Paws by Kate Foster

Making friends as an adult is so hard. I look at my daughter and the kids at school and see how easily they make friends, sometimes by just asking to play together. I wish it was that easy as an adult. For some kids though, it isn’t easy to make friends, especially if they are neurodivergent. Alex, the main character in Kate Foster’s new middle grade novel, Paws, is autistic. He is desperate to make a friend before he goes to high school, and he’s got a plan to make sure he gets one.

Alex needs to make a friend, and fast. High school is just a few months away and he knows that if he makes a friend, high school will be a lot easier. For Alex though, making friends is really tricky. As an autistic person, he has trouble understanding people, especially when they use a facial expression he’s not familiar with or use a phrase that doesn’t make sense. Dogs are so much easier to understand, especially his cockapoo, Kevin. He always seems to know when Alex needs doggy kisses. Alex wants Jared, one of the popular kids, to be his friend. The Paws dog show is coming to town in five days, and Alex knows that if he can win a trophy with Kevin, Jared will want to be his friend. As the show draws closer, and the unexpected happens at school, Alex trains harder with Kevin. Will Alex win a trophy and make a friend or are friends closer than he thinks?

I absolutely adore Paws! It is a story filled with joy and doggy kisses galore. If I was a dog, I would be wagging my whole body with excitement right now because I love this book so much. It is one of my favourite stories about friendship, because Kate Foster shows us friendship in all its different forms. We see Alex trying to impress someone to try and be their friend, Alex making friends without even realising it, and the best friend relationship that exists between humans and dogs. Kate Foster gives us a glimpse of everyday life, through the eyes of her autistic character. Alex’s confusion about the phrases and facial expressions that neurotypical people in the story use, made me aware that there will be expressions that I use at school that neurodivergent students won’t understand. Reading Paws (and other recent books featuring neurodivergent characters) has made me think about how I can make my library a more friendly space for neurodivergent students.

I love Alex and his quest to make a friend. Alex has trouble understanding people sometimes, especially when they use a facial expression he’s not familiar with (like his teacher wiggling her eyebrows). Him and his dog Kevin though, understand each other perfectly. Alex knows what Kevin needs because he can read his body language, and Kevin knows what Alex needs, especially if he is upset or overstimulated. Dog kisses can solve just about anything! There is a strong bond between Alex and Kevin and it made my heart melt. One of the things that Alex is sensitive to is texture, and one of his favourite textures is the softness of Kevin’s fur and ears. Nuzzling with Kevin brings Alex comfort and calms him down. Kate’s descriptions of Alex rubbing his face in Kevin’s fur made me want my own dog to snuggle with. Alex desperately wants to make a friend, and he tries to make friends with Jared, a boy on his relay team who also loves the same game as him. Jared gives clues, that Alex doesn’t pick up, that he doesn’t want to be friends. The new kid, Derek, also likes the same game as Alex and has a cute dog called Vinnie. Alex becomes so focused on trying to win a trophy at the Paws dog show (to impress Jared so that he’ll be his friend) that he doesn’t realise he is already making friends around him.

The supporting cast of doggy characters in the book are super cute and they made me smile so many times. As well as Alex’s dog, Kevin the cockapoo, there is also Ned’s dog, Dennis the bulldog, and Derek’s dog, Vinnie the Jack Russell. I especially enjoyed the last part of the story with Alex and Derek at the Paws dog show with their dogs. The ending of the story is so perfect and left me grinning from ear to ear. Sarah Davis’ adorable illustration of Kevin on the front cover made me want to see illustrations of the other dogs in the story.

I guarantee that you’ll fall in love with Paws like I did. It will make a wonderful read aloud for Years 5-8. The team at Walker Books Classroom have created some great Book Club Notes to go along with the book too, which includes a Q & A with Kate Foster.

