The World’s Worst Children 2 by David Walliams and Tony Ross

David Walliams has become one of those children’s authors who have reached the same level of anticipation by young readers as J.K. Rowling had at the height of the Harry Potter series.  Kids gobble up his books and can’t wait for his new books.  I had to make sure I got copies of his latest book, The World’s Worst Children 2, on release day so that I could have it in the library for excited readers.  It is certainly worth the wait for readers young and old.

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The World’s Worst Children 2 is David Walliams and Tony Ross’ second collection of cautionary tales featuring some of the worst, most horrid children ever.  There is Humbert the Hungry Baby who eats everything in sight and grows to be humongous,  Stacey Superstar who has an unforgettable voice, Fussy Frankie who hates anything healthy, Gruesome Griselda who loves playing disgusting tricks, and Competitive Colin who has to win everything no matter what it takes.  These children deserve everything that comes their way!

The characters in The World’s Worst Children 2 will make you laugh, cringe and shudder with horror.  You really wouldn’t want to meet these kids, let alone be their parents.  I enjoyed each of the stories but two really stood out for me.  The story of Harry Who Never, Ever Did His Homework was brilliant because of the ghosts of the greatest villains in history that turn up in his bedroom.  They have some really funny banter between them.  I also really enjoyed the story of Trish who slowly turns in to a troll with every horrible comment that she makes about the kids and teachers at her school.

It’s important to acknowledge Tony Ross’ contribution to The World’s Worst Children 2 because I don’t think it would be the same book without his wonderfully weird illustrations.  Tony Ross has always be great at bringing out the worst in people in his illustrations and he certainly does that in David Walliams’ books.  He has made each of the children featured in the book look absolutely horrid, especially Humbert and Trish.

We have one more volume of the World’s Worst Children to look forward to and I fear that they are going to be the worst yet!

Check out this book trailer showing each of the characters in the book:

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Timmy Failure: The Cat Stole My Pants by Stephan Pastis

I’m a huge Timmy Failure fan and I look forward to each new book.  The sixth book in Stephan Pastis’ hilarious series, The Cat Stole My Pants, has just been released and it’s another great addition to the series.

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The Cat Stole My Pants starts with a cat stealing Timmy’s pants (or so he believes) while visiting the house that was once home to Ernest Hemingway on the island of Key West. He has come on his mum and step-dad’s honeymoon, along with Doorman Dave’s nephew Emilio Empanada.  Since Timmy’s former business partner, Total, has taken off to Cuba, Timmy makes Emilio his unpaid intern.  The poor kid has to follow Timmy everywhere and be a part of Timmy’s crazy plans.  There is a treasure to be found, a best-seller to be written and a father to meet.  What could possibly go wrong?  Anything at all when it includes Timmy Failure.

You are always guaranteed a good laugh with each new Timmy Failure book.  I eagerly await the next installment just to see what crazy things Timmy gets up to next.  Timmy’s unusual outlook and funny way of talking gets me every time.  Stephan Pastis’ characters always make me laugh and there are some great new characters in this book.  Emilio Empanada gets the lucky job of being Timmy’s unpaid intern.  As you can imagine, Timmy doesn’t treat him very nicely but Emilio seems happy enough to hang around with him.  Emilio gets roped in to all sorts of schemes, from breaking in to a lighthouse to helping Timmy sell his book.  Emilio is a fan of romance novels and the names of some of these cracked me up – The Donkey’s Kiss is More Powerful than his Kick and Love is a Speckled Pony of Desire.  I also enjoyed the minor characters like Speedo Steve and Captain Largo Spargo.

The thing that I enjoyed the most about this book though was the book that Timmy wrote called Timmy Failure’s Wisdom-Filled Guide for the Uneducated People Who Don’t Know Very Much.  Included in his book are various scenarios involving a crime and possible answers.  These were so ridiculous that they were incredibly funny.

If you’re a Timmy Failure fan grab a copy of The Cat Stole My Pants now.  If you haven’t read a Timmy Failure book yet, what are you waiting for!

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Grandad’s Guitar by Janine McVeagh and Fifi Colston

Sharing stories is an important part of our whakapapa. We share stories so that those who came before us are remembered and celebrated. Some of these stories lend themselves well to being made into a book that can be shared with people all over the world.  Janine McVeagh’s story of her husband and the connection that he made with their grandson through his guitar is one of these stories. In Grandad’s Guitar, Janine brings her family’s story to life with the help of Fifi Colston’s wonderful illustrations.

