The Red Fox Clan by John Flanagan

They move silent as a shadow. They climb impossible heights. Their archery skills are unsurpassed. They are Rangers…

I have been a fan of the Ranger’s Apprentice series since John Flanagan wrote the first book in 2004. Yes, that’s a long time ago, but when you really like a series you stick with it!

The Ranger’s Apprentice series began as short stories John wrote for his son Michael to encourage him to read and now readers all over the world enjoy his books. John has also written a spinoff series called Brotherband and these two series combined have sold over 15 million books worldwide! In fact people have even organised Ranger’s Apprentice camps based on the books where participants can learn archery, horseback riding, tracking and survival skills and compete for a silver Oakleaf just like Rangers.

Rangers Apprentice is set in the Kingdom of Araluen. The story follows Will, a 15-year old orphan who becomes an apprentice to the mysterious Halt who trains  the small, agile, clever and courageous Will to become one of the secretive, highly skilled Rangers who protect the Kingdom of Araluen. Alongside Will is his best friend Horace who becomes a champion knight. Will, Halt, Horace and a cast of characters face battles and threats from invaders and traitors as they protect the kingdom. It’s not all about battles though and I really enjoy the friendship and humour shared between Halt, Will and Horace. They are loyal, brave and and skilled and you would definitely want them on your side. You can read about some of the other main characters here.

The Ranger’s Apprentice books are divided into The Early Years, Ranger’s Apprentice and The Royal Ranger.

In the latest Royal Ranger books, Will takes on his own apprentice. Maddie is the first female Ranger. Headstrong Maddie also happens to be Horace’s daughter and a princess, but she has to keep her Ranger training a secret. One month each year Maddie has to return home to resume her identity as Princess Madelyn and wear dresses, much to her disgust!

In The Red Fox Clan, when Maddie returns she discovers a plot against the crown led by a mysterious man in a red fox mask. Who is this man? Why does he believe he should be king? Sometimes the enemy is someone you least expect. Her father Horace has been lured away from Castle Araluen leaving her mother Cassandra to fight off the traitors and it’s up to Maddie to find out the truth about the man in the red fox mask if she is to help save her father’s forces and everyone at Castle Araluen.

Thanks to Penguin Random House, I was very lucky to meet John Flanagan during the school holidays. John is a born storyteller with a twinkle in his eye and great sense of humour. He is also a big fan of old Western movies! John shared many stories with us and I was interested to hear that John plans everything before he starts writing and carefully checks the smallest details to ensure his books are accurate and consistent. Like many other fans of Ranger’s Apprentice, I hope one day the series will be brought to life in a movie. 

Happy Reading!

Alice Miranda in Scotland by Jacqueline Harvey

Six years ago in 2012, I had the pleasure of meeting Jacqueline Harvey when she visited my old school library on a book tour for Alice-Miranda in New York. Jacqueline was the first author to visit our brand new library and you can read about it hereAs she passionately talked about her writing journey, creating the Alice-Miranda series and had fun acting out some of her book characters with the students, we knew that Jacqueline was an author with something special. 

Fast forward to 2018 and Jacqueline Harvey is currently an author of THREE successful book series!  She has written the Alice-Miranda series (17 books), Clementine Rose series (14 books) and her new spy adventure series Kensy and Max which was published this year and the second book is coming in September. That’s 32 books and more to come in each series! Jacqueline is an incredibly hardworking author. She is also devoted to her readers and regularly organises events to meet them and gives generously of her time to support reading and book charities and her fellow authors. 

I couldn’t miss the opportunity to catch up with Jacqueline at The Little Bookroom during the school holidays in Melbourne when she launched her latest book Alice-Miranda in Scotland. Jacqueline is very funny and had us laughing as she demonstrated how to do the Caber Toss  which is a sport in the Scottish Highland Games.

Jacqueline enjoys playing golf and proudly told us how she scored an eagle on the second hole at the famous St Andrew’s Golf Course in Scotland. Golfers will tell you that’s impressive! We also enjoyed listening to Jacqueline read some of Alice-Miranda in Scotland with an impressive Scottish accent that she practised by watching YouTube videos! In fact, Jacqueline gave us a great writing tip and said that she reads each chapter aloud (with accents). Does the story sound the way you want?

