Meandering through Middle Grade: The Hounds of Penhallow Hall

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meandering-through-middle-grade

We’re back with what is arguably my favourite reading age-group today – middle grade, with its boldly imagined worlds and indomitable characters.  Today I have a story we received from the publisher via Netgalley.  The Hounds of Penhallow Hall: The Moonlight Statue by Holly Webb and illustrated by Jason Cockcroft is a classic tale of a new home, loneliness and finding friends in unexpected places.  Here’s the blurb from Netgalley:

For Poppy, moving to Penhallow Hall is the fresh start she’s been longing for since the death of her father. Her mum has got a job managing the stately home and once the last of the visitors leave for the day the place is all theirs! One night, Poppy sleepwalks into the garden and wakes to find her hand on the head of one of the stone dogs that guard the steps down to the lawn. Then she feels him lick her cheek! The dog introduces himself as Rex, an Irish Wolfhound who lived at Penhallow many hundreds of years earlier. And he is not the only resident ghost – Poppy has also glimpsed a strange boy around the place. With Rex’s help she finds herself unravelling the story of his beloved master, William Penhallow, who was killed in the First World War aged only 17.

hounds-of-penhallow-hall

Having a quick browse on Goodreads, it became apparent that Holly Webb has written quite a significant back catalogue of cutesy books about puppies, kittens, fairies and princesses for the younger end of the middle grade age bracket.  While there is a definite whiff of the cutesy about The Hounds of Penhallow Hall, the story overall fits nicely into the typical tropes about moving to a new, unexpectedly magical home with which the middle grade fantasy genre is replete.

There is really nothing new or particularly original about this story – a girl moves to a Big House with her mother, gets very lonely, discovers a fluffy magical companion and solves the mystery (such as it is) of a boy haunting the house.  There are no major problems to  overcome, no sense of particular danger or suspense and everything gets wrapped up quickly and easily with little struggle or fuss.  For that reason, this is one of those middle grade books that will appeal much more to younger readers than it will older readers of middle grade.

The story itself had a bit of an old-timey feel, probably due to the oft-used content, but Polly is instantly likable, Rex is the kind of companion anyone would love to have, and the ghost boy, William, caves quickly enough from his stroppy mood to make us like him too.  I will admit that reading this book did strengthen my already quite strong desire to make a wolfhound part of the Shelf family, however impractical that may be.

I would have liked to see a bit more conflict in this book; conflict in the sense of a problem that Polly has to solve or overcome to give the narrative a bit of oomph or suspense.  As it is, the story arc is basic and there didn’t seem to me to be enough of a hook to keep independent readers engaged, unless they particularly love dogs.

Overall, this is one that fell short of my expectations, but should appeal to the younger end of the middle grade audience and those who would love the idea of a magical doggy companion.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Picture Book Perusal: Skinny Brown Dog

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picture book perusal button

It’s high time I featured a book with hat-wearing animals and in the absence of a Jon Klassen classic, today I am bringing you new release picture book Skinny Brown Dog by Kimberly Willis Holt and Donald Saaf.   I have not read a picture book that has had such a brain-twisting effect on me for quite a while and I’m still giving my head a good scratch over the underlying themes and issues in this one as we speak.  We received a copy of Skinny Brown Dog from PanMacmillan Australia and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Benny the baker leads a simple life. He makes delicious cakes, cookies, and muffins, and keeps his customers well fed and happy. When a skinny brown dog shows up on Benny’s doorstep, nothing Benny says can convince him to go away. While Benny insists that the dog isn’t his, customers soon grow as fond of the skinny brown dog as they are of Benny’s yummy treats. The children even name him Brownie—the perfect name for a baker’s dog.

Benny starts to wonder what it might be like to have a dog of his own. But it’s not until Brownie comes to his rescue that Benny realizes a dog can make for a very good friend. Full of winning characters (and delicious treats!) from the award-winning Kimberly Willis Holt, this book celebrates a very special friendship.

skinny-brown-dog

On first reading this story, I was immediately reminded of John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat, because there seems to be a similar underlying metaphorical suggestion going on here..but I’m not 100% sure what it is.

That appearances are reflective of our attitudes?

The life-changing magic of giving someone a chance?

The importance of following Workplace Health and Safety Guidelines for small business?

I just don’t know!

Happily, while there are obviously layers to peel back within this story, I suspect that the more nuanced of these will go over the heads of younger readers, who will instead end up focusing on the charming and delightful story of friendship and acceptance.

