Exploring Children's Books

News and reviews from Mia Macrossan


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Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo

The American writer Kate DiCamillo who recently was the American Children’s Laureate will be in Brisbane on 30th May. Go and see her if you can, she is brilliant. Her latest book just out in pb is Raymie Nightingale, the story of a  girl trying to get her father back into her life. Raymie’s plan is to win the baton twirling contest, get her picture in the paper and her dad will see it and maybe come home. First however she has to compete with two formidable rivals, two girls who also have their own secret agendas. You may wonder about the baton twirling but it is not really important. The story is all about the madcap adventures that the three girls get up to in order to achieve their goals.  The story has all the DiCamillo trademarks, the people are real,vivid and perhaps a little strange, the emotions are universal and it is blazingly funny and heartbreaking at the same time. Raymie Nightingale is published by Walker books, available in hb and pb,  a brilliant story for clever 10 years and upwards.


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CBCA Notables very varied list

Each year when the CBCA Notables come out there is always a lot of comment about the nature and type of book that is given the sticker ‘notable’. When I was a judge 2013-14, there was plenty of robust debate about what  is and what isn’t a literary work. It’s bit like Justice Potter Stewart’s famous phrase ” I know it when I see it”. I certainly know when I don’t see it. Here is a list of cheerful, entertaining, well- produced books which does contain some titles that are more challenging, layered and thoughtful. I am already looking forward to seeing the Short List for each category but meanwhile it’s good fun to explore the Notables.


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Flora and Ulysses The Illuminated Adventures

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo illustrated by K G Campbell Candlewick Press $15.99  Age 10+

Flora, has signed a contract with her mother to turn her face away from the idiotic high jinks of comics and toward the bright light of true literature. When Flora rescues the squirrel Ulysses from the vacuum cleaner he gains super powers. He becomes just like a hero in her favourite comic and plenty of high jinks ensue. Together Flora and Ulysses battle misguided parents, dotty neighbours, and make some surprising new friends. This hilarious book is liberally illustrated in comic book style.  It’s a fantastic read and a marvellous example of true literature. Kate DiCamillo’s has been the  National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, an honour bestowed by the Library of Congress and other groups to promote children’s reading and literature across the USA.


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There May be a Castle by Piers Torday

There May be a Castle by Piers Torday

Quercus Children’s Books 292 pages,  $26.99 Age 10+

A young boy sets out on a magical adventure on Christmas Eve. Set in a magical world sort of, this layered and complex work won the Guardian Children’s literary award. It is about a boy called Mouse, because he is small and dreamy, often away in his own world, and not very successful in everyday things. On Christmas Eve his mother takes him and his two sisters on a drive to his grandparents’ house to spend Xmas together. On the way the car has an accident and Mouse is catapulted into a different world, where his favourite toys are real although different from what he expected. He is on a quest to reach the castle, accompanied by a sheep and a bossy horse.  He meets minstrels, wizards, and dinosaurs but the big horror is the giant Pink Knight who is pursuing him. It is all very surreal, very gripping. It is also very funny but touching as well. The ending is stunning. I do wish that this book had been illustrated and that may happen in a future edition.


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The War that Saved My Life

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley

Text Publishing $16.99 Age 10+

This intense, gripping and heart wrenching story tells how 9 yr old Ada leaves her one room apartment with her young brother to join the evacuees leaving London during the blitz. She has a twisted foot that makes it difficult and painful for her to walk. Ada really thrives in the country; she learns to read, teaches herself to ride a pony, makes friends and learns to look after herself and to trust others. This is a long story, over 300 pages, but Ada is such a strong and engaging person, her world is so carefully presented, so rich and varied with humour and pathos combined that you can’t put it down. A sequel is coming soon.


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Sage Cookson’s Fishy Surprise

Sage Cookson’s Fishy Surprise  by Sally Murphy

New Frontier 58 pages $9.99 Age 7+

The Sage Cookson series are engaging little mysteries for beginning readers of 7 years +. They feature a curious 10 year old girl whose parents are famous cooks on television. They travel around Australia looking for locations to film and Sage somehow always discovers a mystery and has an adventure. This time the case of who dumped a whole pile of rotting fish on a beautiful beach is compounded by the reappearance of a former rival cook. Inevitably Sage gets too involved and finds herself in a predicament but luckily she has her phone and her friend Lucy nearby so all ends happily.  The  large print and pleasing chapter illustrations make this latest offering  good value for emerging readers. It even comes with a recipe at the back of the book. There is also a fun website at sagecookson.com.au which teaches you how to make a chef’s hat.


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Reckless Book 1 :The Petrified Flesh

Reckless  Book 1: The Petrified Flesh by Cornelia Funke

Pushkin Children’s Books 346 p $16.95 Age 13+

an interesting puzzle in that it is an extensively revised version of an earlier publication by the German writer Cornelia Funke. Reckless Book 1, The Petrified Flesh is the story of two brothers, Jacob and Will. Jacob, the elder has discovered a mirrorworld, a land behind the mirror in the study in their apartment. He disappears into this world and becomes a successful treasure hunter, finding magical items for those prepared to pay his price.  Will follows him and discovers that fairy tales are real if very different from what we have been told in our world. When Will is cursed, and has only a short time to live before his whole body turns to jade, it is up to Jacob to use all his wits and experience to try and save him. This is the first book in a trilogy, the other titles are Living Shadow and The Golden Yarn. It is beautifully written, highly original, with many unexpected twists and turns, and a very exciting read. It can lean a little towards the dark side which is why I recommend a reading age of 13+.  Cornelia Funke has been compared to J K Rowling. Personally I think Funke is better than Rowling but you will have to read the books to make up your own mind.