control her magical powers and choose a coven to join. If she can’t decide within twelve months she will explode. The choices aren’t the best and Willa is determined to find a different solution. A truce between the warring covens has been called while Willa is trained and no spells are to be cast. However, strange things keep on happening. Someone is performing magic and its disruptive outcomes are becoming more and more dangerous. Willa must try and discover what exactly is happening and more importantly, how to avoid exploding. With the help of some new friends in the castle, she can hopefully uncover the culprit.
Shivaun Plozza has created a fantastically colourful world. Bad Faith city and its inhabitants are plagued by purple frogs, creepy witches performing ugly spells, flying cookware and voice stealing bubbles. The characters are beautifully depicted and the pace fast and exciting. The seemingly never-ending obstacles Willa encounters will leave readers barracking for her and booing the evil-doer. She is a girl who has to take control of her destiny and shows great determination when faced with never-ending setbacks. This is a great adventure about defining yourself and facing oppositions and prejudice.
For Ages: 9 - 12 years
Number of Pages: 288
Published: July 2022 Puffin
Themes: Friendship, prejudice and self-belief
Purchase here: penguin.com.au/books/a-reluctant-witchs-guide-to-magic-9781761043994
August & Jones is a story about friendship.
Jones Kirby, with her mum and dad, have had to give up their farm. Generations of Kirbys have worked the land just outside the town of Cotton, but a drought and global factors have drained the Kirbys dry. Jones, a Year 5 student, is sad about leaving her home and worried about not only moving to an apartment in the city, but about her blurry vision. She had to have an eye removed when she was little, due to cancer, and her remaining eye is giving her concern. She is also worried about starting at a new school.
August Genting is worried too. His father is obsessed with him playing footy and August hates every minute of it. He’d rather be reading a book or learning to knit with his sister. Since Mum’s business had to close down, things haven’t been so good at home either.
When August is asked to show Jones around the school, he is delighted. Finally, he might find a kindred spirit. Almost immediately a strong friendship develops. They come to realise that together they can conquer their troubles and when Jones is faced with a daunting prognosis, the friends decide to create, and work their way through, a bucket list.
Pip Harry has given us a true ‘buddies’ story. August and Jones are lovely, gentle characters who have to navigate their way through the awful things life throws at them. They are stronger and braver than they realise and their belief in each other gives them a sturdy foundation that supports them in their struggles. The world the characters inhabit is suburban, with all that it entails. Pip Harry gives us a glimpse of the lives of others in a way that is celebratory rather than gloomy. Readers will enjoy the quiet strength and humour of the two friends and join them on a journey that is positive in the face of adversity.
For Ages: 9 - 12 years
Number of Pages: 288
Published: June 2022 Lothian Children’s Books
Themes: Friendship, cancer, divorce
Purchase here: hachette.com.au/pip-harry/august-and-jones
These are lovely little books especially designed to help your early reader find their way through the forest of words that make up books. The School of Monsters series identifies a certain group of words and uses them throughout the narrative. Each page highlights a word that has the same ending, giving the reader examples of its usage.
In Bug’s First Day, Bug hides whenever he is asked to read or count. Bug doesn’t know how. His teacher kindly lets him see that he is not alone and that school can be fun no matter what. In Jen’s Big Idea we follow Jen who is playing hide and seek with her friends. She tries to find a different hiding spot and adapts her wheels so she can hide in unusual places. Each book in this series is there to help new readers and beginner school students feel at home in their new environment.
Sally Rippin has developed a great atmosphere and Chris Kennett’s illustrations really create a happy fun place for kids to learn. I especially like the warning in the first pages of the books. As a home teaching aid, it gives all the relevant words at the end of the book as well as tips on how to engage with reluctant readers.
For Ages: 5 - 7 years
Number of Pages: 48
Published: June 2022 Hardie Grant
Purchase here: hardiegrant.com/au/publishing/bookfinder/book/jem_s-big-idea-by-sally-rippin/9781761210037
It’s 1955 and Zadie Ma and her little brother Teddy live above the milk bar her parents own in Melbourne. Her mother works long hours since Zadie’s dad came back from World War II confused and not himself. She is strict and often angry with her. Zadie helps at the milk bar and looks after Teddy, but she is lonely. At school, Bella is a sort of friend, but is mainly the other kid in the class that is bullied because she has a non-Anglo background.