There was a long line of excited Alice-Miranda fans waiting to chat to Jacqueline and have their book signed and this grown-up had her book signed too!

Alice Miranda in Scotland

There’s lots of adventure and unexpected mystery when Alice-Miranda and her friends are invited to attend the Queen’s Colours inaugural youth leadership program in Scotland. Even though the selection process doesn’t initially go to plan for Alice-Miranda, she has a big surprise when she finally arrives and is greeted by many familiar faces. The students are divided into five teams and must compete against each other in various challenges that teach them new skills and test their leadership, decision-making and team work skills. It’s not always easy working as a team, especially when you have someone like nasty Madagascar Slewt to deal with! The students are busy with activities including a treasure hunt, highland dancing, Highland Games sports, a challenge on the Himalayas’ putting course at St Andrew’s Golf Club and spending a night at Brokenwind Castle. A visit to Scotland isn’t complete without a boat ride on Loch Ness, but the group’s excursion becomes dangerous when something slams into their boat and almost sinks it. Was it the legendary Loch Ness Monster? 

Throughout the story there are mysterious happenings, but it isn’t until Alice-Miranda leads her Nessie’s Monsters team to safety from an underground bunker that a desperate plot for revenge is uncovered. Luckily all ends well and with the final scores of the competition very close, the winning team is revealed after much fun at their own Highland Games. As the students return to their schools, Jacqueline leaves us wondering if Alice-Miranda’s next adventure might be in Norway visiting her new friend Britt Fox and if there is romance slowly blossoming between Alice-Miranda and Neville.

If you haven’t read any Alice-Miranda books yet, you can still enjoy her Scottish adventures. You might even decide to go on more adventures with Alice-Miranda in her other 16 books.

Happy reading! 

‘Total Quack Up!’ Writing Competition

If you like to write and your dream is to be a published author then the Total Quack Up! Writing Competition is for YOU!

Penguin Random House is offering the opportunity for a young writer (12 years and under) to have his or her story published in ‘Total Quack Up’.  Yes, that could be YOU!

Total Quack Up! is a humorous short story collection to be published by Penguin Random House in October. It will be filled with funny short stories by lots of your favourite authors including Sally Rippin, Adrian Beck, Jacqueline Harvey, Matt Stanton, Alex Miles, Tristan Bancks, R.A Spratt, Oliver Phommavanh, Deb Abela and the legendary Paul Jennings. The illustrations by talented James Foley will quack you up! 

‘Sally and I will be reading every single entry and most of all we want kids to make us laugh out loud! The stories can be about anything—they can be embarrassing, possibly spooky or even a little gross! And personally, I love a twist, so I’m hoping for some surprise endings.’ (Adrian Beck)

Your funny short story must be a minimum of 500 words and submitted online HERE by Sunday, July 29. 

Total Quack Up! is a wonderful initiative. Watch this segment on Kids WB to learn how the authors are donating their stories and the money from the royalties of the book will go to the Dymocks Children’s Charities to help children who don’t have access to books. What a win-win! When you buy a copy of Total Quack Up! you can laugh and have fun reading the book and feel good knowing you have helped other kids have the opportunity to own books too.

Good luck if you are entering the competition! Get busy writing!!

Happy writing!

My Life and Other Failed Experiments by Tristan Bancks

My Life and Other Failed Experiments is the seventh book in the Tom Weekly series and it continues to make me laugh out loud! It is filled once again with funny short stories, lists and quizzes by Tristan Bancks and hilarious illustrations by Gus Gordon. I can only imagine the fun Tristan and Gus have creating the Tom Weekly books. What a dynamic duo!

Tom Weekly says his life is a science experiment gone horribly wrong so his new motto is ‘Never give up, never give in’. That’s a big challenge when your guinea pig is held hostage by your evil sister, you’re hit in the face by a fruitcake as hard as a brick, attacked by a posse of possums and you totally embarrass yourself in front of the girl of your dreams on Christmas Eve.

In Hostage, Tom’s sister Tanya holds his guinea pig Gus hostage and threatens to drop him out the window if Tom doesn’t hand over his birthday money – a whopping $180! With just eight seconds left can Tom save his beloved Gus and his birthday money from his evil, maniacal, psycho sister? Stop reading at page 11…What would you do?