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Kahu receives a battered, old guitar for his birthday. He would much rather have a shiny new one, but as his grandmother tells him the story of this guitar Kahu learns how to play the instrument and learns of his connection to his grandad. The guitar once belonged to his grandad who took it all over the world, along with his grandma. They traveled to England, France and Greece before coming home through Iran, Afghanistan and India. The guitar may look old and battered but it is quite a treasure that is now Kahu’s.

Grandad’s Guitar is a fantastic story that celebrates music and its power to connect people across countries and generations.  It shows the importance of sharing family stories to keep the memories of those who are no longer with us alive.  Janine’s storytelling makes you feel like you are a member of the family listening to her story.

I love the look and feel of this book. Makaro Press have done a wonderful job with the production of the book.  The paper is thick and the illustrations are glossy so you almost feel like you are holding Fifi’s original illustrations in your hands. Fifi’s illustrations take you back in time to the 60s, showing the fashion of the times and showing the different cultures through the food and clothing.  I especially love the music notes that flow through the illustrations.

This is a great book to share with children young and old. It’s an especially good book to use in a classroom because you could explore many different aspects of the story, from music and its ability to connect people, to family stories and how these are passed down the generations, or even looking at the different cultures that Kahu’s grandparents visit on their travels with the guitar.  With Matariki just around the corner I think this is the perfect book to share, as one of the things we celebrate at Matariki is our whakapapa.

Makaro Press have also created some wonderful teacher’s notes to go with the book too – http://www.makaropress.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Final-Teachers-Notes-Grandads-Guitar.pdf

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The Jamie Drake Equation by Christopher Edge

Christopher Edge’s previous book, The Many Worlds of Albie Bright was science fiction for kids at its best. Christopher effortlessly wove actual science with fiction into a story about a boy’s search for his mum across multiple dimensions. It is a fantastic book that the kids at my school have loved and I’ve certainly enjoyed discussing the story with them. Christopher’s latest book, The Jamie Drake Equation, is another brilliant science fiction story that readers young and old will devour.

Repro_JamieDrake_cvr.inddHow amazing would it be to have a dad who’s an astronaut?

Rocket launches, zero gravity, and flying through space like a superhero! Jamie Drake’s dad is orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station and Jamie ought to think it’s cool but he just really misses him…

Hanging out at his local observatory, Jamie picks up a strange signal on his phone. It looks like alien life is getting closer to home. But space is a dangerous place and when his dad’s mission goes wrong, can Jamie prove that he’s a hero too?

The Jamie Drake Equation tore apart my atoms, shook them up and put me back together again. It made me smile, broke my heart and left me in awe of the universe.  The story is narrated by Jamie so you really get inside his head and experience his sadness, embarrassment , heartbreak, wonder and awe.

Ultimately this is a story about a boy and his connection with his father who he just wants to return to him on Earth. Jamie’s dad is often away, training for missions or up in space, and Jamie and his family have had to live all over the world for his dad to achieve his dreams. Jamie really misses his dad and just wants him to be home, rather than talking to him on a screen. His dad’s latest mission is to launch nano-spacecraft in to space to look for signs of alien life. However, it’s Jamie who makes contact with an alien race when he accidentally downloads a transmission to the Hubble Telescope to his phone. Soon Jamie is discovering more about aliens and the universe than he ever thought he would.

Like The Many Worlds of Albie Bright, the thing I love most about The Jamie Drake Equation is the way that Christopher not only tells a fantastic story but also teaches you about the wonders of the universe. I never knew about things like a star’s ‘Goldilocks zone’, or that one of our closest stars, Proxima Centauri, is only four and a quarter light years from Earth. Reading this book made me want to desperately visit an observatory to look at the stars (something I’ve never done).  I’m sure Christopher will inspire kids to want to explore the universe too.

The Jamie Drake Equation is perfect for readers who love adventure, science and space, stories about families, or anyone who just loves a gripping story.   It would be a great read aloud for Years 6-8 as it will certainly grab kids (and teachers).  I wonder where Christopher Edge will take us next?

