One of my personal fun tasks is to write reviews for Talespinner the Children’s Literature Journal for Christchurch College of Education. I have read four new NZ books lately and I thought they would all be a great books to buy as Xmas presents. They are as follows:
Jack the Viking by Melinda Szymanik
Jack is in big trouble. Things are going very badly at home: Dad is sick, his Mum is worried sick, he’s letting down the swimming team with his poor performance, and as if that isn’t bad enough, he’s being bullied by some nasty boys. Like all of us he wishes he was a super hero who could make all his problems go away. And he gets his wish – or at least a version of it – only to discover being a warrior isn’t all he thought it might be.
Suddenly, he is a thousand years in the past and trying to persuade the people around him he really is a Viking and not an enemy spy. He manages to persuade them he has lost his way from a foreign land, but draws the line at trying to explain 21st century New Zealand! Luckily, he is taken in by a friendly family and he just beginning to enjoy himself and learn some hunting techniques when the village is attacked and he finds himself on the run with other young survivors of the massacre. They are the only hope for the rescue of Stig’s step-mother and sister who are being held captive. So, the young warriors must travel four days by sea to Bergen to get support from the ruling lords and Stig’s uncle.
At first, the persona of Jack seemed a little forced and more like a female character, but once the action starts the story is very entertaining and all young lovers of adventure and fantasy will find it a great read. Even more exciting is the open ending and readers will have to wait until 2009 to read Magnetic North and find out if Karin and Krista are rescued … This book would be most suitable for confident readers from the age of 7 or 8, and would be equally enjoyed by boys and girls as there are interesting characters of both genders in the story.
Melinda has a great website and blog.
Chronicles of Stone: Set in Stone by Vincent Ford
This is the second book in a trilogy, but your enjoyment of it is not adversely affected if you haven’t read the first. The plot of Scorched Bone is summarised smoothly in the first chapter so the reader is free to follow the exciting adventures of the twins, Trei and Souk as they infiltrate the camp of the feared Northmen in a determined effort to learn their weapon making secrets.
The twins come from a people who are starving due to their inferior hunting weapons. The Northmen know the secrets of working bone tips and other superior technologies. They guard their advantage jealously and are known to murder people from other tribes who come across them. This is a tale full of excitement, death, romance and political intrigue. It has plenty to interest both genders and should be a hit with young people who also enjoy historical detail. As a girl I was not particularly drawn to the descriptions of weapon making, but other readers would find this detail fascinating.
One of the beneficial aspects to having twin main characters is that the reader can follow Trei’s efforts to be accepted by the hunters and tool makers, and if that isn’t exciting enough there is Souk’s equally difficult challenge to be accepted as a healer – and what is she going to do about her growing love for one of the young hunters, Dresh, when Trei wants to return to their own people?
All of the characters are well-drawn, even the minor ones and the action has real grit. It is most suitable for teenage readers of either gender and I could imagine that once started on the series it would quickly become addictive.
The Lord of Beasts by Justin Elliott
An entertaining book for older readers who enjoy real magic or fantasy stories. Hunter is a pleasant young boy with a hardworking mother whom he tries to protect. He is being bullied, but he doesn’t want to bother his mum who is trying to hold down several jobs to put food on the table. After a bump to the head Hunter finds life is just not the same. He can’t believe it, but the animals are definitely talking to him! Fate sends him two friends, then another, who help him navigate the strange and wondrous events that begin to unfold. The trio find themselves in the land of faery, working against the Dark Court and trying to avoid the Barghest (a very nasty dog like demon) who is determined to hunt them down.
I think this is a well-written story that ends with an exciting glimpse in the last page towards the next book in the series. The characters are very engaging and credible. It should appeal to a wide range of readers of both genders because it has action, a hint of romance and plenty of arcane knowledge of the faery realm. Older children who enjoy Harry Potter, or Tolkien and Pullman fans who would rather read something a bit shorter would find this a good choice. It has all the elements of fantasy, without the verbosity of Tolkien and the action is fast-paced and very fun. Well worth a look.
This is Justin’s first book published and he has a very cool website.
Space Gum by Tania Roxborough
Carl is a young man whose father encourages him to play practical jokes – the wackier the better. Unfortunately, his mother doesn’t always find them very funny, especially if she comes upon Carl’s latest effort – instead of his father!
Dad, a Science teacher, thinks he will help Carl stay out of Mum’s hair and find an outlet for some of his energy, by taking him to see an old scientist friend. But instead of the exciting result Carl hopes for, he comes home with a stack of boring old books. The best use Carl can find for one of them is to use it for his cartoon drawings, and that is how he finds “the formula.” A trip to the museum to find out more about it seems to be a dead end, but that little piece of scribble soon becomes the catalyst for a lot of chasing and running and intrigue.
This is a good choice for male and female readers of 8 to 11 years, and quite suitable for less able readers as it has very short chapters, a humorous thread for variety and a straightforward plot. It would also be a suitable text for teachers to read aloud to a class as there are lots of cliff-hanger chapter endings. And it could easily provide some interesting class reflection, because the source of the chase: “space gum,” also raises difficult conservation dilemmas that children will enjoy discussing.