When she has spare time, Zadie loves writing stories, and on her 11th birthday, she discovers she has a “superpower”. Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, her stories come true. And as Zadie dreams of having a dog, she writes a story about Jupiter, who is maltreated and is saved by a girl just like her. That way she will have someone who loves her unconditionally and who she can love back. As she waits for her story to unfold, Zadie is delighted to see a new family move next door. Sparrow is a breath of fresh air and becomes the most popular kid at school. Together they will explore the neighbourhood and have adventures Zadie can write about. Sparrow has no fear and can handle any situation with confidence, something Zadie would love to have too.
Current Australian Children’s Laureate 2022-23, Gabrielle Wang has written a wonderful book that has so many levels. During her tenure as Children’s Laureate, she would like to explore topics such as imagination, cultural diversity, visual literacy and reading aloud. And here, the narrative is interspaced with Zadie’s short stories, all of which cover such themes as listening to someone, no matter how young or small, accepting change, friendship and more. It also has beautiful illustrations by the author depicting Zadie and Teddy as well as the characters in the short stories. There are endless discussions to have with young readers about diversity relating to our history, prejudice, gender stereotypes and how, sometimes, families need to catch their breath and re-evaluate their situation, and in doing so, they may discover they have plenty to be thankful for.
This gentle tale gives insights into how families function, bullying and loyalty. Younger Middle Grade readers will fall in love with Zadie Ma who navigates she way through a sometimes-hostile world but finds true friendship and joy in the people closest to her.
For Ages: 9 - 12 years
Number of Pages: 272
Published: May 2022 Puffin
Themes: Racism, family, friendship, gender stereo types
Purchase here: penguin.com.au/books/zadie-ma-and-the-dog-who-chased-the-moon-9781761046513
Year 6 Nell lives with her mum in Melbourne and she is a catastrophe expert. She has a catastrophe folder where she keeps all kinds of helpful information about potential hazards and how to avoid them. She and her best friend Cecily, are part of the OC class and enjoy the spelling bee competition — they are brainy nerds that aren’t all that nerdy.
However, things are changing for Nell, things she used to enjoy, like the spelling bee, no longer hold her attention. In fact, she has much more important things to worry about. Her mum has just told her that they are going to move in with her boyfriend Ted and his 7-year-old daughter Amelia.
Nell is also distracted by the arrival of a new girl in their class, Plum. She has amazing fashion sense and lives on the darker side of good behaviour. Nell is intrigued and decides she should try and befriend the new girl.
From that moment on Nell’s life turns into a bumpy ride through friendship, blended families, destabilising moving to Ted’s plots and the confusion Plum brings into Nell’s world.
While she is dealing with one crisis after another, she must also write a very persuasive argument for Year 6 joining the huge School Strike 4 Climate Change rally. Her class is depending on her to succeed. Plum is pushing her to do join her in questionable adventures, Cecily is hurt about their dwindling friendship and Nell is finding it hard to find a valid argument for NOT moving in with Ted. All of a sudden Nell seems to be stumbling whereas before, all she could see was a clear path. Not even her catastrophe folder has a section on friends and family. It’ll be up to Nell to figure it all out.
Fiona Wood’s Middle Grade novel is a tale of friendship, blended families, growing up and Climate Change. These important themes are explored through humour and Nell’s questioning personality. The first person, chatty nature of the narrative, interspaced with helpful tips and “Friday note from under the doona” entries, carry the reader along with Nell on this complicated journey. It is thoroughly worth a read.
For Ages: 9 - 12 years
Number of Pages: 320
Published: April 2022 Pan Macmillan
Themes: Family, friendship and Climate Change
Purchase here: panmacmillan.com.au/9781760984908
Mary-Kate is the daughter of Professor Martin and she is travelling into the English countryside with her mother, (a famous archaeologist), to investigate the bottom of a well. The village of Woolington has a problem. Lord Woolington, the local landowner, wants to build a huge shopping centre in the village and the residents fear that not only is it a horrible idea, but more importantly, it will disturb the famous Woolington Wyrm. Legend tells of a giant wyrm living down the well for hundreds of years. Many have heard and felt the rumblings of the wyrm and do not want to anger it. Lord Woolington is adamant that it doesn’t exist, and is just about to pour the concrete foundations for the shopping centre.
