Junior Fiction Shorts #3: Dragon Knight #6: Barbarians!, and Barking Mad

Dragon Knight #6: Barbarians!
by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley

cv_dragon_knight_barbaraiansThis is the sixth and final book in this frequently hilarious series about Merek, a dragon who wants to be a knight, so spends his days in boy-form, attending knight school with his best friend Brin at Lord Crumble’s Castle. Together, Merek and Brin fight bullies, regularly prove that smart beats big, and discover together that being a knight isn’t quite all it is cracked up to be.

In this episode of their story, the Barbarians are at the gate. But when Merek and Brin discover they have actually breached the castle walls, and are looting treasure unexpectedly carefully, they follow them out of the castle. When they are discovered, things go from bad to worse, until help comes from an unexpected quarter. Each of the Dragon Knight stories have occasionally factual inserts, and fantastic illustrations from Donovan Bixley. I recommend the full series as a must-read for anyone who likes the Horrible Histories, or the tales of King Arthur.

Dragon Knight #6: Barbarians!
by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433972

Barking Mad
by Tom E. Moffatt, illustrated by Paul Beavis

cv_barking_madIf you have the kind of kid that cracks up at absurdities, have I got a book for you! Granddad is behaving like a dog, so he’s being taken to hospital. Fingers doesn’t believe it at first – Granddad’s a tough old inventor who has been known to sew a gash in his leg up with needle & thread rather than go to the hospital for any reason – but when he and his sister get to his house and see Granddad being carted away, he knows something is definitely the matter. Fingers and his sister Sally are baffled, until they realise Granddad’s dog DaVinci is acting a little more sensible than usual.

So while Granddad gets committed for licking the postman and growling like a dog, Fingers and Sally are trying to put the world to rights. A trip to the dog pound for DaVinci doesn’t help matters any, and by the end of the book your head is spinning with how many identity-swaps there has been. This is a well-paced, ably-written book, with the round-about storylines nonetheless staying within their own rules & making for a satisfying read. Paul Beavis’ brilliant illustrations add to the fun. For ages 7-12.

Barking Mad
by Tom E. Moffatt, illustrated by Paul Beavis
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433743

All reviews written by Sarah Forster

Junior Fiction Shorts #2: Rona, The Sam & Lucy Fables and Life According to Dani

There are a number of strong independent publishers based in Wellington, and these three books prove the point. Each of them is individual and necessary, and a lot of fun.

Life According to Dani, by Rose Lagercrantz and Eva Eriksson

cv_life_according_to_daniThis is the fourth in this beautiful series exploring Dani’s life, and the emotional world our children have within them. Dani is in her happy place, with her best friend Ella on Ella’s part-time island, swimming in the sea, and making cookbooks, and selling buns and tea to the tourists who come by on the ferry. But the reason she is there is not so happy: her dad is still recovering from being run over by a car, and has been in hospital for months. Then one night, dad doesn’t phone…

As with many of Gecko’s writers, Lagercrantz and Eriksson have an uncanny way of getting under the skin of children and understanding their complicated lives – not underestimating them. I have most of the books in this series (and hadn’t realised I had missed one), and my son has benefited from them in times when he has been unsure of himself. The joy, and the sadness, of childhood is beautifully captured. Highly recommended for kids aged 4 – 9.

Life According to Dani
by Rose Lagercrantz, illustrated by Eva Eriksson
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570713

by Chris Szekely and Josh Morgan

To be Released on 30 November 2016
cv_ronaIn contrast with Frankie Potts, Rona is a thoroughly New Zealand heroine, who when born was ‘so busy arguing she forgot to cry.’ She lives with her grandparents, and is part of a fantastic whanau. As the book opens, her cousin Jessie has come to stay for the school holidays. They go bridge-jumping and swimming in the local river, and Rona takes joy in playing pranks on her cousin, who is under her thrall. One of these pranks goes awry, with Rona’s pride & joy, a gold-trimmed Royal wedding mug, breaking in half as a result. Easy enough to fix, if it wasn’t for Granddad’s dog Snuffy…

