Category Archives: Adventure

Megawocka! Granny Samurai : the Monkey King and I – by John Chambers

alt=granny-samurai-john-chalmers-monkey-king

Granny Samurai, the Monkey King and I  by John Chambers. Published by Walker Books, 2013. Paperback 2013. RRP NZ $17.95.

From the publisher:

Granny Samurai is small and dangerous to know. Her teeth are false and so is one of her legs. Her walking stick conceals a double-action repeater, of which there are only two in the world. She has other weapons too, which I am not at liberty to reveal. What I can reveal is contained within the pages of this book. My name is Samuel Johnson. This is our story.

Eccentric young wordsmith Samuel Johnson finds himself home alone while his diplomat uncle is off diverting a crisis in Azerbaijan. As Samuel sits penning his memoirs and wondering how to divert the crisis in his own life – namely the big, hairy brute that is Boris Hissocks – he spots the little old lady next door acting very strangely. Is she actually chopping wood with her bare hands? Then the Monkey King comes knocking, and suddenly Samuel’s whole world is turned on its head…

What do I think of this book!

It’s brilliant!

The story, the humor, the illustrations – what is not to like, in fact LOVE about this book?

This is a book that is difficult to categorise, it’s adventure and fantasy, with shades of Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney), Mr Gum (Andy Stanton) and Ratburger (David Walliams)and episodes of the 1970s show “kung fu” (with Granny taking the place of the Kung fu master) rolled into one. I enjoyed reading this as an adult and could imagine so many of my students getting a giant kick out of this too. Kids 8-9+ will just have to read this and see what they think as I would struggle to talk about the twists and turns in the plot and give it the credit it deserves in a book talk without giving away all “the good bits”. Some kids may struggle with understanding some of the words, but for those kids this would make a great shared read or read aloud – although in my opinion it would be a shame to listen to the very funny and clever text without the opportunity to explore the illustrations, even though the story can stand without them.  Granny generally steals the show – she gives Samuel and the readers the sense that he (and they) just needs to listen, do what he is told and go along with things and all will be revealed…which it is, but occasionally Granny needs to explain a bit more and when she does elaborate, it results in some very funny dialogue.

I love the way it’s written (scribed!) by Samuel – it is written as a narrative journal and the chapters are short. Everything about this book gets a big tick from me: the cover – it will stand out on the shelf; the superb illustrations with an oriental flavour on nearly every page (there is a wealth of small details in these that will mean reluctant readers might pause ever-so-slightly, take a break from the text to explore them before leaping back into the text). Because this is so funny and so brilliantly done, I would encourage some of my reluctant readers to try this…some  might struggle with some of the words and will need help as for many of these boys the vocabulary won’t pass the ‘five finger rule’, but I would encourage them to try this anyway; lastly I adore the author’s obvious enthusiasm for language, vocabulary and writing. Very, very clever, original and loads of fun!

Author website: grannysamurai.com (it is under development… but go there and see a wonderful illustration from the author)

RELATED POST:

The Queen must die – K.A.S. Quinn

alt=the-queen-must-die-kas-quinn-cover

The Queen must die by K.A.S. Quinn. (Chronicles of the Tempus; book 1), Published by Corvus (Atlantic Books), 2011. Paperback, 298 pages.

From the publisher:

…Why is Katie Berger-Jones-Burg under a sofa in Buckingham Palace? The last thing she can remember is reading in her bedroom, trying to block out the sound of the TV. Now she is in London, at the height of Queen Victoria’s reign. Something very strange is going on.

Together with her two new friends – Princess Alice, the young daughter of Queen Victoria, and James O’Reilly, the son of the royal doctor – Katie must discover why she has been sent back in time. And who are the weird and frightening creatures who seek her out? The key, it seems, lies with the enigmatic Bernardo DuQuelle. As the dark forces moving through the royal household begin to take control, Katie and her friends uncover a plot to assassinate the Queen and unearth an even darker mystery…[Suspicious figures huddle in the gas-lit streets of London. And Katie is not the only time-traveller in the city… ]

Reviews and praise:

“Completely gripping, this rollercoaster time travel adventure takes Katie, a contemporary New York teenager, back right into the heart of Queen Victoria’s reign. Landing unexpectedly in the Buckingham Palace bedroom of Alice, Queen Victoria’s younger daughter, Katie is swiftly caught up in a terrifying world of dishonest courtiers plotting unspeakable acts with the help of powerful helpers with extra powers. The details of the life of the Victorian Royals, and especially Prince Albert’s passion for his original project of the Crystal Palace are brilliantly evoked while the adventure spearheaded by three exuberant children rattles along at a cracking pace” Lovereading4kids.co.uk

What did I think about this book?

