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.

Monty’s Island series by Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford

After publishing dozens of books it is safe to say that Emily Rodda knows her audience. She has written for all ages and across different genres. Her latest series, Monty’s Island, is aimed at younger readers and it is so much fun. It will have kids wishing they lived on the island with Monty and his friends.

There are two books in the series so far with more to come. Scary Mary and the Stripe Spell introduces us to Monty and the cast of characters who live on Monty’s Island. There is Tawny the lion, Bunchy the elephant who likes magic, Sir Wise the owl, Clink the pirate parrot, Marigold the human and owner of the Island Cafe, and of course Monty. Their life on the island is peaceful. Monty’s days are filled with scavenging treasures from the beach and joining his friends at the Cafe. One day The Laughing Traveller warns Monty that the terrible pirate Scary Mary is on her way to their island. Bunchy’s magic and a mysterious magic wand combine to cause some trouble so it’s up to Monty and his friends to put things right and try and trick Scary Mary.

The second book in the series, Beady Bold and the Yum-Yams, has just been released, and it’s another brilliantly funny adventure. It’s Bring-and-Buy Day, that exciting time when Monty and his friends meet Trader Jolly to get the supplies they need. However, it’s not Jolly that arrives, but Beady Bold. Beady is tricky and sneaky and suddenly Bring-and-Buy Day is no fun anymore. Beady brings the Yum-Yams, a mysterious plant that creates havoc. Luckily Monty and his friends come up with a plan to deal with the Yum-Yams and Beady Bold.

With the Monty’s Island series Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford have created stories that hook readers with adventure, humour and a wonderful cast of characters. They’re stories that are perfect for newly independent readers to read themselves or to read aloud to 5-8 year olds. I’ll be recommending them as a read aloud for my Year 1-3 teachers as they’ll grab the kids straight away and have them begging for the next chapter. Kids will have favourite characters (I really love Bunchy) and will want to read more of their adventures throughout the series. The stories are illustrated inside and out by Lucinda Gifford whose illustrations are the perfect match for Emily’s stories and make the characters come to life. A lot of thought has gone in to the design of the series too, with bright, fun covers that will jump off the shelves.

The Allen and Unwin website also features some cool printable activities to tie in with the book, including some colouring sheets, and there are videos of both Emily Rodda and Lucinda Gifford reading the books.

Monty’s Island is my favourite new series for younger readers and I can’t wait for more adventures with Monty and his friends.

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.

Interview with Leanne Hall

Today I’m excited to be joined by Leanne Hall, author of the incredible This is Shyness and a magical new book for younger readers, Iris and the Tiger.  I have loved all of Leanne’s books and I highly recommend them.  You can read my reviews of This is Shyness, Queen of the Night and Iris and the Tiger here on the blog.  Leanne joins me today to answer my questions about her new book, her inspirations, and writing for kids and teens.  Thanks Leanne!

9781925240795

  • What inspired you to write Iris and the Tiger?

The very beginning came about from joining two dots. I had a random, uninvited phrase running through my head – `Iris, spider, tiger’ – for months, and I didn’t know why! At the same time, I wanted to write a story where Surrealist paintings come to life. I mashed the two ideas together, and Iris was born. I really wanted to write a fun, adventurous, odd adventure for middle readers that focussed on art and friendship.

  • Iris’s Aunt Ursula lives on an estate in Spain. Why did you decide to set the story there?

I needed to send Iris far, far away from Australia. France and Spain both had very strong traditions of surrealism, but a lot of books are set in France! Spanish culture was more of a mystery to me, and I enjoyed researching it. After watching Pan’s Labyrinth I thought the Spanish woods looked truly magical, and slightly scary.

  • Your love of art shines through in the story.  What are your favourite pieces of art?

I do love art! Whenever I’m stuck for ideas I wander around galleries, daydreaming! I have a Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/lilymandarin/iris-and-the-tiger/) where I keep all my visual inspiration for Iris and the Tiger. If I had to pick a favourite, today I would go for `Creation of the Birds’ by Remedios Varo. Elna’s owl costume for the Surrealist Dinner Party came from that painting.

  • Can you paint like Ursula and James? 

Sadly, no! Oh, how I wish I could paint and draw, but I really cannot (trust me, I’ve tried).

  • What is one thing that you would like to inherit from your family (i.e. a piece of jewellery, a knick-knack, or a sprawling estate in Spain)? 

