Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Recommended Books for Older Readers 2016 (2)

Reviewed by Susan Stephenson,

Earlier this year, I brought you Recommended Books for Older Readers 2016. Here is the second instalment. All would make great gift ideas for a reader near you!

Boomerang and Bat was written by Mark Greenwood, illustrated by Terry Denton and published by Allen and Unwin (2106). RRP: $Au 29.99. I have previously reviewed Greenwood’s Midnight and Simpson and his Donkey.

From the publisher:

The first Australian cricket team to tour England was a group of Aboriginal stockmen. This is their story.

In 1868 a determined team of Aboriginal cricketers set off on a journey across the world to take on England's best.

Led by star all-rounder Johnny Mullagh, and wearing caps embroidered with a boomerang and a bat, they delighted crowds with their exceptional skill.

From the creators of Jandamarra, this is the remarkable story of the real first eleven.

Just because a child has reached an age that puts him into the category of “older reader” doesn’t mean that his reading skills are commensurate with his age. Here’s a wonderful illustrated picture book that targets kids 7 - 12. Cricket fans and kids who love sport in general will be caught up in the tale of Aboriginal cricketeers wowing crowds in England with their skills and love of the game.

Denton’s illustrations are full of detail, energy and character. Those scenes set in England are very evocative of time and place, as are the Australian bush and outback scenes. I love to think of kids enjoying the way Denton brings Greenwood’s well-written text to even more colourful life.

Apart from making an excellent choice for older readers, particularly those who may be daunted by a more traditional chapter book, Boomerang and Bat makes a great choice for a read-aloud. I know schools and libraries will value the way this book not only brings an interesting period of Australia’s history to life, but also shines a light on the Aboriginal men who made up the team known as Australia’s First Eleven, playing cricket overseas 10 years before the official representative Test Match.

King Flashypants and the Evil Emperor was written and illustrated by Andy Riley and published by Hodder Children’s Books (Hachette Children’s) (2016.) RRP: $Au 15.99.

From the publisher:

Every Friday, King Edwin spends all his money on chocolate for the peasants. But when the money runs out, Edwin finds himself in a fix. Cue the arrival of evil Emperor Nurbison, in his pointy-collared black cloak and accompanied by scary striding music. He has had his eye on Edwin's kingdom for a while and intends to use the peasants' unhappiness to his advantage!

When the emperor builds a fake dragon out of a cow, green crepe paper, furry monster novelty slippers and two birthday cake candles, to scare the peasants, Edwin knows it's time to come up with the first sneaky plan he's ever had in his life ...

King Flashypants himself is rather gormless, but endearing nonetheless. His heart is definitely in the right place because he showers the peasants with chocolate! Emperor Nurbison on the other hand is a lavishly evil villain who reminded me a lot of Darth Vader. Only stupider. There are lots of genuinely funny sketches interspersing the text which is in a large font. Some sketches have detail kids will pore over; others will make them giggle or guffaw. The writing is just the sort of over-the-top tongue-in-cheek fantasy kids will adore. Recommended for kids 7+ who love humour.

So Wrong (Uncensored) by Michael Wagner and doodles by Wayne Bryant, published by Billy Goat Books (2016). RRP: $Au14.99.

From the publisher:

How can something so wrong by so right!?

From the diabolically dangerous duo of author Michael Wagner and artist Wayne Bryant comes a naughty and subversive collection of twisted tales, odd ads, questionable life lessons and other forms of laugh-out-loud wrongness. But beware…

This book is rude, it has attitude, it’ll make your brain skewed, and someone should get sued, because sometimes IT’S TOTALLY NUDE!

Kids who like subversive humour will grab this book with glee. It has all the prerequisites: a magazine-style format, goofy sketches, a pre-occupation with poo, sarcasm, and patches of terrible spelling. What more could a reader want? Perfect for reluctant readers 10+ or anyone who wants a riotous read.

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee by Deborah Abela, published by Random House Australia (2016). RRPAu: $14.99.

From the publisher:

India Wimple can spell. Brilliantly. Every Friday night, she and her family watch the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee. When the Wimples suggest she enter the next Bee, India says she’s not good enough – but her family won’t hear it and encourage her to sign up.

There are plenty of obstacles to reaching the finals: something in India’s past has made her terribly shy, and moving on to each round involves finding the money to make it happen.

And finally, there’s Summer Millicent Ernestine Beauregard-Champion, a spoilt rich girl who is determined to win – and isn’t afraid to step on anyone who gets in her way.

This is a heart-warming story that would suit kids 7+ who enjoy chapter books. Believable dialogue and well-drawn characters make it a smooth easy read, and while India’s shyness is something many kids will relate to, her gradual burgeoning confidence will have all readers cheering her on.

The Lost Sapphire by Belinda Murrell, published by Penguin Random House (2016). RRP: $17.99. Also available as an e-book.

From the publisher:

Marli is staying with her dad in Melbourne, and missing her friends. Then she discovers a mystery – a crumbling, abandoned mansion is to be returned to her family after ninety years. Marli sneaks into the locked garden to explore, and meets Luca, a boy who has his own connection to Riversleigh.

A peacock hatbox, a box camera and a key on a velvet ribbon provide clues to what happened long ago . . .

In 1922, Violet is fifteen. Her life is one of privilege, with boating parties, picnics and extravagant balls. An army of servants looks after the family – including new chauffeur Nikolai Petrovich, a young Russian √©migr√©. Over one summer, Violet must decide what is important to her. Who will her sister choose to marry? What will Violet learn about Melbourne’s slums as she defies her father’s orders to help a friend? And what breathtaking secret is Nikolai hiding?

