Fix the past to save the future….Infinity ring series

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Reading “The Storm begins” recently (the first book in the History Keeper’s series by Damian Dibben), reminded me that I have yet to read any of the books in Scholastic’s new Infinity Ring series. I thought this 7 book series, aimed at 8-12 year olds would be a great read for some of my more reluctant readers as the books tie in with a very exciting online game.

From the publisher:

“History is broken and three kids must travel back in time to set it right. Told in seven books and seven interactive online game episodes, Infinity Ring invites readers to travel back in time to fix the “Great Breaks,” moments in history that have gone terribly wrong. Each book in the series contains a free “Hystorian’s Guide,” a collectible map and game guide that provide readers the information they need to set history back on track in the fully immersive Infinity Ring online game experience. The Infinity Ring online game continues where the book leaves off. Each online game episode, while standing on its own as a complete adventure, ties in to the on-going plotline of the Infinity Ring books. In the online game, players explore realistically designed historical locations, while meeting and talking to historical figures.” (Source: PR Newswire).

The books:

Book 1 A mutiny in time by James Dashner 2012

When best friends Dak Smyth and Sera Froste discover the key to time travel — the Infinity Ring — they’re swept up in a centuries-long secret war for the fate of mankind. Recruited by the Hystorians, a secret society that dates back to Aristotle, the kids learn that history has gone disastrously off course — and it’s up to them to fix it, with the help of teenage Hystorian-in-training Riq. First stop: Spain, 1492, where a sailor named Christopher Columbus is about to be thrown overboard in a deadly mutiny.

Read the first chapter here

Book 2 Divide and conquer by Carrie Ryan 2012

Hundreds of ships carrying thousands of Viking warriors are attacking medieval Paris. The Parisians are fighting back, but they can only hold out for so long. And that’s bad news — especially since Dak has been captured and forced to work with the invading army while Sera and Riq defend Paris from within. No matter which side wins, the kids will lose . . . unless Dak can find an ally among some of history’s fiercest warriors. Join Dak, Riq, and Sera as they attempt to defeat the SQ and fix the next Great Break in history.

Book 3 The trap door by Lisa Mcmann …due to be published February 2013 (Lisa is the author of “The Unwanteds” – a book I loved and thoroughly recommend for younger Hunger Games fans.)….

What do I think about these books?:

The premise of this time travel series with the “Hystorians” trying to fix breaks in history, sounds very similar to that of the History Keepers. I loved the History Keepers and I really love time travel books that delve into history. These sound awesome – and I love any series that is a great hook for readers.  We have books 1 and 2 already on high rotation in the library and book 3 and the subsequent volumes are on standing order through Scholastic NZ.

Christopher Edge – Free chapters

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It is wonderful when publishers provide us with lots of ways to explore new books before we buy or read them. Nosy Crow (one of my favourite UK publishing houses) has made the first chapters of many of their wonderful books available.

For those of you eager to try Christopher’s wonderful story “Twelve minutes to midnight” that I blogged about earlier, here is a link to the first chapter: LINK

If you are lucky enough to have read the first book and would like a taste of the sequel – “Shadows of the silver screen” which will soon be published, here is a link for you: LINK

From the publisher:

“A mysterious filmmaker approaches The Penny Dreadful with a proposal to turn Montgomery Flinch’s sinister stories into motion pictures. With Monty installed as the star of his production, filming begins but is plagued by a series of strange and frightening events. As Monty pleads with Penny to help him, she is drawn into the mystery, but soon finds herself trapped in a nightmare penned by her own hand. Can Penny uncover the filmmaker’s dark secret before it’s too late?”

What do I think about these books?: I can’t wait for Shadows of the silver screen to arrive!

Happy reading 🙂

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Gangsta Granny

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Gangsta granny by David Walliams, Published by Harper Collins Children’s, 2011. Illustrated by Tony Ross.

“Meet Ben’s granny. She’s very much your textbook granny: she has white hair, she has false teeth, she has used tissues up her sleeve….and she is an international jewel thief!”

Ben is bored beyond belief after he is made to stay at his grandma’s house. All she wants to do is to play Scrabble, and eat cabbage soup. But there are two things Ben doesn’t know about his grandma: she was once an international jewel thief and she has been plotting to steal the crown jewels. Now she needs Ben’s help.

