Friday, September 9, 2016

Two fabulous junior fiction books for boys and girls

Dragon Knight: Barbarians! By Kyle Mewburn and Donovan Bixley, Scholastic NZ

This is title no. 6 in the series, and I’ve heard it will be the last – although there’s no actual indication on the book itself that it’s the final one, so I’ve got my fingers crossed there may be more... The story follows the usual format by beginning with Merek and Breena in terrible trouble, then backtracks to tell us how they got there – and what they do to rescue themselves. In this story the plot involves a bunch of barbarians stealing Lord Crumble’s treasure, but when Merek and Breena begin investigating they find appearances are deceiving. Are the barbarians really as bad as they smell?

The value of series such as this is how well they target their intended audience – primary-aged boys. Kyle’s joke-filled and action-packed stories (laced with plenty of revolting stuff) together with Donovan’s exuberant cartoon pictures on every page offer a good alternative to computer games. Literature they ain’t, but they are very entertaining.

There’s a special thrill in handing the latest Mewburn/Bixley title over to a grandson and seeing his face light up – and then he plumps down on the sofa and instantly begins reading – long may it last.

ISBN 978 1 77543 397 2 RRP $12 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

Barking Mad by Tom E. Moffatt, Scholastic NZ

This is the 2015 winner of the Tom Fitzgibbon Award for a previously unpublished writer, awarded by the Storylines Trust. The previous winner (How I Alienated My Grandma) was a funny story for younger readers, and I’m delighted that this new winner falls in the same category. New Zealand needs a strong market in junior fiction books like this so we can compete with the well-known, well-publicised humorous series from overseas that flood our bookshops.

Finn’s grandfather seems to have gone crazy. He keeps on barking and he even licked the postman. Finn’s family are distraught. But the clue lies in the fact that Granddad is a home inventor. Finn and his sister Sally soon figure out that he’s invented a machine that swaps brains – and he’s managed to swap brains with his dog, DaVinci. Chaos ensues - and this amazingly breathless pace is kept up right to the end. At one stage Finn ends up accidentally swapping brains with his sister – the worst thing in the world for both of them. Melodrama, mix-ups, humour, confusion and even desperation are expertly juggled by the author until all comes right and everyone’s brains are back where they belong.

Readers of around 8 to 11, especially boys, will chuckle their way through this madcap story, aided by black pen cartoon illustrations by Paul Beavis. Heartily recommended, and I hope the author is working on his next book.

ISBN 978 1 77543 374 3 RRP $17.00 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman


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