Thursday, May 4, 2017

Fantastical fiction for children

Hot Air by Donovan Bixley, Upstart Press

This is the second title in Donovan’s illustrated storybook series called Flying Furballs. If you don’t remember the first title (Dogfight), the series focuses on a faux-World War II scenario where the Cat Allied Troops (CATS) are battling against the evil DOGZ forces which have taken over much of central Europe. Hot Air follows the adventures of a cat pilot called Claude D’Bonair and his flying chum Syd Fishus as they sneak into Switzerland to track down the DOGZ latest weapon. Lots of nail-biting adventures follow – as well as a fair few word plays and puns! Donovan’s cartoon illustrations are a delight – one on almost every page.

My three primary-aged grandsons love this series, so I hunted down two copies to give them (and to enable me to write this review). Unfortunately my local Paper Plus took ages to get them in. My advice – go to the Upstart Press website at and order your copies online. Hopefully they won’t take long to be delivered to your door.

ISBN 978 1 927262 54 2 RRP $14.99 Pb

Upon a Time by R. L. Steadman, Waverley Productions

A sultry and very eye-catching cover should grab the attention of the target audience – teenage girls. This anthology by one of our top fantasy writers is a pot-pourri – it offers some very short stories, some longer short stories, and even a novella. All were inspired by fairy tales, and there are certainly some challenging versions in this collection. Several were inspired by Cinderella, while the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale sparked the novella called Death and Roses. This story is a complex one, using several narrators and timelines, and I had to concentrate hard to keep track of them. But readers who prefer to dip into shorter and easier stories will find plenty to keep them happy. There’s a good variety of tone and setting. My favourite is a cheeky technological version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

At the end there are some interesting Teachers’ Notes relating to Death and Roses. And there’s a lot more information on the author’s website and blog.

Secondary school libraries will find this engaging collection proves to be a popular addition to their stock. It’s available from online book stores in both paper copy and digital versions.

ISBN 9780473374679 RRP $24.99 Pb

Squeakopotamus by Dawn Macmillan, illus. Ross Kinnaird, Oratia Books

Bouncy rhyming text tells us about a weird and very large animal called Squeakopotamus which appears to be a cross between a mouse and a hippopotamus …!! This unusual visitor creates some problems: “We’ve run out of cheese! No more potato or peas! My heart starts to race. I feel the blood in my face. My head’s in a fuss. Maybe Squeakopotamus wants to eat … us!” But a visit to the supermarket takes care of that, and a rainy day takes care of the visitor’s awkward size – phew! This light-hearted story is brought to life by Ross Kinnaird’s colourful and detailed cartoon illustrations.

This zany picture book would be a good present for pre-schoolers and children of early-primary years, especially if they’ve been pestering for a pet for Christmas…

ISBN 978 0 947506 11 7 RRP $19.99 Pb

Reviewed by Lorraine Orman

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