Canyon’s Edge by Dusti Bowling

Dusti Bowling just gets better and better. Each of her books have been totally different but they’re all completely gripping. 24 Hours in Nowhere used to be my favourite of hers but Dusti’s new book, The Canyon’s Edge, has blown the others out of the water. You will need to have a spare few hours to read this in one go because you won’t want to put it down!

Eleanor and her father are emotionally scarred from a shooting that occurred a year ago, taking her mother’s life. Eleanor and her father have been hiding away from the world and have not been able to move on. As a family they spent a lot of time in the desert and were experienced climbers. A year after the incident Eleanor and her father leave civilisation to trek a canyon in the middle of the desert. Things start fine but a flash flood in the canyon leaves Eleanor scrambling to escape the waters and her father washed away. Scraped, bruised and with no supplies Eleanor must brave the heat, the plants and wildlife of the canyon to try and find her father and get out alive.

I read an early copy of Canyon’s Edge back in lockdown (thanks to Edelweiss+) but it’s a story that I keep coming back to. I know this will be one of my top books of 2020. This is Dusti’s first novel in verse (although it does start and finish as a traditional novel) and she absolutely nails it. I love verse novels because of the emotional power of this storytelling and Dusti’s story is perfectly suited for verse. The story is raw, gut-wrenching but ultimately full of hope. I devoured this book because I needed to know that Eleanor was going to be alright. Like Eleanor dying for water I was dying to get back to the story when I had to put it down. It is the kind of story that will grab all kids and I know it will make a fantastic read aloud for Years 7-9 (11-13 year olds). Eleanor faces so many challenges, and just when you think things can’t get any worse they do.

If you haven’t discovered Dusti Bowling you need to read all of her other books before this releases in September.

The Rise of the Remarkables: Brasswitch and Bot by Gareth Ward

This book is AMAZING! There is something for everyone – mystery, adventure, action, magic, ingenious machines, powers being used for good and evil, witty dialogue and curious characters. The fantastic cover (illustrated by Bex Bloomfield) alone is enough to draw you in and from the first page I was hooked on Brasswitch and Bot. Gareth drops you straight in to the action and gives you a taste of his world. Once you get a taste you just want more. This is a world of clockwork, machines and science but also a world tainted by power from another dimension. There are those with powers and abilities who live in the shadows and those who hunt them down.

When The Rupture occurred, monsters tore through into the world from another dimension, leaving many people with altered physical features and strange powers. Wrench is a Brasswitch, an ‘abberation’ who can control machines with her mind. After her parents died in a train crash when she was younger she tried to keep her abilities hidden away. Her abilities are discovered and she is taken by the ruthless Regulator, Flemington. When the mechanoid, Bot, rescues her, Wrench finds herself helping the Regulators to stop the rise of the abberations and the end of the world as they know it.

Brasswitch and Bot has shades of Hellboy and Skulduggery Pleasant. The abberations are being hunted down with the help of abberations, much like Hellboy, Abe Sapien and the B.P.R.D. The relationship between Wrench and Bot reminds me of Skulduggery and Stephanie’s relationship in the early Skulduggery books. The relationship and the banter between Wrench and Bot was one of my favourite aspects of this book. I really want to see more of these two taking on the bad guys together. I would also highly recommend this series for fans of Jessica Townsend’s Nevermoor series. Like Jessica, Gareth’s world-building and characters draw you in and you don’t want the story to end.

There is so much depth to the characters and you know there is more to discover about them. Bot is quite mysterious and secretive. You learn a little about him in this book but I want to know more about him and his history. Likewise, you get to know Wrench but she has more to learn about her powers and her past.

Gareth’s world-building is masterful. He gives us little details about this steampunk version of York throughout the story and gives us the details of the history of the Rupture. I really loved some of the little details of the world, like the Scotch dog (a mechanical creature that is made up of a giant set of bagpipes on legs) and G-mail (mail that is delivered by greyhounds).