Of course, a grand country estate would be great! But I have actually inherited something lovely – the engagement ring box that my grandmother’s ring was in. It’s not worth anything, but it’s very precious to me. I’ve kept it since I was a child, it’s a little piece of history.

  • Your first two books were for young adults.  How did you find it writing for a younger audience?

A lot of fun and, much to my surprise, not very different than writing for young adults. I just had to hold the hormones and salty language!

  • What is it about writing for children and young adults that appeals to you?

I think stories for these age groups are simply more fun, more dramatic, more intense and less pretentious. I like the freedom and immediacy of writing for kids and teens, and I feel I have greater permission to give voice to my craziest thoughts.

  • How do you approach a story? Do you plan it out or just see where an idea takes you?

I never used to be a planner, but after writing three books in very circuitous ways, I am trying to plan a bit better, to save myself all the endless restructuring. I’d say I currently sit halfway between `plotter’ and `pantser’.

  • Who are your favourite authors?

Difficult question for someone who is both a writer and a bookseller! I have just discovered Hilary T Smith, and I adore her writing. I’ll stop there, because otherwise I’ll have to give you a list of my Top 100 favourite authors.

Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall

I’m a huge fan of Leanne Hall’s first two YA novels, This is Shyness and Queen of the Night.  They are weird and wonderful stories that have haunted me since I first read them.  When I heard that Leanne had a new novel coming out, aimed at younger readers I was very excited.  I knew she would bring the same magic to a story for younger readers as she did for teens.  Reading the blurb I got a tingle of excitement and when I started reading I knew it was going to be a very special story.  I got completely wrapped up in Iris and the Tiger and I know you will too.

9781925240795Twelve-year-old Iris has been sent to Spain on a mission: to make sure her elderly and unusual aunt, Ursula, leaves her fortune–and her sprawling estate–to Iris’s scheming parents.

But from the moment Iris arrives at Bosque de Nubes, she realises something isn’t quite right. There is an odd feeling around the house, where time moves slowly and Iris’s eyes play tricks on her. While outside, in the wild and untamed forest, a mysterious animal moves through the shadows.

Just what is Aunt Ursula hiding?

But when Iris discovers a painting named Iris and the Tiger, she sets out to uncover the animal’s real identity–putting her life in terrible danger.

I absolutely loved Iris and the Tiger!  Leanne Hall enchanted me with her tale of magic and mystery.  It is a really unique and refreshing story with plenty of excitement to keep you reading.  There is something in this book for everyone – art, magic, mystery and wonderful characters.

Iris’s mission from her parents, to get in her aunt’s will, becomes her search to discover the mysteries of her aunt and her sprawling estate.  From the moment that Iris arrives Aunt Ursula’s estate in Spain, she knows that there are strange things going on. According to her parents her aunt is near death but she looks young and full of energy.  Iris sees things in her aunt’s mansion and out in the grounds that she can’t explain.  The mansion, Bosque de Nubes, is full of surreal paintings by Iris’s Uncle James, who died many years ago.  One of these paintings is called Iris and the Tiger but Iris can’t find it anywhere in the mansion.  She sets out to uncover the mystery of the painting and find the real tiger that she is sure is lurking somewhere on the estate.

Aunt Ursula’s estate is brimming with a mysterious magic.  There are all sorts of weird and wonderful things that Iris and her friend Jordi discover while exploring her aunt’s estate.  There is a monster car, tennis-playing sunflowers, shoes with a mind of their own and a ghostly dog.

I love Leanne’s characters and there are plenty of interesting ones in this story.  Iris is my favourite because she knows there is magic out there and she goes in search of it.  She stands up for what she believes is right, especially when she knows that her parents are wrong.  Aunt Ursula is shrouded in mystery and you just know that there is something weird about the other people who live and work at Bosque de Nubes.

If I hadn’t read one of Leanne’s books before and knew that I loved them, the stunning cover would be enough to make me want to pick it up and read it.  Sandra Eterovic’s cover illustration is the perfect match for the book and really draws the reader in.  I love how each of the paintings on the cover relate to the story.

The ending of the book is so perfect and made me want to go right back to the start and read it again.  Grab a copy of Iris and the Tiger and get lost in Leanne’s magical story.

