Book Review: How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot, by Suzanne Main

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_how_not_to_stop_a_kidnap_plotAward-winning Wellington author Suzanne Main has revisited her funny, mishap-prone characters Michael and Elvis from How I Alienated My Grandma, in another fast-paced adventure.

In How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot, Michael and Elvis get themselves in a load of trouble by tampering with the school play. In the course of serving their punishment, the boys uncover a plot to kidnap a student from their school and decide to thwart the kidnappers before they can carry out their dastardly plan.

Helped along the way by uber-popular Angus and school journalist Natalie, the boys lurch from near miss to near miss, making assumptions and deductions that lead them on cross-town bike adventures and top secret stakeouts. But is everything as it seems?  And who is the mysterious and malevolent Mr C?

I’m 30 years too old to be the target audience for this book, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying it immensely. The pace is snappy, the humour is genuine, and you can totally imagine some kids of your acquaintance jumping to the sorts of conclusions that Michael and Elvis jump to, and the scrapes they get in as a consequence.

I can see this book being a hit with students from about 8 -12, and would be a great read-aloud for parents and teachers. Get yourself a copy, and buckle up for a great time.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

How Not to Stop a Kidnap Plot
by Suzanne Main
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775434801

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The blog to end our 20-day blog tour!

BookAwards_CC_900x320_v3_bannerWe have just finished a fabulous four-week tour around our authors inspirations, aims and achievements with their Children’s Choice finalist books. Now it is time for you to help your kids to vote their favourite book and author to win: they will be in to win a selection of finalists for themselves and their school if they do! Kids can select a winner in each category; the winning book of each category will win a prize at the Book Awards ceremony on Thursday 13 August. Thank you to all of the other blogs who have hosted these interviews!

Children's_choice_ya_fic_V2jpgDuring the first week of our tour, we heard from the Young Adult fiction finalists. We heard from Ella West (who, like any good super author, writes under a pseudonym) who dedicated Night Vision to Trish Brooking, because she still takes her out for lunch, after looking after her as Otago Education College Writer in Residence in 2010. We learned that Natalie King has not one but three pseudonyms, and was inspired by a dream of a lake to write the book Awakening, which begins with a mysterious necklace drawn from a lake. While Jill Harris sadly passed away in December, Makaro Press publisher Mary McCallum told us that she published her book The Red Suitcase because the opening chapter inside a Lancaster bomber had her riveted. I Am Rebecca was a return to a character that author Fleur Beale had written about before, in I am not Esther. She told us that the secret to her amazing characters is simply to “walk in the shoes of the character so that what happens to the character informs the story.” Our final YA author was Nelson-based Rachael Craw, who had two interviews in two different places! Spark was also inspired by a dream, which took 5 and a half years to come to fruition: she had to learn to write first! She was inspired by the power of DNA when she met her birth mother.

Children's_choice_picbook_v4Week two saw us jump back a few reading years to the Picture Book finalists. Scott Tulloch ran I am Not a Worm past fellow Children’s Choice finalist Juliette MacIver and her kids, and her oldest son Louis suggested what became the final line in the book: “I like butterflies.” Yvonne Morrison, author of Little Red Riding Hood…Not Quite, told us she was about to leave NZ for a new job in Vietnam, living on a jungle island and managing a centre for endangered primates! Donovan Bixley covered two finalist books in one interview, Little Red and Junior Fiction book Dragon Knight: Fire! and he said that working with the same authors again and again means he can just do a messy scribble at the early stage of illustrating, and they will trust him to flesh it out!  Jo van Dam wrote doggy rhymes for her own children when they were young, and this became Doggy Ditties from A to Z. This is illustrated by Myles Lawford, who had to do a lot of research to make sure he illustrated each breed accurately. Peter Millet answered his own question about pets in the army with The Anzac Puppy, illustrated by Trish Bowles, who used to get in trouble at school for drawing: she now gets rewarded for it! Juliette MacIver likes to feature things in her books that children see in their everyday lives – “monkeys, old wooden galleons, pirates, for example, things that children encounter most days on their way to kindy or school.” Marmaduke Duck and the Wide Blue Seas was the third in the series by her and Sarah Davis, who reckons Juliette sometimes writes things in just to annoy her: ”52 marmosets leaped on board”?!? Seriously!!? Do you know how long it takes to draw 52 marmosets? Much longer than it takes to write the words “52 marmosets”, that’s for sure.”

