July 2006 Archives

Does my head look big in this?

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Randa Abdel Fattah
Marion Lloyd Books
0439950589
May 2006
�It�s been the �wogs�, the �nappy heads�, the �foreigners� the �persons of Middle Eastern appearance�, the Asians, the �oppressed� women, the Greek Orthodox pensioner chain-smoker, the �salami eaters�, the �ethnics�, the narrow-minded and the educated, the fair-dinkum wannabes, the principal with hairy ears who showed me that I am a colourful adjective. It�s their stories and confrontations and pains and joys which have empowered me to know myself, challenged me to embrace my identity as a young Australian-Palestinian-Muslim girl.�

At the start of the novel Amal Mohsamed Nasrullal Abdel-Hakim is beginning a new year at school. She makes the decision to wear the hajib (veil), a choice which shocks the staunchly traditional McCleans Grammar School � with �more than one hundred years of proud history� �, shakes her friends and concerns her parents.

An interesting balance between being assimilated into Australian society and retaining one�s religious and cultural convictions is found by Amal. Enviably, this breaks down some of the stereotypical views of Islam that have been promulgated in the wake of terror� It also provides a fresh outlook on what in essence are fairly mainstream topics in teenage literature.

Amal finds romantic interest in studious, sensitive Adam, this is tempered towards close friendship, conflicts arise resulting from parental influence and there are preoccupations with image and weight. As a construct, the hajib is a particularly pertinent one in this respect, the intentions of adorning it are to help focus on internal beauty rather than its external manifestations � in a world where the media have constantly manipulated acceptable body imagery this comes as a refreshing change.

It is the courage of her convictions that make Amal such a strong and endearing protagonist and it is through her discussions with teachers, friends and family that she is able to arrive at and embrace her �identity�, however, wide or narrow that might be perceived as being by her compatriots.




Granny Sarah and the Last Red Kite

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Malachy Doyle, ill. Petra Brown
Pont Books
184323677
Jun 2006
The red kite in �Granny Sarah and the last red kite� evokes far more than mere ornithological interest. Vested within it is the sense of special accord Lowri feels for the stories from her Granny Sarah�s past, for her Granny Sarah�s house and its surroundings and ultimately of course for her Granny Sarah too!

The story charts the history of the red kite in Britain beginning with the legendary veneration of the birds by the King of England who praised their ability to keep clean the streets of London but moving through to the disparagement they suffered at the hands of farmers and game-keepers who believed them responsible for the death of too much poultry and their eventual extermination in both England and Scotland.

Moving into Granny Sarah�s own past, the story tells of the last mating pair of red kites in Wales who nested in an old oak tree at the bottom of her childhood farm. The pair are threatened as a child endeavours to earn a little money from an egg-collector by raiding the nest. Quick thinking and determination on the part of Granny Sarah are able to save the brood, however and the young are reared successfully, securing the fate of the red kite in Wales.

A fact sheet about the red kite is included within the book providing facts about the birds, where they might be sighted and directing readers to sites for further information.

Childhood nostalgia and Malacy Doyle�s awareness of the importance of stories combine to make this a particularly heart-warming book. The story is empowering in that it stimulates recognition that as part of a community we can all play a role in conserving the diversity of our countryside and the heritage of our land. The red kite itself is a perfect and inspiringly powerful motif to capture this and Petra Brown�s soaring illustrations fully realise this.



The Ex-Files

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Pete Johnson
Puffin Books
0141319836
Jul 2006
�You�re here because you can�t believe how miserable you feel. In fact, right now it�s crushing you. And you don�t know how you�re going to get through it.�

Split between two narrative voices, those of Bella and Danny, �The Ex-Files� uncovers the feelings of rejection and loss following the end of a relationship and brilliantly charts the onset of changed behaviour and attitude that often follow. Balance is achieved between normalising these feelings � depicting the way people tend to be afflicted � whilst sensitively maintaining the individuality of both cases.

