Monthly Archives: March 2017

The Goldfish Boy by Lisa Thompson

A boy spends every day looking out his window. He sees the people in his street going about their business; leaving for work, watering their gardens, and chatting over the fence. One day though, the neighbour’s grandson goes missing and this boy is the last person to see him. Soon the police turn up and they need to know anything that would help their investigation. The reason this boy watches everything from his window is that he has crippling OCD. This boy is Matthew in Lisa Thompson’s amazing new book The Goldfish Boy.

9781407170992Matthew Corbin suffers from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. He hasn’t been to school in weeks. His hands are cracked and bleeding from cleaning. He refuses to leave his bedroom. To pass the time, he observes his neighbors from his bedroom window, making mundane notes about their habits as they bustle about the cul-de-sac.

When a toddler staying next door goes missing, it becomes apparent that Matthew was the last person to see him alive. Suddenly, Matthew finds himself at the center of a high-stakes mystery, and every one of his neighbors is a suspect. Matthew is the key to figuring out what happened and potentially saving a child’s life… but is he able to do so if it means exposing his own secrets, and stepping out from the safety of his home?

The Goldfish Boy is an absolutely gripping mystery with an incredible young boy at its heart. I knew from reading the blurb that this book was going to be unlike anything I had read before and I wasn’t disappointed. Lisa Thompson grips you from the first page and doesn’t let you go until the last sentence. She keeps you in suspense trying to figure out what has happened. There are so many questions that pop up as you read (What is wrong with Matthew and what is the connection to the death of his brother? What has happened to Teddy?) but Lisa ties up all the loose ends.

I loved this book not just because of the gripping mystery but also because of the intriguing character of Matthew. At the start of the book he hasn’t been out of the house in several weeks, he washes constantly and stares out of his window at the people in his street.  The story is narrated by Matthew and as the story progresses we get to know more about him and his crippling fears.  Lisa Thompson takes you inside the head of a boy suffering from OCD and you really get a sense of how terrifying it must be for him.  There are times that you think Matthew makes some progress and starts to get better, only for him to break down and need to clean himself furiously.  I loved that this story wasn’t just about the mystery of Teddy going missing and who did it, but about how Matthew manages to overcome his condition to find the answers.

The Goldfish Boy is one of my favourite middle grade reads so far this year.  It is a perfect read aloud for Years 6-8, the only problem being that the kids won’t want you to stop reading until you’ve reached the end.  I can’t wait to read whatever Lisa Thompson writes next!

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Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Some books encourage children to imagine, some books teach children a new skill, and some books inspire children to do amazing things.  Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is an incredible new book by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo that is bursting with stories of amazing girls and women from all over the world. This is a book that everyone needs to read and I guarantee you will be amazed and inspired every time you pick it up.

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There are 100 tales of extraordinary women in Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.  Inside you’ll find stories of artists, mountaineers, nurses, activists, sportspeople, writers, scientists, spies and rock stars.  There are women that you will have heard of before and others who you’ll read about for the first time.  There is such a range of women that there is someone for every girl to relate to.  Each double-page spread features a short biography told in the style of a fairy tale alongside a full page portrait that captures the spirit of each heroine.  Each of the portraits has been created by a different female artist from around the world so they are all completely different styles.

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I love everything about this book!  The fairy tale style biographies are the perfect introduction to each of these extraordinary women.  The authors have captured exactly what it is that makes these women heroines and they’ve done so in a way that is accessible to children young and old.  Each of the biographies really would make great good night stories as you can imagine girls (and boys for that matter) dreaming about the amazing things that they themselves could achieve.  Unlike the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson, these are real women who have overcome adversity to achieve great things.  I love the design of this book, with the double-page spread for each woman.  Their name is at the top of the page, along with what they were known for, and their date of birth (and death if applicable) and the country they came from are at the bottom of the page. A quote from each woman is overlaid on the portrait of them, which is a nice little touch.  There is a contents page at the start of the book but the book is laid out alphabetically by first name so that you can easily flick back to a bio that you want to read again.  The production quality is high too, as it is a beautiful hardback book with ink and paper that you can smell.  A feature that I especially love is the space at the back of the book for girls to write their own story and draw their portrait.

I found this book absolutely fascinating and I learned so much.  There were women that I had never heard of before, such as Jingu, an exceptionally talented and tough Japanese empress, and Claudia Ruggerini, an Italian partisan who helped to bring down Mussolini.  I also learned that as well as being a famous chef Julia Child was a spy in World War Two who cooked cakes to repel sharks.

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls needs to be in every home and school library.  It’s not just an important book for girls to read but also boys.  Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo show us how strong, brave, determined and fearless women can be and that girls can achieve amazing things.  I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

 

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See You in the Cosmos by Jack Cheng

Sometimes a book comes along out of the blue and blows you away. The blurb sounds interesting but it’s not until you start reading it that it grabs you and won’t let got. Jack Cheng’s debut children’s book, See You in the Cosmos, is one of these books. Once I started reading it I fell in love with Alex and this unique story.