Children's_choice_JUNIOR_V4We began the Junior Fiction category with an interview with Kyle Mewburn, author of Dragon Knight: Fire!, the first in a new series for the younger Junior Fiction age-group, and a finalist in both the children’s choice and the judges’ lists. Kyle doesn’t let his ideas float around “in case they escape, or some sneaky author steals one.”  The lead character in 1914 – Riding into War, by Susan Brocker, was inspired by her grandfather, Thomas McGee, who served as a mounted rifleman in WW1. Desna Wallace lived through the Canterbury Quake, and the character of Maddy popped into her head on the way home from work as a school librarian one day. “It was a bit crowded in there, so I sat down and wrote it out,” she said. Stacy Gregg‘s story The Island of Lost Horses began when she fell in love, with a picture of an Abaco Barb horse, the breed featured in this story; which is inspired by real events. Suzanne Main won the Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon award for the manuscript for How I Alienated My Grandma. This came with an offer of publication from Scholastic NZ, which enabled her to keep backing herself and her work to succeed.Children's_choice_NON_FIC_V3

The Non-fiction category tour began with the double-nominee (in judge’s and children’s choice lists) Māori Art for Kids, written and illustrated by the husband and wife team, Julie Noanoa & Norm Heke. Their aim was “to create something for families to connect with and appreciate Maori art.” Poet Sarah Jane Barnett featured poetry title The Letterbox Cat & other poems by Paula Green and Myles Lawford on her blog The Red Room. Paula says, “When I saw the way the zesty illustrations of Myles Lawford danced on the page, I cried!” Maria Gill followed up her New Zealand Hall of Fame of 2011 with New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame: 25 Kiwi Champions – she says the toughest task was to decide who to leave out. Gorgeous illustration guide book A New Zealand Nature Journal, by Sandra Morris, was featured next on NZ Green Buttons. Sandra’s favourite thing to do when not drawing or managing her illustration agency, is tramping, unsurprisingly!  Philippa Werry was in last year’s awards with her great Anzac Day book, and this year she was a children’s choice finalist for Waitangi Day: The New Zealand Story, featured on Barbara Murison’s blog. Philippa focused this book on the day itself, as opposed to the treaty, and she enjoys doing cryptic crosswords while contemplating writing.

While this tour is ending, we will be carrying on our celebration of the book awards, promoting the judges’ list in the Book Awards for Children and Young Adults in the run-up to the awards announcement at Government House on 13 August 2015. There will be giveaways and reviews, and fun besides, so watch this space!

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For the full links list for the Book Awards, please head here.

Other blogs involved were: NZ Booklovers blog, Booknotes Unbound, Around the BookshopsThrifty Gifty, My Best Friends are Books, NZ Green Buttons Blog and The Red Room.

Book Review: How I Alienated My Grandma, by Suzanne Main

cv_how_i_alienated_my_grandmaMichael is home for the school holidays, and bored. His best friend and next-door neighbour Elvis lends him a metal detector to scan the backyard with. The mystery object that Michael finds sets in stream a chain of events that is both worrying and funny … because Michael inadvertently allowed an alien to possess his grandmother’s body. The alien, a location scout from a galaxy far, far way wastes no time in trying to communicate with its home planet to discuss Earth’s invasion potential. Some clever sleuthing and a few near misses mean that Michael and Elvis uncover the aliens’ plan to invade. But who will believe them, let alone know how to help?

This novel, which publishers Scholastic promote as being for 9-11 year olds (I’d give it a year extra in either direction depending on the child, especially if it’s a shared bed time story with 8-year-olds), is Suzanne Main’s first. You wouldn’t know it. The pacing is excellent, and the story moves along at a cracking speed, without compromising on characterisation or story. The humour is inter-generational; I can definitely picture a pre-teen chuckling away as Michael and Elvis try to solve the problem of Michael’s alienated grandma; and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I genuinely enjoyed reading a book specifically written for an audience 30 years my junior.

One of things I most liked about the story was that Main encourages the reader to look again. Is Michael really a bad influence, or the victim of circumstance? Is Elvis truly something of a cowardly, bumbling geek, or is he a forward thinking, practical problem-solver. And most importantly, is the local eccentric, “Mad Bill” someone to write off without a second glance because he smells bad, or is he the key to solving the riddle?

Main deservedly won the 2014 Tom Fitzgibbon Award for a previously unpublished author. I think she’s about to win a number of young fans who will appreciate a clever idea well executed, full of fun and adventure, with relatable characters and an unexpected twist at the end. Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

How I Alienated My Grandma
by Suzanne Main
Published by Scholastic NZ
ISBN 9781775433064