Dragon Mountain by Katie and Kevin Tsang

Dragons are so hot right now. Tui T. Sutherland’s Wings of Fire series is one of the most popular series in my school library and they get spread by word of mouth. Dragons are fascinating so it’s no wonder that authors write stories about them and kids want to read stories about them. One of the things that I love about dragon stories is the weaving of the mythology with fiction. Katie and Kevin Tsang do this so well in their new book, Dragon Mountain. They take the mythology of dragons and weave it in to a fresh story that is exciting and magical.

Billy Chan isn’t excited about going to summer camp in the mountains of China. He’s been given the chance to attend Camp Dragon to help improve his Mandarin and learn more about his Chinese heritage but he’d rather be back in California enjoying the waves. At Camp Dragon he meets Dylan, Charlotte, and Ling-Fei. They’re four very different kids who will become part of something bigger than any of them could have imagined. On a camp activity they discover an entrance in to the imposing mountain that stands over the camp. It’s in the mountain that they discover that dragons aren’t just mythical creatures. They are real and they need Billy and his new friends to help save both the human and dragon world. The kids agree to help the dragons and become bonded with them. They must travel to the dragon world and stop the Dragon of Death from being freed and bringing destruction to the world.

Dragon Mountain is an action-packed adventure, filled with magic, superpowers and dragons. It’s a fantastical start to a series that had me hooked and needing to know what would happen next. It ends on a real cliff-hanger that made me so thankful that we only have to wait until March next year for the next instalment. Like the bond between the kids and their dragons you feel connected to the characters and are right there beside them.

The cover (illustrated by Petur Antonsson and design by Tom Sanderson) is an absolute stunner! It screams ‘PICK ME UP!’ I love the contrasting colours of the dragons against the orangey-red background. I also love that it shows how different each of the four dragons are. I keep switching between which one I would like to be bonded with but I think it would be Buttons.

Dragon Mountain would be a great read aloud for Year 5/6 because it will keep everyone engaged and begging their teacher to keep reading. I know that this is going to be such a great series and I can’t wait to find out what happens next.

Avis and the Promise of Dragons by Heather McQuillan

Dragons are creatures of myth, but imagine if there was a dragon in your neighbourhood. This is exactly what Avis discovers when she takes a job as a pet-sitter for the local ‘witch.’ Heather McQuillan introduces us to Avis and Humbert the dragon in her latest book, Avis and the Promise of Dragons.

Avis is having a hard time at home and school. The school bully, Drake, is making her miserable and her dad and brother have changed since her mum left and shacked up with an ex-All Black. A ray of light appears in her life just when she needs it – Dr Malinda Childe. Avis dreams of working with animals and Dr Malinda offers her a job as her pet-sitter. These are no ordinary pets though. These pets are special and unusual and Avis makes a promise to keep them a secret. This isn’t the only promise that she will make over the course of a weekend and soon Avis finds herself bonded to mythical creature. A mythical creature that just happens to love chocolate. If Avis is to keep her promises she will need to shake her brother and father out of their funk because she is going to need their help.

Avis and the Promise of Dragons is a magical adventure that you want to gobble down, like a dragon with a block of chocolate. Heather takes a story of a family who have fallen apart and throws a mischievous dragon into the mix. There is lots packed into the story, from family issues and bullying to conservation and the impact of the media. Avis’ Dad is a broken man after Avis’ Mum walked out on her family to start a new life with ex-All Black Aaron Miller. He takes little notice of what is happening with his kids, instead wallowing in his self-pity. Avis’ brother Bruno hides away in his room constantly, eating rubbish food and just generally being unpleasant. Avis is the only one in the family who is showing any responsibility, but she is also bearing the brunt of Drake the bully’s torment. The pet-sitting job for Dr Malinda gives her something positive in her life. The dragon coming in to her life helps to mend her family too.

Heather will make you wish you had a dragon all of your own. I really liked Heather’s take on the dragon myth and how her little dragon evolved. This dragon may love chocolate but but he’s certainly not sweet. Humbert is a wild creature who could burn you if you don’t keep your promises. He needs more food than just chocolate and will gobble up a dove or twenty when he’s hungry.

I loved Avis and the Promise of Dragons. It would make a fantastic read aloud for Years 5/6 as it will have the kids hanging on every word.

Heather McQuillian has just been announced as the University of Otago College of Education Creative New Zealand Children’s Writer in Residence Fellow for 2021. Congratulations Heather! I look forward to reading what you create during your time in Dunedin.