�The Ex-Files� themselves are a secret organisation led by the enigmatic Rupert and Juliette from the seemingly unlikely though remarkably homely environs of �The Copper Kettle�, a local tea-room serving fresh-baked scones. Keenly aware of the mentality of the �dumpee� and of the power wielded over them by the �dumper�, Rupert and Juliette have established a professionally run organisation offering advice and a twenty-four-hour listening service.

The novel succeeds admirably in taking seriously and not devaluing the emotional-base of teenage relationships and therefore not downplaying the impacts of their demise. Readers become more and more involved in the stories of Bella whose seemingly sensitive and philosophical boyfriend Luc has fallen for Bella�s best-friend Andrea and Danny whose infatuation with Nicole has led to his being over-possessive thereby eventually losing her� As the stories unfold both guidance and reassurance are imparted through the maxims of the society: �As Rupert says, �Don�t let life happen to you � stay in control.��

It is no surprise that when first relationships draw to a close, recipients within them can feel their world is eroding away. Having little experience to draw upon and to contextualise the depressing sense of loss can weigh especially heavy and appear unending. Through fiction Pete Johnson here deftly provides perspective. Not only should �The Ex-Files� be essential post-relationship reading, it is fundamental for all adults who have forgotten just how serious first relationships truly do feel�



On the Ghost Trail

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Chris Powling
A & C Black
0713676809
Jun 2006
Sibling jibes, rivalry and jackanapes form the background to Chris Powling�s book �On the Ghost Trail� which forms a part of the �Mystery and Adventure Stories� collection for year three pupils in A & C Black�s �White Wolves� range for guided reading. An accompanying resource guide can be bought to support use in class. This series has been developed in conjunction with the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education.

People often attribute shared characteristics between dog and owner, here it is grandpa�s house that is painted as being similar to him � it being old, creaky and somewhat untidy! It makes a classic setting for a ghost story,

Adam plants the seed of doubt in his younger brother and sister�s minds (Ben and Susie respectively) when he suggests that the cobwebs in the fireplace are actually trails left behind by ghosts, or that the twig tap-tap-tapping on the window pane is in fact a ghost�s heart beat.

So begins a midnight mission, a dare amongst the two brothers that they should visit a nearby graveyard. Whilst there, however, a flash of intense light startles them and they immediately run for safety� Is the light a supernatural apparition or is there a more surprising ending still?! A fun book that explores the nature of bravery.



Taking Flight

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Julia Green
A & C Black
0713675942
Jun 2006
A father figure is absent for Luke in �Taking Flight� by Julia Green. It is easy to empathise therefore with the sense of closeness existing between Luke and his grandfather, who appears to constitute the boy�s sole paternal influence. His grandfather�s house and its gardens represent a safe-haven for him, an area in which Luke�s imagination is unshackled, a clear opposition to the rigour and rules implied in his school life. The sense of freedom and the ability Luke has to be a child: to explore, to discover, to play and to imagine, relieve him of responsibility.

This carefree existence is shattered by the impending sense of reality that is unwittingly imposed through the concerns of Luke�s mother. �In the car, she tells Luke that he ought to help Grandad in the house more. �Didn�t you see the piles if dirty dishes in the sink?�� This tension between the responsibilities of adulthood and the carefree time of childhood is never resolved and highlights the ways in which children in single parent families sometimes appropriate adult anxieties.

Nonetheless, grandfather�s condition is deteriorating and he is eventually admitted to hospital. Luke makes him a promise that he will look after his pigeons, but soon after realises that his unlikely to recover. The ending to the novel is at once poignant, moving and uplifting as the pigeons fly-off into the sky and Luke and his mother move into the home where he has memories of enjoying his childhood.

�Taking Flight� forms one of the novels in A & C Black� guided reading series �White Wolves�, this novel is a part of the �Stories that raise issues� collection for year four pupils and there is a teacher�s resource pack that can be bought alongside it to facilitate use in the classroom. The book, however, is a perfectly satisfactory read in its own right too.



In The Bush

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Roland Harvey
Allen and Unwin
1741145929
Jun 2006
The hustle, bustle and jostling of family life are perfectly presented in Roland Harvey�s �In the Bush�. The narrative voices of five family members are successfully interwoven in this picture books, giving a meticulous multi-dimensional account of a family camping holiday with dad�s insistent needs concerning the campsite, Uncle Kevin�s dare devil deeds and Frankie�s exuberance about pretty much everything.