33282947All eleven-year old Alex wants is to launch his iPod into space. With a series of audio recordings, he will show other lifeforms out in the cosmos what life on Earth, his Earth, is really like.

But for a boy with a long-dead dad, a troubled mum, and a mostly-not-around brother, Alex struggles with the big questions. Where do I come from? Who’s out there? And, above all, How can I be brave?

Determined to find the answers, Alex sets out on a remarkable road trip that will turn his whole world upside down.

See You in the Cosmos is an amazing story that sent me on an emotional rollercoaster.  One minute I would be laughing at Alex’s funny world view and the next I’d be biting my nails wondering what would happen to him next. It’s one of those books that I couldn’t stop thinking about and I really didn’t want it to end. Alex is a character that will stick around with me for a long time and I’ll keep wondering how he is doing.

Alex is one of the most interesting characters I’ve come across in a long time. He wants to send his golden iPod in to space for alien life forms to find, just like his hero, scientist Carl Sagan. The story is narrated by Alex who is making recordings on his iPod to send in to space in the rocket that he has made. He has saved his money and prepared everything he thinks he needs to get him to a rocket festival, where he will launch his rocket. Alex records all his thoughts and feelings on his iPod so you experience everything alongside him.  He is 11 (with the responsibility of 13 he tells us) but he’s also quite naive. As the reader, you can tell that things aren’t quite right with his home life but he doesn’t see this. The more I learnt about his home life the more I just wanted to hug him and tell him everything was going to be OK. Despite his home life Alex is full of hope and his dreams are big. He is determined to follow in his hero’s footsteps no matter what gets in the way. It is this hope and determination that made me want to keep reading so I could see if Alex achieved his dreams.

Apart from Alex’s voice the other thing I really liked about this book was the range of characters that Alex met on his journey. Jack Cheng shows readers just how kind and caring strangers can be. Alex meets a boy who pretends to be his brother to help him, makes new friends at the rocket festival (SHARF) and discovers a family member he never knew about him.  All of these people help Alex to achieve his dreams and get to where he needs to go.  They put their lives on hold to make sure that Alex is safe and to help him get home.

I can’t recommend See You in the Cosmos highly enough.  You need to read this book!

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New Dinosaur Trouble series from Mewburn and Bixley

I’m always on the lookout for great series for young readers who are just starting chapter books.  Sally Rippin’s Billie B Brown and Hey Jack series and James Roy’s Chook Doolan series are always flying off the shelf.  I was really excited to hear that Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley were releasing some new adventures of Arg, the brainy caveboy from their Dinosaur Rescue series, but aimed at beginner readers.  The Great Egg Stink, the first book in their new Dinosaur Trouble series is out now and it is a whole lot of disgusting fun!

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Arg is bored waiting for his mum to bring home some food.  When his mum returns with armfuls of eggs Arg discovers that one of the eggs might hold something he doesn’t want to eat.  Things are about to go from boring to exciting and a bit dangerous, especially if Arg’s sister Hng finds his egg.

The Great Egg Stink is a great intro to the wacky prehistoric world of Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley.  It’s the perfect chapter book for beginner readers, with a simple but entertaining text and heaps of Donovan’s wonderful illustrations.  Like their Dinosaur Rescue series, this new series is full of disgusting details that boys will love and plenty of laughs.  There are farts, vomit and  (my favourite part) an exploding mastadon.

The thing I love the most about the books that Kyle and Donovan create together are the puns.  They don’t disappoint, starting with puns about the ‘web’ and Arg’s ‘tablet.’  They don’t dumb anything down for these younger readers, which makes this series a perfect one to hook kids on reading.

We need more of these clever, engaging early chapter books for young readers so I hope that we see more series like Dinosaur Trouble.  I can’t wait to promote Dinosaur Trouble to the young readers at my school.

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Hooray for Birds by Lucy Cousins

Children have been growing up with Lucy Cousins’ illustrations for many years now.  Her bold illustrations are very distinctive and you certainly can’t miss them.  Children have gone on adventures with Maisy, been captivated by her fairy tale retellings, and discovered all sorts of beautiful fish.  In Lucy’s latest book, Hooray for Birds, children will fall in love with birds.

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Children will find themselves becoming birds of all kinds as they wake up shouting “Cock-a-doodle-doo!” like a rooster, pecking like a woodpecker, and standing tall on just one leg like a flamingo.   They will hop, swim and swoop their way through the book until, worn out from all the excitement, they cuddle up close with Mama in their nest.