The Sunken Tower by Tait Howard

The Sunken Tower is a seriously funny fantasy adventure with plenty of punching and sword swinging thrown in. It seemed like a short story that is part of a bigger fantasy world so I’d like to see more of Dig, Iana and Crina on further adventures.

Dig’s day starts off pretty bad. His bag is broken, he’s super hungry and the local law enforcement is after him. Then his day gets a whole lot worse when he’s kidnapped and thrown in a dungeon far underground. It’s in this dungeon that he meets Iana and Crina, two other prisoners who are going to help Dig escape. They tell him of the great magical kingdom and the great tower that used to be above ground which sunk below ground thanks to a young wizard messing with blood magic. The wizard was warped into a monster which is now trapped in the sunken castle. The creatures who kidnapped Dig are The Brotherhood of Blood and they want to sacrifice Dig, Iana and Crina to the monster to get its blood magic. Not if the three of them can help it! They must find their way to the top of the sunken tower and smash through to their world up top.

Tait Howard’s world is one I want to know more about. The glimpses you see when Dig is walking through the market reminded me of Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl and Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet (if you’ve read those you’ll love this one). There are lots of different creatures, even within the Brotherhood of Blood. The main characters are all really cool, from Dig with his magic powers to Iana with her bristly legs and big muscles. Iana and Crina are in love and they have some really great banter.

I think my favourite thing about The Sunken Tower though is the humour and sarcasm. Tait’s comedic timing is spot on and the dialogue had me chuckling away. This is a kid’s graphic novel that will appeal to teens and adults as well. I’d love to hand it to some of my most reluctant readers as I’m certain the humour alone will grab them.

I really hope that Tait Howard has more adventures with Dig, Iana and Crina up his sleeves.

Max and the Millions by Ross Montgomery

What kid hasn’t pretended there are microscopic people living microscopic lives right under our noses?

In Max and the Millions Ross Montgomery takes readers in to the tiny world of Floor that the Blues, Reds and Greens call home. They are at war for the control of Floor but little do they know there is something much bigger that could mean the end of their civilisation. Demon is coming and he is bringing his vacuum cleaner! There is one person who can save them and his name is Max. Although Max needs hearing aids to hear it is his ability to lip read that helps him to communicate with these microscopic people and help them when they need it the most.

I absolutely loved Max and the Millions! Ross Montgomery had me captivated from the first page. The story cast a spell on me and I couldn’t stop thinking about what might happen next. There is lots of action, both in Max’s world and in the land of Floor, as the story switches between the points of view. There is also a touch of mystery as you are trying to figure out what happened to the School caretaker, Mr Darrow, and where the people of Floor have come from.

I loved the characters, both good and bad. Max is a loveable character who you routing for the whole way. Mr Pitt on the other hand is a character that you love to hate. He is delightfully horrid and is willing to do anything to get what he wants. It is deliciously satisfying what happens to him in the end.

I was sad to say goodbye to Max, Sasha, Luke and Ivy but I can’t wait to push this book in to the hands of young readers at my school. It’s perfect for fans of M.G. Leonard’s Beetle Boy.

The Ice Sea Pirates by Frida Nilsson

I love reading translated fiction, especially for children.  Some of my favourite stories were not originally published in English – Inkheart by Cornelia Funke was originally published in German and The Watcher in the Shadows by Carlos Ruiz Zafon was originally published in Spanish.  Thank goodness for publishers like the wonderful Gecko Press who translate the best books in to English for children to enjoy here in New Zealand.  Gecko Press’ latest translated gem is The Ice Sea Pirates by Frida Nilsson.  This wonderful story brought back memories of the first time I read my favourite book, Inkheart, as it took me on an adventure that swept me away.

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Siri lives on a small island with her younger sister, Miki, and her old, tired father.  An outing on a nearby island to collect berries ends in tragedy as Miki is taken by pirates.  These are not just any pirates, but those from the Snow Raven, a ship from the stories that Siri tells her sister.  The Snow Raven is captained by the most wicked pirate in all the seas, Captain Whitehead, a pirate with hair white as snow and a heart as empty as an ice cave.  Children who are taken by Whitehead are never seen again as they get sent to work in his mines until their bodies and minds are broken.  Siri knows that she is the only person who can save her sister and so sets out to get her back by any means.

The Ice Sea Pirates is an adventure story full of pirates, wolves, mermaids, frozen landscapes and a whole lot of heart.  It is a story about an incredibly brave girl who never gives up on her search for her sister.  Frida Nilsson, and her skilled translator, Robert Graves, transport the reader to the unforgiving Ice Sea and make you feel that you are right there beside Siri the whole way.  You feel the biting,  icy wind, feel Siri’s gnawing hunger and her heartache for the friends she makes along the way, and hear the creaking and groaning of the frozen sea.  The writing is beautiful.  Some of the descriptions of the characters and places were so perfect that I had to reread them several times.