Each double-page spread features a large illustration � the type with such minute detail that means they can be pored over for hours by those with eager eyes! The illustrations bleed into a white footer within which the narrative is told utilising a mixture of text and snapshot illustration providing vignettesin a hybridisation of the picture book and graphic novel forms. Maps included within the footer section make it possible to chart the family�s journeys and adventuring and give an �as it happens� feel.

A big thank you also to Allen and Unwin for detailing the illustration techniques used within the book � in this case dip pen and watercolour � if only all publishers would follow suite. This is a picture book with a fresh and funny style.



Elsewhere

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Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
Bloomsbury
074757720X
June 2006

I've always secretly believed that my pets could understand everything I said, and that it was my own ignorance of their language which made meaningful communication a problem. It seems Gabrielle Zevin has a similar inkling, since her latest book (just published in paperback) opens with a moving account of a dog's reaction to her teenage owner's death, and its frustration at not being understood by the remaining members of the family. My heart was immediately won over by this touching prologue, which sets the tone for what becomes a magical, philosophical and tender interpretation of the Afterlife.

Following the post-death journey of a teenage girl, Liz, who is killed in a hit-and-run accident, Elsewhere's title refers to a kind of alternative heaven in which people age backwards and eventually start all over again, coming back to Earth as babies. On arriving in Elsewhere, Liz goes through the inevitable stages of denial, bitterness and desperation before coming to accept her new (non)life. She finds her niche as a dog warden (people in Elsewhere have 'Avocations' rather than jobs) and discovers she has a natural gift for speaking canine.

A far cry from other prescriptive and clich�d (and often religiously weighted) metaphorical novels on death, Zevin has created an inspiring fantasy that encourages light-hearted contemplation on what would normally be a gloomy subject. Her airy, fluent prose conjures a dream-like, expectant atmosphere, and her engaging characters literally bring death to life. Elsewhere has all the ingredients of a classic teenage rites-of-passage, but with an elegant, original twist that sets it apart from the rest.



Dino-Dinners

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Mick Manning and Brita Granstr�m
Frances Lincoln
1845076842
Jul 2006
If you�re struggling to tell the difference between an Oviraptor and a Velociraptor, or knowing your Tyrannosaurus from your Brachiosaurus, �Dino-Dinners� is the book for you.

Published by Frances Lincoln in conjunction with the National History Museum, �Dino-Dinners� ties in with the opening of the museum�s new family exhibition �Dino Jaws�. Granstr�m and Manning have joined forces here to outline the dietary delectations of numerous dinosaurs. These are told in verses alongside illustrations of the giant lizards dining.

Each dinosaur entry is supplemented by a black-and-white illustrated fact box, providing pronunciation details for their names, the time period in which they lived, their size and other facts. This is a great first book about dinosaurs and one that will have you coming back to find out more time after time.

Poo is the new black in children�s literature and, as is the inevitable conclusion with even the most delicious dining experience, this book ends with a great dino-dollop of the stuff�




J is for Jamaica

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Benjamin Zephaniah
Frances Lincoln
1845074017
Jun 2006
�celebrate a small island with a big heart, a place that pulsates to music, a place where, if you wait long enough, fruit will fall from a tree to feed you.�

What constitutes our memories and impressions of a place? Whatever else may play a part, the role of the senses is key, perhaps a sound, a scent, taste, a sight or a particular feeling might evoke an instant picture of a place so potent as to make one pause for thought, lost amidst the concentration of contemplation.

Frances Lincoln�s books �A is for Africa�, �B is for Brazil�, �C is for China� et al, are keenly aware of this and the interplay between poetic diction and photographic recording of the sights, sounds and symbols of countries other than our own open up other lands to us...