When Mary-Kate and her mother arrive at Woolington they meet Lord Woolington and Ms Honey, the village librarian, secretary of the Say No to the Shopping Centre Action Group and President of the Wyrm Watch Society. While the professor goes to look at the well, Mary-Kate goes to investigate the wyrm. With the help of Lady Arabella Woolington, Mary-Kate searches for clues and they try to figure out the mystery of the Woolington Wyrm.
Karen Foxlee’s novel is a real treat for younger Middle Grade readers. The black and white illustrations of Freda Chiu give lovely vignettes of the characters and the wyrm itself. I especially love the map of the village at the beginning of the book. There is something exciting about a map and the adventures it holds. Mary-Kate is an engaging main protagonist, and while she is an anxious child, she bravely deals with her fears with various coping mechanisms. She carries her favourite things with her in a sparkly red backpack which matches her sparkly red shoes. Her father disappeared years ago and she treasures the last seven sticks of gum he left behind. Along with her novelty Big Ben torch, lucky stress ball and other important items, Mary-Kate can calm her nerves in times of stress. The themes of dealing with anxiety, coping with change and making friends run consistently through the story, giving a gentle reminder that even though someone may suffer from anxiety, there are ways to work your way through it and live in the world. This is a story for lovers of adventure, mystery and gentle determination.
For Ages: 9 - 11 years
Number of Pages: 272
Published: May 2022 Allen & Unwin
Themes: Anxiety, coping with change and making friends
Purchase here: allenandunwin.com/browse/books/childrens/The-Wrath-of-the-Woolington-Wyrm-Miss-Mary-Kate-Martins-Guide-to-Monsters-1-Karen-Foxlee-illustrated-by-Freda-Chiu-9781760526627
This is a story about a family wanting to find a community they can settle in for more than a few months. Gus, her big sister Alice, little brother Artie and their mum, Delphine, have just piled into a sort-of stolen car with all their possessions and run away - again. Gus has learnt not to make friends at whatever school she is going to, or even get a library card, as she and her family are always on the move. The Able family women have inherited a talent that they don’t necessarily want. Around their twelfth birthday, they gain the ability to see and communicate with ghosts. This time, Troy, a pretty nasty character, has gone too far manipulating Delphine’s psychic abilities – so the family is forced once again, to pack and run.
After driving for many days, the family arrive in a town called Calvary and Delphine discovers a caretaking job at The Starlight Drive-In Movie Theatre (and dry cleaners). Deidre Cronk, the owner’s daughter, is not a very pleasant person but the family decide to do the best they can. Deidre tells them she has plans for the drive-in but must wait for her father, Henry, to be legally recognised as dead before she can carry them out. Gus is worried – this could mean there’s a ghost wandering around and she doesn’t want her mother disturbed by unsettled spirits anymore.
Life at the drive-in and school in Calvary seem to be running well and Gus is warily beginning to believe they may have found their forever home. When she is visited by what she believes to be Henry Cronk’s ghost she is not sure whether or not to let he mother know.
The story is set during a time when a comet is passing close by Earth, something it hasn’t done for many decades and with it comes a series of disasters that could ruin everything. The tension slowly grows as more things go wrong and the tentative friendships and acceptance the Able family crave, are left hanging in the balance.
Victoria Carless captures the feelings of 11-year-old Gus as she navigates her way through a life that is far from perfect. Her interactions with those around her are tentative as experience up to now has shown the 11-year-old that caution is the best option. It has made her and her siblings wary of forming friendships.
Victoria Carless has previously written for YA readers, and this first-time Middle Grade novel deals with serious issues in a light-hearted way. Gus and the Starlight is a magical realism narrative that explores family dynamics, sibling relationships, finding your tribe, and helping people, no matter who or what they are.
For Ages: 9 - 12 years
Number of Pages: 320
Published: May 2022 Angus & Robertson/Harper Collins Children’s Books
Themes: Family, belonging and community
Purchase here: harpercollins.com.au/9781460713921/gus-and-the-starlight/
The Calling of Jackdaw Hollow is the prequel to Kate Gordon’s two other books set in Direleafe Hall — The Heartsong of Wonder Quinn and the Ballard of Melodie Rose. Jack Hollow is orphaned as a baby when his parents were killed by a lightning strike and he is taken in by Mrs Beekman, the current head mistress of Direleafe Hall.
