Unipiggle: Unicorn Muddle by Hannah Shaw

This is a truly magnificent book for young readers! It’s full of fun, it’s witty and it explodes with colour on every page. I read Unipiggle to my 5 year old daughter and we loved every minute of it. I love that it’s about two characters, who are different from everyone else, finding each other.

Princess Peony Peachykins Primrose Pollyanna Posh (or Princess Pea for short) lives in Twinkleland Kingdom and gets made to perform her princess duties by her parents, Queen Bee and King Barry. She would rather be climbing trees and getting dirty. Her parents decide to throw her a Unicorn Parade so that she can choose her favourite unicorn to have as the Royal Unicorn. Princess Pea finds the unicorns to be snooty and vain until she meets a unicorn pig. Although there are those who don’t believe a pig can enter the parade Princess Pea chooses Unipiggle and they become the best of friends. After all, who wouldn’t want a unicorn pig with very surprising magic powers.

This is the perfect book for parents and teachers to read aloud as I guarantee they’ll enjoy it just as much as the kids. I love that there are pixies for every possible situation (like the Marshmallow Clearance Pixie), that the king is called Barry, and that most unicorns are actually self-absorbed. Hannah Shaw is a brilliant storyteller and her illustrations fill you with joy. You can’t help smiling and having a bit of a giggle as soon as you pick the book up.

I can not wait for more Unipiggle books!

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The Theory of Hummingbirds by Michelle Kadarusman

The Theory of Hummingbirds is an uplifting story of a girl who just wants to be normal. Alba is born with a club foot, which she calls Cleo. She has had surgeries to correct Cleo and has had a cast for most of her life. At the start of the story the day that she gets her cast removed permanently is within sight and Alba really wants to be able to run in the school cross country. Her friend Levi is obsessed with space and he comes up with a theory that there is a wormhole in the school librarian’s office. She disappears from a locked room and Levi believes this is the explanation. Alba and Levi have been best friends forever but an argument pushes them apart. At a time when Alba needs her friend the most Levi won’t talk to her. When the day of the cross country arrives Alba is determined to prove that she can complete the course.

I loved Alba’s story. She wants to be ‘normal’ and she’s determined to prove that she can walk properly without crutches. I love her friendship with Levi and their shared love of hummingbirds. I also really love the school librarian character of Ms Sharma. This would make a great read aloud for Years 5-8, especially as it’s a short, engaging read. It’s perfect as a Wonder read-alike too.

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Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang

Dragon Hoops was such a great read! I enjoyed it far more than I thought I would and I learnt so much. Not only is it the story of Gene Luen Yang following the season of the varsity basketball team at the high school where he works, it’s also a history of basketball (including the racism and sexism that led to changes in the sport). Gene gives back story to the coach and players in the Bishop O’Dowd Dragons, which gives some really interesting insight in to basketball in China and the Sikh religion.

The art is fantastic, especially the action of the games, where the characters are moving through the court or flowing towards the hoop. The difference between the past and present is very clear with the difference in colours and tones. It also has the coolest cover that looks and feels like a basketball.

It’s aimed at teens and adults but it would be a great addition to an intermediate school, especially if you’ve got basketball fans. I highly recommend it!

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Lizard’s Tale by Weng Wai Chan

Lizard’s Tale by Weng Wai Chen is a story filled with mystery, intrigue, spies and secret missions, that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Set in Singapore in 1940 the story focuses on Lizard, a boy who steals a package that dangerous people want to get their hands on. Lizard is just a boy who steals to make ends meet but this latest job leaves him mixed up in Japanese plans to invade Singapore. Lizard’s friend, Lili, is secretly a special agent who is tasked with uncovering more about the Japanese plans. With the help of Lizard and his contacts, and a British girl staying at the Raffles Hotel, they set out to uncover the truth. The gunjin (Japanese military) are known for their ruthlessness and Lizard and his friends discover this first hand.

Lizard is a character who is very resourceful. He lost his parents at a young age and has been brought up by his uncle. His uncle disappeared suddenly several years ago so Lizard has to survive on his wits and the kindness of others. The girls in the story are quite resourceful too – Lili is a fearless secret agent and Georgina doesn’t live the sheltered life her parents believe she does.

Weng Wai Chan gives readers an interesting insight in to Singapore at the start of the Second World War. There are so many different nationalities in the city, from Chinese and Malay to British and Japanese. This is a period of history I didn’t know much about and I found it fascinating.

Lizard’s Tale is a very engaging story perfect for ages 10+. It’s a very worthy finalist in the 2020 NZ Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

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Go With the Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann

Go With the Flow is another really important graphic novel that encourages discussion. It encourages readers to talk about menstruation, a topic that has historically had a stigma attached to it. The story shows how important it is to talk about periods and to have proper support for those who menstruate, including making sanitary products readily available.