�J is for Jamaica� is the most recent book which, like its predecessors, features vivacious language and vivid pictures. Performance poet, Benjamin Zephaniah, has written the text here and it positively oozes with his enthusiasm for the juicy joys of Jamaica leading through a description of the savoury and sweet Ackee fruit, up the rainbow-strewn Blue Mountain, along the waterfalls and beaches, into the heart of the market and home safe beneath the protection of a zinc roof.

As part of the key stage two geography curriculum, many children will study the Caribbean, focusing particularly on St. Lucia , �J is for Jamaica� can�t fail to augment their learning and to bring to life the one love of Jamaica.




Snap!

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Mick Manning and Brita Granstr�m
Frances Lincoln
1845074084
Jun 2006
Guzzle, gobble, snap, snap, ate, caught, snap, snap, swallow� There�s a wonderful style and warmth of expression in Mick Manning and Brita Granstr�m's latest collaboration, �Snap!�. Starting with the imperative, �Look!� it presents readers with an x-ray-specs-view of the food-chain in masticatory-motion!

End papers are a remarkably reminiscent abstract of collage material evoking grasslands, the horizon and the wide expanse of sky. This rich and multi-layered technique of collage forms the backdrop for each of the pages with coloured pencil and ink being used to overlay additional fine detail. The resultant illustrations effervesce with all the energy and humorous expression familiar to followers of Granstr�m and Manning�s work.

The text brims with playful good humour and chuckles along delighting in the variety and range of the English language, establishing a rhythmic pace that makes this an ideal book for reading aloud and for performance.



Sara's Face

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Melvin Burgess
Andersen Press
1842701800
Jun 2006

�When Bernardette first met Jonathan Heat, she thought of him as a kind of wounded saint, a man with the power to transform the lives of others, but tragically, never his own. Yet by the end, she�d come to believe that he�d led Sara into his own doom, deep into a mental illness, in the disguise of treatment; and finally to an extreme form of self harm, in which she was willing to sacrifice herself to feed his vanity.�

The ability of the media to mythologise the famous, renouncing notions of talent, value and of worth in favour of gratification that is instantaneous and immediately apparent lies at the heart of �Sara�s Face�. A caricaturised society is depicted where idiots are idolised and idols are made idiotic.

In Jonathan Heat, Melvin Burgess has penned the fatally flawed hero of a Gothic Romance, brilliantly transposing him upon the popular iconography of modernity. The story that surrounds Heat is one that is suffused with mystery and uncertainty. In a move that parallels the lives and levels of appropriation made common in the biographical detail of many an iconic star of our age, Burgess reveals in true tabloid-sensationalist-exclusive style the degrees to which the scourge of disposability and consumerist tendencies have infiltrated popular consciousness and indeed conscience. This is not so much one of Burgess�s alleged assaults on morals, but rather an assault on the types of assault morals have been assaulted by!

Within the context of comments on childhood arising through �children�s literature� the novel challenges the manner in which the transition from childhood to adulthood is eroded and pushed back further and further by consumerist tendencies as market-forces have come to realise the weight and value of kid-coinage� Sara�s currency is her youth itself and subtle reference to the sexualised relationship she shares with Heat make for a deeply disturbing read in which her trust is continually abused.

One of the most relevant and resonant novels for teenagers published this year, underpinning �Sara�s Face� are explorations of identity, and of the mechanics via which self and society act individually, interact symbiotically and react against one another. This is a fascinating and intricate novel that holds up to repeated re-reading, revealing the complexity of its inner-workings through careful obfuscation and revelation, here is a book not to be taken at face value�


On the Summer House Steps

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Anne Fine
Corgi
0552552690
Jun 2006
"Maybe I am the only person in the world who wants to be different from what I am."

Anne Fine�s first two novels for children, �The Summer House Loon� and �The Other Darker Ned� are conflated with a brief bridging interlude under the new title �On the Summerhouse Steps�.

Fine�s narrative style in these first two novels remains as fresh and observant as it must have been on first publication in 1978 and 1979, it is reminiscent of the light-refracting sparkle and the musical tinkles as ice-drifts-against-glass in summer imbibes.