Cricket Crazy by Vivienne Bailey

There is a serious lack of sports fiction for kids, especially books published in New Zealand. We seem to be good at publishing sports memoirs and celebrations of sports teams aimed at adults, but there is not much around for kids. Many of the sports-mad kids aren’t huge readers, but stories about sport are the perfect way to hook them in to books. Vivienne Bailey’s Cricket Crazy, published under the Ahoy! imprint from local publishers Cuba Press, is a wonderful and much-needed novel for kids, focusing on cricket.

Tom Willard is a cricket-crazy eleven-year-old, who dreams of making it big, like his cricket idols. For a while now, it’s just been him, his dad and his dog, Archie. Now his dad has a new girlfriend, called Tanya, who is spending more and more time with him and his dad. Things that used to be just for him and his dad, like cricket, now include Tanya. Tom doesn’t want someone new being part of their life, because he knows that things will change. Things go from bad to worse when Tom’s best friend, Fletcher, gets sick, Tom’s new cricket bat goes missing, and then he is dropped from his team. Tom knows he will have to train hard if he is to make it back on his team and help them get to the finals. Luckily, Tom finds a new friend in Izzy, an all-rounder who helps him improve his skills and get one step closer to his dreams.

Cricket Crazy is a great mix of sports action on and off the pitch and family dynamics. It is engaging for sports-mad kids, especially those who love cricket, and at just 110 pages, it is the perfect length for struggling or reluctant readers. The parts of the story that take place during matches are exciting and quite tense. Tom is a character that sporty kids will be able to relate to, with his focus on improving his skills, getting to the finals, and his rivalry with Menace Mitchell. There will be many readers who will be able to relate to Tom’s family life too, with someone new coming in to the family. From the start, Tom doesn’t like Tanya, and when Tanya starts trying to change things at home, Tom becomes more frustrated. Vivienne Bailey understands her audience well, especially the way that they speak. Tom and his friends feel authentic. Vivienne’s previous experience, working in school and public libraries, has obviously helped in writing this story.

Cricket Crazy is a great addition to primary and intermediate school libraries. I know it will fly off the shelves at my school! The wonderful cover, by Theo Macdonald, will certainly grab kids’ attention.

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency: The Edge of the Ocean by L.D. Lapinski

I absolutely loved the first book in L.D. Lapinski’s The Strangeworlds Travel Agency series. A story about travelling to different worlds through suitcases is my kind of story (you can read my review here). After Flick and Jonathan’s first adventure, I was desperate to go back to Strangeworlds and see where they went next. The second book in the series, The Edge of the Ocean, has just been released and it was everything I hoped for, and more.

After arriving back home quite late from her adventure in the City of Five Lights, Flick is in a whole heap of trouble with her parents. She is grounded for the whole of the summer holidays. After bumping in to Jonathan in the supermarket Flick comes up with a plan to get back to Strangeworlds. Jonathan receives an urgent summons from Pirate Queen Nyfe, so Jonathan and Flick travel to the world of The Break. This is a world of ocean and islands, pirates and mer-people, but it is shrinking by the day. Magic is being taken from their world and bits of it are breaking off and disappearing. Queen Nyfe has summoned Jonathan in the hope that he can help the inhabitants of The Break escape before it is too late. When the suitcase is stolen from Flick they know that they need to retrieve it, otherwise no one will escape this world. Flick, Jonathan, and Avery must figure out how to save everyone, from the inhabitants to their ships, using just a small suitcase.

The Edge of the Ocean is a brilliant sequel, that adds depth to the story arc, while being a rip-roaring, page-turner of a story in its own right. It’s a story of a rescue mission, filled with adventure, mystery and magic. Like any rescue mission there are risks but Jonathan, Flick and Avery do anything they can to alleviate these. One of the things I loved most about the first book was Jonathan and Flick hopping through suitcases to show Flick new worlds. I was worried that there wouldn’t be much of this in this book, but I wasn’t disappointed. They still visit plenty of worlds while trying to find a new home for the inhabitants of The Break.