Jack doesn’t mind being the only boy in an all-girl school. Mrs Beekman loves and provides for him and Angharad, an apprentice cook at the hall, is his friend who tries to teach him how to cook pies. But Jack is not happy, he believes it’s his fault his parents died and he can’t understand how he survived. He feels as though he should do something special with his life to justify his existence. He needs to find a “calling”. Something that he can do that will make a difference.
Jack thinks long and hard but comes up blank. This is when the three resident ghosts, Florence, Lucy and Nell, urge Jack to help a girl called Angeline. Jack is not sure if a girl is a “calling”. Angeline is a maid at a grand house not far away and is severely treated by the housekeeper. Angeline practises handstands, somersaults and all things acrobatic in the moonlight so that one day she can escape to the circus. Jack sees his chance and decides saving a girl could be his calling. But will this wild girl allow him?
Kate Gordon has given readers another wonderful story about finding your place in the world, the folly of measuring your self-worth and how sometimes a calling can be something not large at all. One of the things I enjoy so much about Kate Gordon’s Direleafe Hall stories is the rich language she uses. Her turns of phrase are all poetic and conjure up all sorts of pictures that encourage the reader to dwell just a little longer within the covers of her books.
For Ages: 9 - 12 years
Number of Pages: 208
Published: March 2022 University of Queensland Press
Themes: Belonging, self-belief and letting go.
Purchase here: uqp.com.au/books/the-calling-of-jackdaw-hollow
The Bravest Word follows the story of Matty, a nearly 12-year-old Year 7 student. Matty is having problems, his internal thoughts are so different from those he had in Year 6. Before, everything was easy, now absolutely everything is bad. He can’t concentrate in class, doesn’t hand in his homework, is teary and angry and confused. So many emotions clamour inside him that he’s exhausted all the time. It’s crazy, why is this happening to him? Matty is struggling to keep it together and when he starts to really dread his once-loved footy games, his world crumbles around him.
On a bush walk one day with his sympathetic dad, Matty tries to keep it together under the concerned gaze of his father. They hear something whimpering in the bushes and discover an abandoned dog. It has been very cruelly treated and they take it to a vet. Matty is deeply upset about the small dog he has called Cliff. He is determined to save him and nurture him back to health. He prays that his no-nonsense mum will let him keep Cliff, but the wait and the pressure get to him, and he falls ill. He believes he is letting down his best friends, his footy team and his parents. Self-doubt and his painful thoughts are dragging him closer to the edge. No one would understand him if he could even put into words what was going on inside him.
Will Cliff be allowed to come home with him? And will Matty be able to keep him safe and protected? How will Matty deal with what is going on, and is there any way he can fix it?
Kate Foster’s novel is a roller coaster ride through the strong emotions that tumble around her protagonist’s mind. Depression and anxiety are scary and exhausting things, and her descriptions of what Matty is experiencing are a great insight into this insidious condition. The themes of mental health, love, friendship, bravery and family run throughout this remarkable novel. It is a great introduction to inside the mind of someone who is suffering depression. Middle Grade readers will enjoy this story, because, although it deals with a frightening and sometimes crippling condition, it is ultimately also about deep love and caring.
P.S. You will need a box of tissues beside you.
For Ages: 9 - 12 years
Number of Pages: 240
Published: May 2022 Walker Books
Themes: Depression, Anxiety, Family, self-belief.
Purchase here: walkerbooks.com.au/book/9781760654719/
Marion Roberts’ new novel follows keen boogie-boarder Alberta Bracken through a summer holidays that are not going to plan. Her mother is the author of the best seller “Tammy Bracken’s Guide to Modern Manners” and the pressure of success and a looming Ted Talk gig make things in the Bracken household even more tense than usual. Alberta’s summer gets worse when she breaks her arm after a nasty encounter with the local bully. Add to this the fact that her friends seem to have abandoned her and then the final blow comes with her parents splitting up.
Alberta however, is saved from an awful summer by Mikki Watanabe whose passion for filming nature becomes a welcome escape. Alberta learns about “Shinrin-yoku” or Forest Bathing from Mikki and together they explore the nearby National Forest and create their own YouTube channel, Mikki and Me and the Memory Tree. When they discover a grove of pine trees are about to be destroyed they take action.