Structured in two parts the novel charts the ways in which Ione, the protagonist changes and develops. The concept of change - whether that be physical, emotional or change of beliefs, remains a central preoccupation in Fine's body of writing. The first part of the novel sees Ione bring together her father, Professor Muffet�s, secretary Caroline and Ned Hump, one of his students with whom Ione forms an instant affinity whilst �on the summerhouse steps�. Ione presents as a slightly younger, less experienced take-on Jane Austen�s �Emma� in this first part of the novel, interested for the most part in the lives and concerns of others rather than fully aware of herself..

The second part sees Ione fall prey to the proverbial fate of the eavesdropper as she hears her father despair as to how his daughter is frittering her life away. Following this and a vision of a boy starving in India, with the help of Ned Hump, Ione sets about raising money for the famished. The development of philanthropic interests contrasts markedly here with Caroline�s self-interest and obsession.

During the re-setting of the novel, Anne Fine has taken the opportunity to edit and bring the books up-to-date. As the first books by an extraordinarily diverse and always socially relevant author, Anne Fine�s �On the Summerhouse Steps� deserves a place on the shelves of everyone interested in the history and development of children�s literature.




Becoming Bindy Mackenzie

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Jaclyn Moriarty
Macmillan Children's Books
0330438840
May 2006
�So, basically, we read your whole life story, Bindy, and PLEASE DON�T BE MAD. We felt guilty, but you say in the introduction that it�s a FAD assignment, so we are actually FAD. We ARE your life raft, Bindy, so we thought the LIFE raft should read the LIFE story. In case it would help with all those issues you were telling us about tonight.�

Think of the laughs with Louise Rennison� think of the angst in Jacqueline Wilson, then� think again! Jaclyn Moriarty is endowed with an all-too-rare ability not only to write convincingly using the voices of teenagers with their curious mix of laconic wit and personal anguish, but also to weave around this devilish plots that keeps readers caught dually between delight and deduction�

Alarmingly intelligent and precocious in the extreme, Bindy Mackenzie is seen as something of a fearsome individual by her peers. Readers of Jaclyn�s first two novels for teenagers �Feeling Sorry for Celia� and �Finding Cassie Crazy� will be familiar with the setting, Ashbury High and will find herein a number of old friends from these novels.

Bindy�s story is told in the form of memos on personal stationery that Bindy herself has created, e-mails to her mother and father and numerous other epistolary forms. Looking at the type of response Bindy receives from her parents makes one realise the crushing importance of communication between parents and child and the lack of meaningful interaction that modern ICT methods provide as a substitute for one-on-one attention.

Under the instruction of one Try Montaine, a seemingly liberal, left-wing teacher, Ashbury High has developed a new strand of study skill session called �Friendship and Development� (FAD for short). Initially sceptical of the lessons, Bindy writes several acerbic letters to the director of the Office of the board of studies, complaining that FAD distracts her from her studies.

FAD, however, is not all that it seems and is a clever subterfuge behind which a fiendish attempt on Bindy�s life is being made. In spite of this, the classes develop in Bindy and her classmates a real sense of union, care and understanding as each member of the group communicates themselves more fully and openly.

�Becoming Bindy Mackenzie� is life-affirming and touching without falling into the swampish grounds of sentimentality and didacticism. Jaclyn Moriarty has a wonderfully light, butterfly-touch that enables the consideration of deep and profound issues alongside points where the narrative flair is so witty that the book becomes almost too heavy to hold whilst laughing so loudly. This is a rollicking rollercoaster ride for the emotions, revel in it!



The Spook's Secret

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Joseph Delaney, ills. David Wyatt
The Bodley Head
0370328280
Jul 2006
"It's going to be a long, hard, cruel winter, son. All the signs are there... It's going to be harsh and I don't think any of us will come through it unchanged."

Located firmly amidst the legend and lore of Lancashire, Joseph Delaney�s �The Wardstone Chronicles� are curios amidst the trend for series fiction. Whilst each of the stories is inter-connected, sharing at heart a base of the same characters, a �local-to-Lancashire� setting and the premise that the dark is growing in power, each story also very much stands on its own.