The story follows Sasha, the new girl at school, who unexpectedly has her first period at school. She is unprepared and gets mocked by other students, her call her Bloody Mary. Luckily for Sasha, not everyone is horrible and Abby, Brit and Christine come to her rescue. The friends bond over their period experiences and set out to make a change in their school. Abby writes a blog about menstruation called The Mean Magenta, and it’s through her posts that her fight for menstrual products in her school becomes a much wider issue.

This story works so well as a graphic novel because some of the impact comes from the visuals, especially Abby’s exhibition. The colour palette the creators have used is various shades of red, which matches the subject matter of the story. It’s not just the story that is fantastic though, the creators also give more information at the back of the book about periods and what is and isn’t normal, and how to be a period activist.

It’s aimed at teens but I’m going to purchase it for my Year 7/8s as I know some of them would enjoy it.

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Lark by Anthony McGowan

I can absolutely see why Lark won the Carnegie Medal. It is a perfect novella that packs an emotional punch and keeps you on the edge of your seat. By the end of the story I felt like I knew Kenny and Nicky intimately.

Lark is the story of the boys’ visit to the moors which becomes a life-changing moment. What starts out as a ‘lark’ or a bit of fun soon turns in to a fight for survival. A blizzard closes in and both boys and their dog are ill-prepared for such conditions. Just when things couldn’t possibly get worse they do and you don’t know if they will make it home again.

Published by Barrington Stoke the book is dyslexia friendly so the chapters (and the book itself) are short. I think it would be perfect for those Year 7-9 boys who are reluctant readers

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When Stars Are Scattered by Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson

When Stars Are Scattered by Omar Mohamed and Victoria Jamieson is one of the most inspiring graphic novels I’ve ever read. It opens your eyes to what life is like for refugees and the conditions that they live in while at the same time filling you with hope.

It is the story of Omar Mohamed and his younger brother Hassan. They have spent most of their life in Dadaab, a refugee camp in Kenya, after escaping from their home in Somalia. Through Omar and Victoria’s words and pictures we learn about daily life in the refugee camp (referred to as an ‘open prison’). There’s never enough food or water, the routine is tiring and there is no access to the medical care needed for Hassan. When Omar has the chance to go to school he knows this is the only chance to break free of the refugee camp and make something of their lives. Going to school though means leaving his brother every day. Omar strives to work hard while coping with life.

This is an important story for both kids and adults to read. Omar’s life may be different to what we know and have experienced but there are also similarities. He struggles with middle school, friendships with boys and girls and with the small family that he has. Omar shows readers that no matter where you come from and how tough your life is you can rise above it and achieve your dreams.

This graphic novel is slightly different from Victoria Jamieson’s previous books but her illustrations are a perfect match for Omar’s story. I especially love her portrayal of the bond the two brothers share.

At the back of the book both Omar and Victoria tell us how their collaboration came about and we learn more about Omar’s life after the end of the story.

When Stars Are Scattered is one of the best children’s graphic novels of 2020. It’s a must-buy for all school libraries and a good companion to Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin’s excellent graphic novel, Illegal.

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The Nothing to See Here Hotel by Steven Butler and Steven Lenton

There is a hotel that is hidden to the human eye that caters to the most smelly, hairy, warty clients around. Nestled amongst the waterfront hotels for humans is the number one place to stay for magical creatures, The Nothing to See Here Hotel.the-nothing-to-see-here-hotel-9781471163838_lg

Frankie Banister runs the Nothing to See Here Hotel with his parents.  This isn’t your average hotel though!  It’s a hotel for magical creatures and it’s full of all sorts of weird sights, smells and sounds.  All varieties of magical creatures come to stay here, from trolls and ogres to mermaids and werepoodles.  There is no such thing as a normal day at The Nothing to See Here Hotel but things get really crazy when a messenger arrives to announce the imminent arrival of the goblin prince, Grogbah.  He’s mean, demanding and very, VERY important.  Before the Banisters know it Grogbah is taking over the place.  Then another unexpected guest arrives to shake things up.

The Nothing to See Here Hotel is a rambunctious, rollicking read packed full of imagination and fun.  As soon as I entered The Nothing to See Here Hotel I immediately felt at home and didn’t ever want to leave.  It is fun from beginning to end and I need to read more escapades of Frankie and his family.

You can tell that Steven Butler and Steven Lenton had enormous fun writing and illustrating this story.  The characters are hilarious and they have some great lines. There is Granny Regurgita (Frankie’s great-great-great troll grandmother with the best insults), Nancy the hotel cook (who is a giant Orkney Brittle-Back spider), Gladys Potts the werepoodle and Mrs Dunch (a geriatric mermaid).  My favourite characters though are the Molar Sisters, the triplet tooth fairies.  Their names are Dentina, Gingiva and Fluora and they have the worst dental hygiene in all of the magical world (because they eat nothing but sugar cubes and their teeth are rotten).  Their magic wands come in very handy though to help the Banisters out of some sticky situations.