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Hooray for Birds is a bright, busy, noisy book that will make children flap their wings with delight.  It’s a delightful picture book that adults will be only too happy to read again and again.  Lucy encourages children to join in with the birds and flap, sing and waddle along with these colourful creatures.  I love Lucy’s illustration style and it really appeals to young children especially.  One of my favourite aspects of Hooray for Birds are the gorgeous endpapers which are covered with birds.

I think this would be a great book for teachers to incorporate in to the classroom as I can see lots of ways to extend the story across the curriculum.  Lucy uses lots of wonderful descriptive language for the different actions of the birds, so this could be worked in to the English curriculum.  The book could be part of a drama lesson where the children are acting as the different birds.  Children could create colourful birds of their own as part of an art lesson.  There are so many opportunities to extend the fun of this book.

Hooray for Birds is a delight to share and I’m sure it will be a favourite with the younger children in your life.

 

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Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase by Peter Helliar

What is your worst nightmare?  Trapped in a pit of snakes?  Trapped in a room full of clowns? Being forced to listen to Taylor Swift songs over and over?  Frankie Fish’s worst nightmare is being stuck in the past with his grumpy grandad.  He may hate it but it is certainly hilarious for readers of Peter Helliar’s new book, Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase.

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Twelve-year-old Frankie Fish hates visiting his grandparents. Grandad Fish is cranky, and yells a lot, and has a creepy hook for a hand – plus he NEVER lets Frankie go inside his shed. But after a teensy tiny prank goes wrong at school, Frankie is packed off to Old-People Jail for the whole holidays.

What Frankie doesn’t know is that Grandad has been building a home-made TIME MACHINE in the Forbidden Shed, and the old man has big plans to get his missing hand back. But when Grandad goes back in time, he changes history and accidentally wipes out Frankie’s entire family – Nanna, Mum, Dad, even his annoying sister Saint Lou. Somehow, everyone is gone but Frankie and Grandad! And it’s only a matter of time until Frankie disappears too…

As the last Fish men standing, Frankie and Granddad must race back in time to undo this terrible mistake. But can they stand each other long enough to put the past back together again? And even if they manage the impossible – will Grandad’s wonky time-machine ever get them home?

Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase is a wacky time-travel adventure with a cool new character.  There is something in this story for everyone – pranks, time travel, family secrets, a weird grandparent with a hook for a hand, magicians, strange transformations, the Water Tank of Death and plenty of laughs.  Peter Helliar’s other career as a comedian shines through in this book as he certainly knows what makes kids laugh.  Peter hooks you right from the start and makes you need to keep reading to find out what happens.  Like any good time travel story this one asks ‘if you could go back and your past would you do it?’

Frankie Fish is a character that kids, especially boys, are going to love.  Frankie is a mischievous kid who loves playing pranks with his friend Drew Bird.  When Frankie starts poking around in his grandad’s shed he finds himself stuck in a place and time unlike the one he knows, with his grumpy grandad.  Suddenly, Frankie is the sensible one who must keep his grandad on the right track and stop him from making even more of a mess of his life. Thanks to his grandad’s meddling Frankie finds himself changing more than he could ever imagine.

Lesley Vamos’ illustrations add some extra fun to the story, especially when there are several different grandad’s involved. The cover is fantastic and the title literally jumps off it.

It’s good to know that Frankie Fish and the Sonic Suitcase is only the first book in a planned series featuring Frankie.  I certainly want to read more of Frankie and Alfie Fish’s adventures!

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Dave’s Rock by Frann Preston-Gannon

Dave, the lovable caveman from Frann Preston-Gannon’s brilliant picture book, Dave’s Cave, is back again. This time there is a bit of competition between Dave and his friend Jon.

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Dave’s Rock is about two cavemen and their love for rocks.  Dave loves his rock and so does Jon.  They both think that their rock is bigger, taller and faster.  They realise though that they can make both of their rocks better.  The competition between Dave and Jon makes this a thoroughly entertaining read.

I absolutely loved Dave’s Cave and Dave’s Rock is just as good.  The simple text and illustrations  work so well which makes it such a great book to share one-on-one or with a group.  You can’t help but read the story just like a caveman.  The bright green cover, with Dave hugging his rock, jumps off the shelf and makes kids want to pick it up and see what’s inside.

The thing that I love the most about Frann’s books about Dave is that they have such a wide appeal.  Younger children will love Dave for his silly antics and the mistakes that he makes and older children will appreciate the way that Frann tells the story in caveman talk.  They are books that adults will enjoy just as much as the kids and won’t mind reading over and over again.

Add Dave’s Cave and Dave’s Rock to your collection now for guaranteed laughs.

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We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan

Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan are two authors whose books have blown me away. They are also  both award-winning authors, with Sarah Crossan’s One winning the Carnegie Medal and Brian Conaghan’s The Bombs That Brought Us Together winning the Costa Award. When I first heard that they were joining forces to write a verse novel I knew it was going to be an amazing read. We Come Apart is everything I hoped it would be and more.

