Sunday, December 11, 2011

Books for Middle School

People by Blexbolex, Gecko Press

 Another challenging book by Gecko Press. It’s hardbound with a jacket and is presented in an unusual size (25cm x 19cm). It’s as thick as a proper book (that is, not a picture book) but this is in part due to the very solid paper used. Librarians will be scratching their heads wondering where to shelve it. Each page presents a minimalistic image of a person in some kind of role, along with words that describe the role. So we find School Children, a Conductor, a Painter, a Stevedore, an Astronaut. So far so good. But the artist’s sly sense of humour comes through when we find images for A Seasonal Worker (Santa Claus), a Myth (Prometheus pushing his stone), a Nudist, an Invisible Man, a Risk-Taker. Humour is also evident in the juxtaposition of the images – an Explorer is next to Tourists, a Monk is next to a Rabbi, a Vagabond is next to a Bedouin.
Now, who would appreciate a book like this? I could see it being used in primary schools for social studies lessons, but children will probably need guidance from teachers to help them think about the not-so-obvious aspects of the images. Art teachers may also be interested in it because the illustrations certainly bear out the “Less is more” guideline. By the way, Blexbolex is a French illustrator and graphic artist, and this book won the Best Book Design in the World Award at the Leipzig Book Fair.
ISBN 978 1 1877467 87 3 RRP $37.99
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

D.E.S.I.G.N.* by Ewa Solarz, illus. Aleksandra and Daniel Mizielinski, Gecko Press
The asterisk stands for Domestic Equipment: Sleek, Ingenious, Groundbreaking, Noteworthy – all qualities which could be applied to this book. It’s a solid hardback volume (originally published in Poland) using top-quality paper, meaning that it has a definite feel-good aspect. It offers a selection of 69 objects created by “the most influential and famous designers from around the world”. These are all objects which can be found in a house, and they are presented chronologically. Each double spread display includes cartoon illustrations, explanatory text, the date of invention, the designer’s country of origin, the material it’s made from – and various other bits of information. Not to mention a great deal of humour! The featured objects are not what you’d expect – browsing through the volume one can find an elephant chair, a skier’s table, a grass sofa, a cosmic lamp, an octopus-shaper juicer, animal houses with tails, sky shelves, and a floor doily... I rather like the indestructible sofa. The cartoon illustrations are colourful and funny – and quite addictive. You find yourself turning the page just to see what weird object is going to come up next.

Strangely enough, I see this book as being of interest to schoolchildren of five to fifteen because of the universal humour. But as a reference tool, it would probably be useful for students once they start studying design as part of their curriculum.
ISBN 978 1 877467 83 7 RRP $39.99

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman
The Littlest Angel: Lily Goes Skitter Skating by Elizabeth Pulford, illus. Aki Fukuoka, Scholastic NZ

The Littlest Angel: Lily Lands in Bubble Trouble by Elizabeth Pulford, illus. Aki Fukuoka, Scholastic NZ
These are Books 3 and 4 in The Littlest Angel series. If you know the series, you hardly need to read on but if you don’t, Lily is a pupil at Amelia’s Angel Academy (think fairies, rather than traditional, religious-type angels), the kind of student who always has the best of intentions but gets herself into some awful scrapes. The presentation of the books in the series is clever – girls will love the sparkly silver bits on the cover, the glitzy coloured foil on the page edges, and the pastel shading on the pages themselves. I’m sure there are plenty of primary-aged girls out there who already love Lily and will be delighted to find these two volumes in their Christmas stockings.
ISBN 978 1 77543 024 7 RRP $12
ISBN 978 1 77543 052 0 RRP $12

Diplo-dizzydocus by Kyle Mewburn, illus/ Donovan Bixley, Scholastic NZ
Primary-aged boys are unlikely to read Scholastic’s The Littlest Angel series, but they could easily become addicted to this series which began about the same time: Dinosaur Rescue. This is Book 4, and tells us another funny and easy-to-read story about Arg, the genius Neanderthal boy, and his friend Skeet, who happens to be a clever Tyrannosaurus Rex. As in the previous stories, there is plenty of vomit, snot, stink, poo, and so on. My advice to parents – don’t read it! You’ll be disgusted. But if you’re trying to encourage a boy into reading books, this series would be spot on – the hilarious cartoon illustrations should be a good enticement. By the way, there are Teachers’ Notes available for this book on the Scholastic website.
ISBN 978 1 77543 050 6 RRP $12
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Saturday, December 3, 2011



Recon Team Angel Assault by Brian Falkner (Walker Books)
First there were six combat teenagers for an undercover mission but one-by-one they are picked off. Chisnall the leader of the group knows it has to be someone in the team - he suspects them all including his girlfriend Sergeant Brogan. Only he knows all the details of the mission - to find out what the aliens are hiding in the middle of their headquarters. To complete their mission they have to be dropped in by planes, pass themselves off as Uluru aliens and get inside to find out what is there, then dismantle it with whatever means. Only someone seems intent on stopping them.