The legendary feud between Tom and Jack’s Nans, Nancy and Sue continues in Razorblade Fruitcake when Nancy’s crown as the Fruitcake Queen is threatened when Sue enters the baking competition. Why does Tom believe his Nan when she tells him Sue has baked something dangerous in her fruit cake? Who wins the prize and the fight as fruitcakes go flying like frisbees?

Some people think possums are cute…Tom Weekly is not one of them! Thanks to Tom, in Attack of the Killer Possums, the Weekly’s roof has been invaded by possums and their noisy roof antics are turning his family into sleepless zombies. On top of the ladder at midnight, Tom tries to put the roof tile back in place only to discover…

There are ten or twelve possums staring at me from a tree. A posse of possums. I’m pretty sure one of them is picking his teeth with a long knife. One looks like it has only one eye. Another has tattoos on its pink hairless snout and bears its sharp teeth, growling in a low demonic hiss.

It’s Tom Weekly versus the possums…and it gets ugly!

I don’t think I will be looking at the Christmas lights in my neighbourhood in quite the same way after reading about Tom’s exploits in The Christmas Kiss. Tom’s mum asks him to dress up as Father Christmas on Christmas Eve and zoom down a zip line from their balcony to deliver candy canes and Christmas puddings to neighbourhood kids. Tom only agrees when  Sasha, the love of his life promises to give him a kiss. Eating a record twelve candy canes beforehand, combined with Tom snagging the Christmas tree lights on his way down, makes the Weekly’s Christmas Eve one that will be remembered in their neighbourhood for a long time. And one both Tom and poor Sasha will want to forget!

One of my favourite stories, Author Visit should be compulsory reading for authors! Gary Cleese (aka Barry Cheese thanks to Mr Skroop) is visiting Kings Bay Public school. Not even his ‘Reading is Fun’ t-shirt or Tom Weekly’s desperate attempts can save Gary Cleese from the 400 students ready to bring him down in ways he had never imagined with a barrage of questions that hijack his carefully planned author presentation.

Tristan continues to ask the hard questions with his quizzes What Would You Rather Do? and Who Would You Rather Be? For the record I would rather abseil down the side of a sky scraper than dive off a tall bridge and I’d rather be Wonder Woman than Lisa Simpson (although I’d really rather be Batgirl who was also a librarian!). I’m sure there will be lots of discussion with your friends about your choices and you could think up some of your own! You could also try some of Tom Weekly’s Handy Hacks for Household Chores…your mum might not be impressed though!

After reading My Life and Other Failed Experiments check the back of the book to see all the schools and kids who have helped Tristan with his ideas during his author visits and writing workshops.

 Tristan can make an author visit to your school or a visit via Skype or Google Hangout.

Thanks Tristan and Gus for creating books that make reading fun!

Tristan Bancks’ Writing Workshop

Last week I went along to the fabulous children’s bookshop, The Little Bookroom in Carlton to a writing workshop with Tristan. He read us the opening of Hostage and asked everyone with just 8 seconds left, how they would save Gus the guinea pig. There were some clever ideas!

Next was a writing task, ‘I Remember’ and in 30 seconds you had to write as many funny memories as you could. Tristan then asked everyone to choose one memory to write about, but also add something untrue to their short story. The challenge for the audience was to listen and pick which part of the story wasn’t true. Tristan explained that you write a good story by mixing your experience and imagination (just as Sally Rippin said), which is how he writes his funny stories about Tom Weekly.

Another great piece of writing advice from Tristan was to be kind to yourself as a writer because “Your first (and second and third) drafts always stink.” Keep drafting and polishing your stories until you are happy with them. 

These are great Teacher Notes for the Tom Weekly series.

Happy reading (and writing)! 

Monsters by Anna Fienberg and illustrated by Kim Gamble and Stephen Axelsen

If you worry about monsters in your bedroom then Tildy and Hendrik have a plan for you…

Tildy knows there are monsters in her bedroom. They are hiding under her bed, reading her books and playing with her games. They’re big and bold and bossy and sail into her bedroom on the moonlight. Only Tildy can see the monsters. She sleeps with one eye open and the monsters are making her miserable. Hendrik, a new boy arrives at school and also knows about monsters. He becomes Tilda’s friend and has a plan to help Tildy deal with with her monsters.