I confess to having spent rather a long stretch on my sofa in the sun, reading this from cover to cover and luxuriating in the world the author has created. I loved it – I am not sure whether I am addicted to books set in Victorian London or whether there is a trend to use this setting in children’s books at the moment…maybe both. It means that there are some great books being written about this era, however this is very different than others set in this period, because this is set inside Buckingham Palace. This means there aren’t a lot of Dickensian allusions and impoverished characters, although there are plenty with sinister motives and villainous characters with evil intent. Katie Berger-Jones-Burg’s 21st Century New York life, and her dismay at the seemingly shallow obsessions of her ‘Mom’ are contrasted nicely with the formal and ‘proper’ nature of Victorian life at Court and couldn’t be more striking (and amusing!) However the similarity between Katie and Princess Alice are obvious – both have mothers that aren’t particularly maternal, and both have to live their lives relatively independently and are lonely. The time travel mechanism is handled well and it’s believable enough, especially if you are a reader who believes in the power of books as a means to escape. The reader is immersed in a great deal of historical material without feeling they are having a history lesson. It is fascinating seeing this time period through the eyes of Katie, who is like a modern day tourist guide to the past. Some of the things American readers might find amusing won’t have the same impact with a New Zealand audience, but it’s so well done, you can laugh along with Katie as she experiences cricket, victorian clothing and underwear and  chamber pots under the bed.

This book is the first in a planned trilogy, with the second book “The Queen at War” released recently. I wish I could convince more boys to read stories where the main character is a girl as this was a great read and highly recommended for the 10+ crowd.

RELATED POSTS:

Exciting dystopian fiction for reluctant readers “Gamer” by Chris Bradford

alt=gamer-chris-bradford

Gamer by Chris Bradford. Published by Barrington Stoke Teen, 2012.

High interest fiction for struggling readers.

From the publisher:

Scott is selected as a games tester for Virtual Kombat, the most realistic fighting video game ever invented – so real it hurts! Once a Gamer enters the fighting world, it becomes hard to distinguish between what is real and what is not. Scott must work his way up the ranks to make it out alive, but when friend and rival Kate fails to return from the Virtual Arena,Scott begins to wonder if it’s more than just a game…

“An action-packed dystopian adventure from the bestselling author of the Young Samurai series”

“Dyslexia friendly”

Hear the author read the first chapter:

What do I think about this book?

I was impressed firstly by the cover – because so many of my readers judge a book by the cover and first impressions really count. This title has a stunning lenticular cover and the image on the front will be instantly appealing to some of my most reluctant boy readers. Secondly, the thickness – it’s just the right size for the same boys. Thirdly text size and layout – it’s promoted by the publisher as dyslexia friendly and looks it, plus the chapters are short. There isn’t anything off-putting about this book – so we are off to a brilliant start.

I am really impressed because so many books published for high interest but low ability readers look unappealing and just don’t look like regular books. The kids that will want to read this aren’t dumb and don’t want to be made to feel that way. This book is so “cool” looking I know higher level readers will want to read it too. Other publishers should take note.

As for the story it rocks along at an exciting pace very much like a mini ‘Hunger games’. I enjoyed it and I am sure my students will too.  This has really made me aware of how desperate I am to fill this gap in my collection, I need more books like this – because one won’t be enough! As a result, I  have just made up a list of other books from this publisher that I will be adding to my wish list  for my library. Chris Bradford has another title available through Barrington Stoke “Ninja : first mission“…and it’s at the top of my list as well as two by Tommy Donbavand who wrote the very popular (at least in my library)…’Scream Street’.

