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Broken by Elizabeth Pulford, illustrated by Angus Gomes (Walker Books Australia)

23 Jun

BrokenApparently many years in the making, Broken is a gripping, finely crafted ‘mise en abyme’ – a story within a story where the inner story, set inside a comic book world, is framed by the outer story of Zara who is in a coma. A newspaper article at the start of the book lets us know that Zara was on the back of her brother Jem’s motorbike when he swerved to avoid a toddler. Hailed as a hero by the toddler’s parents and the media, Zara doesn’t know that Jem, the keeper of her secrets, has died and she is still searching for him in her comatose state. She enters a comic-book world which is shown in graphics and with a different typeface. Here she encounters Jem’s favourite comic superhero, Hoodman, and the angel hero, Dark Eagle. Chased and confronted by the evil Morven, she uses her artistic gifts to draw and erase doorknobs and windows as she seeks and escapes. Her coma state doesn’t stop her from some awareness of the real world, where conversations are shown in italics, and her terrifying back-story is also merged into the narrative with extraordinary skill. Images of doors, especially a  blue door, rooms, a cupboard, a pathway of shells, water and glass and dark and light provide clues as to what has gone before and develop the tale without interrupting the lucid style.

Walker Books has also recently published another book for mid secondary readers which celebrates the power of art to unlock and enhance life; The Colour of Trouble by Gerry Bobsien. Both these novels are deserving of very wide readerships and Broken, in particular, should be lauded as an exceptional work.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

The Extraordinaires: The Extinction Gambit by Michael Pryor (Random House Australia)

31 Mar

Michael Pryor has cemented his place as one of Australia’s foremost writers of speculative fiction. His two recent series, the ‘Laws of Magic’, some of which have been CBCA Notable Books, and ‘The Extraordinaires’, which recently debuted with The Extinction Gambit,  resemble the excellent ‘Bartimaeus’ series by Jonathan Stroud.

Set in 1908, the London Olympics are looming – so 2012 is an ideal time to read this book with another London Olympics on the way.

Kingsley Ward has wolf-tendencies and wants to be a magician and escapologist. His first major performance is ruined but he is helped by albino juggler, Evadne, whose ‘quicksilveriness’ suggests that her name may derive from the word ‘evade’. Kingsley’s foster father disappears and his housekeeper is murdered. Kingsley and Evadne must escape to the Demimonde, a half-world of the dispossessed which they enter through a floor between the 4th and nominal 5th levels of an unobtrusive office building.

The Immortals are stealing children’s souls so Kingsley and Evadne must act to save humanity, otherwise all is doomed. They are followed by Rudyard Kipling. What is his interest in Kingsley?

Pryor has created a rich, sensory world. He uses language magnificently. There are many strands in this intricate story that readers in middle school and older will enjoy following.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant

Australian Series for Young Girls

18 Feb

Anna Branford has recently penned Neville No-Phone but she has also written one of the best regarded Australian series for young girls in recent times. Violet Mackerel’s Brilliant Plot (Walker Books) was a CBCA Book of the Year: Younger Reader shortlisted title in 2011 and its follow-up, Violet Mackerel’s Remarkable Recovery, is just as assured. Hopefully Branford can regain the high standard of these two books. Illustrator, Sarah Davies, plays an equally important role in creating Violet’s endearing vulnerability.

The ‘Walker Stories’ are of interest for the young as they can be read aloud to children, or reasonable readers in junior primary could read them alone or with some help. Each book contains three short stories or chapters and some are humorous, such as Mr Tripp Smells a Rat and Mr Tripp Goes for a Skate by Sandy McKay and Ruth Paul.

The ‘Billie B Brown’ (Hardie Grant Egmont) series of easy-to-read books for girls in junior to mid primary have large font and tap into the interests and feelings of girls in that age range.

More complex is the ‘EJ12 Girl Hero’ series (Lemonfizz Media, Scholastic). These secret agent stories take code-breaker specialist, Emma/EJ12 to exciting places in Australia and beyond but also cover realistic issues with her friends.  Technology is up-to-date and within the experience of the mid to upper primary girl readership.

Probably the most original of these series for young girls is ‘Kumiko’ by Briony Stewart, beginning with Kumiko and the Dragon and, most recently, Kumiko and the Shadow Catchers (UQP). Perfect for 2012’s Year of the Dragon, Kumiko blends east and west in an Australian setting with a fantasy element.

For girls in mid primary and up into mid secondary, Scholastic has released Raven Lucas: Missing, a Conspiracy 365 alternative for girls by Christine Harris. Raven’s father is missing and she thinks she sees either him or someone else wearing his coat and hat. Red herrings and dead ends litter the trail of suspects in this suspenseful mystery.

by Joy Lawn, Children’s Literature Consultant