Siri is one of those characters that becomes your best friend.  You are right there beside her and get inside her head.  She goes through so much on her journey to find her sister – she leaves home by herself to rescue her sister, faces down white wolves, stows away on boats with angry men, and stands up to vicious pirates – but she never gives up.  She is determined to find her sister, rescue her friend and protect those who cannot protect themselves.

I loved The Ice Sea Pirates and I know that Siri and her story will stay with me for a long time.  It is the perfect read aloud for ages 9 and up and I highly recommend it for anyone who loves adventure stories with a touch of magic and wonder.

 

 

 

The Turners by Mick Elliott

Sometimes you pick up a book and you just know that kids are going to love it.  It could be the cover that jumps out at you or the blurb that hooks you in and makes you want to read the book.  Mick Elliott’s new book, The Turners, has huge kid-appeal, from the awesome cover featuring a shape-shifting kid to the promise of killer pigs and snake-men on the cover.

the-turnersLeo Lennox has an epic problem: it’s his thirteenth birthday and he has just grown a tail.

You’d think that growing a tail in the middle of the school library would be the worst thing that could happen to you, but Leo is about to discover that things can always get worse – and a whole lot weirder. Now, as he discovers an unthinkable family secret, Leo must team up with his infuriating older sister to escape snake-skinned henchmen, ancient shape-shifters and a whispering villain determined to feed him to a pack of genetically engineered killer pigs – all while trying to control his new shape-shifting powers.

The Turners is a crazy, hilarious thrill-ride packed with shapeshifters, weird genetic experiments and family secrets.  Mick Elliott drops you straight into the action with the strange, embarassing situation that Leo finds himself in.  The story gallops and leaps along, with never a dull moment, as you join Leo and Abbie on their search for answers.

There is something in The Turners to appeal to anyone.  There is the mystery of Turners with their genetic anomoly that allows them to turn into different animals, (from rodents and birds to mammals and reptiles), the adventure that Leo and Abbie find themselves on in their search for answers, some delightfully sinister villains, and genetically engineered pigs and hamsters.  The Turners is also perfect for those kids who love a funny story.  There are some hilarious moments in the story, especially when it comes to turning in to different animals.  My favourite part is when Leo interupts his sister Abbie when she is trying to show him how an expert Turns.  It ends in Leo being sprayed with sloth urine (I know kids will love this part).

The cover and design for The Turners is brilliant too.  The bright orange and green makes the book jump off the shelf and the cover illustration makes you want to find out what the story is about.  The title also has a very cool lizard scale effect as well.

The Turners is the first part of a trilogy by Mick Elliott and I can’t wait to see what happens next.  It’s perfect for ages 9+ and would make a great read aloud for Years 5-8.

Interview with Elizabeth Pulford, author of Bloodtree Chronicles

Elizabeth Pulford is one of our great Kiwi authors.  She has written books for all ages, from picture books to novels for children, young adults and adults.  Elizabeth has two new books that have just been released, a picture book called Finding Monkey Moon and the first book in her fantastic new Bloodtree Chronicles series, Sanspell.  You can read my review of Bloodtree Chronicles: Sanspell here on the blog.

I had a few questions about the Bloodtree Chronicles and Elizabeth has very kindly answered them for me.  Read on to find out more about Elizabeth’s new series and her favourite story worlds.

  • What inspired you to write the Bloodtree Chronicles?

It was more a case of resistance in the beginning. I was having time away from writing in the garden when into my head slipped the first line of Sanspell. I told it to go away and that I wasn’t interested. Then an hour or so later the same line, word for word, arrived. I ignored it. Later than evening it made another appearance so I wrote it down, not really interested. Two days later I found the piece of paper and typed it into the computer. As soon as I did that my curiosity was stirred and I started to ask questions, eg ‘whose mother’s dress was it?’ It went on from there until the idea caught me completely and wouldn’t let me go.

  • In Sanspell, Abigail gets transported into the Silvering Kingdom, a magical place made of stories.  If you could be transported into a story, which one would you choose?

Definitely the Robin Hood stories. I would love to be in his gang and living in Sherwood Forest.

  • What sort of character would you be in the Silvering Kingdom?

Zezmena. I always think villains are so interesting. What makes them behave the way they do? What makes them tick? Trying to find the one redeeming quality that they keep hidden beneath all their evil deeds.

  • What is your favourite fantasy world?