L.D. Lapinski ensures that her cast of characters is diverse and I really like that. Her characters are unique and interesting, and I love how you learn something new about them with each book. Jonathan is transgender, which was hinted at in the first book. I don’t think it is explicitly stated that he is transgender, but L.D. Lapinski has talked about this in interviews. It is also hinted, in this book, that Jonathan is gay (he has a slightly embarrassing interaction in the supermarket with a guy he knows from college). Flick develops feelings for Jonathan’s cousin Avery in this book (Avery feels the same) and it’s possible that their relationship could develop in the next book. I love the way that these details about the characters are just part of who they are, rather than it being explicit that they’re transgender or gay. There will be readers that hugely identify with Jonathan or Flick because of their identity and those who just love the characters because they’re brave, adventurous and funny.

Families are an important part of this book too. Flick’s family were scared and worried when she when she returned late from the City of Five Lights in the first book, and they ground her to keep her at home. Flick is then conscious that she can’t do the same thing again and let them down. Jonathan has been looking for his missing father for months, with no sign of him. The Pirate Queen gives him some information that leaves him distressed. Flick and Jonathan are themselves a little family, as they are part of the Strangeworlds Travel Agency, and Jonathan’s cousin, Avery, joins them on this adventure. Without giving spoilers, there are also some intriguing family connections revealed in this book.

The ending of The Edge of the Ocean was incredibly exciting and made me desperate for the third book. I can’t wait to see where L.D. Lapinski takes us next!

Interview with Peter Millett

Peter Millett is an author who loves to make kids laugh. He has written books for kids of all ages, from picture books to novels. Peter’s latest book is a collection of funny stories for Ladybird Books. Ladybird Funny Stories for 5 Year Olds is a fantastic collection of stories that has been brought to life by Rhashan Stone and Gemma Whelan, as an audiobook. Funny Stories for 5 Year Olds has just been released and you can read my review here.

I caught up with Peter Millett to ask him about how he got this gig with Ladybird Books, how we decided which stories and characters to mash-up and more.

  • How did you get this gig? Were you approached by Ladybird

Ladybird is a fantastic publisher with a terrific history of publishing quality books for children. I was super excited to get to work with them on a series of funny picture books in 2020 that were aimed at 2-3 year old readers. While we were doing that my editor Becky asked me if I was interested in writing some longer humorous stories for 3 year olds that could be included on an audio book. One thing led to another and I ended up working on an audio book aimed at 5 year olds instead. This is how much of my career has evolved. One door opens and then another different one, and then another different one after that opens. I feel energised each time I get to try something that I haven’t done before.

  • Funny Stories for Five Year Olds is only being released as an audiobook. Did you have to consciously consider, as you were writing them, how well these stories would read aloud?

Yes. And I had to plan this project really carefully too. Most of my longer comedy writing (Boy Zero/Johnny Danger) is for 7+ so I can slip in puns, malapropisms and double-meanings to get the giggles flowing. With audio books it’s a little harder to use wordplay so you have to create jokes that come from obvious mix ups and misunderstandings that are easily understandable for the youngest of listeners. The magical elves in one of my stories get hopelessly confused and end up creating a pair of crocs (crocodiles)  instead of a pair of socks. That silly scene is easy for kids to get first time and laugh at.

  • You hit the jackpot with narrators for Funny Stories! Did Gemma Whelan and Rhashan Stone do anything surprising with your stories (like different voices than what you were expecting)?

Jackpot is an understatement. Gemma Whelan has appeared in Ben Elton’s comedies and I grew watching and memorising Ben Elton’s comedies! I still can’t believe that Gemma has voiced my stories. Yes, she blew me away on this audio book. I had a pretty wild image in my head about how zany the Queen of Hearts, the Bad Fairy and Cinderella’s Gruff Stepsisters could be. Gemma exceeded that image by quite a way! To quote Spinal Tap she turned the dial up to ’11’. Rhashan genuinely surprised me with his animal character impersonations. He didn’t hold back. He dived into wacky-land and came up with sounds that I didn’t know that human vocal cords could generate. He’s a legend in my books.

  • Each of the stories in Funny Stories for 5 Year Olds is a mashup of classic stories and characters, which make for some hilarious combinations. How did you decide which stories and characters to combine?