�The Spook�s Secret�, the third book in the series sees Tom Ward learn more about his tutor, John Gregory and the types of personal experience with regards to love, life and trust that have served to influence his world-view. This is encapsulated in an epic struggle between the twin forces of good and evil as attempts are made to raise Golgoth, a pagan god of destruction.

It is the over-arching themes of the series that really cohere these books. The depiction of women and the types of cruelty that befall witches, the parallel constructs of child-development that explore issues of nurture versus nature focused on Tom Ward the seventh son of a seventh son who is apprenticed to be good and to banish malign influences from the county and upon Alice, a witch-child who forms an alliance with Tom and the types of person they will grow up to be as well as the flawed nature of the Spook himself and his prejudice gradually unfold throughout the series. It is interesting to track these through the books and to wonder how they will develop in future�




Deogratias

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J. P. Stassen, Transl. Alexis Siegel
First Second
1596431032
Jun 2006
"Another madman... All that's left are corpses, madmen and dogs..."

Stassen beautifully captures the colour and the sense of calm of the Rwandan environs by day and by night in �Deogratias�. There is an appalling juxtaposition between this and the horrors perpetrated against the Tutsi as the Hutu vie for supremacy of the land in the aftermath of colonial �divide and rule� tactics.

Told in the form of a graphic novel, �Deogratias� follows a boy of the same name as he jointly wanders the streets of the present and achingly struggles, quite literally, to drown his sorrows through drinking Urwagwa, the banana beer that is traditional in his country.

Three depictions of Deogratias are presented within the book, the first sees him wide-eyed with horror, dressed in tattered clothing, the second as an immaculately presented young man, keen to impress the Tutsi young ladies Apollinaria and Benina. The third and most disturbing sees Deogratias take on the appearance and characteristics of a dog, the shocking reason for which becomes apparent as the story unfurls�

Essentially a story of love and of loss, what makes �Deogratias� such a memorable, abhorrent and at once vitally important read is the central role Deogratias plays in the genocide of the Tutsi, the pack-mentality that he becomes a part of and the dog-eat-dog attributes that engulf him both physically and mentally following this. As readers we live our experiences vicariously alongside Deogratias, feel his anger, hurt, sorrow and pain.

Alexis Siegel, the translator provides a useful introduction that contextualises the history of the decimation of the Tutsi people. This grounds the novel in a realism that cannot easily be shed and which, by consequence, spreads a chill throughout the course of the book.

If the cry of �never again� which followed the Holocaust is to have meaning, an understanding of the types of brutality exercised against a set of people, an awareness of the mechanics that drive conflict and that see difference only as threat needs to be located firmly into the consciousness of society. Creative works such as �Deogratias� play a key role in achieving that by making one think and feel more, stimulating empathy, understanding and the deep-stirrings of compassion.




Megan McDonald ill. Peter H Reynolds
Walker Books
0744583691
Jul 2006
"Once he started, Stink could not stop writing letters. He wrote a letter to Webster (the friend, not the dictionary). He wrote a letter to his other best friend, Elizabeth, who liked to be called Sophie of the Elves. He even wrote a letter to his teacher, telling her how great he was at writing letters."

Megan McDonald, author of the perennially popular Judy Moody series, has created a spin-off featuring Judy�s brother Stink. In �Stink and the Incredible Super-Galactic Jawbreaker�, Stink is disappointed to find that the aforementioned jawbreaker in fact does nothing of the sort and that his jaw remains very firmly still in tact.

Stink sends a letter of complaint to the company and receives a mammoth box of complimentary sweets. From here-on-in he writes numerous letters and receives a good number of replies, unfortunately amidst this deluge of post one important piece of mail gets lost thereby threatening Stink�s friendship with Webster� Can this be remedied?

This is a fun, easy-to-read novel that will appeal to boys, particularly those with sisters who are ardent fans of the Judy Moody titles. Peter H. Reynold�s illustrations really help to bring the book to life. Look out for another adventure featuring Stink �Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid�.




