Elementals: Battle Born by Amie Kaufman

Battle BornTitle: Elementals: Battle Born
Author: Amie Kaufman
Genre: Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins Australia
Published: 1st June 2020
Format: Paperback
Pages: 320
Price: $17.99
Synopsis: The much-anticipated finale to Amie Kaufman’s epic middle-grade trilogy
Though Anders and his friends have delayed a war between the ice wolves and scorch dragons, their mission isn’t over. With adults on both sides looking for them, they’ve sought refuge in Cloudhaven, a forbidden stronghold created by the first dragonsmiths. The ancient text covering Cloudhaven’s walls could be the key to saving their home – if only the young elementals could decipher it.
To make matters worse, Holbard is in ruins and its citizens are reeling. Many have been forced into bleak camps outside the city, and food is running short.
To rebuild Vallen, Anders, Rayna, and their allies must find a way to unite humans, ice wolves, and scorch dragons before they lose their last chance.
In the final book of international bestselling author Amie Kaufman’s sensational adventure series, Anders and Rayna must put everything on the line – and the price of peace may hit closer to home than they could’ve ever imagined.

~*~

Anders and Rayna – twins with ice wolf and dragon blood, and raised with humans – and their friends have thus far delayed a war between the elementals and humans. But they are all hunted, and seek refuge in Cloudhaven, where they hope they can convince each faction, each side, to prevent a war, and rebuild their home, Vallen after uniting wolves, dragons and humans.

This is their last chance – can it be done?

I was sent this to review by HarperCollins – and was worried I wouldn’t be able to engage without having read the first two, but enough was hinted at and revealed that I could follow the story – but perhaps reading it in order is a better way to do so, and that is something I might go back and do eventually.

What I did read, though, was thoroughly enjoyable for readers – it captures the sense of war and rebellion and diversity – from appearance to hidden characteristics. This shows that diversity comes in all forms – and all of it – what we see, what we don’t, and everything in between – is what makes our worlds – real and imagined – richer and more enjoyable and relatable for a wide variety of readers. It shows that the world is diverse – much more diverse than some literature shows. Anyone can relate to these characters – there are aspects about each character that someone might see themselves in and I think Amie did it very well and set it in a world that is both fantastical and has echoes of what has happened and what is going on in our world today. Themes of racism and discrimination are woven throughout how people treat the wolves and dragons, and how they treat each other. A message like this, especially in these trying times when the world has been turned upside down in so many ways.

 

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It is a story about prejudice – what it is, rethinking it and facing it – and forcing change to make a better world for everyone. When the characters in the Elementals series find out what they believed is not true, they must face up to these and change their way of thinking. It is a powerful book and conclusion to the series that can be read by all those who enjoy the series, middle grade fiction and who want a good read as well. It is aimed at ages eight and over, but teenage and adult readers will still fund messages in this book that they can take on board.

The story is engaging and has a good pace – not too fast, and not too slow, allowing the plot and characters to evolve and develop as it heads towards its conclusion. I thought this book was well-written as well. It draws the reader into the story, and as you head along the journey with Anders, Rayna and their friends, you feel the tension, worry and fear, as well as the hope and all the emotions in between. There is a sense that things might not work out, and hints at what has come before that has led to where the characters are now.

Overall, it is a great conclusion to the trilogy, and one that I hope many readers will enjoy.

May 2020 Round Up

In May, we seemed to settle into a lockdown routine, so I got a bit more reading done. This month, I read 20 books – the vast majority of those – seventeen – were by Australian women writers – some for review, some my own reads and one or two that I read alongside Isolation Publicity interviews. Below is a breakdown of my current numbers, and a table with each read and the challenge they worked for. Some categories are easier to fill, as always, and some have multiple entries. I’ve got plenty to read – the books keep coming so I’m trying to keep on top of everything as best I can.