Gareth’s dialogue is witty and there were lots of moments that made me chuckle. There are lots of TLAs (Three Letter Abbreviations) used by the Regulators but my favourite is BBG (the Bloody Big Guns that come out when the situation gets serious).

I need book 2 right now! This is a series that will have me eagerly awaiting the next instalment and lining up like a Harry Potter fan to get my hands on it. Get to your bookstore or library and get The Rise of the Remarkables: Brasswitch and Bot now.

Pizazz by Sophy Henn

If you could have a superpower what would you choose? Laser eyes? Invisibility? Ice breath? Pizazz wishes she had a superpower that exciting but hers is just rubbish (or so she thinks). Sophy Henn introduces us to Pizazz and her super family in the first book in her new series.

Pizazz is a superhero in a family of superheroes. You would think that her life would be pretty awesome but, most of the time, Pizazz thinks it is super annoying. She has to wear the same outfit all the time and she has to keep dashing off to save the world, even if she’s in the middle of something important. Her friends used to understand how chaotic her life is but Pizazz has just moved house and schools. Being a superhero and trying to fit in really don’t go together. When she gets assigned as an eco monitor at school Pizazz thinks it is a bit lame until she realises this is her chance to save the world in a different way. If only horrible supervillains would stop trying to take over the world!

Pizazz is the hilarious, action-packed debut of the next superhero franchise you’ll get obsessed with. Pizazz has to deal with normal kid stuff like an annoying family, mean kids and making friends, but she also has to save the world from super-powered lasers and high-tech tank prams.

The book is jam-packed with Sophy’s fantastic black and white illustrations. There are plenty of super stares, super poses and super costumes. The thing I loved most about the illustrations are the parts where Pizazz and her family have to fight a villain. These parts look like a classic superhero comic.

I love Pizazz and all of her crazy family! They all have different superpowers, including Pizazz (although she doesn’t want us to know what it is). Her dog, Wanda, isn’t a normal dog either. She receives and transmits messages and keeps an eye on the family. My favourite character is Gramps, because he farts fireballs if he laughs too much. Sophy’s supervillains are brilliant too. There’s a giant baby called Googoo who fires toys from his tank shaped like a pram, Twerknado who uses his twerk power for destructive purposes, and pukey villain Megavom.

Pizazz is perfect for ages 7+. It’s a guaranteed great read for all kids. If you haven’t read Sophy’s previous series, Bad Nana, I highly recommend this too.

Brilliant new books from Barrington Stoke

Barrington Stoke are one of the best publishers around. Not only do they publish dyslexia friendly books for kids and teens, they also ensure that these stories are written by some of the best authors for young people. Authors like Lisa Thompson, Laura James, Anthony McGowan and Meg Rosoff write short, engaging stories that are perfect for reluctant readers and readers with dyslexia. I’m a huge fan of their books and I read and recommended as many of them as I can. Anthony McGowan’s Lark, which won the 2020 Carnegie Medal is published by Barrington Stoke so they’re also an award winning publisher.

Barrington Stoke have an amazing line up of books coming in August and September. Their books are distributed here in NZ and Australia through Allen and Unwin so are available through bookshops and library suppliers. You can read about the upcoming releases below.

AFTER THE WAR: FROM AUSCHWITZ TO AMBLESIDE. By Tom Palmer, cover art by Violet Tobacco. Publishing: 6th August. For: 9 years+


Summer 1945. The Second World War is finally over and Yossi, Leo and Mordecai are among three hundred children who arrive in the English Lake District. Having survived the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, they’ve finally reached a place of safety and peace, where they can hopefully begin to recover. But Yossi is haunted by thoughts of his missing father and disturbed by terrible nightmares. As he waits desperately for news from home, he fears that Mordecai and Leo – the closest thing to family he has left – will move on without him. Will life by the beautiful Lake Windermere be enough to bring hope back into all their lives?
A deeply moving and beautifully told novel of friendship and belonging, inspired by the incredible true story of the Windermere Boys.