 

 

 

House of Secrets by Chris Colombus and Ned Vizzini

Chris Coloumbus is the writer and director of some of my favourite movies, including Gremlins, The Goonies and Home Alone.  He’s a gifted storyteller for the screen who has now delved into the world of children’s books.  His first children’s book is House of Secrets, co-written by Ned Vizzini, and I was interested to see if his books were just as good as his movies.

A secret history… A mysterious family legacy… Dark magic of untold power… And three kids who will risk everything to bring a family back together. The Pagett kids had it all: loving parents, a big house in San Francisco, all the latest video games … But everything changed when their father lost his job as a result of an inexplicable transgression. Now the family is moving into Kristoff House, a mysterious place built nearly a century earlier by a troubled fantasy writer with a penchant for the occult. Suddenly the siblings find themselves launched on an epic journey into a mash-up world born of Kristoff’s dangerous imagination, to retrieve a dark book of untold power, uncover the Pagett family’s secret history and save their parents … and maybe even the world.

House of Secrets is an action-packed blockbuster of a book about three children who are transported into the world of fiction.  There’s something in this story to appeal to all kids – adventure, mystery, magic, witches, giants, warriors, pirates, and fictional characters coming to life. Most readers have wanted to actually be in the world of a story at some stage, and this is exactly what happens to Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor (even if it was the last thing they wanted).

Chris and Ned have said that the story was originally going to be a screenplay for a movie, but they thought it would be too expensive to make so they adapted it into a book.  I thought this came through quite clearly as the story really reads like it should be a movie.  It’s quite fast-paced and there is lots of action so it will definitely keep kids’ attention.  I can see why it would have cost so much to make this story into a movie, because it’s quite epic and there would be huge special effects involved.  The house that the children find themselves transported in is much like the Tardis (‘it’s bigger on the inside’), with lots of hidden passageways, and it gets battered about by witches, giants and pirates.  There are many different fictional worlds, filled with different creatures and characters.

Although I loved the story and the way the authors kept the action moving along, I found the children quite stereotypical and a bit flat.  Within the first 10 pages you’ve had a detailed description of what the three children look like and how old they are, which just seemed a little bit forced to me.  I guess it’s probably a movie thing and they’re trying to give us a picture of the characters, but you don’t need to know everything about a character within the first few minutes.

The plot races along right to the end and leaves the story hanging for the next book in the series.  I’ll be looking forward to discovering what comes next for the Walker children.

2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards Finalist: The Queen and the Nobody Boy by Barbara Else

The Queen and the Nobody Boy by Barbara Else is a finalist in the Junior Fiction category of the 2013 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.  I love the world of Fontania that Barbara introduced us to in The Traveling Restaurant.  I reviewed it in September last year,  so if you want to hear all about it and find out what makes it such a worthy finalist, read on.  You can also read my interview with Barbara Else and Barbara’s guest post about The Queen and the Nobody Boy here on the blog.

Last year, Barbara Else took us on a magical journey through the land of Fontania, with Sibilla and The Traveling Restaurant.  Now she takes us back to Fontania and introduces us to some wonderful new characters in The Queen and the Nobody Boy.

Hodie is the unpaid odd-job boy at the Grand Palace in the Kingdom of Fontania.  Fed-up, he decides to leave and better himself.

The young Queen, 12 -year-old Sibilla, is fed-up too.  Sick of gossip about her lack of magical ability, she decides to run away with Hodie, whether he likes it or not.

The Queen and the Nobody Boy is a magical story, full of adventure, danger, royalty, spies, flying trains, stinky trolls and poisonous toads. Trouble is brewing from the very beginning of the story.  The Emperor of Um’Binnia threatens war with Fontania and he hopes to destroy what magic there may be in the world.  The Fontanians have been looking for ‘The Ties’ for many years, but nobody really seems to know what they are, and for the Emperor to carry out his plans he must get his hands on them too.  Little do they know how important an odd-job boy might be.

Your favourite characters from The Travelling Restaurant return, including Sibilla and the pirate chef, Murgott.  Hodie is the main character of this tale of Fontania.  Even though he’s not treated very well in the Palace, he’s smart and brave, and determined to make something of himself.   My favourite quote from the book sums up Hodie, ‘Whether a boy was somebody or nobody, if he was normal he was expected to be curious.’  Hodie and Sibilla meet lots of other interesting characters on their journey, including a rather strange Um’Binnian spy called Ogg’ward, and a very persistent squirrel.  The Um’Binnians themselves are quite interesting.  They have a different way of speaking and their names look and sound strange.

