May 1

The Wish Pony by Catherine Bateson

Wish Pony cvr.inddThis is another book that I have had for years, getting a proof copy from the publisher even before it was released in 2008. It read quickly in an hour or so, and then I was on to the next book before taking the opportunity to reflect and review.

Life is changing for young Ruby and she is not ready for it to happen. Mum is pregnant and Ruby just knows that the new baby is going to get all the attention. And Ruby’s best friend has found another better friend! But then Ruby meets her new neighbor Magda and makes a new friend of her own. Magda gives her a gift that just might be magical, and life begins to improve.

This is a simple innocent tale of childhood. Bateson has written many of these in the past and I am sure she will find more stories to tell in the future. Certainly it is radically different from her young adult angst stories written early in her career.

May 1

The Stowaway by R. A. and Geno Salvatore

Salvatore Senior is well known for his popular science fiction writing. He is a master of the superficial space adventure. It could be a novelisation of a popular movie, or a Dungeons and Dragons rip-off, but whatever it is, you can be very sure that it will never tax your thinking skills. For this new series he has teamed up with his son to write a Dungeons and Dragons rip-off for children.

The book opens with Maimun running for his life as he is hunted by the evil demon. He reaches the port with the beast hot on his heals. The only escape is to climb a rope and stowaway aboard a ship that looks to be leaving on the next tide. Then the story becomes a tale of adventure on the high seas.

At least that is what the story was meant to be, but somehow it got terribly bogged down in Maimun’s backstory. Then it all became confusing. Maimun hunting pirates as cabin boy on his new ship, but then it was Maimun finding his tutor and mentor as a child. Then there was another pirate attack, but Maimun is a passenger not a member of the crew, and then his mentor is under attack by the demon. I’m sorry, but I lost the plot.

Maybe now that the backstory is told, future tales of the Stone of Tymora will be more logical. I hope that the authors assume that readers of book 2 will have suffered through book 1 before they begin. I doubt they are capable of a simple succinct ‘the story so far’ summary. But personally, I am not going to rush off to find out.

May 1

Wild Horse Country by Trudy Nicholson

9780143304753I will admit, many long years ago I was just as horse crazy as any other 10 year old girl. And maybe had this book been around then, this review would be different. But now I am older, hopefully wiser, and my reading tastes have changed, thank goodness.

This book is actually two novellas in one jacket. The first is about a muster of wild horses and the second is about a search and rescue when a solo trail ride goes wrong. Each story is about 80 pages long, and could easily have been published independently. However, for their own reasons, the publishers put them together into a book that looks thicker.

I was not at all impressed with the writing. There is very little plot and almost no character development to be found. Reading the book was a lot like reading a badly written ‘story’ from a child. This happened, and then this happened, and then this happened, and then it came time to cool down the horses and everything was described in great detail. And then this happened, and this happened, and it was time to saddle the horses for the next day’s ride and again painful detail.

Sorry but unless you are passionate about horses and totally ignorant about their care and treatment, this is a boring book.

May 1

Ghost of a Chance by Michael Panckridge and Pam Harvey

This is absolute proof that I don’t get to choose my own reading. After the disasterous review of another book in this series one would hope that the publishers wouldn’t try again. But no such luck.

This book in the series is focused on Ling, one of the six unlikely friends in the group. School is out and the group is spending the long weeks until Christmas at the seaside with Ling’s aunt who runs a hostel for tourists. Together the children solve the mystery of a missing will, and return the missing treasure to… well, that is where the story gets dodgy.

You see, once upon a time the hostel was an orphanage, run by an unscrupulous man who forced the children to dig for a missing pirate treasure rather than go to school. To many kids this will sound like heaven, but really, I doubt that it is very likely at all. Anyway, one night a storm blew up while they were returning to the mainland and two of the children were drowned. The ghosts of the poor orphans send Ling and her friends off to find the treasure and make sure their brother, who survived the trip, gets his share.

Just like the earlier book in the series, I have some serious issues with the adults in the story. Why are the children totally unsupervised for the week? They can apparently come and go from the hostel without anyone knowing or caring, even after one is injured and another becomes seriously ill.

To my mind this book is a Secret Seven wannabee. The kids are all knowing and all powerful. Rules don’t apply and safety is no consideration. Bullies run when confronted and everything works out just in the nick of time. Sorry, but I can’t recommend this to anyone.

April 12

Tensy Farlow and the Home for Mislaid Children by Jen Storer

9780670073399This book had been sitting on my ‘to be reviewed’ mountain for a few months, and it was continually left until later simply because of the silly cover. But last week it was shortlisted for the CBC younger readers prize, so immediately it jumped to the top of the list.

Set just after the end of WWII, this is truly a story of another time and another place. Tensy’s mother dumps her at the steps of a hospital when she is 6 months old. She is found by the laundry man and gathered up with the washing and taken home. The rest of the family is frightened of the consequences of this impulsive decision and force the girl into the Home for Mislaid Children. This home is everything from every nightmare, complete with wicked Matron, drunken Beadle and the ghost that sucks the life from her victims. But Tensy survives and makes friends. Eventually she is instrumental in putting things right in the very unhappy home.

And comment must be made about the angels. Everyone has heard about Guardian Angels, and Hollywood has played with the idea of the incompetent guardian angel. But this book takes that idea to a whole new level. Angels are everywhere, with good intentions but not much luck. This theme gives a simple orphan story a whole level of complexity that holds interest.