One at a time! That’s how. This audio book is one of the most intricate and complicated writing projects I’ve ever attempted. Looking back now it all seems so obvious. But at the time I found it quite a challenging to blend multiple disparate storylines and characters into one cohesive unit that somehow was funny and easy to comprehend!  I did a lot of walking and thinking while writing this collection. At the end of the day I’m a fan boy and I’d always wanted to see all of these famous and quirky fable and nursery rhyme characters bump into each other and watch the sparks fly. The Golden Duckling was the most fun of all the stories to write.

  • If you could write a mashup of any three stories in the world what would you choose?

Hmmm. That sounds like my next audio book project. 🙂  The Day of The Triffids, Swiss Family Robinson and Anne of Green Gables.

Rough idea: Anne finds herself stranded on a deserted island infested with human-eating plants. She bumps into the Swiss Family Robinson who are oblivious to the dangers below as they live happily up in the treetops. Anne must overcome their confusing language barriers and frequent awkward misunderstandings by using roleplaying methods to help alert the family to the perils they unknowingly face. After the human-eating plants are defeated, Anne wants the family to sail a raft to New York where she can stage a Broadway musical about her wild experiences on the island.  

Ladybird Funny Stories for 5 Year Olds by Peter Millett

Do you love audiobooks that make you laugh out loud? Do you need an audiobook for a roadtrip that the whole family will love? Look no further than Ladybird Funny Stories for 5 Year Olds, featuring 10 hilarious mash-ups written by one of the funniest children’s authors in NZ, Peter Millett.

In Ladybird Funny Stories for 5 Year Olds Peter Millett takes stories and characters that are familiar and mashes them up to create a new story that is far funnier than the originals. The Big Naughty Wolf is trying to get in to Hansel and Gretel’s tasty hideaways to get their gold coins, Humpty Dumpty visits the Three Bears’ House, the Bad Fairy curses the princess, turning her in to Sleepwalking Beauty, The Gingerbread Man has a race with a turtle, and Alice has a very peculiar dream. These are stories that you’ll be happy to listen to again and again.

Each of the stories in this collection are funny, silly, and incredibly entertaining. On our commute to and from school, me and my 5 year old giggled along with the stories and shared shocked expressions with each other when something unexpected happened. We were gobsmacked when Humpty served omelets and scrambled eggs to the Three Bears! Peter Millett is a skilled storyteller, whose stories feel like they could be original fairytales, with a dash of silliness. I love the way that he has managed to weave different stories and characters together, while making it feel like they belong together. Most of the stories are just under ten minutes long so they are perfect to share at bedtime, at a break during the school day, or on a long car trip.

The stories are narrated by actors Rhashan Stone and Gemma Whelan and they do an amazing job of bringing Peter’s stories alive. They use different voices for the characters, do their own sound affects, and their British accents make them a joy to listen to (I always prefer British narrators over American narrators). They each take turns reading a story so you get a bit of variety.

My daughter and I had different stories that we loved the most. She loved Humpty Dumpty and the Three Bears and Cinderella and her Gruff Stepsisters, while my favourites were The Magical Elves of Hamelin and Sleepwalking Beauty. The magical elves (similar to those in The Elves and the Shoemaker) have poor eyesight and aren’t very good at reading, which leads to some hilarious mix-ups for the old man and lady in the story. The Bad Fairy in the Sleepwalking Beauty story is not ‘Bad’ because she’s evil, but rather bad at magic, so her curse on the princess doesn’t turn out quite how she was hoping.

Although it says ‘5 Year Olds’ in the title, this collection will be one that the whole family will enjoy. Grab a copy of Ladybird Funny Stories for 5 Year Olds from the eAudiobook retailers below:

Listen to a free audio sample at Audible: https://adbl.co/3fUo2uZ

Purchase on CD from The Nile here: https://bit.ly/3s8kRCe

Also avaialble to listen to on Kobo, Audible and Google Play.