Benny the baker (a bear) is a kind and gentle soul and his bakery is a hub for the community.  When a skinny brown dog turns up outside his bakery, Benny tries, unsuccessfully, to gently move it on.  Of course, no one can resist the lure of puppy dog eyes – especially when said eyes look like chocolate chips – and the dog, who is eventually named Brownie, is taken to heart by the community.  Benny, however, remains unmoved on the point that a bakery is no place for a dog…until an accident happens and Benny does some re-evaluation of what and who is important.

The illustrations bear an endearingly old-fashioned tilt, and evoke the community feel of times gone by, when people visited individual shops to buy their necessary goods and shopkeepers and patrons knew each other by name.  The repeated refrains from Benny – “He’s not my dog!”- and Miss Patterson (an elephant) – “Yes, I can see that” – are suggestive of the knowledge that young readers will have already picked up; that the skinny brown dog is slowly but surely becoming part of Benny’s life.  The ending is no less heartwarming for its predictability and the author has done a wonderful job of allowing Benny (and the reader) ample time to commit to the course of action that he has been trying to put off.

And yet….underneath the simple story of friendship and acceptance is a whole subtext that begs for careful deconstruction by older readers.

The world of Skinny Brown Dog is populated by animals (most of which wear some kind of jaunty hat), and while the majority of these animals talk and take on human roles, the skinny brown dog, who is eventually named Brownie, does not.  Despite the fact that he wears a suit and bowler hat throughout, just like everyone else.

See what I mean about underlying metaphorical suggestion?  There are animals who are obviously meant to be people, but Brownie, who is also dressed as a person, like the other people-animals, is clearly meant to be an animal.

Except when he’s not.

Like when he hands a dropped purse back to Miss Patterson, using his paw, with a tip of his hat.  Or in the final few pages of the story when Brownie is pictured on his hind legs, whereas previously he has got around on all fours.  Is Benny’s acceptance of Brownie as a friend and companion the catalyst for Brownie’s self-confidence and self-worth, represented by his new, upright stance?  Perhaps now that Benny is really “seeing” Brownie, the carefully constructed facade of Brownie being something “other”, and “not like us” has fallen away.

This is certainly a “more than meets the eye” sort of picture book that can be enjoyed on more than one level.  Much like its unassuming cover, the story itself beckons the reader on into the subtext of the story, to discover and create meanings beyond outward appearances.

The shelf brands Skinny Brown Dog highly recommended reading!

Until next time,

Bruce

A Maniacal Book Club Review: The Royal Rabbits of London…

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It’s middle grade reading time again and today’s book will be deconstructed with the help of the Maniacal Book Club.  The Royal Rabbits of London by Santa Montifiore and Simon Sebag Montifiore blends the sweet innocence of animal stories with the high-action world of secret agents, and we received our copy from Simon & Schuster Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Life is an adventure. Anything in the world is possible – by will and by luck, with a moist carrot, a wet nose and a slice of mad courage

Shylo has always been the runt of the litter, the weakest and quietest of all of his family, his siblings spend their days making fun of him for not being like the rest of them. But when Shylo stumbles across a band of ratzis and overhears their evil plan to take a photo of the Queen in her nightie, it’s up to this unlikely hero to travel to London and inform the Royal Rabbits of London about the diabolical plot! The Royal Rabbits of London have a proud history of protecting the royal family and now the secret society need to leap into action to stop the ratzis… But can a rabbit as feeble and shy as Shylo convince them that Queen is in danger?

The Hobbit meets Fantastic Mr Fox meets Watership Down in this charming novel from bestselling authors Santa and Sebag Montefiore, which proves even the smallest rabbit can be the biggest hero.

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Now let’s hand over to the Book Club!

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

In a world that is so concerned with outward appearances, it is difficult for those who do not fit stereotypical ideas of beauty to find value in themselves.  So it is as well, apparently, in the world of woodland creatures.  Shylo is diminutive when compared to others of his ilk and is consequently dismissed by those around him as without merit.  It takes but one soul to offer belief in his abilities and this belief, like a flame across a row of candles, takes hold and spurs Shylo on to achieve great things.  Take heed my friends, for here is a lesson for us all! Even the smallest rabbit in the burrow can play a starring role in defending all the side of good.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

There are no dragons in this book.  There are some very strange, sneaky rats though, that like to take photos of people and embarrass them.  There are some angry, snappy little dogs too and the rabbits don’t like them because these dogs like to eat rabbits.  I think I wouldn’t mind eating a rabbit.  Maybe. But not Shylo.