SEQUIN AND STITCH.
Laura Dockrill, illustrations by Sara Ogilvie.
For: 8 years+.
Publishing: 6th August

Acclaimed creator Laura Dockrill sews together family, imagination and heart in this lyrical and completely unique Barrington Stoke debut.
Sequin’s mum is a talented seamstress and their little flat is overflowing with beautiful silks, fabrics, buttons and beads. It’s a sparkling sanctuary, like a princess’s wardrobe. While Mum works at her sewing machine late into the night, Sequin takes care of her baby brother, Stitch, and dreams of a place in the spotlight for her brilliant mum. But when tragedy strikes, their shimmering world disintegrates and Sequin is forced to confront the biggest loss of all …

JUST ANOTHER LITTLE LIE. Eve Ainsworth. For: 12 years+. Publishing: 6th August


It’s just a little blip. Violet’s mum hasn’t been herself for a while. A few too many glasses of wine in the evening. Mornings when she can’t get out of bed. Now Violet’s the one looking after her little brother and looking out for empty bottles in Mum’s bag. But it’s just another little blip. Mum will be fine again soon. She has to be … How long do blips last for?
Award-winning author Eve Ainsworth returns with a stark, honest and deeply moving novella exploring the difficult subject of alcohol addiction.

WUTHERING HEIGHTS: A RETELLING. Tanya Landman, cover art by Helen Crawford-White. For: 12 years+. Publishing: 6th August


Carnegie Medal-winning author Tanya Landman reignites another beloved Brontë classic in a phenomenal retelling, accessible to all readers.
The night that Heathcliff, an unkempt orphan, arrives at the Heights, Cathy’s life will change for ever … but theirs will not be a happy love story. From a harsh childhood to a foolish marriage, a troubled path of pain and punishment lies ahead. Yet no matter how they suffer, they cannot stay apart – for whatever souls are made of, Cathy’s and Heathcliff’s are the same. After all these years, will Cathy’s ghost find the peace that life denied her?

THE HOUSE OF CLOUDS. Lisa Thompson, illustrations by Alice McKinley. For: 8 years+. Publishing: 3rd September


Tabby’s fed up. Fed up with losing her best friend and fed up that Grandad has come to stay. Grandad’s always telling the same old silly, made-up stories. And now Tabby has to walk his smelly dog Buster every day after school. When one of Tabby’s walks takes her to a lonely hilltop house she spots something strange going on. So strange she can’t help but mention it to Grandad. Of course he tells her another fantastical story but when tragedy strikes, Tabby’s left wondering if Grandad’s impossible tale could be true?
From the Blue Peter shortlisted author of Owen and the Soldier.

THE INVASION OF CROOKED OAK. Dan Smith, illustrations by Chris King. For: 8 years+. Publishing: 3rd September


Stranger Things meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers in this thrilling sci-fi adventure with an environmental twist.
Nancy’s parents are acting weird. Their eyes are blank, they won’t eat – it’s like they’re no longer themselves. Pete and Krish are obsessed with unexplained phenomena and when they offer to help Nancy investigate, they’re sure they can crack the case. But the deeper the trio dig, the darker the mystery gets … Crooked Oak is under attack from a dangerous foe, and they’re the only ones who can stop it.

THE PECULIAR THING WITH THE PEA. Kaye Umansky, illustrations by Claire Powell. For: 8 years+. Publishing: 3rd September


Prince Pete isn’t ready for marriage – he’s only eleven! And this peculiar business with the pea is the daftest thing he’s ever heard. Mother reckons she can find him the perfect royal bride and thinks the pea is the one true test. But when scruffy-looking Patsy comes along, claiming to be a princess, Mother’s careful scheming quickly turns to soup.
A laugh-out-loud retelling of The Princess and the Pea like you’ve never heard it before!

