Tag Archives: Australian Fiction

New series for younger readers…The cryptic casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta

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The perplexing pineapple. Written by Ursula Dubosarsky, with puzzles and illustrations by Terry Denton. (The cryptical casebook of Coco Carlomagno and Alberta; book 1). Published by Allen and Unwin, May 2013. Paperback, 84 pages. ISBN:9781743312575 NZ$15.99

OTHER TITLES IN THE SERIES 

The Looming Lamplight – June 2013

The Missing Mongoose – July 2013

Synopsis:

Buenos Aires’ Chief of Police, Coco Carlomagno, is sure his office high in the Obelisco is haunted. Every day at the same time he sees a floating pineapple and every day he hears a terrible noise. What could it mean? Who could it be? There’s only one guinea pig Coco can turn to to help him in his hour of need: his logic-loving cousin Alberta. Can Alberta help him unravel the mysteries of the perplexing pineapple?

Ursula Dubosarsky has created a fun mystery series for younger readers (6-8 year olds) featuring what she says are three of her favourite things…”They often tell you in writing classes – write about something you love. Well, three things I love are guinea pigs, detective stories and the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina. And I’m happy to say in this series of books, the three loves have come together.”

The books are short, divided into 6 chapters and interwoven with hand drawn illustrations. Throughout the text there are small word puzzles (rebus puzzles) for the reader to solve. Some of the younger readers may need help with these, especially with spelling. If children seem interested after completing these, a simple google search for Rebus Puzzles would find more that could be printed off and completed. Lots of fun to be had, especially if children are encouraged to make up their own puzzles and clues to share with their friends and siblings.

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The story also features sporadic words in Spanish, enough to lend an exotic feel to the story in context and not too difficult to work out the meaning. The definitions and a brief description of the meaning is included on each page where the Spanish word appears. I like this simple introduction to footnotes for this age group.

Overall, I thought this a sweet series, nothing too onerous or challenging for the target audience and pitched at the right level – there is nothing scary about the mystery. I will be adding these to the collection of early chapter books I have in my library. These will also be useful for the struggling readers at age 8-9 who enjoy humorous animal stories and are looking for new stories to help them with reading mileage.

Thank you to Allen & Unwin for supplying me with an advance copy for review. I was delighted to find that this book is included in this months Scholastic Junior Chapter Book standing order.

A story can be a dangerous thing….Song for a scarlet runner by Julie Hunt

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Song for a scarlet runner by Julie Hunt. Published by Allen & Unwin, 2013.  Paperback, 324 pp. ISBN: 9781743313589. rrp NZ$19.99 (Also available on Overdrive ebook platform for libraries).

From the publisher:

The fantastic story of a young girl who must run for her life because she has brought bad luck to her village…Classic adventure-fantasy by an author with a fabulous and original storytelling voice.

Once, long ago and far from here, there were endless marshes, and in the marshes lived a marsh auntie, and that marsh auntie wore a coat with a thousand pockets, and in the pocket of that coat was a pouch, and inside that pouch was a nail, and that nail had the power to open a treacherous story…

Peat is on the run – forced to flee for her life when she’s blamed for bringing bad luck to her village. She heads for the endless marshes, where she’s caught by an old healer-woman who makes Peat her apprentice and teaches her the skill of storytelling.
But a story can be a dangerous thing. It can take you out of one world and leave you stranded in another – and Peat finds herself trapped in an eerie place beyond the Silver River where time stands still. Her only friends are a 900-year-old boy and his ghost hound, plus a small and slippery sleek – a cunning creature that might sink his teeth into your leg one minute, and save your life the next.