The Nothing to See Here Hotel is perfect for reading aloud as there are lots of great voices you could do. It would make a great read aloud for Years 3-6, especially for those teachers wanting a change from the usual Roald Dahl. There is plenty to keep all kids engaged and begging you to read the next chapter. I’m glad to see that this is the first book in this new series so there will be more books to come.

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Rory Branagan: Detective Book Trailer

Rory Branagan: Detective by Andrew Clover and Ralph Lazar is the first book in a fantastic new series featuring this switched on kid detective.  Packed full of quirky illustrations and shady characters Rory Branagan is perfect for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Timmy Failure.  It’s great for reluctant readers as it looks like a chunky book but is actually a quick, fun read.

Rory Branagan: Detective is out now from HarperCollins.

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Great Graphic Novels for Primary and Intermediate

I absolutely love graphic novels for kids!  I can’t get enough of them and neither can the kids at my school (especially the girls).  There are more and more great graphic novels being written and produced for kids and there really is something for every sort of kid.  These are a selection of recent reads that have stood out for me.  If you’re looking for some great new reads for your graphic novel collection I highly recommend these ones.

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Sparks! by Ian Boothby and Nina Matsumoto

This is a hilarious story about two cats who do good deeds dressed in a dog suit.  August is a brilliant inventor who is afraid of the outdoors and Charlie is the pilot of the suit and isn’t afraid of anything.  Together they are a sort-of robo-Lassie (along with their sentient litter-box), rescuing a baby from a well and saving people from a burning building.  In to the story comes a strange family with an evil baby whose aim is to control every animal on earth.  It’s up to Sparks to save the day and stop their dastardly plan.

I smiled the whole way through this graphic novel because the humour is spot on.  I could hand this to any kid from Year 4-Year 8 and I’m sure they would love it too.

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The Adventures of Jack Scratch: The Quest for the Hiss-paniola by Craig Phillips.

This action-packed tale of cats on the high-seas started life as a Kick-Starter campaign and I was super excited when it went ahead and I got my copy.  It’s a swash-buckling adventure full of brave, fearsome and some down-right nasty cats.  Like the Tintin graphic novels I grew up with its got plenty of action to keep kids interested and illustrations that they will pore over.  One of the things I love most about graphic novels is that they are perfect for reading again and again and this one will certainly be read to bits.  Perfect for ages 7+

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Cucumber Quest #1: The Donut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.

I can only do this book justice by using the Goodreads blurb so here it is:

What happens when an evil queen gets her hands on an ancient force of destruction?

World domination, obviously.

The seven kingdoms of Dreamside need a legendary hero. Instead, they’ll have to settle for Cucumber, a nerdy magician who just wants to go to school. As destiny would have it, he and his way more heroic sister, Almond, must now seek the Dream Sword, the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Queen Cordelia’s Nightmare Knight.

Can these bunny siblings really save the world in its darkest hour?

Sure, why not?

This is the first book in a new series (that started out as a web comic).  It’s another hilarious story with fantastic characters.  The BLT Trio had me laughing out loud and I hope to see more of them as the series progresses.  The world that the story takes place in reminded me of Adventure Time so any kids who love that will love Cucumber Quest. The kids that I’ve passed this on to have loved it just as much as I did and we all can’t wait for #2 to be available in NZ.  Perfect for ages 10+.

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Anne of Green Gables: a graphic novel, adapted by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler

This is a wonderful new graphic novel adaptation by Mariah Marsden and Brenna Thummler.  It perfectly captures the essence of the story and will hopefully open up the story to a new generation of readers.

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The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag

The Witch Boy is about 13-year-old Aster who is expected to grow up to be a shapeshifter when he really wants to become a witch.  In his family all the females are witches while all the males are shapeshifters, but Aster has always found witchcraft more exciting.  When some of the males start disappearing and an evil force threatens his family Aster knows that he can help – as a witch.  With the help of his non-magical new friend Charlie, he sets out to help his family using his witchcraft skills.

It is a fantastic story about being different and being who you want to be.  This is another graphic novel that the girls at my school have been gobbling up.  Molly’s illustration style is quite similar to Raina Telgemeier which lots of the kids love.

23594349Clem Hetherington and the Ironwood Race by Jen Breach & Douglas Holgate

A dangerous rally race + archaeology = a whole lot of fun!

Clementine Hetherington and her robot brother, Digory, have run away from the orphanage they’ve been living in since their parents died. Clem and Dig want to follow in their famous archaeologist mother’s footsteps, but no one will take them seriously. Their chance arrives when a man from their past saves Digory’s life, and to repay the debt they enter a multiday rally race… to recover stolen artifacts! Clem and Dig hope to win so they can give them to a museum, but their opponents want to sell them on the black market. The Ironwood Race has no rules, and Clem and Dig might be in over their heads!

This is an ingenious mash-up that I couldn’t get enough of.  Before I knew it I had finished the book and I’m dying for more!  This story is sure to keep even the biggest non-reader engaged.  Those kids who love action-packed movies with great baddies and lots of explosions will love this book too.

 

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