I like Shylo because he is brave but ordinary too.  And I like Horatio, the old bunny, because he is mysterious and has scars and no one knows how he got them.  I didn’t like Shylo’s big brother.  He’s a meanie.  Maybe I could try eating him for my first taste of rabbit.

That would teach him.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

 

Who is hiding ‘neath that tree?

A red-pawed rabbit I can see!

Do you think he’ll play with me?

He looks as if he’s too busy!

Where’s he gone so hurriedly?

To save the Queen for you and me!

Bruce

maniacal book club brucePlease excuse me a moment while I inwardly bemoan Mad Martha’s increasingly appalling poetry……right, that’s done.  The Royal Rabbits of London is a delightful read for youngsters with an underlying gentleness that balances out the scenes of action and close escape.  Shylo Tawny-Tail is the runt of his litter and his older, bigger siblings miss no opportunity to remind him of this fact.  Shylo finds refuge with the elderly Horatio rabbit, who tells him stories of the Royal Rabbits of London, a secret society of agent rabbits living under Buckingham Palace, whose job it is to protect the Royal Family.

When Shylo overhears a plot to embarrass the Queen, he is suddenly thrust into a much more exciting life, as he attempts to contact the mysterious and reclusive Royal Rabbits and make them aware of the pending plot.  The first part of the book has a bit of a town-mouse, country-mouse feel (except with rabbits!), as Shylo ventures forth from the safety of his burrow and steps out into the dangers of the big city.  After making contact with the Royal Rabbits, Shylo finds himself caught up in a high-stakes adventure that might result in saving the Queen – at the expense of some rabbity lives.

Reading a chapter of this book per night was the perfect way to build the tension in the story and keep my interest up.  The text is ideal for young readers who are newly confident with longer chapter books and the story is illustrated throughout with beguiling line drawings that help bring the characters to vivid life.  Shylo shows such strength of spirit that I am certain young readers will just love him and be caught up in the challenges he faces.  There are a few (reasonably) scary (for young children) scenes toward the end of the book as Shylo and his friends attempt to escape from the Pack – the resident dogs of Buckingham Palace – but overall, the story has an innocence about it despite the high-tech, battle ready situation of the Royal Rabbits.

The rabbits who make up the secret society all have their own larger-than-life personalities and adult readers will notice some nods to the sorts of characters who populate grown-up spy stories in these furry fellows.  The world of the Royal Rabbits is also richly imagined, filled with structure, hierarchy, and international co-operation.

The ending of this book is not left up in the air, so can be enjoyed on its own, but for those thirsting for more adventure, a second book in this series will be published in 2017.  Overall, this is a delightful, engaging and colourful foray into the hidden world of animal secret agents!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

 

Library Larks: Farting Ponies, Squirrels on the Run and Orthodox Jewish Troll-Fighters…

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It seems I’ve hit the jackpot with this month’s library loans.  I put on hold a bunch of picture books that I had been keeping my eye on, as well as a couple of intriguing looking graphic novels – one for me and one to introduce to the eldest mini-fleshling.  It’s quite an attractive looking pile I must say!  Click on the images to visit each book’s Goodreads page.

First up, I grabbed Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword, a middle grade/YA graphic novel by Barry Deutsch.  I have seen this one on a number of recommended graphic novel lists, so decided I’d take the plunge and request it.  It helps, of course, that there’s a whacking great ball of yarn on the cover and the tagline, “Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl”.  I’m pretty excited also because I just looked at the Goodreads page and discovered that books two and three in the series have already been released, so if I enjoy this one I’ve got more to look forward to.

hereville

I also grabbed Bird & Squirrel On the Run, which is the first in a series of middle grade graphic novels by James Burks.  I’ve been keeping an eye out lately for books heavy on the imagery and with interesting protagonists, for when the eldest mini-fleshling has had his fill of Fly Guy and Elephant and Piggie – which hopefully won’t be for at least a little while yet.  This one looks fun though and as there are also more books in this series already out, this will hopefully become a go-to set of characters.

bird-and-squirrel

Mad Martha picked up Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen, which has been out for a good long while but hadn’t crossed our path.  We loved the combination of Barnett and Klassen in Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and we expect that this collaboration will bear the same sort of re-readable fruit.