What do I think about this book?:

I hadn’t read one of David Walliam’s books before so I had no idea what to expect. I did know that he wrote a lot of the “Little Britain” comedy show, but this wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed. David Walliams had also been described “as the next Roald Dahl” – setting the bar very high for comparison. We have a couple of David’s earlier books in our library (Mr Stink and the Billionaire boy) but when my daughter was given this one as a birthday gift I decided to try it.

To say that I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement. This is a lovely story, with typical understated British humour but like Roald Dahl, David Walliams is able to get the reader to develop a great deal of empathy towards the characters in the book and the relationships between them. Initially, Ben hates his weekly visits with his granny, this is reinforced by the attitude of his parents who coldy drop him off every Friday night as quickly as possible without even talking to her. Ben gradually comes to see his granny as more than an old person who only seems to like playing scrabble and reeking of cabbage. There are sad moments in this book that will make many children and adults reflect on our relationship with the elderly today, but plenty of happy moments that remind us how we should value the special relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. This book is recommended for 9+. This author and his wonderful picks are a good mix with Andy Stanton (Mr Gum), Philip Ardagh (The Grunts) and Jeremy Strong (Various).

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Itch…Alex Rider meets science geek…and the result is explosive!

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Itch : the explosive adventures of an element hunter by Simon Mayo published by Double Day/Random House 2012.

From the book’s website www.itchingham.co.uk:

Itchingham Lofte is an element hunter. He’s just an ordinary 14 year old boy, with one extraordinary mission – to collect all the elements in the periodic table. But as he soon finds out, some elements are so dangerous they can kill…

When Itch is given a strange rock by a mysterious man, it turns out to be something that no scientist has ever seen. Those who want the rock will stop at nothing, and if it gets into the wrong hands, the whole world could be in danger. Soon, Itch has to draw on everything he knows – and the contents of his rucksack – to keep himself and his family alive…

I had read about this book and thought it sounded great – a new, fresh and exciting storyline, that might appeal to the science lovers amongst my students. I wasn’t sure whether to buy it for my Primary School collection worrying that it might be more of a teen read. Yes, it is a more grown up read, but it is exactly the sort of book many of my year 6 and intermediate students are always looking for! This book for the most part is a thrilling ride and once I was into it, it became un-put-downable!

From the publisher:

Meet Itch – an accidental, accident-prone hero. Science is his weapon. Elements are his gadgets. This is a hero with Geek-Power!Itchingham Lofte – known as Itch – is fourteen, and loves science – especially chemistry. He’s also an element-hunter: he’s decided to collect all the elements in the periodic table. Which has some interesting and rather destructive results in his bedroom . . . Then, Itch makes a discovery. A new element, never seen before. At first no one believes him – but soon, someone hears about the strange new rock and wants it for himself. And Itch is in serious danger . . .

‘A great debut . . . you’ll be itching to read more.’ Anthony Horowitz

What do I think about this book?:

Coincidentally I started reading this book on the day I also read an article in the New York Times about the demise of the traditional chemistry set as an educational toy. It seems parents and toymakers are so risk averse these days that everything that is packaged in a chemistry or science exploration set needs to be safe enough to eat, and shouldn’t pose any danger whatsoever…to a child or their property. However the article also pointed out that modern science toys fit better with the educational  process of ‘Inquiry’ rather than being formulaic. “What we do is give kids the opportunity to learn through problem solving, …Of course, technology has also remade the experience of learning science. Children may be more likely to click on a science app than to go play outside.” (NY Times Dec 24 2012 see link to full article).

Itch (short for Itchingham Lofte) is a budding chemist/scientist and would certainly be a challenge for most parents. He takes a few risks in the beginning of the story that have disastrous consequences and are potentially life-threatening.  The beginning of the book may seem a little slow for some readers as Itch introduces us to his hobby of collecting all the elements in the periodic table. I found this fascinating, the science isn’t too overwhelming and it is more interesting than if our hero collected stamps, McDonalds toys or Pokemon cards! The author throughly describes Itch’s life at home with his family, his school and teachers as well as his limited social life (Itch doesn’t fit in with his peers easily). All these descriptions and the telling of Itch’s explosive experiments are essential to the reader’s understanding of why Itch so desperately wants to do the “right thing” later in the story and not only save his family but the world.

The author has obviously thoroughly researched the scientific aspects of this story – so much so that it feels a seamless blend of real science and a little science fiction. There is already news of a sequel “Itch rocks” – I hope it as good as this one! This copy available for loan in our library – early Term 1. In the mean time – visit the book website where you can read an extract from the book and download your own special poster of the periodic table.

