April 26

Polar Boy by Sandy Fussell

What an unusual book! This shortlisted book for younger readers is amazing and very, very different.

Iluak is a young man living in a polar community. When I was a child we called this culture Eskimo, now I believe the term is Inuit. At first the setting in time is unclear. But in these old unchanging societies, history is calculated differently. Iluak is frightened of everything. But his Nana claims that he is the bear caller and will face a bear to save his family. As this story unfolds, Nana’s predictions come true and eventually the final bear is faced. 

I found the writing riveting. One of the early chapters sees Iluak fall through the ice while on a seal hunt. The tension in that chapter simply caught my interest and held it until I finished the book in one sitting. 

Once again, I don’t think the publishers did the right thing in the cover of the book. In many ways this is a coming of age novel about a young man finding the road he will take in maturity. Unfortunately the front cover shows a very young boy, certainly not representative of the image I have of Iluak.

In spite of the cover, this is a worthy inclusion in this years CBC short list.

April 26

Seacastle by Tansy Rayner Roberts

This is another book that was read long ago. Therefore some of the details are unclear.

Two brothers, opposites in every way, live on the shore of Lake shimmer. When Thomas hears the call from the lake, he throws himself in without thinking. Nick, who is older and more practical, jumps in as well in an effort to save his brother. And there begins an adventure…

Seacastle is the first of a series of books written for young readers. Each book is written by a different Australian author, but all have a linking theme as the race of the Shimmaron try to reunite. Children must help them find each other and repair their ship in order to go home.

This is a very pleasant fantasy book for readers aged 8-10.

April 26

Hocus Pocus versus the Stinky Pong by Laura Milligan

Recognize the author’s name? A few weeks ago I heard a radio interview with the daughter of Spike Milligan about a new children’s book she had written. During the interview she talked about her father’s wonderful imagination and his ability to tell stories that kept his children enthralled. Reading this book is as delightful as listening to a Goon Show! Thank goodness another Milligan is continuing the family tradition.

Hocus Pocus is a very happy island, filled with magic, friendly giants and absolute silliness. That is until it is invaded by a mysterious pong and green slime. Then adults start to disappear! It is up to Lucy, Joe and Grandfather to solve the mystery.

I absolutely adored the silliness. This book was fun to read. Half of my fun was imagining Spike Milligan reading the voices. But children will love this book as well. There is certainly enough naughtiness to delight any 8 year old. And the whole idea of a wizzlepop competition …

April 26

Dogstar by Philip Dalkin

I read this book about a year ago. I wasn’t inspired to review it then, and even less so now. 

Set in the distant future, Earth is facing imminent disaster. The only solution is to pack up all of humanity and move to a new planet. All goes well, until it is discovered that the ship carrying all pet dogs has gone missing. An entrepreneur makes millions selling robotic dogs, but they are not the same. So the Clark children head off to find their beloved pet…

This book is the basis for an award winning animated television series. I can see the scope for a superb adventure series. But reading the book is a bit like watching Saturday morning television. Time has been wasted and nothing gained.

April 25

Tom Tom by Rosemary Sullivan

This is a beautiful book for young children. The illustrations are amazing and the very simple story of Tom Tom’s average day is somehow ideal.

Tom Tom is a very young boy who spends every day with his mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grannys and cousins. He visits Grannie Annie every day, goes to school, then down to Lemonade Springs to swim with his brothers and sisters and cousins, and then home to sleep with Granny May and Grandfather Joe. This is a simple story of an average day. No drama, no disaster, just a warm caring story.

The simple story accompanied by Dee Huxley’s illustrations express to even the youngest child the life of an Aboriginal boy living in Australia’s Top End. This story for an audience of children at about the same age, is sure to improve understanding between the two races that share this country.

April 25

Leaves by David Ezra Stein

Where I grew up, the leaves fell from all the trees in autumn and we had to watch for bears as we wandered through the woods. For me this book speaks volumes about the changing seasons.

The story is about a young bear in his first year. After playing all summer, he notices that one day the leaves are turning strange colours and falling. He tries to put the leaves back on the tree, but eventually gathers them up to pack into a cave. And so begins this beautiful tale about the changing seasons.