The Magic Faraway Tree world created by Enid Blyton. Growing up there was an old apple tree in our garden. I kept wishing for this to be the same as the Faraway Tree and that Moonface would appear. Sadly it never happened!

  • In the next two books in the Bloodtree Chronicles you take us to Bragonsthyme and Thatchthorpe. Can you give us a taste of what Abigail might find in these stories?

The Bragonsthyme’s story is frozen. To be a proper fairy story it needs to have a happy ending, otherwise it cannot help the Bloodtree to heal. It is up to Abigail / Spindale (with help from Flint and Bramble) to find its ending.

In Thatchthorpe the King of Silvering Kingdom dies. Rackenard sees his chance to rule, thereby putting the Bloodtree at a greater risk than it has ever been. The only way to stop this happening is finding the two parts of the magical code, which will reveal to the people of the kingdom who is the true king.

Bloodtree Chronicles: Sanspell by Elizabeth Pulford

Imagine that your mother suddenly starts packing a suitcase for you and tells you that the time has come and you must hurry.  She is sending you somewhere, but she doesn’t tell you where.  She tells you that this place is unlike anywhere you have ever been and when you get there you must call yourself a different name.  She gives you a locket that you should never remove from around your neck.  The next thing you know, you are standing in the snow in a strange land – a land that only you can save.

When the Bloodtree loses its last leaf, there will be no more stories in the Silvering Kingdom …The Silvering Kingdom is the home of fairy tales but the kingdom and all those within are in danger of vanishing because the Bloodtree – the source of all stories – has been poisoned. ‘Sanspell’ is a story that has been cursed. It is up to Abigail (Spindale) to enter the fairy tale world and save the story-tree. Together with Flint, whose mother Trinket is being held captive by the evil Rackenard, they set off on a journey: three drops of Trinket’s blood is what is required to save the tree. The race is on …but can they survive the wicked Zezmena’s spells?

Elizabeth Pulford emerses readers in her fantastic story of the Silvering Kingdom in Sanspell, the first book in her new series, Bloodtree Chronicles.  This is the sort of book that you just want to curl up with on a Winter’s day, wrapped in a blanket with a hot drink.  Elizabeth really makes you feel like you’ve been transported to the snowy Silvering Kingdom with Abigail.

Abigail loves stories and uses books as an escape from her life.  She doesn’t have many friends and is bullied at school, so she feels far from special.  However, when she is transported to the Silvering Kingdom and the Sanspell story she discovers that she is incredibly important and it is up to her to save the Bloodtree and the characters that inhabit the story.

Like Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series this is a story about the magic of stories.  I love the way that Elizabeth Pulford has created the story within the story.  The story of the Silvering Kingdom is written by Abigail’s aunties and there is a visual record of the story on the walls of their house.  As the story changes, the illustrations change.  The aunties are so used to creating the story that when Abigail takes the story in her own direction they are not sure what to do.

Special mention needs to be made of Donovan Bixley’s stunning cover and design.  His cover is one that will catch the eyes of young readers and make them want to read this wonderful book.  The silver foil catches the light and highlights different parts depending on how you look at it.

Sanspell has me hooked on the Bloodtree Chronicles!  I can’t wait for Elizabeth Pulford to take me to Bragonsthyme and Thatchthorpe in the next two books in the series.

Interview with R.L. Stedman

author photoR.L. Stedman is the author of the award winning A Necklace of Souls.  She has just released the sequel, A Skillful Warrior, which carries on the story of Dana and Will (read all about it here).  I had a few questions for Rachel about her new book, her journey to publication and what stories she has for us next.  You can read her answers below and enter the draw to win a copy of the new edition of A Necklace of Souls.

  • I was very excited to hear that you had written a sequel to A Necklace of Souls!  Can you tell us a little about what happens in A Skillful Warrior?

In Skillful, Dana and Will, along with N’tombe and Jed, have left the Kingdom of the Rose. They are searching for a weapon that can defeat the army of the emperor. This quest should be straightforward, but of course its not. There’s an army following them, they don’t really know what the weapon is and Dana is having really, really bad dreams. And when I say bad, I mean they’re a lot worse than the average nightmare. And then Jed gets entangled with a pirate-woman and … No. I don’t want to give too much away! But basically the story is about both Will and Dana beginning to realise what they can do, and in learning to be comfortable with their abilities. I kind of think of Skillful as Dana growing up.

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  • A Necklace of Souls won the Tessa Duder Award and the Best First Book Award at the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.  What do awards like these mean to you as an author? Do they motivate you to keep writing?