The Modern Mrs Darcy 11/12
AWW2020 -53/25
Book Bingo – 11/12
The Nerd Daily Challenge 45/52
Dymocks Reading Challenge 22/25
Books and Bites Bingo 15/25
STFU Reading Challenge: 10/12
General Goal –89/165

May – 20

Book Author Challenge
The Monstrous Devices Damien Love Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, AWW2020
An Alice Girl Tanya Heaslip Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Daisy Runs Wild Caz Goodwin and Ashley King Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal Anna Whateley Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Her Perilous Mansion Sean Williams Reading Challenge
What Zola did on Monday

 

Melina Marchetta and illustrated by Deb Hudson Reading Challenge, AWW2020, The Nerd Daily Challenge
Henrie’s Hero Hunt (House of Heroes)

 

Petra Hunt Reading Challenge, AWW2020,
The Power of Positive Pranking Nat Amoore Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Edie’s Experiments: How to Make Friends Charlotte Barkla Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Alice-Miranda at School Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily, AWW2020
Alice-Miranda in the Outback Jacqueline Harvey Reading Challenge, AWW2020
The Giant and the Sea Trent Jamieson, Rovina Cai Reading Challenge, Book Bingo, STFU Reading Challenge
Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air by

 

Julie Hunt and Dale Newman Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Orla and the Serpent’s Curse C.J. Halsam Reading Challenge
Elephant Me Giles Andreae and Guy Parker-Rees Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, The Nerd Daily Challenge
A Treacherous Country K.M. Kruimink Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Eloise and the Bucket of Stars Janine Brian Reading Challenge, AWW2020
Snow White and Rose Red: And Other Tales of Kind Young Women  Kate Forsyth and Lorena Carrington Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge, AWW2020, Books and Bites Book Bingo
Tashi: 25th Anniversary Edition

 

Anna Fienberg, Barbara Fienberg and Kim Gamble Reading Challenge, AWW2020
On A Barbarous Coast Craig Cormick and Harold Ludwick Reading Challenge, STFU Reading Challenge, Dymocks Reading Challenge

 

In June I am hoping to read more and get further on top of all my reviews – look for more great books by Australians and especially kids and young adult books to come in the next few weeks.

Peta Lyre

The Power of Positive Pranking by Nat Amoore

positive prankingTitle: The Power of Positive Pranking

Author: Nat Amoore

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 368

Price: $14.99

Synopsis: Green Peas is our name and pranking’s our game!

A symphony of alarm clocks at assembly? Yep, that was us. A stampede of fluffy guinea pigs? That’s next on our agenda.

But for me, Cookie and Zeke, it’s about more than just fun. We’re determined to make a difference. And when the adults won’t listen, us kids will find a way to be heard – as long as we can stay out of detention!
No activist is too small, no prank too big… and things are about to get personal.

Unknown

~*~

Casey, Cookie and Zeke are Watterson Primary School’s best prankers. And so far, they haven’t been caught. Yet they only use their pranks for good – to help people and alert everyone to important issues that the adults in their lives don’t seem to be worried about. It’s all about making sure everyone knows what’s really going on in the world and sometimes, a good prank is what works.

When Casey and her friends find out what Mayor Lupholl has planned for their town at a school assembly, they are catapulted into action to save the park, a beloved tree and the Lego house built in Nat’s previous book, Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire. Yep, Nat has cleverly tied the events and characters, and location of her first book into this one, and both are filled with the same humour and wonderful diversity. Whether it is disability, race, interests, ethics or family make up – Nat has managed to show a diverse world, and one that everyone can relate to in some way. In each book she has had a character or two with an invisible disability – and this is exciting for people who never see themselves represented. In acknowledging invisible disabilities and that disabled people are not to be pitied, Nat has opened the door for more of this representation to follow.

AWW2020

Similarly, with her relationships and the characters races – they just are who they are and this is beautiful to see in a novel for kids so they can see just how diverse the world is.

And we finally learn what positive pranking is and how it works – it mustn’t hurt anyone, but it must send a message – and when Casey needs to pull off the biggest positive prank ever, she has to find a way to get the entire school and her family onside so they can make sure that they don’t lose their beloved town to corrupt forces.

Nat takes issues that might seem complex – politics, the environment, activism – and makes them easy to understand, accessible and of course, fun and humorous. These are issues that affect everyone, as does good representation and it is something that we should all be caring about – which is the message of Nat’s book – to take action where you can and diversity is a good thing! I loved Tess and Toby coming back in – it really tied the two books together nicely, and this is a great way to do so. It’s not really a series based around a concept, plot or characters, as each book can be read on its own, or together. But it could work as a potential series set in the same town and primary school, where you can read any or all of the books – it just makes it more fun to read them together to appreciate all the little nods and hints.