Tashi and the Forbidden Room

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Anna and Barbara Fienberg ill. Kim Gamble
Allen and Unwin Children's Books
174114731X
May 2006
�Now let�s look at this marvellous world of ours and think where we would most like to explore.�

The twelfth book in the series about Tashi, �Tashi and the Forbidden Room� sees the hero regale his audience, within which readers become cleverly included, with two further tales from his time back in the village�

The first of these adventures is a rip-roaring, rollicking, re-telling of the legend of Bluebeard with Tashi firmly at the centre as the hero. Tashi confides in his best friend Jack that Bluebeard has been the most terrifying villain he has ever faced.

The second story �The Three Tasks� re-introduces a familiar adversary, the Baron. The Baron�s peacock has gone missing and Pongo his dog is, alas, found with incriminating feathers around him and a mouth soaked in blood. The Baron threatens him with death, but allows opportunity for reprieve provided that Tashi is able to complete three tasks.

Firstly the Baron expects to hear Tashi but not to see him. Secondly Pongo must no longer bleed and his cuts must be healed. Finally, the peacock must be back in the garden alive.

Anna and Barbara Fienberg really bring stories to life in this series of novels that are perfect as introductions to reading and to the backdrop of mythic and legendary tales. Kim Gamble�s illustrations give an other-worldy aspect to the books making for beautifully packaged collections of stories that introduce new readers to the magic, wonder and endless possibilities of story-telling and reading.




Do Not Read or Else

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Pat Moon ill. Sarah Naylor
Orchard Books
1846160820
Jun 2006
The amorphous, ponderous style of Finch�s narration and its informal typography belie what is at heart a sophisticated instalment in the self-chronicled life of Finch Penny. As with the previous two novels in the series, �Do not read this book� and �Do not read any further�, the novel is written in diary form with zany, child-like illustrations provided by Sarah Nayler.

With interspersed diversions in the form of sleepover parties, friendships and amorous intentions with her boyfriend Jay, the novel for the most part centres around Finch�s quest to find her father.

Finch�s irreverent style of writing and her vivacious take on life make it difficult not to be swept along by the narrative of this enjoyable novel. Great care with typography, design and illustration of the book help to lend an authentic air to the novel as a twelve-year-old�s diary. Orchard Books have placed the rights page at the end of the novel in order that it constitutes less of an intrusion to readers.

A cliff-hanger ending whereby Finch meets her father and his family but does not entirely see eye-to-eye with them leaves open a great chunk of her life-to-come a factor which might well influence any proposed fourth instalment to the series�?!



Scarlett

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Cathy Cassidy
Puffin Books
0141320222
Jun 2006
�She�s the one with the choices, she�s the one calling the shots. I just get pushed around from place to place, like a bit of unwanted luggage.�

After the acrimonious separation of her mother and father, the eponymous Scarlett inherits the wrath and hurt her mother feels. She thereby disassociates herself from her father. This manifests itself in acts of rebellion and anger quite singular for a twelve-year-old child.

At the end of her tether, Scarlett�s mother, who after leaving her husband has become a high-flying professional, makes the decision that as a last, �last chance� her daughter would be best placed with her father, his new partner and child. Furious that her own views and voice with regards to her future have been so much marginalised Scarlett treads a familiar path of self-destruction. However, meeting Kian a mysterious boy with a horse, allows Scarlett opportunity to reflect upon some of the hurt and pain in her life, which become the first steps in the long-walk toward healing.

There are many writers whose novels burst at the seams with their glut of grievances and ungracious depictions of the children they concern. Few writers explore �problems� and �issues�, with the grace, warmth and sincerity with which Cathy Cassidy�s do. Her writing shows an awareness that it is subtlety of style and it is the small unobtrubsive details that makes for profundity and lasting imprints upon mind and memory of readers�



The Death Gene

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Malcolm Rose
Simon and Schuster
0689875096
Jun 2006
��all these amazing twists of fate couldn�t happen purely by chance. They were firm evidence of a God who was orchestrating everything. And that would convince them that the were carrying out His will. Karl believed more in bad luck than in God.�

The advancement of the sciences and of technology form the backdrop to Malcolm Rose�s novels. �The Death Gene�, his latest, looks at the frighteningly real possibility of synthesising life, the profound impacts this might cause and the types of usage and abusage for which such knowledge might be appropriated.