There are two stories in this book, and the second story sees Rona tell some tall tales about her name’s origin at school, and deal with the consequences of plagiarising her uncle’s poem, while at home she helps nanna get the house ready for Christmas, with a brilliant bunch of family members. This is all about the comfort of routine, as Rona helps grandma bake the Christmas cake, granddad mow the lawn – and they go and buy a tree from the service station for once, which Rona keeps secret from grandma. Illustrations throughout from Josh Morgan add another element of fun to a very enjoyable story. This is a hugely relatable and comforting story, perfect to share with or gift to a child age 5-8.

by Chris Szekely and Josh Morgan
Published by Huia Publishing
ISBN 9781775501985

The Sam & Lucy Fables, by Alan Bagnall & Sarah Wilkins

cv_the_sam_and_lucy_fablesSam & Lucy are some pretty darn wise pigs. These are their stories, slightly reminiscent in format of Snake & Lizard, but with a fable that sees us learn something new about why the world is as it is at the end of each story. Every story has a guaranteed ‘is that true?!’ at the end of it, and Sarah Wilkins’ illustrations add wistful joy to each of the tales, each of which is more outlandish than the next.

My favourite fables are those with just the pigs, putting the world to rights – my absolute favourite being the Bus Stop story (hint: there’s always a bus there.) I highly recommend this for a book to read this holidays, perhaps in the back of a car on the way to a camping trip, where you may just see some flying carpets.

The Sam & Lucy Fables
by Alan Bagnall & Sarah Wilkins
Published by Submarine, with the help of Whitireia Publishing
ISBN 9780994129987


There are a couple more books I’d like to mention in the independent vein of things, which have landed on my desk more recently. Snails, Spells and Snazzlepops by Robyn Cooper is another from the Submarine imprint of Makaro Press, and looks like great fun; and if Lily Max: Slope, Style, Fashion from Luncheon Sausage Press is as good as the first Lily Max, (Satin, Scissors, Frock) it’s sure to be a hit. Jane Bloomfield has created an addictive character in Lily Max, and I look forward to reading this excerpt in her adventures.

All books reviewed by Sarah Forster 
And check out the first part of her junior fiction round-up here! 


Book Review: Girl Stuff for girls 8-12, by Kaz Cooke

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_girl_stuff_for_girls_aged_8-12Kaz Cooke is a very accessible and humourous Australian author and cartoonist who specialises in writing books on health and well being for women (and girls). I can still remember her hilarious descriptions of pregnancy in Up the Duff, which were fantastically described in both words and pictures. Her Kidwrangling guide to raising children was a natural purchase for me once I had children, and I now find myself in the position of having a child in the right age bracket for her latest book, Girl Stuff 8-12.

The first chapter leaps right on in with changes in your body during puberty. All descriptions are factual, simply explained and occasionally humourous. Kaz is very careful to ensure that the book outlines the wide variety in body types and experiences of puberty. My daughter found this chapter very interesting (actually, I did too). I particularly liked her suggestions on responding to comments from people about body changes. There are some excellently pragmatic comments around periods, and I sincerely wish that I had read this book when I was younger!

Later chapters deal a lot with social issues – such as friendships and bullying as well as ‘not-so-happy families.’ There is a great chapter on confidence, and positive self talk. I found her list for parents and girls regarding online safety useful and I will be adopting some of the tips for use. The back of the book has a very useful ‘more info’ section with really good websites and phone numbers (including New Zealand numbers). There is a theme throughout the book of getting good advice and information – such as avoiding advertising messages or asking adults how to manage privacy settings.

My daughter and I read the first chapter on body changes together. I knew that the book was hitting the mark when my daughter took off with the book and finished reading it very quickly by herself! She particularly liked the ‘real life’ comments made by girls throughout the book. When I spoke to her about it afterwards it was clear that she had understood the content, so I think that the book is well written in that respect.

The book does not really get into relationships or sex – there is a follow up book that covers those topics in greater depth. However, if you are after a factual book about puberty for younger girls then this is a great guide. I will definitely be getting the following book in the series.