‘A gripping tale…Both magical and superbly true, this new world draws us into universal struggles of survival, loyalty and freedom, as secrets build and break around us like weather.’ ANNA FIENBERG

Book trailer:

About the author:

Julie Hunt lives on a farm in southern Tasmania and is fascinated by landscapes and the stories they inspire. This interest has taken her from the rugged west coast of Ireland to the ice caves of Romania. She loves poetry, storytelling and traditional folktales, and her own stories combine other-worldly elements with down-to-earth humour. Her picture books include The Coat (ill. Ron Brooks) and Precious Little (ill. Gaye Chapman). She’s written a three-book series called Little Else about a plucky young cowgirl (ill. Beth Norling), and a graphic novel called KidGlovz (ill. by Dale Newman, who did the Scarlet Runner cover).
In Song for a Scarlet Runner, Julie explores an idea that occurs in many traditional stories throughout the world – the ‘external soul’. A person’s spirit is taken from their body and hidden away so they can never be killed, but eventually time and the laws of nature catch up with them.

What did I think about Song for a scarlet runner?

I found this a highly original tale – it is beautifully written and children that love fantasy where the reader is totally immersed in a different world will love this. In many ways it reads like historical fiction, the story could easily be describing life in the dark ages, the fantasy element is gradually introduced.

Peat and her older sister Marlie live in isolation at the Overhang, a barren desolate place where three roads meet but no one ever travels along them. The nearest village or collection of dwellings is Skerrick from where they were banished on the day of Peat’s birth. Peat was born with flaming red hair and one brown eye and one green. Her father disowned her and banished her mother and sister along with her. The two girls have lived very simply, tending cattle, making cheeses and the only thing they have to look forward to is the infrequent visits from their Aunt Wim. Wim brings supplies and takes the cheeses back to Skerrick.

One day a stranger comes along the road and tells them about his part of the world, and although it is close to Skerrick Peat and Marlie had no idea it existed. Peat is curious and asks lots of questions. Unfortunately the stranger is suffering from  a plague like illness and after traveling on further to Skerrick, he infects the residents. This causes the wrath of Peat’s father to fall upon her again. Even though she has always longed for an adventure she is forced to go on the run into the badlands, leaving her sister behind. Peat meets a strange creature that she calls a Sleek. Despite the Sleek sometimes biting and hurting her and stealing the little food she has, he also helps her and becomes her traveling companion. Peat meets people along the way but she is unable to stay anywhere and has to keep moving further on, eventually into the marshes.

Once in the marshes Peat is fortunate to meet the Marsh Aunties, a group of strange, gifted women.  Eadie is a larger than life character, wearing an organic living coat with 1000 pockets, all containing the herbs and other materials she needs for healing and making remedies. Eadie, rescues Peat and encourages her to be her apprentice and pass on to her, the skill of storytelling. While the reader is being coaxed lovingly into this story by the warm characters and delicious prose, the characters are telling us about the power and magic of oral storytelling. Unfortunately Peat is tricked and without spoiling the story, let me just say that Peat has to use the power of story telling herself in order to escape and rescue her friend Stiltboy.

The whole book is a very satisfying, rich fantasy read without the usual layers of props (dragons, wizards and the rest!). I believe that both girls and boys 9+ should love this book. It would be great read aloud.

My thanks to Allen & Unwin for sending an advance copy of this book for review.

More Victorian chills….A very unusual pursuit

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A very unusual pursuit by Catherine Jinks. (City of orphans; book 1). Published by Allen & Unwin, 2013. 360 pages. Available in NZ bookstores now: rrp $18.99

‘A bogle’s a bogle. I don’t care what it looks like, long as I can kill it.’

From the publisher:

Monsters have been bothering Londoners for centuries, and the only solution is to call in the experts. Alfred Bunce, the bogler, has a ten-year-old apprentice, Birdie McAdam. With her beautiful voice and dainty appearance, Birdie is the bait that draws bogles from their lairs so that Alfred can kill them. Then one life-changing day, Alfred and Birdie are approached by two very different women. Sarah Pickles runs a local gang of young pickpockets, three of whom have disappeared in unsettling circumstances. Edith Eames is an educated lady who’s studying the mythical beasts of English folklore. Birdie soon realises that her very livelihood is under threat, as Miss Eames tries to persuade Alfred that there must be a more ‘scientific’ way of killing bogles.  But only with Miss Eames’s help, can Birdie save her master, defeat Sarah Pickles, and defeat an altogether nastier villain, the treacherous Doctor Morton, and vanquish a terrifying and deadly bogle. Catherine Jinks, one of Australia’s most inventive writers, has created a fast-paced and enthralling adventure story with edge-of-your-seat excitement and chills.