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Beetle Queen by M.G. Leonard

From the moment I started reading M.G. Leonard’s debut, Beetle Boy, I fell in love with her storytelling, her characters and her wonderful beetles.  I gobbled up Beetle Boy and even a year after reading it I find myself thinking about Darkus and his friends.  I have been eagerly anticipating the sequel, Beetle Queen, for ages because I need to return to that story and find out what is happening.  I couldn’t wait until it is released in New Zealand (and neither could several of my favourite readers at my school) so I bought a copy from the UK.  Beetle Queen is even better than I was hoping it was going to be.

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Cruel beetle fashionista, Lucretia Cutter, is at large with her yellow ladybird spies.

When Darkus, Virginia and Bertolt discover further evidence of her evil, they’re determined to stop her. But the three friends are in trouble. Darkus’ dad has forbidden them to investigate any further – and disgusting crooks Humphrey and Pickering are out of prison. Hope rests on Novak, Lucretia’s daughter and a Hollywood actress, but the beetle diva is always one scuttle ahead …

Beetle Queen is a superb sequel and I would say it’s the best second book in a trilogy that I have ever read.  M.G. Leonard transports you straight back in to the story, almost exactly where the previous book ended.  All the things that I loved about Beetle Boy are in Beetle Queen – the wonderful characters that you either love or love to hate, the brilliant storytelling which feels quite magical, the sense of adventure, and all the beetles.  The sense of joy that Darkus experienced after rescuing his dad and bringing him home doesn’t last long before he loses him again.  We saw the determination of Darkus, Bertolt and Virginia in the first book so we know that they will do anything to stop Lucretia Cutter’s plans and bring Darkus’ dad home again.

The thing I love the most about Beetle Queen is M.G. Leonard’s characters.  Darkus, Bertolt and Virginia are clever, determined and caring.  They would do anything to protect their beetle friends and they certainly have plenty of challenges that they have to face in Beetle Queen.  Humphrey and Pickering, the bumbling (and quite peculiar) cousins are back again and trying to get what is owed to them by Lucretia Cutter.  They make me laugh every time they appear in the story because they are just so hopeless and you know things aren’t ever going to go well for them.  Lucretia Cutter is delightfully sinister and we learn more about her wicked plans.  I love Baxter, Newton, Marvin and Hepburn, the beetle side-kicks who all play important roles in Darkus’ plans to stop Lucretia Cutter.  They manage to express so much with just a flutter of elytra or twitch of antennae. The stand-out character in Beetle Queen though, for me, has to be Darkus’ Uncle Max.  He kept on surprising me in this book, because he often reacted quite differently to what I was expecting.  He is very supportive of Darkus and always backs him up.

I am so excited to read the finale, Battle of the Beetles, but I’ll have to wait until next year to find out how it all ends.  In the mean time I urge everyone to read Beetle Boy and Beetle Queen because you will fall in love with Darkus and his Coleopteran friends.  They are the perfect books to read aloud to a Year 5 or 6 class or snuggled up in bed with your children at night.

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Here come the Miniwings!

Miniwings is a terrific new series by Sally Sutton and illustrated by Kirsten Richards that I have to rave about.  The first two books in this new series have just been released and I can’t get enough of them.  I want my own set of Miniwings!

The Miniwings series is about two sisters, Clara and Sophia, and the mischievous little Miniwings (think My Little Pony toys that come alive whenever it’s just them and the girls).  There is Moonlight (a unicorn who loves his food), Glitterwing (who rains glitter when she flaps her huge, sparkly wings), Whizz (a fast little pony who loves playing tricks), Comet (a show-jumping and dressage star who hates losing), Firestorm (who is brave and a little bossy) and Oceana (who is loves the water and is very messy).  They love to have fun and play tricks so they are always getting Clara and Sophia in to trouble.

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Glitterwing’s Book Week Blunder is about Clara and Sophia getting ready for Book Week at their school.  They meet their favourite author and try to make their book character costumes, with a little help from the Miniwings.

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In Whizz’s Internet Oopsie, the Miniwings discover the internet and the marvels of shopping online.  When they are left at home while the girls go to school the Miniwings find Mum’s credit card and go shopping.  When deliveries start turning up on their doorstep Clara and Sophia have to figure out how to sort out the mess, especially when one of their surprise packages is a goat.

I love everything about these books!  The covers are really eye-catching, with their appealing colours and sparkly stars, so you just know that girls in particular are going to be desperate to get their hands on them.  The Miniwings themselves are adorable but also super mischievous.  They each have very different personalities and Kirsten Richards shows this in her stunning illustrations.   Sally Sutton’s stories are so much fun to read and I know that kids are going to read these books over and over.  Sally has a lot of fun with language and has created her own Miniwing-ese.  The Miniwings  like to use words like ‘noggin-flash’ (idea) and ‘delishy’ (tasty).  The Miniwings also like to burst in to song throughout the story which made me laugh every time.