The Smidgens by David O’Connell

Rule #1 – Stay hidden and observe

Rule #2 – Don’t do anything flippin’ stupid

Rule #3 – Be ready to run, and run fast

Rule #4 – In in doubt, make it up

These are the rules that the Smidgens live by. Smidgens are exactly like humans…just tiny. The Sprout family live in the House, a maze of rooms carved into a stone wall, accessed from a network of tunnels, called the Tangle. They were once part of a community of Smidgens who lived here, but now they are the only ones who remain. They take food and items that they need to survive from the Big Folk. Gafferty Sprout and her little brother, Gobkin, are on their way back home from a mission to get a deep-fried chip for their dinner when Gafferty his chased by a mysterious creature. Gafferty falls through the tunnel, to a forgotten section of the Tangle and discovers a book that will lead her on an adventure to parts of the world she could only dream about. However, the sneaky and sinister Claudia Slymark and her Seekers are hunting for Smidgens. Claudia believes the Smidgens know the whereabouts of a magical object that she needs to find, and she will do anything to get her hands on it. With the help of some unexpected friends, Gafferty and Gobkin must foil her plans.

The Smidgens is a rollicking adventure about the tiny humans with big hearts. There is something in this story for everyone, from nail-biting chases and clever disguises, to vile villains and teeny heroes. David hooks you from the first page, with our heroes’ quest to get a deep-fried chip for their dinner, and you can’t help but be whisked away with the Smidgens and their adventures underneath the feet of the Big Folk. I was fascinated with The Borrowers as a kid, and I would often wonder if there really were tiny people living in the walls. The Smidgens will fascinate a new generation of readers in the same way, and make them wonder if they might be real.

There are a couple of things that I really love about The Smidgens. The costumes that the Sprouts wear are really clever. Gafferty and Gobkin have special costumes that they wear when they go out in to the world of the Big Folk, to help camouflage them. Gafferty is a spider and Gobkin is a fly, so that if Big Folk see them, they’ll just think that they are pests, rather than tiny humans. I also really love the Seekers in the story, and the parts that they played. The inclusion of them in the story was unexpected and added an interesting aspect. You’ll have to read the book to find out who they are and what part they play.

Seb Burnett’s illustrations are marvellous, especially his cover for the book. It certainly grabbed me, with Gobkin’s guilty face as he takes some cake, and Gafferty swinging across the cover with a big smile on her face. Seb gives us glimpses of the world of the Smidgens, from the house that they live in, to the costumes that they wear. I especially love Seb’s depiction of Claudia Slymark and her Seekers, as he has really highlighted their nastiness.

The Smidgens is the first book in this new series, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens next. This would make a great read aloud for Years 4-6, as it will grab everyone’s attention. Be prepared to read ‘just one more chapter’ though, as David is very good at leaving you hanging.

Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll

One of the things I love most about reading is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes we can relate to the character because we’ve had similar experiences or felt the same way. Sometimes the character can be completely different from us, which allows us to see the world from a different point of view. It is those characters, who are different from us, whose stories teach us empathy. This is the reason that I love Elle McNicoll’s books so much. In her debut middle grade book, A Kind of Spark, Elle introduced us to Addie, a neurodivergent girl who sees injustice and stands up to it. In her new book, Show Us Who You Are, Elle introduces us to Cora, a neurodivergent girl who must fight to make herself heard and stop those who would erase the thing that makes her unique.

When Cora goes to a party hosted by her brother’s boss she doesn’t expect to enjoy it. As someone with Autism, being around a whole lot of people that she doesn’t know is something that she hates. While exploring the garden behind the house Cora meets Adrien. She isn’t looking for a new best friend, but this is quickly what Adrien becomes. Adrien is different, like her. He’s unpredictable, fun and funny. The more time her and Adrien spend together, the more Cora learns about the mysterious Pomegranate Institute, run by Adrien’s father, Magnus. Cora becomes captivated by the Pomegranate Institute and their holographic technology that can bring people back to life. Magnus and the head scientist, Dr Gold, offer Cora the chance to help with their research on neurodivergent people. They want to interview her so that they are able to make it easier to create a neurodivergent hologram. When tragedy strikes, Cora is left with little choice but to participate in the interviews, as Pomegranate offers her something that no-one else can. However, Cora soon uncovers secrets lurking behind the shiny façade of Pomegranate, secrets that those in charge will do anything to keep hidden. Cora will need to fight to make her voice heard and show the world that who she is, matters.

Show Us Who You Are is a powerful, incredibly moving sci-fi story about individuality, grief and standing up for what is right. You feel a connection with Cora straight away and this grows stronger throughout the story, as you experience the joy and pain right beside her. This story makes you laugh one moment and bawl your eyes out the next. It makes your heart race and your heart break. I was a complete mess after finishing the book and I had to take some time to just take in everything that had happened and enjoy the perfect ending. The last part of the book is really nail-biting too, as you can’t guess what is going to happen next. Elle takes us inside the head of her autistic character and helps to give us a better understanding of what it is like to be neurodivergent. The experiences of Elle’s characters encouraged me to find out more about Autism Spectrum Disorder in order to better understand it.

Elle’s writing is so stunning that she makes you feel completely connected to her characters and captures emotion so perfectly. I stopped lots of times throughout the book to write down passages that I loved. I love the way that Cora explains grief:

‘Grief is like rain. When you’re standing in the street, drenched and freezing cold, it’s hard to remember what it’s like to feel warm and dry. It’s hard to imagine feeling warm and dry ever again. But some people are umbrellas. And they keep away the worst of the storm.’

The relationship between Cora and Adrien is one of my favourite in middle grade fiction. I love the way that they have fun together and can truly be themselves around each other. They are there for each other when it matters most. The thing I like the most about their relationship is that they are just really good friends, without romantic feelings getting in the way.

The other character that I really loved was Cora’s dad, because of his perspective and acceptance. Cora’s dad is the opposite of Adrien’s dad. While Adrien’s dad is too wrapped up in his work and never has time for him, Cora’s dad says ‘I’ve got all the time in the world for you, kid. Don’t ever forget it.’ Adrien’s dad never really accepts him for who he is, while Cora’s dad tells her:

‘I would never, ever change you. Not for anything. You see the world so differently. While everyone else sees sepia Kansas, you’re in technicolour Oz.’

Show Us Who You Are is one of my top books of 2021 and is a must-buy for intermediate and high school libraries. It would be a great read aloud or a class set for Years 7-9 as there is so much to unpack in the story. The idea of creating holograms to help us live forever is an interesting moral and ethical issue to discuss with students.

Check out this video of Elle McNicoll talking about Show Us Who You Are:

Brilliant fiction for newly independent readers

I’m always on the hunt for more great books to hook the youngest readers at my school. Having a 5-year-old daughter myself has helped me tune in to chapter books for 5-8 year olds, as I look for engaging books to read to her. This has also highlighted the imbalance of books aimed at boys and those aimed at girls for this age group. There are lots of great books and series aimed at girls, but not so much for boys. After searching through other blogs and publisher websites I found some new series that looked exciting and purchased these for my school library. After reading the first one or two books in the series below I can confidently say that these will be winners for the 5-8 year olds in your life.

Jasper and Scruff: Take a Bow by Nicola Colton

Take a Bow is the third book in the marvelous Jasper and Scruff series by Nicola Colton. In Take a Bow, Jasper and Scruff enter the Reach Fur the Stars talent show, hoping to wow the judges with their magic act. The horrid Sophisticats are back and are determined to win at all costs. They’ve messed with Jasper and Scruff before and they always come out with their tails out of joint, but they still haven’t learnt their lesson. Jasper and Scruff are delightful characters who I can’t get enough of. The book is illustrated in colour throughout, with illustrations on every page. This series is great to read aloud to Years 1 and 2 as the books are short and engaging.