If you loved The Traveling Restaurant you have to get your hands on The Queen and the Nobody Boy, but if you haven’t read it this book will make you fall in love with the land of Fontania.  You certainly won’t be able to go past this book on the shelf without wanting to see what magic is inside, thanks to Sam Broad’s brilliant cover.

4 out of 5 stars

Seven Wonders: The Colossus Rises Book Trailer

The day after twelve-year-old Jack McKinley is told he has six months to live, he awakens on a mysterious island, where a secret organization promises to save his life – but with one condition. With his three friends, Jack must lead a mission to retrieve seven lost magical orbs, which, only when combined together, can save their lives. The challenge: the orbs have been missing for a thousand years, lost among the ruins and relics of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. With no one else to turn to and no escape in sight, the four friends have no choice but to undertake the quest. First stop: The Colossus of Rhodes … where they realise that there’s way more at stake than just their lives.

 

The Colossus Rises is the first book in Peter Lerangis’ action-packed new series called Seven Wonders. It has been described as ‘Percy Jackson meets Eragon’ and it sounds really exciting.  You might recognise Peter Lerangis as one of the authors of The 39 Clues series.

The Colossus Rises is due out in March from HarperCollins New Zealand, and watch out for your chance to win a copy of the  book here on the blog.

Wings & Co: Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner

I’ve been a huge fan of Sally Gardner ever since I first read I, Coriander.  Sally is one of those brilliant authors whose stories are always original and you never know quite what to expect when you start reading them.  She’s also incredibly versatile, as she writes for all ages, from preschoolers, to middle grade, and right up to teens and beyond.  Her latest book, Operation Bunny, is the first in a new series for younger readers, called Wings & Co.

Emily Vole makes headline news in the first weeks of her life, when she is found in an abandoned hatbox in Stansted Airport. Then, only a few years later, her neighbour Mrs String dies leaving Emily a mysterious inheritance: an old shop, a small bunch of golden keys and a cat called Fidget. It’s the beginning of an adventure of a lifetime as the old Fairy Detective Agency comes back to life. It is up to Emily to reopen the shop, and recall the fairies to duty. Together they must embark on their first mystery and do battle with their great fairy-snatching enemy, Harpella.

Operation Bunny is a magical story, filled with a cast of wonderful characters, plenty of mystery, and a sprinkling of humour.  It’s the sort of book that you sit down to read a few chapters and end up gobbling up the whole book because you’re enchanted by Sally’s storytelling and David Roberts hilarious illustrations.

I fell in love with the characters straight away and I wanted to be friends with Miss String and Fidget the talking cat.  Emily is a Cinderella-type character because she gets locked away and made to do all the housework for her horrible adopted parents.  Not only are they horrible, they’re also quite stupid.  Emily’s adopted mother lets a strange lady into their house who turns her triplets into zombies, and Emily’s adopted father is a slimy wee man who’s hiding a secret and always calls his wife ‘Smoochikins.’ However, Emily is much smarter and braver than these horrible people give her credit for, and with the help of her rather unusual neighbours she escapes and starts her new life as a detective.  Fidget is my favourite character because he is always happy to help and he has the best lines (which usually involve fish of some sort), like ‘Search my sardine tin, I don’t know,’ and ‘Twiddle my whiskers and call me tuna.’  I love the way that Fidget calls Emily ‘my little ducks’ too.  Even though she doesn’t have parents that love her, she has a giant talking cat that is looking out for her always.    There are lots of other interesting characters in the story, including a mischievous bunch of keys, zombie babies, a fairy policeman, a shop with legs, a magic lamp that talks, and lots and lots of bunnies.

David Roberts illustrations are wonderful as always and help set the tone of the story.  They’re both hilarious and a little dark, and they bring Sally’s characters alive.  I especially like the personalities that David has given each of the rabbits and the suave, charming look that he’s given Fidget.

Operation Bunny is perfect for reading aloud (to 7 years and up) or find yourself a comfy spot and disappear into this magical story. I’m so pleased that we have more adventures with Emily, Fidget and the Fairy Detective Agency, Wings & Co. to look forward to.  I can’t wait to read the next book, The Three Pickled Herrings (coming in February 2013).

5 out of 5 stars