The Miniwings series are perfect for young readers who are just getting in to chapter books.  These fun, engaging stories are sure to hook young readers on books for life.  I can’t wait to see what the Miniwings get up to next!

 

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Interview with CATs hero Claude D’Bonair

Award-winning author and illustrator, Donovan Bixley, is currently chronicling the heroic adventures of the famous CATs pilot, Claude D’Bonair.  Donovan very kindly put me in touch with Claude, who took some time out from fighting the dastardly DOGZ to answer my questions.

  • We’ve heard the tales of your daring missions so far.  What are the three most important things to take with you on a mission?
Phew Zac, you had to start with a hard question. Let me think … well, the truth is that we never know where the next mission will take us, or what danger we’ll be heading in to. You can’t rely on anything. You might find yourself deep in enemy territory without your squadron. You might even lose your plane … which happens to me more often than I’d like to admit! Quick thinking and fearlessness has helped me get out all sorts of dangerous situations. So, I guess the best thing I can take on a mission is my courage and inventiveness … that, and a packet of cat biscuits.
  • How do you prepare before going off on a mission?
You’re asking the wrong cat. I’m not much for preparing. I just try and figure out what to do as I go along. My friend, Syd – he’s actually more like an uncle to me – he likes to “prepare” for a mission by eating and sleeping. Syd says, “In war, you never know when you’ll get you’re next meal”… that doesn’t explain why he used to eat and sleep all the time before the war too!
For me, a change is as good as a rest. I like to clear my mind, practicing Meowzaki, the martial art I learnt from my dad.
  • C-for is the cat responsible for the brilliant inventions that help you on your missions. What is your favourite of C-for’s inventions?
It would have to be his exploding fake dog poop.
  • You get in to some pretty hairy situations on your missions.  Who is the best cat to have by your side when catastrophe strikes?
When catastrophe strikes, it usually means you’ve downed your plane behind enemy lines. In those situations you want someone who doesn’t just follow orders. You want someone who speaks their mind and thinks on their feet. I think I’d want to have Manx at my side when I’m in a tight jam. Manx and I just got back from a dangerous mission in Venice and really she saved my tail that time. Manx is a top engineer and real problem solver in tricky situations.
  • Your dad was a race car driver, adventurer and pilot and you certainly seem to have inherited his bravery.  What was one of the most important lessons that you learnt from him?
Ha ha, that makes me think of a time when I was young, when dad and Syd took me on one of their crazy adventures to Japan. Syd is always suspicious of new things – but this one time, he thought wasabi paste was a lip cream – ha ha – after that, he wouldn’t eat Japanese food for the rest of the trip.
My dad was completely different. He was never afraid to try new experiences. It can be scary at first, especially when you’re in a new place and you don’t speak their language, but you soon find that they are just like you. Whether someone was cat or dog, ginger striped, or black and white spotted, my dad always treated others they way he wanted to be treated. So I guess he left me with two great lessons: to be fair and to be fearless. I owe my life to those lessons, and even though CATs are at war with the DOGZ army, I’ve often made friends with dogs who’ve helped me when I’ve been in greatest need.
  • What do you like to do when you’re not off foiling the DOGZ plans?
You know, I’m not one of those cats who like to lounge around sleeping all day (unlike some cats I could name). I love to get out and see the world and try new things. One day, when cats and dogs are living in peace again, I want to take off and see some of the friends I’ve made around the world. That will make for some exciting adventures.
Claude

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Interview with Darkmouth author Shane Hegarty

Shane Hegarty is the author of the awesome Darkmouth series.  It’s full of legendary creatures of all kinds and there are plenty of laughs.  You may have been one of the lucky people who got to hear Shane talk about his books when he visited the top half of the country last month (I’m very jealous!).  The third book in the series, Chaos Rising, is soon to be released here in NZ and I got the chance to interview Shane about the series.

  • What inspired you to write the Darkmouth series?

I ran out of excuses not to do it! From a very young age I’d wanted to write a story of fantasy and adventure, with scary bits, jokes, an ordinary hero in extraordinary circumstances. In the end, I wanted to write a story for my own kids that gave me the focus to make the relationships the heart of it even as their town is under attack.