Monsters isn’t a scary book. It is a warm and playful and encourages us to be brave. Part of the story is set in Kim Gamble’s childhood garden, where as a child he would lie for hours on his back looking up at the clouds, seeing ships, dragons and monsters. Kim Gamble and Stephen Axelson have let their imaginations run wild to create an array of monsters that cheekily play and hide on the pages of the book.

How many different types of monsters you can find? Draw the monsters that hide in your bedroom or use your imagination to create and draw your own scary, funny, fierce or friendly monsters. 

Kim Gamble is one of my favourite illustrators with his whimsical water colour illustrations. You will know Anna Fienberg and Kim Gamble from the much loved Tashi series they created together. In this video, Kim uses chalk pastel to create a scene for Tashi and the Golem. It’s magical!

A Final Note:

Sadly Kim Gamble passed away in 2016 before he finished the illustrations for Monsters. In a beautiful example of friendship, his childhood friend and illustrator Stephen Axelsen finished the illustrations for Anna and Kim’s book.

Thank you for giving us one last book to read and treasure Anna, Kim and Stephen.

Teacher Notes

Happy reading!

The Polly and Buster series by Sally Rippin

Today I had the absolute delight of meeting Sally Rippin. Sally’s passion for creating books for children shines as brightly as her infectious smile.  

Sally loves reading, writing and drawing and says that she is lucky to do what she loves every day. Sally has been writing since she was very young. When she was about 15 years old Sally was a babysitter and would made books like this one for the children she looked after. Sally was destined to become a book creator!

Sally explained that stories come from two places – your imagination and your experience (things that happen to you). Books are a combination of both. When you write a story it needs good characters and a problem.

Sally wanted to write a series with two new characters and use lots of imagination. She likes witches and thought a monster for a best friend for her witch would let her use her imagination. The next step was to create a problem for her characters and after filling her notebook with lots of ideas, Sally decided her problem would be that her friends were not allowed to be friends any more and they would have to fight for their friendship.

Next step was to decide what her characters would look like. Sally’s first picture was in pen and the start of her ideas. Someone told her that Buster looked like a ‘hairy potato’!!

Sally did lots of research about different types of monsters and witches before she created her final pictures of Polly Proggett and Buster Grewclaw using charcoal.

Once Sally knew her characters then she began to create their world of Blackmoon Coven that we enter when we read the Polly and Buster series.

Me and you,
You and me,
That’s the way it
will always be … (Buster)

Polly the witch and Buster the Feelings Monster have the sort of friendship that makes your heart squeeze with happiness. In a world where witches can never be friends with monsters, Polly and Buster have managed to keep their friendship a secret. Until one day when everything changes…

What would you do
if everyone thought
your best friend was
dangerous?

In this book, Polly and Buster are on the run from nearly everyone in town. Who is sending Polly messages through the magical stones and will Polly follow the messages? Polly and Buster have big decisions to make. Will they stay safe and hidden or risk it all to save the day? 

At the end of her session, Sally gave one of the best gifts an author can give their readers and read some of her new Polly and Buster book. It is such a privilege to hear an author read the words they have carefully chosen to write their story.

If you haven’t met Polly and Buster yet, then it’s time you did! Polly and Buster’s friendship is warm, funny and magical and together as friends they can face whatever comes their way…they would love you to join them on their adventures!

If you ever have the chance to go along and meet Sally, please make sure you do because you will will be in for a wonderful treat!

Teacher notes

Happy reading!

The Champion Charlies series by Adrian Beck

Charles was the best player in the boys’ football team.
Charlotte was the best player in the girls’ side.
But this season they’re both playing in the SAME mixed team
Is there room for TWO Champion Charlies in the ONE side?

Adrian Beck has combined his cheeky brand of humour with his love of football (soccer) to create a fun sport series that celebrates the world game of football.

The Mix-Up is the first book in The Champion Charlies series.

Charlotte Alessi and Charles ‘CJ’ Jackson are talented football players at the Jets Football Club. Charlotte is ultra organised, has a no-nonsense ponytail and is smart. CJ is a risk-taking daredevil who doesn’t like to follow rules and is not always smart which we quickly learn when he attempts a kamikaze rescue mission of a football stuck in a tree in the opening chapter. These two total opposites will need to find a way to work together in a mixed football team if they want to continue playing their beloved football.