NOODLE THE DOODLE. Jonathan Meres, illustrations by Katy Halford. For: 8 years+. Publishing: 3rd September


Noodle the Doodle, an adorable rescue pup, is joining class and he even gets to come on the school trip! But while Noodle’s settled into being a class helper, and really loves being around all the pupils, taking on a school trip to the beach is a whole different ball game … Can noodle stay on his best behaviour or is this school trip about to take a turn for the chaotic?

Nothing Ever Happens Here by Sarah Hagger-Holt

Nothing Ever Happens Here is a fantastic story that focuses on a family coming to terms with the dad announcing that he is transitioning. It’s an important story not just for kids but teachers and parents.

Izzy’s life in her small town is pretty non-eventful until the day that her dad comes out as Danielle, a trans woman. Izzy worries how this will affect her family. Will she lose her dad? Will her parents split up? What will her friends and the other kids at school say? Izzy is someone who has never liked the limelight but now a spotlight is shining on her family.

The story is told from 12 year old Izzy’s perspective so you get the conflict from her point of view – wanting to support her Dad (or Dee as they come to call her) while wanting things to be the same they’ve always been and being afraid of what others will think. As part of an LGBT charity the author, Sarah Hagger-Holt, brings her experience to the story without it ever feeling preachy. It’s a story that shows you the situation from many points of view, from the father who has never felt herself, to the wife and children and close friends.

This is an important book to have in all school libraries as I’m sure there will be kids in our schools that are in similar situations. It also makes kids aware of these issues. Suitable for anyone 10+.

The Ghosts on the Hill by Bill Nagelkerke

The Ghosts on the Hill by Bill Nagelkerke is a spooky, historical tale that is perfectly formed. At just 75 pages readers can gobble it up in one bite and it is ideal for reluctant readers who need a short but engaging story. It would also make a great read aloud for Years 5-8.

Elsie lives in the port town of Lyttelton in 1884. She spends her days fishing and exploring. It is one day while she is fishing that she meets brothers Davie and Archie. They have come to Lyttelton on the train from Christchurch but have no money to take the train back again. They decide to walk back over the hill on the Bridle Path, the path carved over the hill by the early settlers. However, the weather closes in and the boys both die on the hill. One year later Elsie is haunted by the memory of the brothers and a feeling of guilt because she didn’t stop the boys from leaving. When Elsie misses the train to Christchurch and a chance to meet her new cousin, she decides to face her fears and make the trek over the Bridle Path. Do the brothers haunt the hills? Elsie will find out when she faces her own challenge on the hills.

I loved this story as an adult and I know I would have loved it as a kid. Growing up in Christchurch I studied the early settlers in primary school and even had a field trip walking over the Bridle Path to Lyttelton. The places in the story are so familiar to me yet quite different, given the time that the story is set. You don’t need to be familiar with the setting though to appreciate the story. The fact that the story is inspired by real events makes a chill go down my spine and loads of kids love spooky stories. Bill includes newspaper clippings from 1883 in the story and details of the real events in his author’s note.

Bill incorporates te ao Maori in to the story too. Through Elsie’s father, who is Maori and living at Rapaki (just around the bay from Lyttelton), we learn about the Maori stories of the area, including the stories of the patupaiarehe, the wicked fairies that live in the clouds on the hills.

I found myself comparing the events of the story with how it would be different if the story was set today. The children in the story have a lot more freedom than children today. Elsie’s Mum is happy for her to walk over the hills by herself, and Davie and Archie walk from the centre of town and catch a train through to Lyttelton with no adult with them. Getting from one place to another easily is something we take for granted these days too. I couldn’t imagine walking from Lyttelton, over the Bridle Path, and all the way to the middle of Christchurch city, but that’s what Davie and Archie were going to do. If you were stuck in bad weather on the hills today you would just get out your cell phone and call for help but in 1884 you were on your own. You had to stay where you were or carry on. These would be some great talking points to discuss if you were sharing the story with a class.