I loved this book, and its predecessor. It took a serious topic, made it fun as well as serious at the same time, and was a nice, engaging read – which also made it a quick read for me. Sometimes there are engaging books like this that can be gobbled up and enjoyed, and then revisited. This is one of those books, and it is one that I think lots of kids will enjoy, and hopefully, relate to and learn something from.

You can read my accompanying interview with Nat here – we agreed to publish the interview and review side by side for publication day.

Isolation Publicity with Nat Amoore – author and co-host of the most wonderful One More Page.

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Due to recent events, many Australian authors have had to cancel book launches and festival appearances. For some, this means new novels, series continuations and debut novels are heading into this scary, strange world without much publicity or attention. The good news is, you can still buy books – online or get your local bookstore to deliver if they’re offering that service. Buying these books, talking about them, sharing them, reading them, reviewing them – are all ways that for the next six months at least, we can ensure that these books don’t fall by the wayside.

Over the next few months, a lot of us will be consuming some form of art – entertainment, movies, TV, radio, music, books – the list goes on. It is something we will be turning to take our minds off things and to occupy vast swathes of free time. One of the things I will be doing to support the arts, and specifically, Australian Authors, will be reading and reviewing as many books as possible, conducting interviews like this where possible, and participating in virtual book tours for authors.

Nat is a kid’s author. She has written Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire, and her latest book, out today, is The Power of Positive Pranking. Nat also runs one of my favourite podcasts, One More Page with Liz Ledden and Kate Simpson, which focuses on Aussie kids books and is a fantastic place to go when looking for your next read or your kid’s next read. Like many authors, Nat had all kinds of awesome events planned around the release of her new book, and visits to bookstores – including my favourite. It would have been really cool to meet Nat – we’ll save that for when we can both get to the best bookstore ever! This is one of my most enthusiastic and fun interviews – they all have been but something about Nat’s books made this loads of fun and hopefully it is filled with laughter for my readers. This was one I wanted to share early, but we both agreed to tee it up with the book release! So enjoy!

Hi Nat and welcome to The Book Muse!

  1. I recently read and reviewed Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire – to begin, where did that idea come from, and how did Tess form in your mind?

The idea originally came from a tiny little newspaper article about a 10-year-old girl in the US who got busted with twenty grand in her school locker. There was no explanation as to how it got there and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. As far as Tess goes, I think anyone who knows me will tell you that there is quite a bit of me in Tess. I was always scheming and scamming when I was a kid and always had (and still do have) a new project on the boil every day.

  1. Your second book, The Power of Positive Pranking has just come out – what exactly is positive pranking?

 

Positive Pranking brings together a few ideas. Firstly, the grey area between right and wrong. I love playing with this as a concept. The idea of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. So using the power of being an awesome prankster for positive reasons/effects. Also, it plays with the idea that there is a ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ way to bring about change. When kids were missing school to participate in climate change rallies, there were a lot of adults saying ‘they should be in school’ or ‘this is not the way to bring about change’ but I think it’s very arrogant to suggest that there is a ‘right’ way to change the world. Effecting change is difficult and it’s hard to know how it should be done. But we have to try.

  1. Have you ever played any positive pranks on anyone, and what were they?

Oh dear, plenty! Some of the pranks in this book are based on VERY personal experiences but to protect the innocent (and more importantly, the guilty) I cannot admit which ones.

  1. Prior to these novels, have you had anything else published?

No. Secrets of a Schoolyard Millionaire was my first publication. Well, that’s not quite true, I had a poem published in a poetry anthology when I was in high school, but other than that…no. The Power of Positive Pranking will be book number two and I have signed two more contracts with Penguin Random House for upcoming books.

  1. Are there any noteworthy awards under your belt?

I had a pretty amazing year at the CYA conference in 2018 where I placed 1st & 2nd in the Picture Book category and 2nd in the Chapter Book for Younger Readers. That same year I was also a recipient of the Maurice Saxby Creative Development Program. It’s also the year I signed my first book contract. 2018 was a big year for me! I also just found out the Secrets Of A Schoolyard Millionaire was Australia’s #1 best-selling debut Aussie Children’s Fiction in 2019 and it’s been sold into three other territories. So that’s pretty awesome!

  1. I absolutely love your podcast with Kate and Liz, One More Page. Where did the idea for the podcast come from, and how do you go about choosing your books for each episode?

Kate, Liz and I wanted to share our love of kids’ books and provide a platform for Australian kidlit authors to really shine. It was before any of us were published but we were deeply involved in the kidlit community and just wanted a way to share the love. We were fans of podcasts and so thought it would be a great medium. At that stage, no one else was really doing a podcast that was specifically about Australian kids’ books (that we knew of) and so we thought it would work well. We get sent many, many, MANY books and review requests from publishers and authors and we choose them like we might in a book shop…whatever grabs us. We read heaps of books and then review the ones we really love.

  1. If you had a million dollars like Tess and Toby, what would you do with it?

I honestly think I would probably do ‘a Tess’. Splurge in the beginning – throw parties, hire jumping castles, eat way too many lollies – and then settle down and work out what good I could do with the money.

  1. Serious question now: Most authors have had launches, and various literary events or conferences cancelled due to the pandemic – what have you had to cancel or reschedule, and which were you most looking forward to?

Aw it hurts a bit to answer this. I had a really incredible couple of months lined up, and it’s all been cancelled unfortunately. I had an awesome book launch planned. I’d hired a whole hall and was going to deck it out in blue and yellow with custom printed fart cushions for all the kids and a ‘safe snack table’ and a ‘prank snack table’ for those who were game. I was then meant to head off on a national book tour including Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide, including TV appearances, school visits, book signings and a whole lot of crazy Nat-shenanigans. But a really big one that hurt, was I had been invited to host the Primary School Days Program at the Sydney Writer’s Festival. If you’ve never been to one before it’s like a massive book rock concert in front of HUNDREDS of kids. They completely FILL Town Hall and other venues. It was already sold out. I was SO looking forward to getting crazy with all those kids, spreading the absolute joy of reading and meeting kidlit superstars like Raina Telgemeier (I would have been a TOTAL fan girl). I was also lined up to host one of the Family Program days. Amelia Lush had put together SUCH an amazing program for the 2020 festival and I am so gutted it’s been cancelled. We just have to rally together when this is all over and whole-heartedly support festivals like this when they make a come-back because the writing world would be a MUCH sadder place without them.

  1. I remember you told me you had an event booked at my local indie, BookFace Erina – is this the kind of event you think will be rescheduled, and have you ever been to BookFace?

I haven’t YET. But I am VERY much looking forward to a visit and I’m sure it will happen as soon as the world returns to normal-ish. I think I was a Central-Coastian in a past life. I just love it up there. My mentor and close friend Cathie Tasker lives up there and so I go up to visit quite often. Even if the event isn’t rescheduled, next time I’m allowed to visit Cathie, I’m DEFINITELY dropping in to BookFace…so keep your eye out!

  1. What made you decide to do your book-inspired dance videos during isolation?

 

Honestly? I looked at all the amazing things authors were doing and I really wanted to contribute but I was also going a bit bananas in isolation. Being stuck inside is pretty hard on me and with school visits cancelled, I don’t have the same avenues to burn my energy…and there’s a LOT of it! I used to be a dance fitness instructor and so I just decided to combine my two loves – books and dance – and create Book’N’Boogie! It’s as much for me as anyone who’s watching! I really need to shake it out every couple of days. But I’ve been getting sent heaps of videos of kids dancing along with me and it just makes my heart burst!

  1. Your Gif game on Twitter is really cool – what is it about this medium that you enjoy, and do you enjoy Gif wars?

The discovery of GIFs changed my life. I’m such a visual and expression-using person (is that even a word?) and I love how GIFs capture an entire feeling in just a moment. And when you get JUST the right one, it’s like nailing a joke – it just feels so perfect! I taught my dad how to GIF and now we barely use words when we text – just GIF after GIF after GIF. I also wrote a complete story with illustrator James Foley on Twitter DM once using only GIFs, and I still go back and look at it when I need a giggle.

  1. If you could meet any kid’s author, who would it be, and why?

Paul Jennings. Although technically I did meet him when I was about 10 AND I got to interview him in 2017 for the podcast (although it was online not face to face). But I still think it would be him again. Or maybe Jon Klassen. I feel like I would enjoy his sense of humour.

  1. What kids’ books should everyone read, regardless of their age?

Oh there are SO many. Sentimentally, I would say Uncanny by Paul Jennings and Skymaze by Gillian Rubenstein because I think both those books played a huge role in my desire to become a writer. But I believe heavily in supporting current authors, so I think you MUST read A Cardboard Palace by Allayne Webster and Vincent and the Grandest Hotel On Earth by Lisa Nicol. They are both brilliant and shouldn’t be missed.

  1. Which Hogwarts house do you think you belong in, and who would your Hogwarts crew have been?

Okay, so I wasn’t actually sure of the answer for this one so I just did an online quiz and it told me Gryffindor. That sounds about right to me. I reckon my crew would include Ron, Hagrid, Luna, Dobby (personal fav!), Sirius and probably Nymphadora Tonks. And then any of those other cool magic creatures that wanna hang with us – a hippogriff pet would totally rock!

  1. If you weren’t a kid’s author, what would your dream job be and why?

I would love to be either a Kid’s TV Show host, preferably a show where there was a lot of slime involved OR a homicide investigator. I know they don’t seem to go hand in hand but two of my biggest loves are slime and true crime – AND THEY RHYME!

  1. What are your go-to movies or television shows when not reading and writing?

I ALWAYS go back to the 80s. The Goonies, The Princess Bride, The Never Ending Story, The Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, The Blues Brothers, Stand By Me, Willow, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Beetlejuice…I can be lost for hours in the 80s. I’ll watch these movies over and over and NEVER get sick of them.

 

  1. Favourite music, band or song, and why?

Favourite bands are The Lucksmiths (not together anymore but still a fav) because of their awesome lyrics, super dance-y tunes and because they were the soundtrack to my high school years and some of the best times of my life were to tune of The Lucksmiths. Also Cat Empire because I cannot not dance when I hear them. All-time favourite song is hard but might be ‘What I Like About You’ by The Romantics because, well just listen to it and tell me it’s not THE BEST!

  1. Cats or dogs?

Dogs. But actually monkeys, if that was an option.

  1. Favourite writing snack, and what happens when you run out of it?

Coffee. I don’t really snack while I write but I devour coffee! I don’t run out of it. Ever! It’s not an option. I wouldn’t operate. I’m getting anxious just thinking about it. I better have a coffee.

  1. What’s next in terms of books?

Well, obviously trying to get The Power Of Positive Pranking out into the world. It’s going to take some creative approaches because I usually love the face to face contact with kids and booksellers to get my books out there in the world. In Corona-time, I’m gonna to have to get creative. I’ll miss meeting people, but hopefully it won’t be too long till I’m back out there in schools and shops and libraries, causing trouble. Then I have two more books currently set for 2021. One which is already written and is a stand-alone, not related to my previous books. And one which is not written (eeeekkkk!) and is planned to be the third in the ‘Watterson World’ – so connected to my first two books. Then I will have fulfilled all current contracts and I can really have a good think about what it is next. The world is my sea slug! That’s the saying right?

Any further comments?

You rock! And thanks so much for supporting kids’ authors in these tough times. We sooooooooo appreciate you!

 

Thanks Nat!

 

Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air by Julie Hunt, Dale Newman

ShoestringTitle: Shoestring: The Boy Who Walks on Air
Author: Julie Hunt, Dale Newman
Genre: Fantasy, Magical Realism
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 2nd June 2020
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 368
Price: $19.99
Synopsis: A gripping illustrated adventure about a travelling circus troupe, a future-telling macaw and a cursed pair of gloves that Shoestring must conquer once and for all. A companion to the award-winning KidGlovz.
‘Shoestring loved the sudden intake of breath when he stepped onto the rope. The upturned faces of the audience made him think of coins scattered at his feet, more coins than he had ever taken when he was a pickpocket.’

Twelve-year-old Shoestring is leaving behind his life of crime and starting a new career with the Troupe of Marvels. Their lead performer, he has an invisible tightrope and an act to die for. But trouble is brewing – the magical gloves that caused so much turmoil for KidGlovz are back.

When he’s wearing the gloves, the world is at Shoestring’s fingertips. It’s so easy to help himself to whatever he likes – even other people’s hopes and dreams. But when he steals his best friend’s mind, he’s at risk of losing all he values most.

A thrilling, heart-in-the-mouth adventure of ambition, friendship and the threads that bind from the award-winning creators of KidGlovz.

~*~

In a fantastical world, there is a young thief called Shoestring, who lives with the woman who raised him. Until now, he has been a thief for most of his twelve years. When the Troupe of Marvels finds out about his talent – walking on an invisible tightrope. Yet a troublesome pair of gloves that once caused mayhem are back, and taking control of Shoestring, making him steal unthinkable things – not just items, but pieces of people – the troupe sets out to help him and destroy the gloves, and get Shoestring back to the young boy they know.

With Shoestring able to take whatever he wants – even things that someone can’t see, trouble starts to brew as the gloves start to control Shoestring and convince him to do things he’d never think about doing. Things start to go wrong when he sets out to find Metropolis, May’s old parrot who has been kidnapped, and falls into the hands of Marm – this is where the mystery begins and where we find out more about what is behind the stories of Shoestring, Marm, May, Metropolis and the gloves begins and the action picks up as the narrative moves between Metropolis telling the story – these parts are in bold, whilst the rest of the story is told in prose, as a third person perspective tells the story. And evokes a sense of everyone telling their part of the story around the campfire.

AWW2020This technique is coupled with some illustrations with speech bubbles – the same style used in graphic novels, and all the illustrations by Dale Hunt make the world Shoestring and his troupe live in really come to life as you read. It is not one that can be dipped in and out of, nor read in one sitting. This is one of those books that must be savoured and enjoyed. It is one that needs to be savoured – that needs to be read over time, and where every page has a new clue as to what might happen but is also filled with twists and turns as Shoestring fights with the gloves and the control they have over him.

Magical, transient gloves that have a mind of their own is a worrying, curious and troublesome – what do these gloves want, and why are they targeting Shoestring and the troupe. It weaves the history of the characters and the world they inhabit throughout the narrative seamlessly, telling an evocative story of ambition and friendship, and the lengths people will go to so they can help those they care about. And how will they help Shoestring fix things? This is a story of loyalty and friendship, and family – and the sacrifices we make to help those we love and care about. It is a lovely book – one that will be loved by all readers over the age of eight and will enthral and enchant readers as they enter this fantastical world and have them on the edge of their seats as they go on the journey with Shoestring and the rest of the troupe.

It does refer back to a previous book by the same author and illustrator team, but enough information is given that they can be read separately, but also, together. It is a beautiful story, and one that will be loved and treasured.

What Zola did on Monday by Melina Marchetta, illustrated by Deb Hudson

Monday ZolaTitle: What Zola did on Monday

Author: Melina Marchetta, illustrated by Deb Hudson

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 96

Price: $12.99

Synopsis: From the author of Looking for Alibrandi comes this gorgeous series to engage and entertain newly independent young readers.

Zola loves living on Boomerang Street with her mum and her Nonna. Every day of the week is an adventure. But Zola has a problem. No matter how much she tries, she can’t keep out of trouble!
Seven stories in the series – one for every day of the week.

~*~

Zola loves to have fun, and at school, she is learning about gardens. At home, she spends time in the garden with her Nonna while her mum is at work. One day Nonna Rosa shows Zola special tomato seeds from Nonno, who is no longer with them – and Zola promises to be careful – can she keep out of trouble and save her Nonna’s special tomatoes?

Melina Marchetta, best known for her young adult books, in particular Looking for Alibrandi, and several others. Here, she has created a series for younger readers, about a little girl named Zola, with one book planned for each day of the week, to be released across the next year or so. This first book introduces readers to Zola and her family, and delightfully sets up Zola’s world on Boomerang Street. It is written in easy to understand and accessible language and looks at the inner world of Zola and children her age.

AWW2020Zola cleverly teaches children about friendship, family and problem solving through the fun and engaging story and Deb Hudson’s lovely illustrations that give an extra oomph and zing of life to Zola’s world and story. The language used is simple yet complex – early readers will be able to engage and learn how to read and grow their vocabulary and confidence with stories. It might seem simple on the surface, but it is layered in many ways, and can be read differently at each level and for each reader. Confident readers will be able to read the lines, and all readers will find something and someone in the book they identify with. As the beginning of a series, What Zola Did on Monday is filled with diversity and ideas about identity and what kids like to do.