The work of biologist Eve Perry provides a grim insight into the way scientific development is able to be used to wield power by extremists� whether political, military, religious or environmental in intent. The novel is split into two parts, the first sees Karl Stephenson and Finn Pallister entrusted with knowledge about bacterial synthesis, sees an outbreak of a new super-bug illness and the quest for its cure through utilising the bacteria�s �death gene� a specially developed �self-destruct� unit. The concluding part of the is novel an-against-the-clock race as an extremist scientist endeavours to destroy the �death gene� thereby unleashing a deadly virus against humanity, a new, unseen weaponry.

"The Death Gene" is admirably wide in scope, it makes accessible the Nietzschean idea that 'God is dead', exploring the implications thereof to modern religion, to morality and the study of science and the need for an intrinsic set of ethics as part of that. The novel packs an uncompromising, and for many of its characters, an unforgiving emotional punch and is a potent reminder that scientific intelligence can only be utilised responsively by those with emotional intelligence...




Slawter

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Darren Shan
HarperCollins
0007229550
Jun 2006
�Never trust fairy tales. Any story that ends with �They all lived happily ever after� is a corck. There are no happy endings. No endings, full stop. Life goes on. There�s always something new around the corner. You can overcome major obstacles, face great danger, look evil in the eye and live to tell the tale � but that�s not the end.�

God of all things gruesome and gory, Darren Shan, returns with his highly anticipated third book in the Demonata series; �Slawter�. Readers of �Lord Loss� and �Demon Thief� will be familiar with the story of Grubbs Grady whose family has been decimated by an unfortunate inherited trait�

�Slawter� sees Grubbs and his uncle Dervish visiting the set of horror movie producer David A (more correctly Davida) Haym�s latest cinematic epic. Frustrated by obvious simulations of monsters, Haym has resolved to avoid such falsity in this work-in-progress.

Shan delights in pushing ideas to the absolute extremity, his demons are bizarre apparitions with fire in their eyes and snakes in their bellies. A burlesque romp about movie-making, there are few surprises in this story�s subtleties and narrative nuances are pretty much non-existent� Despite this �Slawter� remains curiously compelling, the interplay between the over-arching story and the meta-narrative of the movie creates that level of verve and vitality that Shan�s readers expect as standard. The movie dimension to the novel is entirely convincing as the prose is incredibly visual making this a perfect book to entice less confident or keen readers who will be left with a murderous appetite for more...




Hothouse Flower

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Rose Impey
Orchard Books
1846162157
May 2006
Whether it be illegal and illicit orchid growing by grandpa, the hidden box of secrets that grandma has kept, or the secret that forms the backdrop to the over-bearing and over-protective influences exerted over Chloe Wells by her parents � particularly her mother � enigma runs rife in �Hothouse Flower�, the new novel by Rose Impey.

The novel opens dramatically during Chloe�s involvement in a road traffic accident. Chapters are interspersed between past and present and Chloe has all the appearances of a highly intelligent though somewhat insular girl. Conscious of her supposed inadequacies, Chloe is reticent about making friends but soon develops strong bonds with Delia and Robbie, two other children within the hospital.

A clear juxtaposition between the insular and private family life of Chloe and the extrovert school based existence of Robbie is posited. An over-arching question as to what is most natural, normal or grounding for child-development is posed.

The �hothouse� evokes parallels between nature and childhood of the kind that have a great ancestry in children�s literature � think about the woodland environs in �Children of the New Forest�, the fervour of natural life and the cycle of the seasons in �The Wind in the Willows� and of course the regenerative qualities nature holds in �The Secret Garden�. Here the parallel between nature and childhood is restricted and confined within the heat of an oppressive domesticity, analagous perhaps of our society whose legislative aims for child protection are perhaps limiting growth and development.

Towards the end of the novel as the secret that Chloe�s mother, Marian has been keeping is revealed, the �hothouse� that has played so formative a role in Chloe�s childhood years is shattered. A well-realised, thought-provoking and highly unusual novel.