For teachers: The National STEM Centre in the UK featured this book and promoted it during National Science & Engineering Week (9-18 March 2012).

The National STEM Centre has produced a special collection of resources on the eLibrary to support the release of the new novel. The Elements collection contains resources which can be used to support the teaching of elements and the periodic table.

You can also download an “itch” poster of the Periodic Table on the itchingham website here:

Roald Dahl would be proud…the Quality Chophouse…

Most of my young students will be far too young to remember, or know about, the thoroughly chilling Tales of the unexpected series, which used to air on television when I was …ahem… younger. Just yesterday, as I was reading a wonderful children’s thriller, I was lamenting to all who would listen in my household, that there just isn’t great children’s drama on the telly these days. The American shows on Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel just don’t cut it in my opinion – all they seem to have done is teach children how to overuse the word “like” and to inflame the current obsession with celebrities! Thankfully there is no shortage of brilliant children’s fiction being written which more than fills the gap!

Anyway back to Tales of the unexpected….it wasn’t really a children’s TV show but I am sure many older children watched it, especially if they loved Roald Dahl…

Tales of the Unexpected is a British television series that aired between 1979 and 1988. Each episode told a story, often with sinister and wryly comedic undertones, with an unexpected twist ending. Early episodes were based on the adult short stories by Roald Dahl collected in the books Tales of the Unexpected, Kiss Kiss and Someone Like You… (Source Wikipedia).

Here is a video taster… Roald Dahl introduced each of the earlier episodes. He makes some insightful comments about the difference between comedy and tragedy and the subtle, hard to get-just-right sliver in between, which is black comedy…something many writers strive for, but only a few can pull off successfully. (If you want to see any episodes in full – look on You Tube for the episode called “the Landlady” or “lamb to the slaughter” – these are two I remember after all this time!) – look for the books at the Public Library….I wouldn’t recommend the short stories for younger children, but middle and senior students might enjoy them.

Now, why am I telling you about this very old fashioned TV series when I am blogging about books you may ask?…in a very round about way, I wanted to tell you about the Shiverton Hall short story I gave you a link to yesterday.

The Quality chophouse by Emerald Fennell is a stunning little short story of the black and chilling variety. The publisher had warned that the reader needed a strong stomach to read it, and they were right. There is a twist in the tail of this story that Roald Dahl would be proud of. After reading this story I was immediately reminded of the Tales of the unexpected, because this tale would have been quite at home as an episode there.

I have started Shiverton Hall and I am thoroughly enjoying it, many of the scenes take me back to Harry Potter (what is it about English boarding schools that are so interesting?)… but parts of it really are really quite scary…my ten year old daughter is reading it now, but I am not sure if letting her read it right before bed is a good idea! (she has just finished A Tale dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz and subsequently has developed an appetite for the horrific.)

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Come and marvel at the curiosities within – Hetty Feather trilogy

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Hetty Feather (2009)

Sapphire Battersea (2011)

Emerald star (2012)

All by Jacqueline Wilson and published by Random House Children’s Books, UK.

Book 1 Hetty Feather:

In London, 1876, tiny baby Hetty Feather is abandoned at the Foundling Hospital. She is sent to live in the countryside with two foster brothers, Jem and Gideon, helping in the fields and playing imaginary games. Together the three sneak off to the travelling circus, where Hetty is mesmerised by the show – especially by Madame Adeline and her performing horses! Hetty’s happiness takes a knock when she is sent back to the Foundling Hospital, with its awful uniforms and terrible food. All the same, now she finally has the chance to track down her missing mother. Could she really be the wonderful Madame Adeline? Or will the truth be even more surprising?

A heart-tugging story of secrets and surprises from the blockbusting Jacqueline Wilson, introducing a feisty heroine who lives in historical times. (Source: Scholastic Bookclub UK)

Book 2 Sapphire Battersea:

Hetty Feather is a Foundling Hospital girl and was given her name when she was left there as a baby. When she is reunited with her mother, she hopes her beautiful new name, Sapphire Battersea, will also mean a new life! But things don’t always go as planned…

Follow the twists and turns of Hetty’s adventure as she goes out to work as a maid for a wealthy man. She longs to be reunited with her childhood sweetheart Jem – but also finds a new sweetheart, Bertie the butcher’s boy, who whisks her away from her chores to experience the delights of the funfair! (Source: Google books).

But Hetty’s life may also take a darker path. Can she cope with the trials ahead?