9781408878866Jess would never have looked twice at Nicu if her friends hadn’t left her in the lurch. Nicu is all big eyes and ill-fitting clothes, eager as a puppy, even when they’re picking up litter in the park for community service. He’s so not her type. Appearances matter to Jess. She’s got a lot to hide.

Nicu thinks Jess is beautiful. His dad brought Nicu and his mum here for a better life, but now all they talk about is going back home to find Nicu a wife. The last thing Nicu wants is to get married. He wants to get educated, do better, stay here in England. But his dad’s fists are the most powerful force in Nicu’s life, and in the end, he’ll have to do what his dad wants.
As Nicu and Jess get closer, their secrets come to the surface like bruises. The only safe place they have is with each other. But they can’t be together, forever, and stay safe – can they?

We Come Apart is an unforgettable read that tore me apart and put me back together again. The characters voices are so genuine that you really feel for them.  I loved that the story was told in verse because it just works so well with this story. The verse brings out the raw emotions of the characters.

Each of the authors writes from a different point of view. Sarah Crossan writes as Jess, a girl who is trying to protect herself from her physically abusive stepfather. She hates her so-called friends but does what she needs to fit in. She got caught shoplifting and gets sent to the reparation scheme where youth offenders have to pick up rubbish and learn how to be useful members of society. It’s in the reparation scheme that she meets Nicu, a Romanian guy who has come to England with his family to earn money for his marriage. His parents are going to marry him off to a Romanian bride but he wants nothing to do with it. When he meets Jess he falls for her and knows that he can’t ever marry someone he doesn’t know.

The thing I liked the most about We Come Apart is that it’s a very real story. There’s no happy ending, where Jess and Nicu fall madly in love and desperately in love. It’s really a story of how two people find each other at the right time and are there to help each other get through the rough patches. It takes quite some time for Jess to see the good guy beneath the surface of Nicu and she certainly needs some convincing.

I really loved the ending because it wasn’t forced. You know things aren’t going to be all sunshine and rainbows but they’ll be OK.

I will carry Jess and Nicu around in my head and hear for quite some time. Grab We Come Apart and fall in love with these amazing characters too.

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Spy Toys by Mark Powers

When the world is in peril and villains are running amok who do you call?  James Bond? Alex Rider? The Ghostbusters?  No, you call the Spy Toys.  They’re a rag-tag group of toys whose faulty machinery makes them the perfect crime fighting team.  Dan, Arabella and Flax are the Spy Toys and their first mission, in Mark Powers’ new series, is to protect the prime minister’s son from the clutches of Rusty Flumptrunk.

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Dan is a teddy bear.  He’s made for hugging.  Aw, so cute, right? WRONG!  Dan’s so strong he can crush cars.  But what makes him a faulty toy could make him the perfect spy.

Together with a robot police rabbit and one seriously angry doll, Dan joins a top secret team designed to stop criminals in their tracks.  And just in time!  An evil elephant is planning to kidnap the prime minister’s son.

Spy Toys is a hilarious story filled with action, adventure and characters that kids and adults alike will love.  Every kid will wish that they had toys as cool as Dan, Arabella and Flax.  Once you start reading Spy Toys you won’t want to stop because it’s a really fun and clever read.

There are lots of toys that feature in the story and everything is made by the Snaztacular Ultrafun company.  Their toys aren’t just your average toy though.  They create teddy bears that hug you when you need a hug, footballs that return to you after kicking them and bikes that take you home if you are too tired to pedal.  Clearly Mark Powers needs to be working with toy companies to make these awesome toys.

I loved the characters in the story, from the Spy Toys themselves to Auntie Roz, the Spy Toys’ boss who doesn’t take any nonsense, to the villain of the story, Rusty Flumptrunk, a genetically engineered cereal company mascot who has turned to a life of crime.  My favourite characters though are the McBiff Triplets, the children of a circus strongman and strongwoman, who are sent to test the Spy Toys.  They are destructive toddlers with huge muscles and their fight with the Spy Toys is hilarious.

Tim Wesson’s cover and illustrations throughout the book are fantastic.  He makes the Spy Toys look so cool and tough, the kind of toys that nobody messes with.  I especially love his illustrations of Rusty Flumptrunk who looks absolutely nuts.

I am hooked on the Spy Toys and I can’t wait for their next adventure.  If the sneak peek at the end of the book, featuring a hedgehog villain called Professor Doomprickle, is anything to go by, Spy Toys is going to be my new favourite series.  I would especially  recommend Spy Toys for any fans of Aaron Blabey’s Bad Guys series.

Check out the awesome Spy Toys website for heaps of activities and info about the series – http://spytoysbooks.com.

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