Reviewed by Emma Rutherford

Girl Stuff for girls 8-12
by Kaz Cooke
Published by Viking Australia
ISBN 9780143573999


Junior Fiction shorts #1: Frankie Potts, and Johnny Danger

I have spent a very enjoyable week reading through the most recent NZ-written junior fiction to land on our shelves. We have some amazing authors writing books that deserve an international audience. Here are just a few of them, from Puffin (Penguin Random House). Keep an eye on this blog today, because there are two more posts to come – a great resource for those unsure of what to get their new readers next. All reviews by me, Sarah Forster.

Frankie Potts and the Sparkplug Mysteries
by Juliet Jacka, with illustrations by Phoebe Morris

cv_frankie_potts_and_the_sparkplug_mysteriesFrankie Potts is a girl detective who solves mysteries large and small in this, the first of the series by Juliet Jacka. This book has broad appeal, and Frankie is a very relatable character, a not-girly girl who kicks ass when she has to, and has the best dog in the world to help her. Her grandma is one cool character, and her parents are easy-going without letting her get away with too much. Phoebe Morris adds some great touches with her page and small character illustrations.

The biggest mystery in this book centres on Grandma M, her fierce maternal grandmother, whom Frankie learns has more to her than she may have guessed. This is one for every kid who sees the world as a series of mysteries to be solved, who can’t wait for the next one to come around the corner. A Harriet the Spy character for the modern age – with an ultra-clever skateboarding dog. Great for kids aged 6 – 10.

Frankie Potts and the Sparkplug Mysteries
by Juliet Jacka, illustrated by Phoebe Morris
Published by Puffin

Frankie Potts and the Bikini Burglar
by Juliet Jacka, with illustrations by Phoebe Morris

cv_Frankie_potts_and_the_bikini_burglar.jpgThis is the second in the Frankie Potts series, and does a fantastic job of widening Frankie’s world, bringing in friends (and enemies!) from school to help her solve a hot pink mess. The book opens with a job ad – Frankie has decided with all the mysteries around Tring, she needs a sidekick. And in the first couple of pages of the book, her wishes are answered, with a boy who might be from Borneo, or Tasmania…or then again he might not.

And just in time. There’s a thief in town, and they are stealing anything pink they can get their paws on. Frankie and her friends come up with a plan of attack, but can they get all their pawns in play in time to save the diamond-encrusted pink bikini at the centre of the mystery? Phoebe Morris’ illustrations add to the fun, and I like the repetition as we carry on trying to solve our mysteries. This is a solidly commercial, well-written mystery series, which I sincerely hope will be published into the UK and US.

Frankie Potts and the Bikini Burglar 
by Juliet Jacka, illustrated by Phoebe Morris
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143309192

Johnny Danger: Spy Borg
by Peter Millett

cv_johnny_danger_spyborgIf you like your spy mysteries fast-paced and full of toilet humour, Peter Millett is your man. Johnny Danger is an undercover superspy for the MI6 – his cover being, um, that he is a terrible spy. This is the third in this new(ish) series from Millett, who is best known for his UK-published series Boy Zero Wannabe Hero.

No bodily emission is left unturned as Johnny Danger once again fights his mortal enemy Dr Disastrous, who has a new partner in crime – Yuri BoomBoom’ovic, a deranged master puppeteer who controls realistic cyborgs he has named…Yuri-nators. While I was a little old to laugh aloud at the jokes, I found myself engaged in the action nonetheless, which bounds along swiftly, with enough character quirks to make it interesting without loading up on emotion. Recommended for ages 6 – 10, I’m definitely going to be putting this forward for my 6-year-old to consider when we finish our current read-alouds.

Johnny Danger: Spy Borg
by Peter Millett
Penguin Books Australia

Book Review: Marmaduke Duck and the Christmas Calamity, by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_marmaduke_duck_and_the_christmas_calamityAnother adventure in the series featuring the much loved Marmaduke Duck, this book continues in the same delightfully humorous vein as it’s predecessors and like it’s predecessors this book will make a terrific shared reading experience.

With Christmas in the title along with the word Calamity, one can guess that something unwanted may be about to happen and that the day of the year loved by children may be threatened… and when Santa and his Reindeer find themselves buried in the snow, a hero is needed. Who else but Marmaduke Duck could save the day?

With it’s cast of characters, delightful illustrations, rhyming words, exclamation marks and  neat little story, this book has it all: Adults and children alike, will love it!