Marion Roberts’ middle grade novel is a wonderful mixture of pathos and joy. The descriptions of how to communicate with nature and talk with trees are like a slow meditation coming to life. The themes of friendship, family relationships, forgiveness and environmental issues are all beautifully crafted into this exciting narrative. Her characters are real and Alberta’s ‘voice’ is engaging and authentic. As she deals with all that’s going on around her, we see Alberta grow in confidence and her convictions. Her little sister Clementine has a natural comic relief element to her which helps lead the story line to its conclusion. Marion Roberts has created a story that deals with the issues middle grade readers are interested in and tucked them neatly into an enjoyable experience.
For Ages: 9 - 13 years
Number of Pages: 320
Published: April 2022, Allen & Unwin
Themes: Family, friends, environmental issues and resilience.
Purchase here: allenandunwin.com/browse/books/childrens/Mikki-and-Me-and-the-Out-of-Tune-Tree-Marion-Roberts-9781760526795
For Ages: 9 - 11 years
Number of Pages: 336
Published: May 2022 Penguin Random House
Themes: Disability, Domestic Violence, Friendship and Family
Purchase here: penguin.com.au/books/we-run-tomorrow-9781760897697
Nat Amoore’s latest book is a great combination of road-trip and friendship adventure. Maki, Jed, Tommy and Sticks are best friends and are the Lockett Squad. They share a passion for a comic series called Screen Savers, with each of them taking on one of their heroes’ personas. Jed is HiSpeed, Maki is SkyDrop, Tommy is Wiki and Sticks is Filter. The story is told through Stick’s eyes and we are quickly drawn into their world.
Life is not perfect on Locket Street. Sticks has a violent older brother, Maki’s parents must move every two years for his father’s work, Tommy lives with his loveable but aging grandma and Jed feels the pressure from over protective parents – he accepted his disability years ago and nothing holds him back.
When tragedy strikes one of the group and their close-knit friendship is threatened with being torn apart, the team come up with a plan and, so begins their amazing road-trip. Together they make their way to the Gold Coast to attempt something so audacious that it may actually be achievable.
Nat Amoore’s narrative is cleverly interspaced with graphic comic portions that help carry the story along. They parallel not only their Screen Saver heroes but also the characters’ own battles. Mike Barry’s art cohabitates this novel as a perfect hybrid and the combination will appeal to many readers. The themes of friendship, domestic violence, disability and family revolve seamlessly through the novel, giving the reader not only a great adventure but a heart-warming, friendship affirming experience.
For Ages: 11 - 13 years
Number of Pages: 256
Publisher: Walker Books Australia
Themes: Racism, Family, and Isolation
Purchase here: walkerbooks.com.au/Books/Interned-9781760653071
Interned follows the story of 13-year-olds Greta and Tilly during World War I. Both girls come from German backgrounds. Greta and her parents lived a life of privilege in Singapore while Tilly’s father was a baker in a suburb of Brisbane. When WWI breaks out, Germans from surrounding areas and within Australia are taken from their quiet lives and imprisoned as enemy aliens.
Greta dreamt of returning to Germany to study music and continue her violin lessons. When her family arrive at the internment camp she discovers her precious violin has been stolen which compounds her anger and feelings of alienation. Tilly’s father is interned and her mother insists the family follow and join him. Her mother’s fragile mental state crumbles further and Tilly and her younger brother Franz, must always look after her.
The girls and other detainees are not welcome in the small country town they have been taken to and must suffer insults and hardships because of the war being fought thousands of kilometres away.
Pamela Rushby’s middle grade novel fictionalises a part of Australia’s history that is not commonly explored. Seeing the families’ experiences from the German perspective gives readers an insight into the cruelty of war and how blind prejudice can be so harmful. Government bureaucracies do not seem to recognise individual circumstances and so many people were treated in confusingly, illogical ways. There are many parallels to our world today, including the worldwide spread of the deadly Spanish Flu.
The themes of tolerance, racism, fortitude and isolation run through this compelling novel. Interned would be a useful tool for students studying WWI and political conflict and its effect on non-combatant civilians.