The awards are nice, and its cool to be able to see stickers on your book that say ‘winner of so and so’ like it makes you amazing but TBH it doesn’t mean that much in terms of sales. However, I do enjoy putting ‘Award-Winning Author’ under my name! The awards don’t motivate me to continue writing, because I love writing so much that I would do it regardless. But I think the fact that I’ve won a few prizes now helps to give people confidence that my books are (hopefully) a good read.

  • You have self-published A Skillful Warrior, the reprint of A Necklace of Souls and your thriller, Inner Fire.  What has your journey to publication been like since your first book?

Quite tricky, would be the honest truth. A number of publishers were interested in Skillful but they all said the market for YA fiction in New Zealand is very limited, and after thinking about it for a few months, most said no. But over this time I was getting emails from readers pleading for the sequel (Skillful is dedicated to a reader from Norway!) and I felt I had to get it published just for them. So that’s why I decided to do it myself.

Inner Fire was my trial piece, I wanted to learn how to self-publish on something different to Necklace, in case it all went terribly wrong or was a total failure…In actual fact though, self-publishing (I prefer to call it “independant publishing”) has been more fun than I had thought. I’ve loved being able to chose my own cover designs – I’ve worked with two different covers for Necklace and I love both. I really enjoy the look and feel of the books; the paper is nice and thick, the layout looks professional and the binding is really solid. It’s nice to hold it in your hands!

Independent publishing offers an author a lot more freedom. When you’ve put your heart and soul into a book, it is very rewarding to be able to call all the shots on how it is presented. I like the way I can chose my own illustrations and my own font and chose the price it will retail at. I like being in control of my own timeline, too.

I don’t think it would suit everyone but I’m fortunate that it does work for me. I have a business degree and do a lot of contracting/project work in my day job – that experience has helped me a lot.

  • What books would you recommend to those who have enjoyed A Necklace of Souls and A Skillful Warrior?

The Belgariad by David Eddings

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Siege and Storm by Leigh Bardego,

Any book by Juliet Marilliar.

The Earthsea Trilogy by Ursula Le Guin.

Red Rising by Pierce Brown.

Under the Mountain by Maurice Gee.

The Merlin Chronicles by Mary Stewart.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

  • You have a book coming soon for younger readers.  What is it about?

It’s called The Prankster and the Ghost. It was shortlisted for the Tom Fitzgibbon Award in 2012 as Practically Joking. I love it so much! It’s funny and sad and (warning) contains lots of practical jokes.

The story is about two boys (I always seem to have two protagonists, I really need to stop that), called Tayla and Jamie.

Tayla is in a car accident. In pain, he pushes himself out of his body, and begins to haunt the hospital ward. Being a ghost is kind of boring, although it does allow him to play some excellent practical jokes on the nurses. Until an inspector arrives on the ward. ‘I’m sending you to school,’ she says. ‘Because every child deserves an education, even if they’re dead.’ Tayla thinks this is stupid. What’s the point in educating dead kids? Besides, he isn’t dead. He’s just not in his body.

Meanwhile, Jamie, newly arrived from Scotland, finds no-one can understand his accent. All his practical jokes go badly wrong, and at his new school there are some ruins that he’s sure are haunted…

Prankster is set in North Otago and is about friendship and learning to live with loss. And practical jokes, of course. It’s suitable for ages 8 upwards.

Sequel to the award-winning A Necklace of Souls

A Necklace of Souls was one of my favourite books of 2013.  Written by fantastic local author, R.L. Stedman, A Necklace of Souls won the Tessa Duder Award in 2013 and went on to win the Best First Book Award at the 2014 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.  It’s a truly original fantasy story that follows Dana as she comes to terms with having to bear the burden of the Necklace of Souls.  You can read my review here on the blog.

A Necklace of Souls finished on a cliff-hangar and I’ve been waiting to find out what happens next for Dana and Will.  I’m pleased to say that the wait is finally over.  The sequel, A Skillful Warrior, is available now (as an ebook exclusive) on Amazon.  Here is the blurb and the wonderful cover:

‘The warrior’s principal task: to make each moment count.’

Dana and Will must find the weapon to defeat the Emperor. But his army is close behind and the Kingdom and its Guardian have vanished – only N’tombe and Jed remain. As the comrades flee, Dana is hampered by dreams of dragons and by a deep, unbearable sorrow. A fire is coming, and she is in its path. Dana and Will must learn to overcome despair and to fight on, despite the darkness. For a warrior must adapt, or die.

R.L. Stedman has also republished A Necklace of Souls with a new cover too so look out for this one:

Grab A Skillful Warrior and A Necklace of Souls now on your e-reader.