Sam Pylar by Shalesh Vasan, ill. Duncan West, Phantom Tree House
I couldn’t find any information on the internet about this writer, and the publisher’s website at www.phantomhouse.com wasn’t very forthcoming. Recommendation to small publishers: provide plenty of information online for reviewers, booksellers, and librarians. It’s a mildly spooky story about a vampire named Sam Pylar, written from the p.o.v. of Lucy, his 7-year-old classmate. When Sam eats a garlic sausage at Lucy’s birthday party, he is severely indisposed. He later re-visits Lucy as a vampire bat to deliver his good wishes. The production of the book is handsome, with a fold-over glossy cover and top-quality paper. The illustrations are done in an old-fashioned style reminiscent of the Phantom-type comics of the mid-1900s. The illustrator has taken a daring step by rendering the first half of the book in muted colour and the second half in heavy black ink, presumably to emphasis the spookiness of Sam’s transformation into a bat. Children may need this change of style explained to them. Definitely not a book for pre-schoolers.ISBN 978 0 9864571 6 6 RRP $19.99 Pb
Snakes and Ladders by Mary-Anne Scott, Scholastic NZ
This is Mary-Anne Scott’s first book, but writing runs in her blood – her mother is Joy Watson, author of the popular Grandpa’s Cardigan series. The novel takes a contemporary look at several current issues such as parent-child relationships, bullying, and peer pressure. Finn’s aging rocker dad is on trial for accidentally killing a pedestrian. Initially Finn is glad to take up his grandmother’s offer to fund him at an exclusive boys’ boarding school – but Finn soon finds out that his family secrets make him a target for a bully. His life becomes more and more complicated as he tries to fulfil the expectations of Mia, a popular girl at a nearby school who has decided Finn will make a nice accessory for the school ball. But a disastrous after-ball party results in heartbreak for Finn and his mates, and Finn finally realises it’s time to face up to his own demons and reveal the truth about earlier events. Finn is an engaging hero, and it’s not hard to sympathise with his attempts to re-invent himself. The plot moves quickly (though I did get a bit fed up with Mia and her unlikely family), and the macho relationships among the boys are thoroughly convincing - as is the teen lingo. Best for readers (both girls and boys) of secondary-school age.
ISBN 978-1-77543-040-7 RRP $21 Pb
The Drover’s Quest by Susan Brocker, HarperCollins NZ
Susan Brocker’s fifth children’s novel is a cracker. It’s set during the goldrush days of 1886 on the wild West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It follows the adventures of two main characters – an American boy called Joseph who is running from a tragedy in his past, and Charlotte, a 13-year-old girl who is determined to get to the goldfields to find out what happened to her missing father. Joseph, who is half Cherokee, has horse-riding experience which enables him to join a cattle drove across the Southern Alps. While Charlotte used to go on cattle droves with her father before he tried his skills as a goldminer, so she joins the drove disguised as a young boy. She is accompanied by Tama, her father’s Maori partner. Susan Brocker’s interests in both history and animals have enabled her to craft an exciting adventure story as Charlotte and Joseph tackle the perils of a journey on horseback through wild and dangerous country. I thoroughly enjoyed the story and the historical details. However I’m not happy with the cover, which shows a very black silhouette of a drover superimposed on a bush scene, while the font used for the title is heavily Gothic – my first impression (subjective, I know) was that it’s very old-fashioned. Hopefully Susan has plenty of fans who will quickly move past the cover to enjoy the excellent story within. Teachers and librarians might need to recommend the book to intermediate-aged readers who like historical adventure stories. Teachers’ notes are available on http://harpercollins.co.nz
ISBN 978 1 86950 907 1 RRP $19.99 PbJunior Novel
Fishing Fame by Melanie Drewery, ill. John Bennett, Scholastic NZAnother lively little story for younger readers – Scholastic does these very well. Max and Dan are desperate to get their names and photos on to the fishing fame board on their local wharf. But all they ever catch are tiny little spotties from the wharf. Foolishly, Max devises a plan to take a paddle boat out into deeper water to catch something bigger. But a waste drain from a freezing works spills out nearby, and the area is swarming with sharks. The boys’ paddle boat gets caught up with a massive shark, and eventually the shark and the boat become entangled in a net. Max and Dan know they have to get help ... very soon. The shark theme together with the foolhardiness of the two boys will attract young readers, especially reluctant boys. They’ll also appreciate the funny cartoon pictures on most of the pages, and the use of words in different fonts and sizes to break up the blocks of text. Best for readers of about 6 to 8.
ISBN 978 1 77543 039 1 RRP $16.50 Pb
All reviewed by Lorraine Orman