Tag Archives: children’s fiction

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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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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Scar Island by Dan Gemeinhart

I loved Dan Gemeinhart’s first book, The Honest Truth. It was heartbreaking but such a great story. I was curious to read his new book, Scar Island (which came in the Scholastic Standing Orders). Wow, this book is amazing!  I’ve just finished it (thankfully my toddler had a long nap today!) and it kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. 


The story focuses on Jonathan who has committed a terrible crime that he doesn’t speak about. He has been sent to Slabhenge Reformatory School for Troubled Boys, a crumbling island fortress that was once an insane asylum. Jonathan is here with 15 other boys who have created various crimes and we meet them through the course of the story. The place is cold and wet and the boys get treated horribly, until something happens to the adults, leaving them to fend for themselves. There are no rules – they can eat what they like, sleep where they like and do whatever they want. However one of them decides that he is in charge and things start to get out of control. When a huge storm heads for the island their world starts to crumble and the only way they can survive is if they work together.
Scar Island is like Holes and Lord of the Flies rolled in to one. It is one of those books you just don’t want to put down. When you’re not reading it you’re wondering what will happen next. It’s an adventure story and a survival story with a dash of darkness.  It’s an immersive story too because you can feel and smell the damp, cold fortress, hear the click of the rats scurrying paws and feel the fear and dread of these boys who are trapped.

Dan keeps you guessing the whole way through. Although most of the boys explain why they are at Slabhenge Jonathan keeps dodging the question. Dan drip feeds you details but doesn’t reveal everything until near the end.  You have to keep reading to find out if everyone survives until the end of the story. 

Scar Island is sure to be the perfect book to hook reluctant readers and it would make a great read aloud for Years 7 and 8.

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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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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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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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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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Frankie Potts is back again!

Frankie Potts is the village of Tring’s number one girl detective.  She has flaming red hair, a questioning mind and an addiction to gobstoppers.  And she is REALLY good at solving mysteries. Frankie’s first two adventures saw her trying to solve a whole pile of mysteries including:

  • What’s my (sort of) new dog called, and where’s he from?
  • Why is my grandma acting so oddly?
  • Why are random pink items of clothing going missing all over the village?

Frankie Potts is back in two new adventures – Frankie Potts and the Postcard Puzzle and Frankie Potts and the Wicked Wolves.

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Frankie’s list of mysteries to solve is getting longer by the day. Firstly, her mum is acting very strangely – she’s tired, grumpy and feels sick all the time. And then there’s Grandma M, who keeps dropping hints about expanding her troupe of performing greyhounds: Tinkerbell, Titania and Tiramisu.

With her detective sidekick Mac, Frankie travels to Giggleswick to find out about the mysterious Gideon R. Best, Animal Trainer Extraordinaire, and why he sent a postcard – with two kisses on it – to Frankie’s mum. How can Frankie work out what an overweight donkey, a cuddle-obsessed pig and a pooing parrot have to do with anything? And why has Tinkerbell started to waddle?

Kaboom! Things are getting explosive in Frankie’s family. She had better start solving.

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A band of dancers with bells and blue painted faces have come to Tring, and Frankie can smell a mystery. Who are these Wicked Wolves? How come Grandma M knows them, and wants to pick a fight with them?

Meanwhile, Tinkerbell and Sparkplug’s seven adorable puppies are causing chaos at Frankie’s house. Grandma M is planning to give away four of them, and Frankie and Mac must make sure that they go to good homes. Ralph Peter-McGee, Frankie’s arch-enemy, seems to have his eye on her favourite pup Kettle Thomson. Can Frankie stop Kettle going to the wrong home? And why are those Wicked Wolves sniffing around the puppies?

The Inaugural Tring Talent Contest is rapidly approaching, and Frankie has some serious detecting to do. But maybe not all the clues are quite as they seem.

I can’t get enough of Frankie Potts!  She is a wonderful character that kids, especially girls, will love.  She is really inquisitive and mysteries seem to follow her wherever she goes.  Naturally she needs to solve them and you just know that she’ll find the answers.  She carries a notebook everywhere so she always has a list of mysteries that she needs to solve.  I like the way that these lists are included in the story so that the reader can try to solve the mysteries too.

One of my favourite features of the Frankie Potts series is the design of them.  Phoebe Morris’s illustrations and the bright colours make the covers stand out and look really appealing to the target audience.  I also really love the alliterated titles which sound really cool (Postcard Puzzle, Bikini Burglar).

Get the Frankie Potts series into the hands of any young fans of a good mystery.  I think they would be a good ‘next step’ for fans of Geronimo and Thea Stilton and Billie B. Brown.  Once you’ve read one you’ll be hooked!

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