If you are interested in books like these, check out the Barrington Stoke website here: http://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk

One of my favourite ‘go-to’ websites for books categorised by age and reading ability “Love reading for Kids” has previews and reviews of many of these titles and is a good source for information on suitable titles for reluctant, struggling and dyslexic readers:

http://www.lovereading4kids.co.uk/genre/dys/Dyslexia-friendly.html

Watch out Percy Jackson… ‘Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress’

alt=Ash mistry savage fortress

Ash Mistry and the Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda. Published by  Harper Collins, 2012. (Ash Mistry Chronicles; 1). Paperback edition rrp. NZ$16.95.

From the publisher:

Ash Mistry hates India. Which is a problem since his uncle has brought him and his annoying younger sister Lucky there to take up a dream job with the mysterious Lord Savage. But Ash immediately suspects something is very wrong with the eccentric millionaire. Soon, Ash finds himself in a desperate battle to stop Savage’s masterplan – the opening of the Iron Gates that have kept Ravana, the demon king, at bay for four millennia…

**Breathtaking action adventure for 8 to 12-year-olds. Ash Mistry, reluctant hero, faces ancient demons…and comes into an astonishing, magical inheritance.

Varanasi: holy city of the Ganges.
In this land of ancient temples, incense and snake charmers…
Where the monsters and heroes of the past come to life…
One slightly geeky boy from our time…

IS GOING TO KICK THE DEMON HORDES BACK TO HELL.

Book trailer with author commentary:

“The Indian Gods and Demons are like nothing else on earth…”

What do I think of this book?

I thought this was FANTASTIC!…probably one of the most adventurous and exciting books I have read since I began reading children’s books with the purpose of recommending them and blogging about them. Lots of book blurbs and reviews promise a story with “high octane” excitement – this one actually delivers it – and I believe this author deserves a huge following (and a movie contract too…)

Our main character is just another “ordinary boy”. Ash is described as being a little bit tubby and unfit, and the local Varanasi street urchins describe him as a coconut – “brown on the outside – but white in the middle”. Ash feels feels too Indian to fit in at home, but too British to be accepted in India.  He wishes he was back in the UK with his mates, computer games, Macdonalds and the girl he secretly likes. He is sick of his stay in Varanasi – the flies, the smells and the snakes. He doesn’t want to be a hero and doesn’t crave action and adventure, but literally stumbles into it and is then caught up in events.

Elements of the action feel familiar (think Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson or the Kane Chronicles but featuring Hindu Gods and Demons instead of Ancient Greek or Egyptian Gods). Hindu Mythology features some very scary monsters, demons and Gods and in this book they are very convincingly described and vividly drawn. The story is set in the ancient and holy city of Varanasi – given this is the city famous for its funeral pyres where death (and the tourism it brings) one of it’s main attractions; it is the perfect setting for a story where reality meets mysticism. The story involves a seriously evil villain trying to bring the demon King (Ravana) back to life and ensure his own immortality in the process. If the demon King is unleashed it means the end of the world , with evil, death and destruction on a global scale – literally hell on earth.

The author breaks up Ash’s narrative with dream like sequences that take us back to the time when Rama defeats Ravana and banishes him to his hidden tomb. By doing this, the reader gets a lesson in Indian mythology along the way that adds depth to the plot. I like the way interesting ideas about reincarnation and karma are interwoven into the story. Perhaps that makes the amount of death and destruction more palatable – even some of the dying tell Ash that their death is not the end, they will be reborn and meet again in another life.

This would be perfect for older children wanting another book as exciting and engaging as those by Rick Riordan. I thought this one was at least as good, but the Indian setting and mythology takes it out of the ordinary! There is a sequel due soon as this is the first of an intended trilogy.

** I am recommending this book for ages 10+ : the violent elements make this a more mature (intermediate) read.

Author website:

The website contains lots of great resources, including illustrations and information and on the Hindu Gods and Demons.

http://www.ashmistry.com

Excerpt from the book in PDF form (Chapter 2):

http://ashmistry.com/Ash_Mistry_and_the_Savage_Fortress_EXTRACT.pdf

THE READER MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:

Deadweather and sunrise – The Chronicles of Egg

alt=chronicles egg deadwater sunrise

Deadweather & Sunrise by Geoff Rodkey (the Chronicles of Egg ;1) Published by Puffin, 2012. 288 p. Available in NZ bookshops rrp $19.99.

From the publisher:

A stunning middle-grade debut–full of heart, humor, and nonstop action

“It’s tough to be thirteen, especially when somebody’s trying to kill you.