The Ghost on the Hill is a fantastic addition to a school library or as a class set of books. The Cuba Press have even created some wonderful teacher’s notes to go with the book that you can find here.

Storm by Nicola Skinner

This was such an unexpected marvel of a book! Just when I thought it was one kind of story it would morph in to something else and I was never sure where it would go next. It’s a really fresh, unique story that is hard to sum up and I loved every minute of it. The ending was perfect and made me want to start it again straight away.

The general gist of the story is Frankie (and the rest of her small English seaside village) dies in a tsunami, she wakes in her house as a ghost, takes a sleeping potion and wakes 100 years later and becomes a stranger in her own house (which becomes a tourist attraction). I don’t want to spoil what happens next though.

I completely loved this book (it would be in my top 5 of 2020 so far) and now need to read Nicola Skinner’s first book, Bloom. Storm would be perfect for fans of Ross Welford.

Crater Lake by Jennifer Killick

This is the book that so many of my students need. It’s totally creepy and Jennifer keeps you on the edge of your seat the whole time. It is sure to hook the most reluctant of readers and they won’t want to put the book down. It’s a spooky adventure story with a good dose of mystery.

A class goes on their school camp to a new camp ground called Crater Lake. It has been built in a huge crater from a meteor that crashed to earth many years ago. Things start off bad when their bus is stopped by a bloody, rambling member of the camp staff. He warns them to turn back but the kids and adults continue on foot to the camp. The place seems deserted until a weird camp leader turns up and shows them to their rooms. The situation starts to get really bizarre when the kids get locked in their rooms and some of them start acting really strange, with eyes like bugs. As things go from bad to worse it’s up to Lance and his friends to figure out what’s going on and stop the mysterious creatures from carrying out their plans. Oh and make sure you don’t fall asleep!

Crater Lake is a total page-turner and I was really excited to hear there is going to be a sequel. This is going to be constantly on loan because I just know that word is going to spread between the kids.

The One and Only Bob by Katherine Applegate

Th One and Only Bob is the stunning sequel to Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan. Like The One and Only Ivan this is a beautifully written story in verse that will always have a place in your heart. Katherine Applegate makes you fall in love with her characters from the first page and you care about everything that happens to them.

In The One and Only Bob we get a story from Bob’s point of view (the feisty little dog that became Ivan’s friend at the Exit 8 Mall). We hear about Bob’s life before meeting Ivan and what life is like now that Ivan and Ruby have been rehomed with others like them. A storm is brewing, a hurricane that will change life for Bob and his friends and test Bob’s strength and courage.

I read this book in a couple of sittings because I just wanted to stay with these characters. Bob made me laugh and made my heart ache but his story left me smiling all day long. Whether you have read The One and Only Ivan or not, you will fall in love with Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Bob.

The January Stars by Kate Constable

When Clancy and Tash visit their pa in his resthome they have no idea about the journey they will take over the coming days. What starts out as freeing their pa from his resthome and visiting their old family home turns into a mission to give their pa a better life with his family that will take care of him. They will travel by taxi, car and train to visit their aunties in the hope that they will be able to take care of their pa.

I loved this road trip with Clancy, Tash and their Pa. I admit to not really liking the girls to start with but the more time I spent with them the more I liked them. I really admired their determination to give their grandfather a better life than the one he was living in his rest home. Their mission to take their grandfather to live with one of his daughters takes them far and wide, from the city to the country, from their grandparent’s old home to a yoga retreat in the bush. Their journey tests their relationship with each other but ultimately strengthens their bond. There is also a sense of magic about their journey too with unusual encounters and signs from their dead grandmother that help to point them to where they need to go.

Also, how cool is that cover! It certainly drew me in and made me want to know more about the story.

January Stars is a story that will stick with me.