I did have a question about the level for this book. On the surface it is very appropriate for upper primary, but I question how many average 11 year olds would ‘get’ the hidden themes. Would they just dismiss the angelic subplot as a distraction? I guess only time will tell.

April 4

Don’t Breate a Word by Marianne Musgrove

9781741662962Before I start, I will declare my bias. Probably because of the hundreds of ‘stories with a moral’ that I read as a child myself, I have very little patience with the simple, predictable book that has a very clear lesson about life. The educator in me knows that this type of literature is important, but I will declare up front, that I don’t enjoy reading it.

But first this story about a small family. Tahlia and Kenzie live with their Grandpa. Life is fun, and the two girls love their home. But once Grandpa has a fall, things are different. Tahlia makes Kenzie promise to keep Grandpa’s behavior secret, and the two girls work extra hard to keep their life from changing. The problem is that Tahlia is 15 and in the midst of rehearsals for a big dance concert. There is no way she is going to miss that, simply to help look after her Grandpa. So most of the work and the secrecy falls to Kenzie. She struggles alone with a huge responsibilities, but inevitably she fails and the secret gets out and life changes.

There are a lot of things about this book that I did like. Tahlia was truly 15 and all the self-centred arrogance jumped off the page. And the gentle portrayal of Grandad’s dementia was heart-warming. Too bad that it really doesn’t work that way. I still don’t know what to make of Lydia, the older sister in the process of starting her own family. Somehow she seemed just too convenient.

But it might be interesting to check back on this family a few weeks after the new baby arrives. Life could be very different once again.

March 21

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street by Jeanne Birdsall

9780440868408As you can see from the rest of the books on this website, I spend a lot of time reading books for the 15+ audience. So when I get the chance to read something for the 10-14 age group it can be a refreshing change. Unfortunately, this one wasn’t refreshing, and not even much of a change.

The Penderwick sisters are a formidable team. Mr Penderwick, a single father, gives them his total and undivided attention, and that is the way they like it. So when their aunt starts pressuring Mr Penderwick to start dating again, the sisters form a Plan. The Save Daddy Plan is bold, brilliant and funny. But most importantly, will it work?

This is a plot that has been covered again, again and again. Sometimes as adolescent angst, sometimes as children’s humour, and sometimes the story becomes a meaningful examination of the meaning of love. Unfortunately this book is none of these things. I found this book to be simply trivia, almost a waste of time.

February 16

Pocahontas by Caroline Corby

1245194378574When I first saw this series, I was interested in it. The whole idea of looking at the lives of famous figures from history as children has appeal, especially since I really enjoy reading historical fiction. So I was very happy to see this book arrive in a review bundle last year. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as good as it first appeared.

Pocahontas is a very famous Native American who helped the original colonists in Jamestown survive during their first years. She later married one of the settlers and traveled to England. There she died of a lung infection. Disney has made much of her famous story so now almost everyone across the world knows her name. Corby has taken the few historical facts and constructed a wholly imaginary tale.

My problem is in the character of Pocahontas. She is very much a 20th century girl trapped in 17th century society. Somehow I have difficulty believing that in Native American culture of the time, young girls were allowed to wander freely through’enemy’ territory. The chief’s favourite daughter was supposedly totally unsupervised, and I have some difficulty with that concept.

There are some interesting snapshots of the Powhatan culture like their coming of age ritual for boys. And I found the links between the names of the local tribes and the modern geography interesting, but then I grew up in the country so these words mean something. For an Australian child, these are just impossible to pronounce big words.

I am not encouraged to read the others after this disappointment.

February 6

Pyro Watson and the Hidden Treasure by Nette Hilton and Gregory Rogers

PW_Cover_FINAL.inddI have spent so long in the world of vampires and werewolves, that reading a simple adventure story designed to capture the imagination of children was a refreshing change. It doesn’t hurt that Nette Hilton has always been one of my favourite authors for kids.

Pyro is stuck. His mum is looking after his grandmother, his dad is working long hours, and so Pyro is on landed with his Aunt Mor in her caravan. Believe it or not, he would rather be in school with his friends. In fact he is desperate to get back home to help Geezer with their joint pirate project. But stuck at the beach with his aunt, all Pyro can do is imagine what life would be like as a pirate. But one day, Pyro meets Min and his four legged friend Becks, and straight after that he meets the Worries, the local bullies. The Worries quickly decide that both Pyro and Min are worthy targets and life becomes ‘interesting’.

This is a story about the quickly changing moods of childhood. In a week Pyro goes from miserably sitting alone in the caravan writing desperate letters home to the other extreme of wishing he could stay with Min and Becks. But we all know that Aunty Mor is going to move on, and holidays and their friendships must come to an end. However, Pyro has learned a lot during this week.

May 2

Captain Congo and the Crocodile King by Ruth Starke

Haven’t times changed. There was a day when a book like this would be taken off any boy trying to read it and a boring chapter book shoved in his face instead. Now this graphic nove/comic book has been actually nominated as the CBC picture book of the year.

Captain Congo and his offsider Pug the Penguin are off to Africa to rescue a missing archaeologist. The man was last seen searching for the lost Treasure of the Queen of Sheba. Congo and Pug travel by tramp steamer, encountering spies, murderers, crocs and angry natives.

This book is right out of the 50s. It reads like a Saturday afternoon serial, one madcap adventure after another with a bare minimum of plot in between. But that is fine because that is exactly the what the book pretends to be. The presentation is so much like those comic books from the 50s that I thought for a moment time had run in reverse.

But it is a great, entertaining read.