A wonderful edition to the growing catalogue of New Zealand-written Christmas stories, Author and Illustrator have worked together to produce a book that will be welcomed everywhere, especially on every child’s bookshelf.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Marmaduke Duck and the Christmas Calamity
by Juliette MacIver and Sarah Davis
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433903

Book Review: Did You Hear a Monster?, by Raymond McGrath

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_did_you_hear_a_monsterWhat do you do when you hear a thing go ‘bump’ in the night? A very good question, especially if you are Clarice Caroline who is afraid of EVERYTHING. No kidding, this dear wee girl is scared of a mighty list of things ranging from the usual spiders, wasps, loud noises, heights and snakes to the not so usual broccoli, balls, carrots, and bicycles.

That Clarice Caroline is a ‘shy and timid little girl who is neither courageous nor adventurous’, is nicely built up with examples of her reactions to scary things and serves to draw us into questioning just why she is up in the middle of the night. In the dark. This tension is further drawn out with spooky illustrations and word imagery: floorboards c-r-e-a-k-i-n-g and tall, whispery walls and echoey halls. The scenes and book design add to the building drama – she’s going down the dark hall… she’s opening the door… she’s peeking into a dark, dark room… you get the idea.
She reaches for the light…

And here we see just why this scared, timid girl has braved the night. To say more would spoil the surprise. Suffice to say it turns out that Clarice Caroline can indeed be brave when she needs to.

This is a great story to read aloud together; lots of opportunities for shrieking, squealing and screaming along with Clarice Caroline (apologies if it gets too loud!) as well as pauses for dramatic effect. I also enjoyed the vocabulary introduced here, words young readers wouldn’t often see these days: woozy, nor, mettle, pluck (as in courage), bottle (as in brave), and chutzpah.

Most kids enjoy a bit of a scare and Did You Hear a Monster? delivers them a monster story with just the right amount of drama and spookiness, well balanced with comic relief in the form of funny facial expressions in the illustrations and the surprise ending. This edition comes with a CD which includes a read-along version of the story, as well as two songs from the author. Pitched at littlies, they are cheery and catchy ditties that tie in with the story.

A lot of young readers may relate to Clarice Caroline and her numerous fears. How reassuring for them to know that others are also scared of things which may seem silly to our friends. And how reassuring to see that even though we might be scared of things, we can still be brave when it really counts.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Did you Hear a Monster? 
by Raymond McGrath
Penguin Random House 2016
ISBN: 9780143309130

Book Review: If I Was a Banana, by Alexandra Tylee and Kieran Rynhart

Available now (and on NZ Bookshop Day) in bookshops nationwide.

GIVEAWAY: Comment below or on this post on Facebook telling us what type of banana, mountain, bird or cow you would be…if you were one. Closes 12 noon 26/10/2016.

cv_if_i_was_a_bananaAs a child, I used to imagine tiny worlds in the cereal bowl; that with every spoonful I might be separating families of rice bubbles. I also thought that musicians on the radio were performing live in the studio. I wondered, if you stepped on an ant, would its friends be sad? If I Was a Banana was written for children like me.

Whimsically written and gorgeously illustrated, If I Was a Banana will appeal to anyone with a modicum of imagination. What if you were a banana, or an elephant, or a spoon? If you were a ladybird or a mountain, what might the ramifications be?

I read my review copy to a class of five-year-olds, and it took much longer than a “regular book”, because the children were so engaged and so keen to talk about each idea and share their responses. As a teacher, anything that gets children talking and thinking is alright by me. They particularly loved the illustration on the last page, and the book was in hot demand after I’d shared it, so that they could explore the cloud drawings in more depth.

Gecko Press continue to produce high quality books that deserve to be on the bookshelves of all children, teachers and in libraries. I’ve written many reviews of Gecko Press for this blog, and read many more of their books than I’ve written about, and I am aware that I probably sound like a total Gecko fan girl by now. But it’s not my fault. Julia Marshall and her team are doing extremely good, and important work. Long may they reign.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

If I was a Banana
by Alexandra Tylee and Kieran Rynhart
Published by Gecko Press
ISBN 9781776570331