Itty Bitty Princess Kitty series by Melody Mews, illustrated by Ellen Stubbings

This series is completely adorable and will make young girls squeal with delight when they see it (that was my daughter’s reaction). The first book (The Newest Princess) was released in February 2020 and there are currently 7 books in the series, with more to come soon. I bought the Itty Bitty Princess Kitty Collection, which includes the first 4 books in the series, and they have been gobbled up by my readers. I read the first one to my daughter in one night and we then read the three others over the rest of the week. Yes, they are super cute, but they are also funny and deal with things like coping with change and friendship. I especially love how, instead of knocking on doors, the cats scratch at the door, and there is a treat station in every room. Each book is illustrated throughout in black and white, with bright covers that jump off the shelf.

Jeanie and Genie series by Trish Granted, illustrated by Manuela Lopez

This is another series with a bright, colourful, girl-appeal cover. If the cover doesn’t scream ‘Pick Me!’ loud enough, the blurb will certainly grab readers. Jeanie is a girl who likes the ordinary and predictable, but her world is turned upside down when she meets the new girl, Willow. Willow is confident, friendly and fun, and after a bumpy start, Jeanie and Willow become good friends. Strange things start happening in class and it’s not long before Jeanie discovers that they have something to do with Willow. Willow is a genie! An actual, real-life genie, who grants wishes! She needs lots of practice to be able to earn her skill badges and pass her training. Together, Jeanie and Willow are going to have a lot of fun. I shared the first book, The First Wish, with my daughter and it was a winner for both of us. It is fun to read and very entertaining. We will be reading the rest of the series and I know that the girls in Year 1-4 are going to love them too.

Mack Rhino: Private Eye: The Big Race Lace Case by Paul Dubois Jacobs and Jennifer Swender, illustrated by Karl West

The Mack Rhino: Private Eye series is just one of many in Simon and Schuster’s Aladdin Quix range of Fast Fun Reads. These Quix books are specially designed to be fast, fun-to-read stories, full of humour and colourful characters. The Mack Rhino: Private Eye series certainly lives up to this. Mack Rhino is a detective in Coral Cove and he’s never short of cases. He has just put away the Ant Hill Gang, but someone else is up to no good. It’s the day of The Big Race around Coral Cove, but the laces from everyone’s running shoes are going missing. It’s up to Mack to solve the case before the end of the race. This is another great series that will appeal especially to boys. The chapters are short, there are illustrations on most pages and there is a helpful glossary at the back, with words that may be unfamiliar and how to pronounce them.

Fort Builders Inc.: The Birthday Castle by Dee Romito, illustrated by Marta Kissi

Fort Builders Inc. is another series in the Quix range of books. This is such a cool idea for a series and it’s going to be a hit with kids. Caleb loves books, especially his favourite series, Castle Quest. When he sees a special edition of the first book in the series in a bookshop his parents aren’t able to buy it for him. Along with his best friend, Jax, Caleb comes up with a plan to earn some money, so that he can buy the book. Together, they set up their own fort building company, called Fort Builders Inc. They will build box forts for anyone who is interested and charge for their services. Caleb and Jax find that they need other skills to help them make their forts really great, so they recruit Eddie and Kiara to help. With the deadline looming for their first creation the friends need to work together to build the best one possible. I loved the first book in the series and can’t wait to see how their business develops in the next books in the series. I especially like how they have to ask other kids to join them, as they know different kids have skills that can help them. I also like that Dee didn’t have a whole team of boys, but included Kiara too. Once again the chapters are short, there are illustrations on most pages and there is a helpful glossary at the back, with words that may be unfamiliar and how to pronounce them.

For more suggestions of fiction for newly independent readers check out my post about illustrated fiction for newly independent readers, featuring books by Swapna Haddow, Donovan Bixley, Sally Sutton and Paula Harrison. I also highly recommend Swapna Reddy and Binny Talib’s Ballet Bunny series for those readers aged 5-8 who want a super cute series to read.

Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter

Have you ever wanted something so desperately that your heart would break without it? We all have, especially as kids. Sometimes the things that we most want are the things that we can’t have. Allergic, by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter, is about a girl called Maggie who desperately wants a pet of her own, but she is allergic to anything with fur or feathers. It is such a great story, with different threads to it – allergies, friendship and family.