This series would be perfect for kids in their first few years of school, and even beyond, for readers who might want something fun to read in between everything else. It is aimed at six to eight-year olds primarily, and I hope this readership enjoys these books in whichever way they read and connect with them. I look forward to seeing what other adventures Zola gets up to on the other days of the week. A charm,ing series that will enchant all who read it

Alice-Miranda in the Outback by Jacqueline Harvey

Alice Miranda OutbackTitle: Alice-Miranda in the Outback

Author: Jacqueline Harvey

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Puffin

Published: 2nd June 2020

Format: Paperback

Pages: 384

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: A dusty desert adventure beckons!

Alice-Miranda and her friends are off to the Australian Outback! They’re going to help an old family friend who’s found himself short staffed during cattle mustering season. The landscape is like nothing else – wide open and dusty red as far as the eye can see. It’s also full of quirky characters, like eccentric opal miner Sprocket McGinty and the enigmatic Taipan Dan.

As the gang settles in at Hope Springs Station, mysteries start piling up. A strange map is discovered indicating treasure beneath the paddocks, a young girl is missing and there are unexplained water shortages. Can Alice-Miranda get to the bottom of this desert dilemma?

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Alice-Miranda is back! Across the series, Alice-Miranda has grown up whilst at boarding school at Winchesterfield-Downsfordvale, and in the most recent books, is now ten, almost eleven. In her latest adventure, she is off to the outback with her father, her uncle, her cousins, and her friends, Millie and Jacinta to visit Hope Springs. It’s a new adventure for everyone, and along the way, they’ll meet characters like Sprocket McGinty and Taipan Dan, and uncover secrets and mysteries that have been buried for years, search for a missing child and follow a treasure map to something fantastic. In true Alice-Miranda style, she takes the lead, and works with her friends and cousins to find out what is going on around them.

I’m fairly new to Alice-Miranda – but the beauty of this series is that I can read them in order or out of order and still know what is going on, and who is who – having read the first book helped with this and Jacqueline puts a cast of characters for each book in the back as well, which readers can refer to every now and then whilst reading. Having read the first and most recent books – where Alice-Miranda is seven and one quarter and ten respectively, I am keen to see how she grows up.

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Her latest adventure, in the outback, is uniquely Australian with the characters, setting and Australian slang peppered throughout. Some of the characters are Indigenous, and Jacqueline explains why they’re away at the start of the book in a respectful and simple way that readers who might not know much about Indigenous culture can understand, and then from there, go and research it for themselves and does so without speaking for the Indigenous characters. Hugh, Alice-Miranda’s father, explains things using his knowledge from the past. This forms one small part of the story – but seeing it acknowledged is important.

Characters and events that seem unrelated are – and Jacqueline knows when to drop hints, when to hold back and when to bring things to light in a way that is engaging, plot driven and makes the whole book work as a whole – and combined with her clever characters like Alice-Miranda, no fact is too small or insignificant to exclude. Everything piece of the puzzle eventually comes together, and astute readers will pick up on the clues. Whether you are able to do this, or everything comes together as a surprise for you at the end, it doesn’t matter – whichever way you read and pick these things up, you follow the same clues and path to the same conclusion, making this a fun read for all fans of Jacqueline Harvey and her books.

I loved the moment the kids had to choose a movie to watch – and the two choices referenced the Alice-Miranda series and Kensy and Max – this was lovely for readers of both series, as it shows that it is possible for each of these characters to exist in the other’s world, and from there, I wondered what would happen if Alice-Miranda were to meet Kensy and Max.

This book perfectly balanced the kids being alone and having adult supervision across the story. The kids were allowed to do their thing yet were responsible enough to follow instructions and keep adults informed. It shows that these kids are resourceful and responsible – but still kids and at times, they still need help from the adults in their lives. Jacqueline gets the balance for this right too.

I loved this one – and I’m planning to read the rest and see what else Alice-Miranda has been up to over the past ten years. This is a delightful series for middle grade readers of all ages and genders and I hope people love Alice-Miranda as much as I do.