Violet is determined to control her future. But what will be the price of her rebellion?
I was familiar with Murrell’s Lulu Bell series which are books for younger readers, but this is the first of her books for older readers I’ve encountered. I’d recommend it to kids from around 10 upwards, especially those who like realistic, well-drawn characters, mysteries and historical settings.

Friday Barnes: The Plot Thickens by R.A.Spratt, published by Random House (2016). RRP: $Au15.99. I have reviewed Spratt’s chapter books: The Adventures of Nanny Piggins, and Nanny Piggins and the Race to Power, as well as Friday Barnes: Girl Detective, Friday Barnes: Under Suspicion and Friday Barnes: No Rules.

From the publisher:

When Friday Barnes gets involved in her frenemy Ian Wainscott’s family dispute, it appears her knack for uncovering the truth may ruin their friendship once and for all.

Highcrest Academy is no longer a fun place to be. Ian has declared war on Friday and she is thinking of leaving . . . for good. Meanwhile, there’s two new teachers to contend with – a celebrity artist whose intentions are somewhat unclear, and an over-enthusiastic PE teacher on a fitness crusade. Between them and Ian, it’s going to be one dangerous term. Can Friday repair her friendship with Ian, restore her perfect school–life balance and work out who is committing the blatant acts of vandalism around Highcrest? No one said high school would be easy!

Friday Barnes is such a fun character, admittedly flawed, but smart and observant! Here she is in her fifth adventure, again attempting to right wrongs and confound the evil-doers. Kids 10+ who enjoy humour, action and solving mysteries will love this series.

All of Us Together by Bill Condon, published by About Kids Books (2016). RRP: $14.99.

From the publisher:

As the Great Depression of the 1930s worsens the O’Casey family finds itself facing an uphill battle to survive. Like many fathers of that time, John O’Casey leaves his family to go in search of work. Back at home, his wife Margaret has to raise their three young children. Daniel, the eldest child, takes it on himself to try to raise money for the family. He wants to be ‘the man’ but that’s close to impossible for someone who’s just 12-years-old. His best friend is Bede Holland, a boy who has no trouble bending the rules, or using his fists when he feels he has to. Daniel has a much more placid nature, yet he is determined not to appear weak in Bede’s eyes. He doesn’t want to lose him as a friend, because he hasn’t got any others. As he says, ‘some kids aren’t good at making them’.

Apart from Bede, Daniel’s main confidant is his sister, Adelaide. Even though she is nearly two years his junior, she is often the voice of reason Daniel needs to hear when he is faced with a moral dilemma. There is much good-natured teasing and playful banter between them, as there is with the youngest child, Lydia, who has just started school. Despite the difficult circumstances the O’Casey’s sometimes encounter, they remain stoic and face their problems head-on. ‘That’s how life is’, their mother says. ‘We can’t run away. As long as we all stand together, we can get through anything’.

This is a great choice for children who like realistic fiction with an authentic historical setting (the Depression years in Australia). Daniel, the protagonist, is 12 and his two sisters are younger. Condon’s easy-reading style makes this perfect for readers 10+ who enjoy uncomplicated sentence structure, humour and realism.

The Shark Caller by Dianne Wolfer, published by Penguin Random House (2016) RRP: $Au17.99.

From the publisher:

Isabel is on a plane heading back to her island birthplace in Papua New Guinea. Izzy is looking forward to seeing her family again, but there’s another tragic reason for the trip. Izzy’s twin brother, Ray, died in a freak diving accident, and Izzy and her mum are taking his ashes home for traditional death ceremonies.

After they arrive, Izzy realises things have changed since their last visit. Logging threatens the community’s way of life and sharks no longer answer the song of the shark callers.

Izzy’s cousin Noah explains that the clan needs someone to undertake a traditional diving ritual. The person must be a twin from the shark calling lineage. The dive will be perilous.

And Izzy is the last twin.

Will she have the courage to attempt the dive? And what deep, dark secrets will the ocean reveal if she does?

Izzy is a strong female character who is afraid but determined to carry out her mission as the last shark caller. Wolfer’s use of the present tense give the text a sense of immediacy and help pull us strongly into Izzy’s point of view. I recommend this book to schools looking to augment the diversity of their resources, and to young teens who enjoy drama and fantasy.

Sophie Someone by Hayley Long, published by Bonnier (2016) (Allen and Unwin.) RRP: $Au$16.99.

From the publisher:

Sophie Someone is a tale of well-intentioned but stupid parenting, shock, acceptance and, ultimately, forgiveness, written in a brave, memorable and unique language all of its own.

Sophie Nieuwenleven came to live in Belgium when she was around five years old. At fourteen, she is still confused about why her family ever had to leave England in the first place. In Sophie, we meet a likeable, strong character who is struggling to make sense of her world, like so many teens.

While some young people might find Sophie’s unique language slightly confusing, it graphically portrays her own confusion and the mystery around her identity. As Sophie says, “'Some stories are hard to tell. Even to your very best friend. And some words are hard to get out of your mouth. Because they spell out secrets that are too huge to be spoken out loud. But if you bottle them up, you might burst. So here's my story. Told the only way I dare tell it.’” And so, bit by bit, we readers climb inside the main character’s head and decipher the tale of not Sophie Nieuwenleven, but Sophie Someone, thereby unravelling the mystery behind her life.

This book was short-listed for the Costa 2015 Children’s Book Award. I would recommend it to children 12+.

You can also read lots of reviews of recently published books for children in my HUGE list of Books, Apps and Gift Ideas for Kids and Other People, 2016. 

Find more Children's Book Reviews on The Book Chook by clicking Reviews in the right sidebar.


  1. So many great suggestions! Thank you! I've got a 12 year old to buy for this year and this post helps.

    1. That's kind of you to let me know, Julie.


Related Posts with Thumbnails