Book 3 Emerald Star:

Since leaving the Foundling Hospital, Hetty has seen her fair share of drama, excitement, tragedy and loss. Hetty sets off to find a real home at last – starting with the search for her father.

But Hetty is no longer a simple country girl, and begins to fear she’ll never truly belong anywhere. And even when she is reunited with her beloved childhood sweetheart Jem, Hetty still longs for adventure – especially when an enchanting figure from her past makes an unexpected reappearance. Could a more exciting future lie ahead for Hetty? (Source Google Books)

What do I think about these books?:

Jacqueline Wilson titles are very popular with girls of all ages in our library, but believing that a lot her books were about dysfunctional families and relationships I hadn’t really explored them. As I received Sapphire Battersea here at home during the holidays I decided to try it. After reading the first chapter I was hooked – what a great story!  It didn’t seem to matter that I hadn’t read the first book.

The first book “Hetty Feather” has been ordered and is on it’s way to me and I will buy Emerald Star once the slightly smaller size paperback is available. These are a fantastic read for year 5/6/7/8 girls and they are similar to the popular “my story” series from Scholastic, but with more personality and life. These are great stories about growing up and being independent but in an interesting historical context. There are lots of bitter sweet moments about friendship, love and loss. Hetty meets some interesting characters along the way and her ability to empathize with all of these people, is delightful.

Strange goings on at…Twelve minutes to midnight

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Twelve minutes to midnight by Christopher Edge, Published by Nosy Crow 2012.

From Booktrust.org.uk:

In 1899, thirteen year old orphan Penelope Tredwell is the author, editor and sole proprietor of London’s most popular magazine, The Penny Dreadful, concealing her true identity behind the pseudonym Montgomery Flinch. But when she receives a strange letter addressed to Flinch, Penelope finds herself drawn into a real-life adventure as thrilling as any she pens for the pages of her magazine. 

Every night at precisely twelve minutes to midnight, the inmates of Bedlam, London’s notorious madhouse, all begin feverishly writing – incoherent ramblings that Penelope quickly realises are in fact terrifying visions of the new century to come. But what is causing this strange phenomenon? Together with her trusted companion, printer’s apprentice Alfie, Penelope pits her sharp wits against this unearthly problem – and finds herself plunging into danger. 

Pacy and tightly-plotted, this is an exuberant and entertaining adventure story set in an appealingly foggy and sinister Victorian London. This adventure packed with exciting twists and turns will appeal to confident readers, and fans of Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockhart series.”

The Booktrust also listed Penny as one of their “inspirational heroines” in between Matilda (Roald Dahl) and Coraline (Neil Gaiman).

From the author (talking about one of his sources of inspiration):

“However, instead of a detective like Sherlock Holmes investigating the mystery, I wanted a different kind of hero or should I say heroine. Penelope Tredwell is the thirteen-year-old owner of The Penny Dreadful magazine whose sinister tales grip Victorian Britain, even though nobody knows that she’s the real author. Sniffing out a new story, Penny plunges into the heart of the mystery and proves herself to be just as courageous, quick-witted and resourceful as the famous resident of 221B Baker Street himself. In the course of her adventure, she even meets Sherlock Holmes’s creator – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who has a small part to play in helping her to solve the mystery.”

Read the full author blog entry from the UK Bookbuzz website here:

From the publisher (Nosy Crow):

“Montgomery Flinch gripped the sides of the reading lectern, his knuckles whitening as he stared out into the darkness of the auditorium. His bristling eyebrows arched and the gleam of his dark eyes seemed to dart across the faces of each audience member in turn. A mesmerised silence hung over the stage; it was as if the theatre itself was holding its breath as it waited for the conclusion to his latest spine-chilling tale. The expectant hush seemed to deepen as Flinch finally began to speak…”

And so the story begins…If you want to read more of the first chapter, you can download it from the Nosy Crow website:

What do I think about this book?:

I have been in the fortunate position of reading some really great fiction set in Victorian London lately. Firstly, Constable & Toop by the amazing Gareth P. Jones, Fire Spell by Laura Amy Schlitz (see my previous blog discussion on each of these titles below), A very unusual pursuit by Catherine Jenkins (the first in a new trilogy “City of orphans” and one I will discuss just prior to it’s publication) and now this splendid title. This is another book published by Nosy Crow, a relatively new UK children’s publisher. Every book or series that I have bought and read from their range has been a great hit with my students. This would appeal to age 10+ or year 6 -8 readers, both girls and boys, due to the strength of the main character.