I have been asked to approve this for Australian children though. And I wonder how relevant this story could possibly be. It is designed for very small children, but in this country concepts like hibernation and even falling leaves can mean something quite different.

But from what I can discover this is a first book from Stein. I adored it, and I hope he continues writing. Possibly next time a book for a more international audience.

April 25

Donald Loves Drumming by Nick Bland

Every time a Nick Bland book crosses my desk, I have to stop, make a coffee and read it. With titles like ‘A Monster Wrote me a Letter’ and ‘The Very Cranky Bear’ it is simply not an option to leave the cover closed. ‘Donald Loves Drumming’ is no different. 

On the surface, this is a simple family story about a very normal energetic and noisy boy. Donald loves to drum, and the family find it very difficult. But it is no easier when Donald takes up another pastime like painting or even walking the dog. The difference in this story is the illustrations. They carry the humor of the story even more than the words. 

This is never going to be an award winning book, but I certainly enjoyed this simple family story.

April 25

The Pocket Dogs Go on Holiday by Margaret Wild

Everyone loved The Pocket Dogs, Wild’s first book about the two tiny dogs that loved to be carried in Mr Pockets’ big coat. And this story about their seaside holiday is simply delightful.

Biff and Buff and Mr Pockets travel together to the beach where they have great fun playing in the surf and building sand castles (kennels). But then the big coat disappears…

I am continually amazed that authors can pack so much drama into so few words. But those words would be no where near as powerful without Stephen Michael King’s whimsical drawings that make Biff and Buff so endearing.

This book is wonderful. Maybe not original, but small children don’t care. This is far more like a visit with old friends.

April 25

The Wizard of Rondo by Emily Rodda

Sometime in the next week or two I am going to need to report on the pile of books I have collected together for the Reading Challenge. So this weekend is dedicated to clearing this collection, well, starting to.

This book has also been short listed for the CBC Younger Readers award. Not surprising considering all the hype that was around when the Key to Rondo was released last year.

This time the two children move through the music box simply in order to preserve the illusion that the Key has been destroyed. The idea was to go into Rondo only until the Blue Queen’s spies spotted them and reported back and then return to their normal existence. But wouldn’t you know it, Leo and Mimi got caught up in another quest. This time they were out to rescue Wizard Bing from the cloud castle.

This is very much the next book in the series. Rodda maintained the delightful links to folklore that made her first Rondo book so wonderful. But somehow served up the second time, it doesn’t seem as exciting or as fresh.

I am absolutely certain that thousands of children will eagerly devour the book cover to cover. And the hardcover will help convince parents and grandparents that the children are reading quality literature. And don’t get me wrong, this is still quality literature. Rodda knows that newly confident readers love series. They can comfortably stay in one imaginary place and read forever. It is just that I am greedy. I wanted more from the second book.

April 25

Bones by Jonathan Kellerman

I think I made a mistake. Although several books have been reviewed in between the two, I actually read Bones straight after Obsession. And that was a mistake. I have been reading Kellerman’s Alex Delaware novels every year for the past 20 years, and loving each book in its turn. However, two in a row pointed out the formula Kellerman uses just too obviously.

Innocent youth brutally murdered by a serial killer with a shadowy past. That is the basic plot of all of Kellerman’s works. However, this time the serial killer had been practicing his craft for decades before anyone caught on. And of course it was Alex who decided to go back through the personal backgrounds of everyone even remotely connected to the case and find the link.

This book did introduce a new team of detectives, Moses and Aaron. Moses, or Moe, is a police detective, young and talented, or at least Sturgis thinks so. Aaron was a police detective but long ago left the plodding routine for a much more exciting, or at least profitable, career as a private investigator. Together all four work together and uncover the series of crimes and who-dun-it.

This is an entertaining read, and had I read it as it was released rather than just after Obsession, I am sure that I would have thoroughly enjoyed this like so many other Kellerman novels. And I am not worried by an entertaining read. Sometimes it is nice to have dessert after meat and potatoes.