What do I think about this book?

I absolutely love this cover…. it is a really great introduction to the mood of this story. From the very first page of this book I was plunged headfirst into the dark, dank and dangerous world that was Victorian London. The children of London’s poor, often orphans, had to work at a very young age and tended to be employed in very dangerous occupations – sweeping chimneys and cleaning sewers. Sometimes children were illegally ’employed’ by Fagan type characters called “gangers” running gangs of urchins to pick the pockets of unsuspecting passersby and to steal from shops, stalls and houses. Add some very scary ‘bogles” (monsters or goblins or the bogeymen that hide in chimneys and sewers) to their already dangerous lives, and working children would be terrified.

The language and writing is superb – I love the way the author presents a throughly convincing and authentic feeling Victorian environment while at the same time weaving a very believable fantasy. At first I was a little worried that some of my young readers would be put off by the dialogue which gives this story a real Dickensian tone, but once immersed in the story the language really adds to the depth of the plot. The reader is aided by a glossary of terms at the end of the book, but even without using this the reader is carried along with the contextual clues in the text.

…from chapter 5…(Miss Eames is showing Alfred and Birdie pictures of water monsters known as Grindylows, Jenny Greenteeth, or Peg Powler…)

She thrust the book under Alfred’s nose, so sharply that he recoiled. When Birdie rushed to join him, she saw that the pages had fallen open at a picture of a creature – half hag, half troll – with long, tangled hair and a ragged cloak on it’s back.

“‘That don’t look like no bogle I ever saw,’ Birdie commented, cocking her head to one side.

‘It is perhaps drawn from a verbal description,’ Miss Eames said delicately, ‘and not from life.’

‘A bogle’s a bogle.’ Alfred’s tone was gruff. ‘I don’t care what it looks like, long as I can kill it.’

‘Them sewer pipes is thick with bogles,’ Birdie added. ‘Ain’t that right, Mr Bunce?’ To Miss Eames she remarked, ‘It’s very likely me own Ma died on account of a bogle. She were a tosher, see, but left me in a drain one day, and no one’s seen her since.’

‘But how dreadful!’ Miss Eames looked quite shocked….

If I use the glossary I learn that a Tosher is a sewer scavenger, but I could have easily read on without checking this and I suspect many children reading would be too wrapped up in the story to stop! The story is full of characters with unusual occupations and unusual names, here are a few:  cadger, caffler, coal whipper, cracksman, griddler, hurrier, muck snipe and slavvy.

The characters are richly and vividly drawn. Alfred Bunce is rough but genuinely fond of Birdie, ensuring her support and loyalty later on in the story. Birdie is small and looks delicate with the face and voice of an angel, but is feisty, determined and brave. Miss Eames is rather proper and true to her class, her fascination with and belief in mystical creatures was common during the Victorian era, and she is motivated by kindness. The villains – Sarah Pickles and Doctor Morton are all too believable. The story is as much about Alfred and Jem (Birdie’s male friend), as it is about Birdie.

This historical fantasy will be a great read for children aged 9-12 who enjoyed Constable & Toop by Gareth P. Jones or Fire spell (Splendors and Glooms) by Laura Amy Schlitz,  and I think my students will really enjoy this book.  Boys who don’t tend to read stories where the main character is a girl will miss out on a thrilling adventure with great suspense.

I will be ordering a copy of this for our library. The copy I read was an advance review copy supplied by the publisher (thank you Allen & Unwin!).  This is the first book in a planned trilogy (the second book is due to be published July 2013 with the final installment due early 2014.) I am really looking forward to the next exciting installment in this trilogy!

Link to author website: http://www.catherinejinks.com

Link to publisher website: http://www.allenandunwin.com

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