For Ages: 12-14 years
Number of Pages: 288
Published: March 2022 Puffin
Themes: Friendship, teamwork, co-operation
Purchase here: penguin.com.au/books/prometheus-high-1-how-to-make-a-monster-9781761042256
Athena Strange is intrigued by the idea of reanimation. And that’s where this great adventure begins. After trying to bring a neighbourhood cat back to life and nearly burning down her home in the process, Athena is offered a place at an exclusive school. Prometheus High is housed on a crumbling ocean liner, the SS Unbound. As she has always had trouble fitting in, Athena worries that this school will be no different. But at least she’ll be learning all the things that really interest her – reanimation, robotics and magic.
Teachers like Dr Singh (robotics), Mx Hollybow (earth magic) and Monsiuer Renaitre (reanimation), along with some helpful drones, a golem and a living marble statue, all create a vibrant if somewhat chaotic learning atmosphere. Athena, however is falling back into her old habits, and believing herself more advanced than her fellow students, starts working secretly on her own project. While navigating her way through school relationships she and her fellow students, experience an increasing number of unexplained mishaps. Can Athena survive her first semester at Prometheus High? Can any of them?
Stuart Wilson’s debut middle grade novel is so much fun. The SS Unbound is practically a character in its own right. Inhabited by a rich assortment of quirky characters, the narrative barrels along at a great pace. Wilson’s world building and those who inhabit it, make the reader want to jump aboard and join the fun. Working throughout the novel are the themes of co-operation, teamwork and friendship. Readers will enjoy this high-seas adventure and begin a relationship with this offbeat cast.
For Ages: 6-9 years
Number of Pages: 240
Published: March 2022
Themes: Family, being yourself and following your dreams
Purchase here: harpercollins.com.au/9780733341663/mim-and-the-woeful-wedding-the-travelling-bookshop-2/
Mim and the Woeful Wedding is the second in Katrina Nannestad’s wonderful Travelling Bookshop Junior Fiction series. Mim Cohen, along with her younger brother Nat and their Dad, Zedekiah (commonly known as Zeddy), travel from place to place in their wagon full of books. Flossy the Clydesdale horse takes them wherever she knows a special book is needed. Along with the family menagerie, Daisy the sheep and Coco the cockatoo, they have arrived on a small Greek island.
There they are welcomed by friendly families and soon learn of a wedding that is about to take place. Anjelica is marrying Stavros but when Mim meets them, she feels there is something not quite right. Are they really in love? Is Anjelica being forced into a marriage by their two families who want to join businesses? Mim is concerned that Anjelica is happier being alone designing tiny houses than she will be when she’s married.
Katrina Nannestad’s characters are beautifully portrayed. Mim’s small family is filled with optimism and a love of adventure. The reader is introduced to a number of characters who are all searching for something, and when visiting the bookshop, leave with the thing they actually need. The theme of staying true to your heart runs throughout the narrative and is aided by a delightful collection of quirky creatures. Mim’s little brother Nat is a particularly unconventional child who follows whatever his interests are without any negative parental judgement. Accepting what life throws at you seems to be the guiding rule of the Cohen family and because of that, their lives and the help they give to others, creates a world of easy going cheerfulness.
Cheryl Orsini teams up with Nannestad again for this adventure, just as she did with The Girl and the Dog series. Her illustrations are delightful and capture the joy and sense of wonder for all the magical encounters the characters experience.
Young readers will adore this story and the others in the series. It’s a beautiful thing to find a book that is so happy.
For Ages: 10+ years
Number of Pages: 269
Published: March 2022
Themes: resilience, fighting for beliefs and how a small act may change the world
Purchase here: harpercollins.com.au/9781460713594/ming-and-flo-fight-for-the-future-the-girls-who-changed-the-world/
Ming and Flo Fight for the Future is the first in a new series called Girls Who Changed the World, by award winning author Jackie French.
The story opens with Ming Qong sitting in a history lesson wondering if there had ever been a girl who changed the world. There were plenty of stories about men, but she couldn’t think of a girl who played an important role at any time.
When the class quietens Ming realises there is someone else in the room. A woman in purple with a mauve umbrella is sitting on the windowsill. She is “Herstory” the sister of “History” and she is there to help Ming travel into the past to witness a girl changing the world. Ming argues that she wants to be a girl in the past and steals more “time drops” before Herstory can stop her.
Ming is drawn into Australia in 1898. She becomes Florence, the daughter of a Chinese woman and an absent, drunken, British shearer. Her circumstances become dire and she is rescued by an aunt who lives in Sydney. There, Ming becomes part of the movement to petition for another referendum that will unite all the colonies and create the Australia we know it today. She also meets Henry Lawson’s mother who played a huge role in the Suffragette Movement.