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We had seen The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton around a few blogs, but I hadn’t really paid much attention until I saw it for cheap at the Book Depository.  Rather than buy it outright, I thought we’d borrow it from the library and take it for a test run first – and my word, if it isn’t the funniest, most kick-ass princess book I’ve ever read.  The mini-fleshlings loved Princess Pinecone and her flatulent pony, so I will definitely be making a purchase of this one just as soon as I am able.  Mad Martha is already planning how to recreate the chubby little horse in amigurumi.  This one’s a keeper.

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Have you checked anything out from the library lately?  Have you read any of these books?  What did you think?

Until next time,

Bruce

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “New Release Picture Book” Edition…

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Following on from yesterday’s theme of visual stunnery, today I have four new release picture books for you.  I must warn you, one of them features guinea pigs dressed up as Victorian-era orphan boys.  On that note, let’s saddle up and get into it.

Oi Dog! (Kes Gray & Jim Field)

*We received a copy of Oi Dog! from Hachette Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  oi-dog

In this thrilling sequel to Oi Frog!, Frog decides to change things up a bit.  But what on earth will the animals sit on now?

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you loved the word-twisting, rhyme-busting, sit-a-thon that was Oi Frog!, you will definitely appreciate the humour (and the fairness of the new rules) presented in Oi Dog!  Without giving too much away, this is essentially the exact same story as the earlier book, with animals coerced into sitting on objects that rhyme with their name, capped off with a funny, off-beat twist at the end.  I had forgotten how funny the facial expressions of the various ill-seated animals are and that provided a good laugh throughout.  If you are planning to read this one aloud, make sure you have a good lung capacity (or a ventolin inhaler to hand), because some of those compound sentences will really give you a vocal workout.  The mini-fleshlings loved this book and since it has been a while since we borrowed Oi Frog! from the library, they didn’t particularly twig that the humour and style was the same as a book they had read before.  Apart from the poor animal that has to sit on smelly pants (can you guess which?), the funniest part of the book for the youngest mini-fleshling was to be found in the endpapers, wherein resides a tiny picture of the dog on the cover passing wind.  The book was asked for repeatedly just so the mini-fleshlings could point and laugh at said flatulent dog, so really, it could be said that every inch of this book has something to enjoy.

Brand it with:

Seating arrangements; animal stories; challenging the status quo

The Sisters Saint-Claire (Carlie Gibson & Tamsin Ainslie)

*We received a copy of The Sisters Saint-Claire from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  

The Sisters Saint-Claire by Carlie Gibson & Tamsin Ainslie.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th September 2016.  RRP: $19.99

The Sisters Saint-Claire by Carlie Gibson & Tamsin Ainslie. Published by Allen & Unwin, 28th September 2016. RRP: $19.99

A family of mice love to go to market every week, but Cecile, the youngest, is just too small to go along.  She is also a dab-hand at making pies – could these be the key to the family’s fortune?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this delightful little tome is as cheery and uplifting as a successful trip to a boutique artisan makers market in the south of France.  It may surprise you to know then, that it was actually cooked up by an Aussie author.  Everything about this book screams charm and whimsy, from its sweet little protagonist family of mice, to the dreamy, old-fashioned illustrations.  The rhyme and rhythm of the text is absolutely spot-on, which will be a blessed relief to those reading aloud (although you may want to test-drive the few French words in your head first!) and the story feels just a touch longer than your average picture book, so this is a great pick for the 5 to 7 year olds.  The text is broken up with plenty of individual illustrations, and this, combined with the full page spreads, mean that there is plenty of imagery to examine for those who like to spot cheeky little details going on out of sight of the main illustrative action.  To top off the satisfying and cheerful ending, the author has included a recipe for Croque Monsieur, so that budding little foodies can whip something up with their grown-ups and extend the story further.  I’d recommend this to young readers who like gentle, colourful stories that demonstrate how little people can do big things.

Brand it with:

Le mice!; farmers markets; royal seal of approval

A Guinea Pig Oliver Twist (Tess Newall & Alex Goodwin with Charles Dickens)

*We received A Guinea Pig Oliver Twist from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  guinea-pig-oliver-twist

It’s Oliver Twist with guinea pigs.  What’s not to like?