CJ and Charlotte both have qualities that would make them a good team captain. CJ desperately wants to be the Jets’ captain and gets himself into all sorts of trouble as he tries to win over teammates and puts his friendship with his mate Benji at risk. CJ and Charlotte finally overcome their rivalry at a Matilda’s game when they hear striker, Sam Kerr explain the key to the Matildas’ success “We just pull together, try to use everyone’s skills and face every challenge as a team.” 

There’s lots of football action in the final chapters as the Jets try to bond as a team to beat their arch rivals, the Hillside Hammersmiths. Watch for a clever tweak to the Jets’ tactics (courtesy of The Dancing Dads) in the second half. Which team will win and who will be named the new captain of the Jets?

One of my favourite characters is Mr Hyants, otherwise known as High Pants. He is named as the new coach even though he has never coached before. After reading a sports blog about inspirational music, High Pants (who always wanted to be a pop star) coaches the team by singing karaoke from the sidelines with songs to motivate them. Imagine hearing ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ when you’re doing goal kicking practice or ‘Shake it Off!’ when you fall over! It’s a very unique way of coaching!  

Top Five Reasons to read the The Mix-Up

It’s fun

You can read about sport

There are fun facts about football

You’ll know how to do the 4-2-2 formation (I do now!)

You might want a karaoke coach 

 

Try the first chapter of The Mix-Up!  HERE

The second book Boot It is also available and the next two books in the series will be published in September.

Writing workshop with Adrian Beck at The Little Bookroom
Tuesday, July 10th

This workshop is for 7-12 year-olds during the school holidays. Each ticket includes a copy of the book The Champion Charlies: The Mix-Up which will be available to collect at the workshop.
You can book your place HERE  I guarantee it will be fun writing with Adrian!

Teacher notes

Happy reading!

Mark Greenwood : History Hunter

I like to search for the truth, but hope that through my books readers can discover not just the truth, but also an understanding of the past.  (Mark Greenwood)

During the week I was incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to listen to Mark Greenwood speak to Year 9 students about his writing process. Mark is a born storyteller whose passion for history and writing shines brightly!

On his website, Mark describes himself as a history hunter who enjoys searching for lost explorers and glittering treasure, solving famous cold cases and delving into Australian history’s most baffling mysteries. Mark passionately shared engaging stories behind his books with us. He does lots of research looking for ‘little personal stories’ that he can shape into a story to connect his readers to the larger historical story. 

Mark’s stories often begin with an artefact or an old photo. He told us how his story of Midnight was sparked by a photo he saw at a school in Queensland of the famous light horse battle charge at Beersheeba that changed the course of WW1. Mark started thinking about how he could tell the story of one horse and one rider from the 800 in the battle. Through his research he discovered Guy Bloomfield. His research led him to the Hunter Valley in NSW where Midnight was born and access to Guy’s letters from the battlefields, the actual bullet that missed his spine and Mark even travelled to Beersheeba to retrace Guy and Midnight’s last few days. The amount of research Mark does is amazing, but this is what really brings his stories to life and helps his readers make deeper personal connections with the subjects of his story. 

Mark’s next book due to be published in August is called The Happiness Box set in Changi Prison. The idea for this story was sparked when Mark saw an old faded book called The Happiness Box at National Treasures Exhibition in Canberra. This book was made as a Christmas present in 1942 by a group of Allied prisoners-of-war in Selarang Barracks, Singapore for the children of nearby Changi Jail. You can read more about The Happiness Box HERE

After Mark’s engaging presentation, I told him that I had read his book Ned Kelly and the Green Sash to Year 5 students as part of our Ned Kelly unit last year. Imagine how surprised and impressed I was when he took out a small cloth pouch and unravelled his replica of Ned Kelly’s green sash!

If you enjoy digging into history and solving mysteries then take a look at all of Mark’s books  including his fascinating History Mysteries series and watch some book trailers on his website

Teaching notes for Mark’s books

Happy reading!

The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery by Deborah Abela

There are words to be spelled,
Nerves to be overcome,
And a champion to be found!