Brian Falkner writes with incredible skill building up suspense to the climatic ending.  This science fiction thriller has all the appeal for teenage boys:  guns, warfare, and humour.  Brian uses authentic army-speak for operation communication and his futuristic weaponry are convincing.
I asked Brian a few questions about his book:

Where did you get the story idea - did the publisher suggest this theme?
The story idea was mine. It was inspired by seeing an old copy of “Where Eagles Dare” by Alistair McLean lying around somewhere. The first chapter of Assault is called “Where Angels Fear” in tribute to the McLean novel.
Any more books planned for the series?
There are plans for four books in the series, however if successful, I am open to writing more.

The weaponry sounds so authentic - is it totally made-up or is it based on real weapons?

For the weapons, I researched the current military weapons and explosives and then extrapolated them a little into the future. I didn’t want to write a book about laser guns and other “space opera” stuff. I wanted it to feel like a real war with real weapons, just slightly removed from where we are now.

For the alien weapons, I wanted them to be just a little different to human weapons. For example the rifle is carried on the back, and springs into the hands of the user automatically when needed.

In your other books you chose names from kids who won competitions at your school talks - did you do that this time? 

There are many kids names in this book (all listed at the back). This was a bit harder to do, because this is a war story and characters die. It is awkward to use the name of a real kid, and have that character die. But that couldn’t be avoided in this kind of book.

Highly recommended for boys (and girls who like a bit of action) 12-18 years.  My reluctant reader son said it was even better than the Cherub series (the only other series he has read). Normally my 15 year old son would take a whole term to get through a book - for this book he took four days - a record and proof of how gripping this book was for him.

Reviewed by Maria Gill
The Ghost Bride by David Hair, Penguin NZ

This is Book 2 in the series called The Return of Ravana. The first volume was called Pyre of Queens, and I would recommend potential readers look for that book first. The plot is complex, and not very user-friendly if you don’t know what’s gone before. I also recommend that readers refresh their knowledge of the Indian epic called the Ramayana by reading the section at the back called A Brief Introduction to the Ramayana.

The double timeframe moves between Rajputana in 1175 and Mumbai in 2010. The characters in the first timeframe are new (ie. new reincarnations of characters from the Ramayana), but the teenagers in the 2010 timeframe also featured in the Pyre of Queens. In both plot strands we find a life-and-death bridal challenge, but the 2010 story is the more interesting given its modern setting. Two teenage boys know they are re-enacting events from the past – and they realise one of them must participate in a modern swayamvara (bridal challenge) in order to defeat their immortal enemy, a demon-king called Ravindra. So Vikram joins the suitors in a reality show featuring Bollywood actress Sunita – whoever overcomes all the challenges will win Sunita’s hand. But what is the strange connection between Sunita and Amanjit’s sickly sister, Rasita? As with the first book, there is plenty of suspense and the action is violent and bloody. Not for the faint-hearted.
ISBN 978 0 14 356599 4 RRP$25
Reviewed by Lorraine Orman


Dinosaur Rescue series by Kyle Mewburn, illustrated by Donovan Bixley (Scholastic)

In Book One T-wreck-asaurus Argo embarks on a mission to save the dinosaurs from extinction.
In Book Two Stego-snotty-saurus Argo and his bestfriend Skeet try to find the cure for the human virus that is deadly to dinosaurs.
In Book three Velocitchy-Raptor Argo and Skeet must save a baby velociraptor from a hungry quetzalcoatlus even though Argo appears to be allergic to the baby raptor.
In Book Four Diplo-dizzdocus Argo and Skeet must find out what is making the diplodocus herd too dizzy to walk before they are thrown into the Grogllgrox stew and eaten.
Books five and six of this bestselling and highly popular series are due out in 2012. Highly recommended for 6-10 year old boys who love humour, and a bit of snot, vomit and action!


Bruiser by Gavin Bishop, and Stuck in the Mud by Brett Avison

Two wonderful digger books for the 4-6 old boy who is obsessed with machinery. I remember when my son was this age and we couldn't walk or drive past heavy machinery without having to stop and watch, and answer a whole barrage of questions. "What's that digger doing?" or "Where's he taking that dirt, Mum?" You know the questions.

In Bruiser the front loader is a machine on a mission. It ploughs up hillsides, tramples down paddocks and crushes up stones. Until it gets stuck in a hole and causes a bird's nest to fall in with him. What will Bruiser do? Will he continue with his destructive ways or does the little chick change him?
In Stuck in the Muck a cow gets stuck in the mud and it takes quite a few different types of machinery to get her out. What a kerfuffle! Can they get her out or is she going to stay stuck?