Muster up the motivation because…

…if you can’t find something to like in a book replete with cloth-capped and lace-bonneted rodents acting out scenes from one of the most-loved pieces of literature in the English-speaking world, then I truly weep for your loss.  Really, who can’t go past a bit of guinea-pig related silliness? Not I, that’s for sure.  As the first few pages and A5 format suggest, this is an abridged retelling of Dicken’s classic, Oliver Twist, featuring guinea pigs photographed in front of teeny replicas of Victorian streets.  The book begins with a very handy image of the cast of characters, helpful if you want to keep your Fagins and your Dodgers straight, and I couldn’t help but have a giggle at the appropriately surly and common-looking guinea pig that had been selected to play the scoundrel Bill Sikes.  I am quite surprised, in fact, by the lengths that the authors have gone to in selecting guinea pigs that embody the natures of the characters that they are representing.  Mr Bumble is chubby and just a bit unkempt, as one would expect, while Mr Brownlow (played ably by one “Molly”) has a regal sort of bearing.  The guinea pig version of Fagin even has black markings across his face, making him (her, actually) look appropriately sly and conniving.  The story is divided into sections, relaying Oliver’s travels to, and outside of, London, and there are no more than two paragraphs of text on any page, making it easy to get through quickly.  I will admit that I much preferred the end of the musical, in which Fagin and the Artful Dodger skip off into the sunset, singing jauntily, to the end that Fagin meets here, but I suspect it might be tricky to photograph guinea pigs in full dance mode, given that guinea pigs are not known for their high-kicking abilities.  If you are a fan of guinea pigs, or indeed Oliver Twist, this will be a quirky and cute addition to your collection.

Brand it with:

Rodents of Victorian London; classic literature (with rodents); bonding with your pets

The Pruwahaha Monster (Jean-Paul Mulders, Jacques Maes & Lise Braekers)

*We received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  pruwahaha-monster

A boy and his father go to play on the swings; the boy’s favourite activity.  Will he be safe when the Pruwahaha monster spots him through the trees?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is an unusual tale that isn’t what it seems.  I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of the story once I’d finished reading it, but overall I think it hits just the right note of mystery and adventure.  The illustrations are gorgeously creepy and eerily simple, with a sense of movement that captures the atmosphere of the weather and the mood of slight danger that accompanies the boy as he swings.  The text is short and matter-of-fact, and as the monster creeps closer to the boy, it looks as if all will be lost in a quick snip-snap of monster jaws.  There is a twist at the end that will allow readers to make their own interpretations of how the story goes, which is a good thing to see in books for this age group as it requires young readers to construct their version of the story based on what they can pick up from the illustrations and the text.  All in all, I think this is one that will be asked for again and again, as readers will want to go back to the beginning and see if they can spot clues that they might have missed the first time around.

Brand it with:

childhood pastimes; fathers and sons; if you go down to the woods today

I refuse to believe that amongst these gems there is not at least one that you wish to hunt down and make your own.  Which of these beauties do you have your eye on?

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Domestics, Servants and Robotic Appliances” Edition…

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We’re rounding out our Children’s Book Week Chaser with some longer reads for the middle grade age bracket.  I’ve got three books here featuring everything from cats to robotic siblings, so surely there’ll be something in the mix to entice you.  Got your spats sorted?  Then let’s crack on!

Brobot (James Foley)

*We received a copy of Brobot from Fremantle Press for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  30120603

Sally Tinker is an inventor extraordinaire, so when her baby brother doesn’t measure up to her expectations, she creates her own.  But is a robotic sibling really all it’s cracked up to be?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this fun graphic novel is chock-full of humour, chaos and unexpected bugs in the program.  Sally is a girl who knows what she wants and even has the skills to create it, while her baby brother is….well, a bit of a messy, stinky, noisy baby.  Sally, with the best of intentions, takes it upon herself to invent an improved version of a little brother, but doesn’t count on her invention learning from the real thing.  Of course disaster strikes and Sally comes to learn that perhaps the good things about having a living, breathing sibling outweigh some of the bad – although maybe not the stinky bits.  The narrative parts of the book are broken up here and there with some text-heavy diagrams but for the most part, this is exactly the kind of book that will draw in the more reluctant base of young readers due to the saturation of illustrations, the interesting fonts and the easy-to-digest chunks of text.  Add to that the humour of stinky nappies, exploding machines and general mayhem and you’d have to agree that this book has everything that young readers love, all wrapped up in a visually appealing package.  I’d definitely recommend this one for readers aged from about seven or eight on up, who enjoy funny, fast-paced stories.