Jackie French’s novel delves into Australia’s past. It highlights the poverty and hardship suffered by rural communities and the inequality of life in the city, particularly for women and children. The descriptions of places and different lifestyles from this Victorian era are fascinating and detailed. We see all this through Ming’s eyes and readers will be able to join her in this adventure. The idea of making a difference no matter how small is seems, is an underlying theme. Small acts can have huge consequences as Ming finds out. Readers are left with a surprising cliff-hanger at the end of the story and will definitely want to read the next instalment.
For Ages: 9-13 years
Number of Pages: 244 Hardback
Published: September 2021
Themes: Family, mental illness and finding your place in the world
Purchase here: hachette.com.au/kiran-millwood-hargrave-tom-de-freston/julia-and-the-shark
Julia and the Shark is a book about family love and loyalty, and finding your place within it. Julia, with her mum and dad travel from their home in Cornwall to a place called Unst, a small island in the Shetlands, right at the other end of the country. Julia’s dad has a job fixing a lighthouse there and making it work online. Her mum is a marine biologist who hopes to find a rare and elusive creature called a Greenland Shark. Julia, along with the family cat, Noodle, must endure eight weeks away from friends and home.
Julia has always been fascinated by the stories and facts her mother tells her about life under the sea. They are close and Julia knows she can always rely on what her mother tells her. The first night they are in the lighthouse Julia explores the view from the top of the building. She meets a boy looking at the stars but he runs away before she can talk to him. She meets him the next day in the village and finds that Kin is a stargazer who doesn’t fit in at school. He is being bullied by a boy called Adrian and is frightened to be by himself. Together they form a rocky friendship as things at the lighthouse begin to unravel. Julia’s mum is obsessed with finding the Greenland Shark and is becoming more and more unpredictable.
Julia dreams the shark is coming to get her and her parents and her holiday in the Shetland Islands begins to sour. Could it be her fault that her mum is unwell? Julia has to navigate her way through the complexities of the adult world and tries to interpret what is happening between her parents. Her life is turned up-side-down by her mother’s sudden illness and she believes she must try and make amends.
Hargrave’s novel confronts the themes of family, finding yourself and mental illness. Bundled together with insights into the natural world and humankind’s impact on its future, it creates a wonderful novel of self-awareness and strength. Illustrations by Tom de Freston are so beautifully intermingled throughout the novel that just looking at them draws the reader further into the narrative. Julia and the Shark is a remarkable story that will be enjoyed by many in the years to come.
For Ages: 10 - 14 years
Number of Pages: 320 Hardback
Published: October 2021
Themes: Family, love, fear and belonging
Purchase here: harpercollins.com.au/9780733341465/rabbit-soldier-angel-thief/
Katrina Nannestad’s second novel set in World War II follows 6-year-old Sasha, a boy orphaned by the cruelty of the conflict. Her 2020 novel, We Are Wolves, shows the German perspective, this time we see the war through the eyes of another child, this time Russian.
The books opens with Sasha in a Berlin hospital shortly after the end of the war. He has been silent and wary since he woke, only taking time to steal objects that for some reason, he knows he desperately needs. As he is encouraged by the hospital staff and his fellow patients, Sasha recalls his past with the help of the stolen objects.
This beautifully crafted book sweeps between Sasha’s present and his past. Each story he tells paints a picture of what he has endured. Young Sasha’s personality shines throughout the tale. His kindness, love and optimistic outlook earn him many friends and protectors. As he travels across Russia’s vast countryside with the Red Army and its group of extremely loveable characters, he encounters hardships, skirmishes and moments of pure joy.
Katrina Nannestad’s novel again shows the reader that the world is multifaceted and that sometimes seeing it through the perspective of the young, can make it a better place. It’s not only a place that is torn apart by hatred and greed and contains only fear and tragedy, it can be a place where the flowers that grow on the wasteland are sometimes the best thing in the world. Based on the real story of a young boy called Sergey Aleshkov, Nannestad brings to life another side of war. Themes of family, loyalty belonging and the power of love run seamlessly through this fabulous novel. Any reader, young or old, will be enthralled by this tale of bravery and love.