Not that Egg’s life was ever easy, growing up on sweaty, pirate-infested Deadweather Island with no company except an incompetent tutor and a pair of unusually violent siblings who hate his guts.

But when Egg’s father hustles their family off on a mysterious errand to fabulously wealthy Sunrise Island, then disappears with the siblings in a freak accident, Egg finds himself a long-term guest at the mansion of the glamorous Pembroke family and their beautiful, sharp-tongued daughter Millicent. Finally, life seems perfect.

Until someone tries to throw him off a cliff.

Suddenly, Egg’s running for his life in a bewildering world of cutthroat pirates, villainous businessmen, and strange Native legends. The only people who can help him sort out the mystery of why he’s been marked for death are Millicent and a one-handed, possibly deranged cabin boy.

Come along for the ride. You’ll be glad you did.”

Book trailer:

Geoff Rodkey talking about this book:

What do I think about this book?

Loved it! Seriously good adventurous, romping, swashbuckling good fun! The author mentioned (in his video interview above) that people had told him they thought the book felt like a younger version of the Princess bride and I can see why they would think that. I thought this book had so many great elements, that the reader couldn’t pin down all the influences, making it feel like a highly original story. There is a subtle quirkiness to this story… a very slight ‘Lemony Snickett type change of circumstance’ that you sense rather than acutely observe, with some humour there as well. The jokes and humour aren’t as obvious as Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Carribean either…more that when you read about the pirates there is a little barely suppressed giggle you feel bubbling up from deep inside. The book is a fantasy, given it is set in a made up land and time, but because it is without any magical or supernatural elements it feels realistic and spookily historically accurate (sort of!) It is so cleverly done that I am struggling to describe why I found it so readable…it just is fantastic…

I started this and then just had to read through to the end – when I got to the last page I felt like I had been in the story with the characters. It is an absolutely delightful book and I could see it being a runaway hit as a movie (provided a director could make it look as wonderful as the story I saw in my imagination). Boys and girls will both thoroughly enjoy this book. Egg is a great character that I really liked from page one and he’s pretty brave so boys will think they are reading a “boys book”, but Millicent is an eccentric, strong, feisty and principled character that girls will love too.

Recommended 9+ by the publisher but would be a good read up to year 8/9. This is the first book in a planned trilogy, the second book is out mid year.

Highly recommended!

Author website (very funny and quirky): http://geoffrodkey.com

Jack you’re not an ordinary boy…’Sorrowline’ an exciting adventure

ALT=Sorrowline-niel bushnell

Sorrowline by Niel Bushnell. (The Timesmith chronicles), Published by Andersen Press, 2013.  331 pages. Available in NZ bookstores RRP $20.95.

“You have a rare gift Jack: you’re a yard boy, a voyager through graveyards. You can travel through the Sorrowlines. They’re tunnels, tunnels through time. Every grave, it’s connected to the date of the person’s death by a Sorrowline. Yard Boys like you, Jack – they can open up a Sorrowline and travel along it, right into the past.”

Synopsis:

Twelve-year-old Jack Morrow is used to life being complicated. His mother died five years ago, and his father is now headed for prison. But then Jack discovers he’s a Yard Boy – someone with the ability to travel through Sorrowlines, the channels that connect every gravestone with the date of the person’s death – and he is quickly pulled into an adventure beyond anything he could have possibly imagined. Finding himself in 1940s war-torn London, with his then – teenage grandfather, Davey, Jack soon realises that his arrival in the past has not gone unnoticed. The evil forces of a secret world are determined to find him – and to find out all he knows. As Jack struggles to survive, he comes ever closer to unlocking the dark secret at the heart of his family, and to – just maybe – changing his own destiny…

Book trailer:

What did I think of this book?

There are quite a few original elements that make this different from other time travel books, but plenty of things that will make readers feel they are in comfortable and familiar territory. The time travel method of traveling back to a period of time tied to a person’s date of death is new – it makes for some excitement in the story because if the characters need to travel to a particular date then they need to find a gravestone first (or get chased around a graveyard while they look for one!)  The other thing that is noticeably different about this story is that the period in which a lot of the book is set is in the 1940s during the Blitz in London. This seems very vividly drawn and well described and adds another frisson of fear into the story – before the villain catches up with our hero Jack, he could be blown to bits by a bomb or trapped in debris or a burning building. It is here that Jack meets his own Grandfather as a young man and Jack learns more about his family.