Brand it with:

Artificial intelligence; super siblings; experimental relationships

The Twins of Tintarfell (James O’Loghlin)

*We received a copy of The Twins of Tintarfell from PanMacmillan Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  30173433

Dani and Bart are twins, orphans and servants in the castle of the King of Tintarfell.  When Bart is unexpectedly kidnapped, Dani tries to rescue him – but has no idea of the sacrifices she may need to make along the way.

Muster up the motivation because…

…as fantasy adventure stories go, this one has its fair share of twists, turns, humour and warthogs.  This was a really unexpected read for me and I’m still not sure quite what to make of it.  The story has elements of adventure, betrayal, murder and secrecy, yet at the same time has a light tone and a strong dose of tongue-in-cheek humour.  It reminded me of a strange blend of The Princess Bride, The Chronicles of Narnia and a Monty Python film to be honest.  There was something a little off about the pacing, I felt; I kept expecting the bit I was reading to be the precursor to a BIG event, but each time the book just slid quietly into the next twist or reveal.  At the same time though, there were bits of the story that felt really original and intriguing, like the Soarers, the curse upon Dani and Bart’s special talent.   The three main characters, Dani, Bart and Edmund, are all well-developed and we are privy to each of their strengths and flaws as the story unfolds.  The final few chapters neatly work the protagonists through a number of key choices that will ultimately define the people they will become, and so the ending is feels satisfyingly meaningful after all the derring-do and (in the case of Edmund) some derring-don’t (or should that be derring-didn’t?).  I definitely enjoyed this book and the author seems to hit his stride about a third of the way in, but at times I felt like he couldn’t quite decide whether the book was supposed to be primarily a comedy or an adventure, and so we are treated to each in turn.  If you are fan of light fantasy and adventure that doesn’t take itself too seriously, then I would encourage you to give this a read.

Brand it with:

Sisters doin’ it for themselves (and everyone else); Good vs Evil; Animal magnetism

Malkin Moonlight (Emma Cox)

*We received a copy of Malkin Moonlight from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  31139009

Malkin Moonlight is a cat blessed by the moon, who loves a domestic cat named Roux.  Together they will do great things and heal a rift in their new home.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a gentle tale about using one’s life (lives!) well in the pursuit of peace and happiness.  While not being the biggest fan of books featuring animal societies, I still found this to be an enjoyable read due to the episodic chapters and old-fashioned narrative style.  As the story progresses the reader finds out more about Malkin and Roux as they discover new things about themselves through various challenges and sticky situations.  After the relationship between Malkin and Roux is thoroughly established, the story moves on to a different setting – a world of cats, if you will – which is in sore need of a peacemaker.  Malkin comes to fill that role in the nick of time before a man made disaster looks set to threaten the existence of the cats’ new home.  I think this book will hit the mark for middle grade readers who love a good animal story and the illustrations here and there throughout will give an added context to their imagining of the story. There was a subtle sense of schmaltz underlying the story that put me off slightly – something to do with the cats’ (and particularly Roux’s) turns of phrase, I suspect – but that is possibly to be expected from a tale that promises a hero finding his destiny in the blurb.  This is one to watch out for if you have a crazy cat person in training in your dwelling.

Brand it with:

Wild at heart; warring factions; moonlight shenanigans

Well, with that round-up our Children’s Book Week Chaser comes to a close.  I hope you have found at least one book that will suit a mini-fleshling of your acquaintance!

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Middle Grade Goodness” Edition…

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I’m ready to hunt down an eclectic bunch of middle grade titles with you today, so let’s saddle up and ride!

Carter and the Curious Maze (Philippa Dowding)

*We received a copy of Carter and the Curious Maze from the publisher via Netgalley for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:carter and the curious maze.jpg

When Carter says that the Fair is super-boring this year, a creepy old man challenges him to try to beat his hedge maze. Once inside, Carter realises that this maze isn’t a typical fairground attraction and it might take him far longer than expected to find his way home.

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is another fun addition to the author’s Weird Stories Gone Wrong collection of standalone books, featuring quick, engaging and unexpected tales.  The book revolves around Carter, a young boy who mistakenly believes that he is too old to have much fun at the local funfair.  On being invited to have a go at the admittedly less-than-enticing hedge maze, he soon discovers that some fairground attractions might harbour more secrets than they appear to at first glance.  Carter’s journey takes the reader on a whirlwind trip into various historical periods, from the present all the way back to the very beginnings of European settlement in his local area. I was hoping, overall, for a bit more depth in the characters and the problem-solving required from Carter to get back to the present, but because these are designed to be manageable reads, the word-count doesn’t necessarily allow for extended character development.  The character of Mr Green hits the mark in terms of creepiness and the “creepy leaf girl” that Carter encounters early on also exudes fairly sinister vibes (which are compounded upon seeing the illustration of her!), so there is quite enough weirdness to add a bit of uneasiness to the overall atmosphere.  I suspect that this would be a fantastic choice as a read-aloud for any teachers working on local history with their classes, as it really promotes the idea of thinking beyond the “now” and imagining (or even researching!) how what we consider to be our place or home has changed over time.  It’s probably alright to mention that while reading this story I became covetous of Carter’s sister’s squid hat and would quite like any tips on where to pick one up.

Brand it with:

Time travel, extreme gardening, creepy old guys

Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits (Julian Gough and Jim Field)

*We received a copy of Rabbit and Bear: Rabbit’s Bad Habits from Hachette Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:rabbit and bear

When Bear wakes early from hibernation, she immediately begins to look for food…which has gone missing…so she makes a snowman instead. This simple act sparks a friendship with Rabbit, which, while rocky at first, is forged in the fire and comes out stronger on the other side.

Muster up the motivation because…

…aside from its visual appeal, this story provides some extremely funny dialogue exchanges about poo and the eating thereof.  If you’re still with me, having digested the thought of conversations about eating one’s own poo (pun intended), then you will probably enjoy the non-pooey parts of the story as well (of which there are many).  Rabbit and Bear is a fully illustrated early chapter book (with no chapters), featuring a trusting and forgiving bear and a reasonably self-centred and tetchy rabbit.  Aside from these two protagonists we are also introduced to a wolf (undoubtedly the villain of the piece) and a collection of snowpeople (inanimate).  There isn’t a great deal of plot going on here, possibly due to the fact that this is a series-opener and needs to do the work of introducing the characters in a short amount of text, but the dialogue exchanges between Rabbit, Bear and occasionally the Wolf, are quite funny in places and there are enough changes in pace to keep the interest up and the reader turning the pages. During the non-poo-eating parts of the book, a quite touching friendship develops between Rabbit and Bear, albeit with a few (non poo-related) teething issues, and the ending is saccharine sweet and will no doubt make you go “Awwwww!”  I’d recommend this as a pre-bedtime read-aloud for mini-fleshlings with a taste for quirky animal stories, or a read-alone for confident readers at the lower end of the middle grade age bracket who can’t go past a bit of poo-based humour.

Brand it with:

The odd couple, fun with rotting vegetables, run rabbit run

Fuzzy (Tom Angleberger and Paul Dellinger)

*We received a copy of Fuzzy from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:fuzzy

Max Zelaster is a good student with a fascination for robots, so when her school is chosen to participate in a new robot integration program, Max is super excited. After being assigned to help “Fuzzy” learn the ropes of middle school, Max finds herself getting into more and more trouble – will and Fuzzy be able to figure out what’s really going on behind the scenes before both suffer dire consequences?

Muster up the motivation because…

…this is a quality story about friendship and bucking the system, reminiscent of Louis Sachar’s work.  Set in the near future, Max and her friends exist in a school system for which the pinnacle of academic achievement is scoring correctly on standardised tests, while following all behaviour rules to the letter.  Max is a character to whom one can’t help but be sympathetic when it becomes apparent that someone or something is tweaking the system to ensure that she doesn’t measure up to standards.  Fuzzy starts off the book as a bit of a non-entity, but quickly develops his programming and blossoms into an unlikely hero with conflicting feelings about his origins and purpose.  This is a bit of a deceptive story: on one level it can be read as a simple story of friendship and standing up for one’s rights in an unjust situation, while on deeper reflection there is plenty to spark conversation on larger social issues including the purpose of education, the relativity of truth and the positive and negative implications for society of rapid technological advancement.  There is a lot to get one’s teeth into here, whether you are in the target age-bracket or not, although the story does read like a middle-grade tale in terms of language and character development.  I’d definitely recommend this book for its originality of content and the authors’ unabashed opening of various cans of  worms.

Brand it with:

All hail the robot overlords, no running in the halls, big brother is watching you

Now go forth and round up these titles for your TBR list, d’ya hear?

Until next time,

Bruce