For Ages: 11 - 14 years
Number of Pages: 352
Published: July 2021
Themes: Friendships, obsession and finding yourself
Purchase here: harpercollins.com.au/9781474978484/girl-in-real-life/
What do you do when your entire life is put on YouTube, even the really embarrassing bits, and you’ve had enough? Eva Andersen is in Year 8 and that is hard enough. Even when she asks her parents to stop Vlogging and Instagraming they don’t get the message.
Eva’s life is a mess of filming, wearing and using products supplied to her brand. Her bedroom and wardrobe and what she eats are all curated by her parents and every day they think up more things to post. They are getting more intrusive and more embarrassing by the day. At school Eva’s grades are suffering as well as her friendship with Hallie who now prefers to sit with Gabi. The only friend who sticks by her is Spud, the science geek from next door.
When a new girl, Carys, joins her class, Eva volunteers to buddy her. Carys has been excluded from her last school for some unspecified cybercrime and Eva finds in her, a friend who understands her problems.
Together they come up with a plan to show Eva’s parents that she’s not happy. Can they get away with infiltrating the family Vlog site? Will it be enough?
Tamsin Winter’s novel is a wonderful modern-day tale. It sheds light on how the internet and the glamour of fame are not all they claim to be. The insights into the damage caused by a life exposed on the worldwide stage are humourously told and give the reader another angle to see the consequences of constant exposure. Winter’s characters are real and Eva’s best friends, endearing. The themes of friendship, Internet obsession, finding oneself are all interwoven through this light but heart-felt novel.
For Ages: 8-12 years
Number of Pages: 208 paperback
Published: May 2020
Themes: Belonging, self, acceptance and inner strength
Purchase here: walkerbooks.com.au/Books/Worse-Things-9781760651657
Worse Things is a story about perspective. Three students, Joelene, Blake and Amir all have something to worry about. Joelene is an ace hockey player who is struggling under her mother’s relentless ambitions for her. Blake is an avid footy player who is shut out from the major part of his identity when he breaks his arm. Amir is a recent refugee who has seen the awful things that can happen in war and is trying to settle into his new life with his aunt. He is also the one who sees things that Joelene and Blake don’t see about themselves.
How can Joelene tell her mother she doesn’t want to play hockey and that she misses her dad who is a doctor overseas helping people in dire situations?
Blake is stuck on the side lines of the footy field and his life. Football has defined him as a person and now he has lost this, he doesn’t know what to do.
Amir dreams of acceptance and family as he watches fellow pupils engage in school life. No one seems to know how to help him. His teacher can’t even pronounce his name.
Sarah Davis’ illustrations, especially the front cover, give the novel a dynamic, contemporary feel that hits the target audience just perfectly.
Sally Murphy’s verse novel is an exploration of self, belonging and fortitude. The easy to read stanzas hold a depth that readers will find engaging and thought provoking.
For Ages: 8-12 years
Number of Pages: 272 pages
Published: February 2020
Themes: Friendship, loyalty and family
Purchase here: allenandunwin.com/browse/books/childrens/The-Chickens-Curse-Frances-Watts-9781760525569
The Chicken’s Curse is a wonderful tale of adventure set in the time of Julius Caesar. Felix is the servant of General Fabius Maximus Porcius – a man who ignores bad omens. Everyone knows (especially in ancient Roman times) that to ignore bad omens will only ever end in disaster. The night before a huge battle the General has ignored so many bad omens Felix feels he has no choice but to slip from the camp and head back to Rome and his mother. As he escapes, he meets up with Livia and a talking Sacred Chicken, both of whom want to go to Rome too. Livia needs to see her brother before he is killed by Caesar in his Triumph Games and the Sacred Chicken has heard that he will be fed on cake there – something he especially adores.
Their journey must be made in secrecy as Livia is a slave who has escaped her master. There are troopers looking for her and the trio are in constant danger. Their escape takes them in all sorts of directions – often away from Rome. The soldiers and baddies they encounter are ruthless and extremely unkind. What follows is one of the best road trips ever.
Frances Watts’ main characters are all loveable. Felix is kind and thoughtful and Livia brave and determined. Both of them are very loyal. Their fortitude in the face of so many set-backs is endearing and admirable. The themes of family, loyalty and friendship are strong and are approached with a lovely underlying humour. This book will be loved by all who read it.