  • What 3 words would you use to describe the series?

Fun. Fantastic. Freaky.

  • What would your Legend Hunter name be?

Shane the Easily Spooked.

  • Which of your characters do you most relate to?

I relate to a few in different ways. Finn has to become a Legend Hunter even though he doesn’t feel strong enough, and I recognize his fear. His friend Emmie is fearless, and she’s the flip side of things – how I would actually like to be. Finally, Finn’s dad Hugo is a but pushy to his son, and I guess I recognise that even if I don’t want to be a pushy dad!

  • Which Legend would you least want to encounter?

There’s a Hydra in Darkmouth 3: Chaos Descends, and I really wouldn’t like to meet any of its heads on a dark night. Or a bright day. Or at any time.

  • The series is being adapted in to an animated movie.  Will you have any part in the creation of the movie?

I’ve seen some of the early drawings and story ideas they’re working on in Hollywood, and it looks amazing. There are brilliant directors involved – Dave Pimentel (Moana) and Doug Sweetland (Storks) – so I know they’ll do a great job. I’m having fun watching it being put together.

  • What books do you recommend for readers who love your series?

If you haven’t read Derek Landy’s amazing Skulduggery Pleasant, they’re so good. I always tell readers of my own favourite book, Douglas Adams’s the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I’m always delighted when a reader is inspired to pick that up because they always love it.

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Flying Furballs: Unmasked by Donovan Bixley

Claude D’Bonair and his cat friends are back for their third Flying Furballs adventure in Unmasked.  Donovan Bixley’s Flying Furballs series is one of the best series for young readers around.  The stories are packed with action, close shaves, puns to make you laugh-out-loud, brave cats and horrid dogs.  They are perfect for newly independent readers because there are lots of Donovan’s wonderful illustrations throughout the story and they are just really fun to read.

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Claude D’Bonair is the heroic, young pilot in the CATS Air Corps, who you follow on his adventures in to DOGZ territory.  He flies all over Europe to try and foil the DOGZ plans and rescue fellow cats.  In the latest book in the series, Unmasked, Claude and Manx, CATs’ head engineer, have to go on an undercover mission to Venice to recover some secret plans.  With great escapes, explosions and marvelous inventions, Unmasked is another thrilling story in this fantastic series.

Flying Furballs is hugely popular in my library and I’m always trying to get new kids hooked.  The series is especially great for 7-9 year olds and they would be fantastic stories to read aloud to a Year 3/4 class.  I can’t wait to read more Flying Furballs adventures!

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Ruru’s Hangi by Nikki Slade Robinson

Nikki Slade Robinson’s award-winning picture book, The Little Kiwi’s Matariki, is my favourite book to read around Matariki.  In this book Nikki Slade Robinson introduced young children to Matariki through Kiwi and his friends in a simple yet fun way, using a mixture of English and te reo in the text.  In Nikki’s latest book, Ruru’s Hangi, she introduces young children to the concept of a hangi as the creatures celebrate the arrival of Ruru’s babies.

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Ruru has been sitting on her eggs for 30 days and 30 nights and on day 31 the eggs wriggle and hatch.  Kiwi hears Ruru’s elated cries and goes to tell the other creatures in the forest.  Kiwi has an idea to celebrate the arrival of Ruru’s babies and gets the other creatures to help out.  They dig a hole and gather all of the things that they need to make a hangi.  When the hangi is ready they call Ruru and they share the kai together to celebrate.

Ruru’s Hangi is a perfect introduction to the hangi for young children and is another wonderful bilingual text from Nikki Slade Robinson that is great to share with young children, especially preschoolers.  Nikki introduces children to native birds and creatures, like the Tui, Katipo and Weka who all help to prepare the hangi. Nikki’s illustrations are fun with each of the creatures having a distinct personality.  The Te Reo used is basic and weaves effortlessly in with the English, so this is a great book to share even if you know very little Te Reo.  Nikki uses lots of repetition in the text, like:

‘Ka pai, perfect!’ they said. Shhh! Don’t tell Ruru!’

Nikki ends the book with a simple explanation of how to prepare a hangi, just like the creatures in the book have done.  Ruru’s Hangi is a invaluable resource for early childhood centres and schools.  It is a book that will be used by teachers and librarians around the country but also a book that children will love.  Anyone who is looking for a wonderful bilingual story to share with their children should get a copy of Ruru’s Hangi.

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