If you enjoyed The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee you will be excited to read the sequel The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery by Deborah Abela 

.

In The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee we met India Wimple, a shy girl who was a brilliant speller, but suffered from stage fright when spelling in front of an audience. Thanks to the unwavering support and creative ideas from India’s close-knit family and country town community of Yungabilla, India achieved her spelling dream at the Grand Final at the Sydney Opera House.

Teacher notes

India’s life in Yungabilla is returning to normal when we meet her in The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee Mystery as she receives an invitation to compete in the Most Marvellous International Spelling Bee in London. However, India can only take one person with her and there is no way India will go without her family! The Yungabilla community are very proud of their spelling champion and come up with a solution.

In London, India is reunited with her friend Rajish and they are both surprised to see the positive changes in their fellow speller, Summer. We also meet new spellers, Peter Eriksson from London and Holly Trifle from Canada. Holly’s parents who are fitness fanatics and own a business called Beaut Butts & Guts will have you cringing, especially when the spellers meet the Queen at Buckingham Palace. 

A series of mysterious mishaps threaten to stop the competition and India and her friends work together with some clever detective work to find the culprit and ensure the Spelling Bee continues. They’re a bit like the Famous Five!

Deborah Abela cleverly includes the spelling bee process in the chapter headings by using a spelling word, its definition and including the word in a sentence. This gives you a clue and invites you to predict what might happen in the chapter.

There is a wonderful spirit of friendship in this competition where the children are not just competitors, but also become friends. Only one of the spellers can win The Most Marvellous Spelling Bee, but they are all winners in the way they grow and learn more about themselves.

Heart-warming
(adjective):
Making you feel happy because you see other people being happy or kind to each other

This is a heartwarming story that celebrates friendship and family and encourages self-belief.

Teacher notes

Happy reading!

The Ateban Cipher series by A.L.Tait

The Ateban Cipher series by A.L.Tait is an exciting adventure series. If you like quest stories like Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda or you’re a fan of the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan, then this is the next series for you!

Book One: The Book of Secrets

Gabe stared in horror at the small book in his hand. The light from the low fire danced across its golden cover, setting off a shower of sparkles from the rainbow of jewels that adorned it. Its beauty was dulled only by a dark, spreading smudge of blood.

Gabe is a young apprentice monk, who has been raised at Oldham Abbey and only knows this peaceful and protected world. One evening when the Abbey is raided, Gabe is given the mysterious Book of Secrets to protect by Brother Benedict as he lays dying. 

Gabe is thrust into the outside world on a quest full of danger, intrigue and adventure. What is the secret of the book? Why is it so valuable and who is the mysterious ‘Aidan’? Lost in the forest, Gabe is rescued by a feisty band of rebel girls who live in an old oak tree. Merry, Gwyn, Scarlett and Midge are skilful, clever, brave and fiercely independent. Their fast moving adventure unfolds in forests, tunnels and dungeons as Gabe and the girls seek to rescue Merry and Gwyn’s father, help a prince (Eddie) in trouble and unravel some of the mystery surrounding the Book of Secrets.

 

Teacher Notes

Book Two: The Book of Answers

‘The Ateban Cipher,’ Lucien continued, ‘is also known as the Book of Answers.’  ‘Answers to what?’ Eddie asked. ‘Everything. Any question you might have, the answer is in here.’

In this sequel, Gabe continues his quest accompanied by the girls and Eddie to a remote mountain fortress in search of Lord Lucien as they are closely pursued by their enemies. Lucien answers some of their questions about the mysterious secret coded manuscript and explains how dangerous it would be for The Book of Answers to fall into the wrong hands. While there, Gabe also unexpectedly discovers his true identity and learns about his parents.

Working as a team is vital as Gabe and his friends seek to outwit Lord Sherborne and his henchmen. Their clever problem solving and combined skills keep the encrypted Book of Answers safe while helping Eddie regain his crown and Merry and Grace race against time to save their father. Gabe’s confidence, courage and skills develop along the way and when the key to the Ataban Cipher is finally revealed, he makes a decision that will change the direction of his life.

I thoroughly enjoyed these two books and if you’re like me, you will want to have The Book of Answers ready to read as soon as you have finished The Book of Secrets!

Happy reading!