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.

My Top 5 NZ Series for Kids and Teens

Like many kids I’m a fan of series.  There’s nothing better than sinking your teeth into a great series and being able to read more than one book featuring your favourite characters.  While there aren’t a heap of New Zealand series for kids and teens there are some that really stand out for me.  Some of them make me laugh again and again, while others take me to different times and places.  Here are my Top 5 NZ series for kids and teens.

  • 1219373The Karazan Quartet by V.M. Jones
    • Book 1 – The Serpents of Arakesh
    • Book 2 – Beyond the Shroud
    • Book 3 – Prince of the Wind
    • Book 4 – Quest for the Sun
I was excited when the first book in the series, The Serpents of Arakesh, came out.  The idea of an orphan boy getting the chance to test a new computer game and go into this game to retrieve a magical object sounded fantastic, and I wasn’t disappointed.  As soon as I started I knew I was going to love this book, and the other three books in the series just got better and better.  It’s one of my favourite fantasy series and just writing about it now makes me want to go back and read it all over again.  After publishing this series and a couple of great contemporary (and award-winning) novels, V.M. Jones seems to have disappeared.  I really miss her writing and I wonder what she’s doing now.

These are all out of print now but if you have this series in your library, get it out on display and promote it to your Year 5+ kids, especially the boys.

Recommended for 9+

  • The Juno series by Fleur Beale
    • Book 1 – Juno of Taris
    • Book 2 – Fierce September
    • Book 3 – Heart of Danger

Once I got in to Juno of Taris I couldn’t put it down.  Fleur Beale’s strength with this series is her characters, the strong bonds between them and also the conflict between them.  Fleur really makes you feel for her characters and the strange situation that they are in.  After reading the first book, I would have been satisfied to leave the characters as they were, then Fleur wrote two sequels.  I really enjoyed following these characters as they settled into their new life, and it was great to find out more about the other characters in the series.

Recommended for 11+

  • Dinosaur Rescue series by Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley
    • Currently 8 books in the series, starting with T-wreck-asaurus

Prehistoric toilet humour – what more can you ask for!  These books are full of dinosaur farts, dinosaur poo, caveman vomit and partial caveman nudity.  Not only are they disgusting and hilarious, you also learn heaps about dinosaurs and prehistoric life.  The challenge is trying to figure out what is factually accurate or just a huge whopper.  Kyle and Donovan are too of the wackiest people to ever be thrown together to create a series and it’s a truly winning combination.  If your children haven’t discovered this series yet they are seriously missing out.

Recommended for 7+

  • My New Zealand Story series by various authors

9781775431824The My New Zealand Story series from Scholastic New Zealand introduces children to different events and periods of New Zealand’s history.  I love this series because it gives a snapshot of the life of a fictional character (based on real people) and how they cope with life in the goldfields, or in colonial New Zealand, or how they react to a disaster like the Napier Earthquake.  These books also highlight how different the lives of the characters is to the lives of children today.  They really bring history alive for young readers and connect them with the history of their country.  The latest in the series is Canterbury Quake by my good friend, Desna Wallace.

Recommended for 9+

  • QueenTales of Fontania series by Barbara Else
    • The Traveling Restaurant
    • The Queen and the Nobody Boy
    • The Volume of Possible Endings
    • The Knot Impossible

Barbara Else’s Tales of Fontania series is a fantasy series that stands out from the crowd.  Barbara has an incredible imagination and her world and characters jump off the page.  Her tales are full of adventure, danger, royalty, spies, flying trains, a floating restaurant, stinky trolls, poisonous toads and much, much more.  You never know what who or what you’re going to meet next.  Thanks to the stunning covers by Sam Broad the books jump off the shelf and grab your attention.  I have it on good authority that there are more Tales of Fontania to come too.

Recommended for 9+

Fur-ightfully Funny Adventures from Beyond the Grave

When Joe Edmunds makes a wish on an Egyptian amulet, little does he know that he has volunteered to guide and defend the undead pet inhabitants of his town…

If you know a young reader who likes adventure stories that are a bit spooky and really funny, then I’ve got a new series for you!  Undead Pets by Sam Hay is an awesome new series for 7+ featuring zombie animals and ‘pets with one last thing to do before they pass to the other side.’  As well as a great story (that boys especially will love) the books are illustrated throughout by Simon Cooper.  I especially like the cartoons that describe how each of the pets die.  I reckon the covers are terrific and are sure to jump off the shelves.  Young readers will get hooked on Undead Pets and they’ll gobble them up in no time.  They’re stand alone adventures so kids can start with any of the books.

Read all about the different books in the series below and watch the cool book trailer.

Return of the Hungry Hamster

Dumpling the hamster came to a dusty end inside a vacuum cleaner … but he suspects that his owner Oliver’s parents never admitted to their son that they were to blame for Dumpling’s demise. Now the hamster needs Joe’s help to reveal the truth – but there’s a furry surprise awaiting them at Oliver’s house…

Revenge of the Phantom Furball

Disaster strikes when Bonsai the pug chases Pickle the cat into the street, where she is flattened by a car. But the fact that Pickle has (almost) shuffled off her mortal coil isn’t her biggest concern; she is worried that Bonsai will pursue her sister Pebble into an early grave too, unless she and Joe teach the dog a lesson…

Night of the Howling Hound

Joe is off on a school trip to an adventure camp, and he can’t wait to put Uncle Charlie’s survival tips into practice! But it’s not long before he’s visited by Dexter, a scruffy-looking dog, with a howling tale of woe. Dexter doesn’t want his owner feeling guilty for his death, but it’ll be hard for Joe to intervene this time – it turns out that the owner is Joe’s headmaster, the dreaded Mr Hill!

Goldfish from Beyond the Grave

Just when Joe thought things couldn’t get any stranger, he is visited by Fizz, a zombie goldfish. Fizz was flushed down the toilet by his owner Danny’s little sister, who doesn’t realize that she’s sent the fish to a watery grave. Fizz needs to ensure the truth is revealed before his fellow fish meet a similar fate. But how do you get a goldfish to rest in peace?

Rise of the Zombie Rabbit

Fluffy’s owner, Olivia, lost a necklace in her back garden and she’s going to get in big trouble if it isn’t found. Fluffy can’t bear to see her owner in distress and she demands that Joe finds the necklace – now! Can Joe do what Fluffy wants or will the undead pet be hopping around forever?

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.