February 13

Wild Boy by Rob Lloyd Jones

1363038957328Some would call this gothic, others mystery, or even adventure. Me? I just say this is one of those wonderful books that ignores genre boundaries. Even better – it’s fun to read.

Wild Boy is covered in hair and was raised as a monster. He is making a ‘living’ as part of a travelling freak show. But he isn’t as stupid as everyone thinks. He watches the audience every day with great care and quickly becomes a very good observer – Sherlock Holmes good. But then one day he is accused of murder. No one will believe that the Freak is innocent, after all he is a wild monster. His only chance is to run and try to find the real killer.

This book is dripping with atmosphere, literally. You can hear the hawkers in the freak show. The overcrowded streets of 1840s London are dirty, smelly and provide heaps of hiding places. But beware the shadowy figure who always turns up. Or maybe not?

This is a book marketed for upper primary, and experienced readers of that age will certainly enjoy it. But me, I suggest that it will be an excellent alternative for all those lower secondary kids who find it difficult to get into books. This one just could surprise them.

February 13

The Disgrace of Kitty Gray by Mary Hooper

9781408827611Sometimes it is nice to know when you pick up a book exactly what you can expect once you look inside. Mary Hooper is one of those authors that writes consistently gritty realistic historical dramas for young readers. They have strong female characters who are thrust into difficult situations that may be based directly on fact, or at least historically accurate settings. The girls may be more ‘modern’ in personality than is quite accurate, but that simply helps modern readers ‘get into’ the story.

Kitty has a very secure job as a milkmaid for the big house. She is learning all the dairying skills that will keep her in employment for her foreseeable future. She is being courted by the local river man, and all seems safe and comfortable in her world. But one day Will disappears. Kitty is stuck looking after his orphaned little sister, but again the family and other servants support her efforts, so aside from missing Will, not much has changed. But when one of the gentleman’s daughters sends her to London on an errand, suddenly life goes wrong, and gets worse. Imagine, a young woman alone in London with a toddler in tow. Who in 1813 is going to believe that she is an innocent milkmaid?

It is exactly this situation that makes this book so good. Schools can teach kids about changing morality and social customs. On the other hand experiencing the consequences of public scandal through the novel makes it real. Be warned, this is not for those who believe that children must have all happiness, sweetness and light.

 

February 13

The Tunnels of Tarcoola by Jennifer Walsh

resized_9781742376752_224_297_FitSquareThere is something about a mystery that appeals to everyone. I have seen this book compared to classics, like the Famous Five, but placed in a contemporary world. Like these children’s classics, the action starts on page one with the kids arguing and throwing stones on the beach. But then the tide changes…

Four children, all tweens, are led into a world of secret tunnels and mysterious packages. All good fun until grown-ups start watching and following. What is so important? And are the kids safe? Can they keep each other safe? Will they still be friends when it is all over?

In a modern world where most kids are wrapped in cotton wool, these four adventurers have a lot of freedom. But then they need that freedom in order for the plot to work. Realistic? Who cares? I challenge anyone to claim that Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys or the Famous Five were realistic, and kids have been loving them for years.

Jennifer Walsh has written a classic adventure tale for modern times.

February 13

The Skull by Christian Darkin

9781408192979Dinosaurs – the passion of every toddler. But sometimes this interest remains until the child is a confident reader. With the wonderful dinosaur skull on the cover, this book is going to catch the eye of all of these ‘grown up’ kids. But this is no silly time travel adventure that mixes humans with dinosaurs. No this is a scientifically accurate piece of historical fiction that shows a real understanding, not only of the Jurassic¬†world, but also the changing nature of man as he grows to understand his world.

The book opens with the death of a dinosaur about 144 million years ago. The skull is discovered in medieval times by a young man learning to read and write. But in these superstitious times, dragons and demons are all too real and the man suffers for his belief in the reality of this long extinct beast. Over time the Marchant family revisits the skull and interprets it’s importance in line with their culture and scientific understanding. Somehow I have managed to make this sound like a dry treatise. Believe me it is more like Dr Who – you never know when the story will continue, or where the adventure will lead.

I really enjoyed this short little book filled with adventures through time. But now that I am reflecting on the reading experience, I wonder if the average 9-13 kid will have enough historical understanding to pick up on the challenges faced by the various Marchants. But then, maybe this book will trigger interest in different historical periods.

 

February 10

The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie by Kirsty Murray

resized_9781743317020_224_297_FitSquareKirsty Murray is a children’s author of great talent. She can manage the gently whimsy of Walking Home with Marie Claire, the epic history of the Children of the Wind series and dystopian horror in Vulture’s Gate all without losing touch with her ‘tween’ readers. I will admit that it has been a few years since I had the excuse to read one of her books, but I am so glad this one arrived.

To quote the publicity material, ¬†‘Lucy can walk through walls’. Not just any walls, but the four walls of her grandmother’s house each painted with a mural showing a different Australian season. Each wall takes her back in time, to the same farm and the same three children. Lucy becomes firm friends with the kids and looks forward to catching up in each changing season. Together they swim, ride horses and generally enjoy life on a farm about 50 or so years ago. Naturally, life isn’t all fun and games. Lucy also survives fire, flood and bullies. But how do these children relate to her life today? Something seems familiar, but she can’t quite put her finger on it.

Gradually the clues to this mystery are lightly salted through the story. An adult reader may put the clues together earlier, but a younger reader will surely enjoy the reveal, and then will be likely to flip back through the story checking out the important bits. Re-reading is rarely part of kids routine now, so anything that encourages this skill gets my tick of approval.

This is a delightful gentle story that keeps magic alive in children’s imaginations.