Maggie has always wanted a dog but when she finally gets her wish she discovers she is allergic to dogs. In fact, anything with fur or feathers will start her sneezing and itching really badly. Maggie still wants a pet and is determined to find one that will suit her. However, after trying fish, lizards and other critters, she still can’t find the right one. In to Maggie’s life comes her new neighbour, Claire, who Maggie clicks with straight away. Everything is looking great, until Claire gets a dog of her own, and Maggie knows her allergies means they can’t be friends anymore. After Claire apologises she helps Maggie choose a small pet, which they hope won’t set her allergies off. Maggie keeps her pet secret from her family, hiding it in her bedroom. As Maggie tries to ignore her reactions to her pet, her family worry about her. With her mum’s new baby due any time soon, Maggie also worries how she might fight into her family. If she can be allergic to animals is it also possible to be allergic to a baby?

Allergic is an adorable story about desperately wanting something you can’t have. It’s a story about friendship and figuring out where you fit in your family. Megan’s story is super relatable and Michelle’s artwork is cute and has great kid appeal. Megan has created a character who has a lot to deal with, from having something exciting taken away from her, to a new school and a new friend, and a changing family dynamic. Michelle shows us the range of emotions that Maggie goes through and how her allergies physically affect her.

There were so many aspects of Michelle’s illustrations that I loved. There are wordless spreads throughout the book, which show little snapshots of other kids around the neighbourhood (kids walking to school together, getting on the bus and playing in their yards). The montage of Maggie trying different pets is really funny, but also makes you feel sorry for Maggie. One of my favourite illustrations is the one showing the cross-section of Maggie’s and Claire’s houses, which highlights the differences in their lives. I especially love the way Michelle shows how Maggie’s allergies affect her, with the redness of her skin and her puffy, itchy eyes.

Allergic is going to be incredibly popular with kids, especially those who love Raina Telgemeier, Shannon Hale, Victoria Jamieson and Jennifer Holm. It is a must-have for all primary and intermediate school libraries.

Seance Tea Party by Reimena Yee

A lot of kids can’t wait to grow up and a lot of adults wish that they could be kids again. In Reimena Yee’s new kid’s graphic novel, her character Lora doesn’t want to grow up and have to stop playing. With the help of a ghost and some new friends, Lora learns that she doesn’t have to leave the magic of childhood behind.

Lora is 12 but still enjoys playing and dressing up. Her friends are all growing up and leaving childhood games behind but Lora isn’t ready for that. One day she holds a seance tea party and her old imaginary friend turns up. Alexa is no ordinary imaginary friend, but the ghost of a girl who died in the ‘70s. Alexa helps Lora to gain the confidence she needs to make new friends. As Lora starts to need her less, Alexa discovers a connection to an old childhood friend who is now much older. Alexa realises though that she can’t stay around forever, just to make her friends happy. She must move on, just as Lora and Diana have moved on.

Seance Tea Party is a cute story of friendship, magic, ghosts and holding onto your imagination. It’s a story of a girl whose friends are growing up and changing around her, but she wants to stay the same. I loved this story because of its message about growing up – that you don’t have to leave all the fun things behind just because you’re getting older. I really like how Lora comes to accept this, with the help of her friends. Alexa helps her to gain the confidence to make new friends and her new friends accept her for who she is, rather than making her change. 

Reimena’s illustrations are vibrant and I really like the darker colour palette. Her illustration style is unique and each of her characters look different. I like the way that Reimena uses longer sections of wordless panels to tell some of the story, especially at the beginning. The illustrations flow really nicely and Reimena uses different illustration techniques to tell the story.

Reimena has included a break-down of her process of creating Seance Tea Party in the back of the book, which is really insightful for anyone wanting to create their own comics and graphic novels.

Seance Tea Party is a fresh and unique graphic novel that kids will love. I would highly recommend it for those readers who love graphic novels by Molly Knox Ostertag, Brenna Thummler and Vera Brosgol.