The contrast between Jack’s seemingly ordinary life in 2013 London couldn’t be more different than what he experiences in the past. It is here that we find the fantastical elements of an alternate world story with many interesting characters with unusual roles both good and bad along the way.

I think this will be a hit with many of my students – the blend of fantasy world, time travel and modern day adventure will appeal to the kids who enjoy Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and Kane Chronicle’s type adventures.

A theory of Time Travel – if you are interested in the science behind the “time travel paradox” you might find this YouTube video of an interview with Dr Ronald Mallett (a theoretical physicist) interesting. I found this brief article from brainpickings.org here: “Einstein, Goedel, and the science of time travel (or Meeting your future grandchildren in a rotating universe) by Maria Popova, brainpickings.org 19 July 2012″.

THE READER MIGHT ALSO ENJOY:

Spinning a magical tale…The Spin by Rebecca Lisle

alt=the spin rebecca lisle cover

The Spin by Rebecca Lisle, Published by Hot key Books, 2013. 357 pages.

From the publisher:

His destiny lies across a dangerous sky….

Stormy is an orphan and a kitchen skivvy. He tends the compost, he scrubs the floors, and watches feasts make their way up the mountain as he survives on bread and water. A skivvy is all that Stormy can hope to be. But Stormy has a secret. He wants to be a sky-rider, to soar amongst the clouds on spitfyres: flying horses that spit fire and smoke, and answer only to their riders. A chance meeting with an escaped convict turns Stormy’s life upside down. Sent up to the Academy he uncovers a web of lies, deceits and neglect, at the centre of which lies the mysterious thirteenth horse. Can Stormy save Thirteen, defeat the dark forces at work within the Academy and prove himself worthy as a sky-rider?

From the editor: “THE SPIN is an utterly charming story, perfect for fans of Harry Potter or How to Train Your Dragon, who like their adventure with magic, heart and humour. Rebecca Lisle has woven a wonderful adventure story inspired by Dickens’ Great Expectations – a story featuring a lonely but plucky little orphan Stormy, a mysterious benefactor and a stuck-up, enigmatic young girl – and a healthy dose of flying horses. Heartwarming and thrilling by turns, it’s a story to be loved by all the family, with the feel of a classic.”

What do I think about this book?

I absolutely loved it! Some books stay with you long after you have finished them and this was one of them. It has taken me a few days to write this post as I kept thinking about the characters (even then I am lost for words, which just proves I am not a writer – it’s very hard to do this book justice and not sound trite!) As I was reading this story I felt that I had been transported into Stormy’s world with the magical alternate world within it. The writing is fresh and original, it may have had Great Expectations as its inspiration but it certainly is a modern book and not having read Great Expectations recently, I really felt this was a “new” tale. It is so refreshing to read a story about a magical creature that is unfamiliar – I have read lots of stories featuring a pegasus or dragon but a gutsy flying horse that breathes fire and sparks (and isn’t a playful pony), is a novelty. The plot is complex without being complicated – it requires careful reading so that the reader can savour it. I was torn between wanting to find out what happened next whilst luxuriating in the story and not wanting it to end!

This story will be a great read for older children from year 5 up into year 8/9, with plenty of drama and suspense. It would also work very well as a family read aloud for slightly younger children.

Can I also add how much I love the cover – thank heavens it is not the typical dragon/pegasus fantasy style cover – the silhouetted figures against the spiral are really eye catching and I can see lots of students picking this out when it is on display.

**At the time of writing Hot Key Books publications are not distributed in New Zealand**

I have it on good authority that this situation will change this year…which is brilliant because I can honestly say I have enjoyed every title I have read…in addition each book has this handy “key” printed on the back of the cover or on the website. Here is the key for this book which indicates the content as follows: (50% Fantasy adventure, 25% Flying horses, 25% friendship).

hotkey spin

Extra bits of Spin related goodness:

Here is a blog post from the author, where she talks about her inspiration for the story and how some of the characters and plot developed.

Download the first chapter here.

Author website: http://www.rebeccalisle.com

RELATED POSTS: