Fire Watcher (1) Brimstone

Author – Kelly Gardiner

Age – 8+

Christopher Larkin is in a London bomb shelter in the middle of the Blitz, while his mum is outside serving as a fire watcher for the city. Looking for a spot on his own, Christopher ventures down a tunnel he hasn’t been before. He finds a thick wooden door and pushes it open…

Earlier that week while searching with his friend for war memorabilia, Christopher found a ring engraved with a picture of a phoenix. He feels it warm and cool as he wears it, and his teacher said it may even be Roman.

…the ring glows as he pushes open the tunnel door. He finds London, but not as he knows it. There is an orange glow in the sky in the distance and a small girl in rags sitting nearby. Christopher is shocked when he asks the date. 1666. He knows that date from his history lessons – the year of The Great Fire of London.

Keen to get home, but worried for his new friend, he has to decide to escape or explain what is about to happen to her city.

He is quickly caught up in the chaos of thousands of people trying to flee, a religious zealot who believes he summoned the fires, a family who believe he’s a ghost of their son, and the one man who actually believes who he really is.

(Series, Action, Historical, History, Friendship, Family, Time-travel, Time travel, Secret, St Pauls, Religion, Bible passages)

Max Einstein (1) – The Genius Experiment

Author – James Patterson & Grabenstein
Age – 10+

Max loves anything and everything to do with Albert Einstein. She even has his surname. but she’s not really sure it’s really hers. Max doesn’t remember her parents or anything about her past, but talking to Mr Einstein when she’s alone and lonely helps her not only think through a new idea she has, but chase away the loneliness.

Max also doesn’t know that two wealthy organisations have been watching her – one keen to do good in the world, and one keen to make the most of Max’s brilliant mind for nothing but greed.

She soon meets other kids with super high IQ’s and scientific interests and for the first time in her life, she has true friends. But together they have to deal with world-wide problems. The first is helping save children from Cobalt mines in the Congo. Not only do they have to sort mathematical, scientific and mechanical problems, they have to deal with a terrifying warlord.

The first in a new series, particularly empowering girls within the sciences, Max Einstein will go on to tackle other world issues. Fun, interesting and timely in our swiftly changing world.

(Action, Adventure, Courage, Friendship, World Problems, Climate Change, Environment, Child Labour, Science)

In Real Life

Author – Cory Doctorow20575446
Illustrator – Jen Wang

Age – 12+

Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role-playing game where she spends most of her free time. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends.

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer – a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person’s real livelihood is at stake.

I took the blurb from the publisher for this review as it is so clear. I loved the illustration style and variety of design throughout this graphic novel which is such a current topic both in game worlds and real life. Gamers, young and old are becoming different people via their avatars (digital alter egos) online. But it’s just a game right? What is often forgotten by the players is that the characters in the game you are shooting, chasing, trapping or scheming with, are actual people in the next street, town, country or continent. Real people. And sometimes these people’s needs are as simple as food or shelter and if selling things to affluent players achieves this, this is what they must do.

(Gaming, Computer Game, Avatars, Game, Poverty)

Break Your Chains (The Freedom Finders – 1)

Author – Emily Conolan39890850

Age – 9+

It is 1825. You are a young Irish girl who has lost her Ma to small pox and your father to English gaol. He was an Irish rebel and you fear you will never see him again. But now living on the harsh streets of London, you face life and death decisions every day.

You are given a secret treasure for helping a wealthy lady, but have to try and avoid gaol yourself. You make a dear friend but have to choose whether to leave her behind or escape.

But then there is months of travel on a thunderous ocean. Will you survive or die in the bowels of a ship with hundreds of others?

This is a Choose Your Own Destiny book like none other I’ve read. The 1st book of four in a new series, you live the life of a poor Irish girl in the early 19th Century, making decisions that will impact not only your life but others you meet on your journey. It reads just like a novel, but with choices to make that lead you further.

If you wish you can read more about the time in the Fact Files at the end of the book. eg. Smallpox, Prisons, Pickpockets, Child Labour and Tasmanian Aboriginals, before you make your decision. I perished a few times before I reached the end. Look out for other titles in this series. Loved it!

(Historical, 19th Century, Victorian, London, Pickpocket, Irish Rebel, Van Dieman’s Land, Convict, Choose Your Own Adventure, Choose your Own Destiny, Pick-a-path)

Boy 87

Author – Ele Fountain36204556

Age – 11 +

Shif and his best friend Bini are smart. Smart enough to be put up a class in school. Bini wants to be a doctor and Shif an engineer. They enjoy maths and chess and trying to outdo each other in everything. Life is good.

But life around them is changing. Bini suddenly stops coming to school. Government soldiers are appearing more often in their town, looking for children avoiding compulsory military service. Shif’s mum tells him the truth about his father, who he always thought was dead. The unthinkable happens and Shif and Bini are arrested.

The friends soon see another side of life in their country. One of soldiers, cells, mistreatment and force. Will they ever achieve their mother’s dreams of escaping their corrupt country for England?

The cover does not do this book justice. Boy 87 is set in an un-named Middle Eastern Country, where many people are doing what they can just to survive, and/or planning their escape. They can’t trust anyone, always watching out for soldiers, slave traders or those who wish to trick them out of their hard-earned savings to enable fleeing from their homeland. A great read to kick off class discussion about the courageousness of refugees in our world.

(Refugee, Middle East, Courage, Conscription, Military Service, Family, Friendship)

Illegal

Author – Eion Colfer35963837

Illustrator – Andrew Donkin

Age – 10+

Ebo is only 12 when he is forced at gunpoint to sail with 13 others in a patched up inflatable dinghy designed for only 6. This is the journey he’s been waiting and working for since he was 10 years old when his brother Kwame left him behind.

But as we all know, these voyages of hope for a better life are nothing like the journey promised to them by money hungry people smugglers. Luckily Ebo has a wonderful voice and loves to sing, and his voice is something he can take on his journey, which ultimately helps him find all that he was looking for.

A full colour Graphic Novel about one boy’s hazardous journey to find a better life in Europe, across deserts, through dangerous streets of a city and out in the ocean on a sinking boat. A thought provoking book that shows young readers the truth behind these perilous journeys.

(Refugee, Boat people, Journey, Voyage, Sing, Poverty)

Out of Heart

Author – Irfan Master33786395

Age – 12+

Adam’s family is struggling. They have just lost his grandfather and learned that he donated his heart – given to someone else who needed it after he died.

Adam’s mum hasn’t cried yet, and he’s worried about that.

Adam’s little sister Farah still doesn’t speak, preferring to sign instead.

Adam blames himself.

This story could be bleak. It could be dark and depressing and leave you wishing you never picked it up. It is the opposite.

Yes, life is tough. Mum has to work two jobs. They are grieving. Adam likes to be alone even more now, spending all his time drawing in his sketch pad or writing down words to make some sense of the world. His exceptional talent at drawing is also shown in tagging, but unlike other taggers he knows, he is working alone on a bigger project. One that takes months of being out in the cold, bit by bit, revealing something important.

And then there’s William. He’s different. He’s tall and white and just appears one day on their door-step. He has something to tell them. Who is this stranger?

Out of Heart is all about – HEART. All the different types of heart. Kind-hearted. Hard-hearted. Broken-hearted. Cold-hearted. And luckily for Adam’s sake, a Sweet-heart. And with interesting quotes from books, and poems, or facts about the heart sprinkled through the book – it was nothing but heart-warming. LOVED IT!

(Abuse, Grief, Family, Tagging, Friendship, Relationships, Blended Family, Courage, Conflict)

Run, Pip, Run (1) Pip Series

Author – J C JonesRun, Pip, Run (Pip #1)

Illustrator -Serena Geddes

Age – 8+

Pip’s birthday hasn’t gone to plan at all. Just as she’s about to have some cake, her carer Sully falls to the ground taking the cake with him. “He’s had a stroke,” say the ambulance men, and he’s taken to hospital.

Sully is the only family Pip knows. She was left as a tiny baby on his doorstep inside an apple crate, with a note from her mother. She’ll be back when she’s settled – but she never returns. Pip is what Sully names her.

But with Sully in hospital, Pip knows she will be placed in welfare. She’s been warned about welfare by her friend Ginger, who has been mistreated in different foster homes. So, with a bag packed she avoids police and welfare and looks after herself, keeping one step ahead of the authorities while she waits for Sully to get well.

Pip is polite and thoughtful of others and a diligent pupil, but also tough and resourceful on the streets. This street savvy gets her through some tricky situations, but it’s the people who care for her that eventually help her through. Great story for 8+

(Poverty, Love, Grief, Family, Friendship, Foster care)

A Different Dog

Author – Paul Jennings34628938

Illustrator – Geoff Kelly

Age – 9+

A boy gets up one morning from the floor of his room. His bed was burnt for firewood the night before, just to keep him and his mum warm. The boy has a plan to improve their lives, but first he has to climb a hill on this frosty morning. But on the way up he sees an accident and he is the only one who is there to help.

He tries to sound the alarm but his voice doesn’t work. It hasn’t for some time, and he’s teased about it at school. But he can do something. A dog has been thrown from the vehicle and the boy is determined to save it. But this dog is special and the way out is treacherous. Can he get them to safety and then save the dog from its past?

By the renowned author Paul Jennings, A Different Dog has been written with reluctant readers in mind, but still gives any reader a story about bullying, poverty, courage and survival.

(Animal, Dog, Courage, Poverty, Bullying, Accident, Reluctant Reader)

Clover Moon

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Author – Jacqueline Wilson

Age – 8+

11 yr old Clover Moon doesn’t go to school. She has to stay home and look after her many step siblings and younger sister Megs. Clover uses her imagination to entertain them and is popular with the alley’s children. But Clover is unhappy. Her stepmother is nasty and even beats her and Clover wants to leave. But how could she leave Megs and Pa?

But then tragedy strikes and Clover has nothing to stay for. Where will she go? Can she be an apprentice to Mr Dolly (her nickname for the local doll maker who has been kind to her), or will she find a job on the harsh streets of Victorian London?

Using all her courage, she ventures out on her own, and it’s her skills with children and street smarts from the alley she’s lived in all her life, that help her become more than she’d ever hoped to be.

Another story for girls about living in Victorian London from this multi award winning author. Another of Jacqueline Wilson’s characters (Hetty Feather) features at the end of the story, linking the two series together. 

Soon

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Author – Morris Gleitzman

Age – 13+

No.5 in this hugely popular series. Felix is now 13 and living with Gabriek who spends a lot of his time drinking his cabbage vodka. But living in the rubble of a city after the war is just as tough as during it. People are just as desperate for food and will kill to get it.
Gabriek has warned Felix to keep to himself, but he can’t ignore people who need help. This attracts a leader of thugs. When Felix stops to help a young boy who has been shot, Gogol kidnaps Felix and demands he help an injured man in his gang. Felix does the best he can and doesn’t realise that he will be in charge of a small baby boy by the end of the day.

This story might be set after the war is finished, but it is no less harrowing. Great series.

(War, Conflict, Courage, Friendship, Historical, Series, Secret, Poverty)

Rooftoppers

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Author – Katherine Rundell

Age – 10+

Charles Maxim finds a baby floating in a cello case in the English channel. Their ship (The Queen Mary) had just sunk and the baby was the last to be rescued. Charles decided to name her Sophie and raises her the best he can. He was a scholar and taught Sophie himself, never sending her to school, but teaching her all about the world around her. As she was prone to dropping plates, she ate off books and learnt her lessons out on the roof of his home where she could see the sky and the birds. She doesn’t like crowds or small spaces and attributed that to the sinking of the ship when she was a baby.

As she got older she wanted to learn music and was keen on the cello as she remembered her mother playing. Charles said it couldn’t be possible that she’d remember something from when she was so young, but Sophie is adamant. After all, Charles was always saying, “Never ignore a possible.”

When the authorities came to check on them, they weren’t happy with the trousers she wore, the way her hair wasn’t brushed properly or the fact that she was allowed to draw and write on the walls of their home. It wasn’t ‘proper’.

The same authorities decide Sophie’s fate which leads them to escaping England for France – after a clue Sophie has found about her mother. What follows is a look into a world of children who live on the rooftops and in the trees of Paris. Sophie’s upbringing could be just the thing that helps her connect to these silent shadows of the night, who help her in her quest to find her mother.

(Friendship, Paris, Historical, Blended Family, Courage, Poverty)

After the Snow

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Author – S D Crockett

Age – 13+

The icecaps have melted. There are no longer warm sea currents but seemingly endless winters.
Willo hides in the snow, watching his family being taken away by soldiers. Where are they being taken? Why? When he begins his search, he meets Mary, a 13yr old from the city. She’s been hiding in the mountains too – away from the filth, endless hunger, guns and control of the city police. They end up back in the city as Willo continues his search, but he finds things he never knew about his father. He is the leader of an underground following of people who believe there is a better life away from what they know. A return to how it was before…

(Future, Family, Poverty, Future, Dystopian, Revolution)

Crossing

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Author – Catherine Norton

Age – 10+

With an idea from a true event, Crossing is about living on one side of a wall that divides their country – as in East and West Berlin. The author says it isn’t set in any particular time.

This story is about doubt. About a young girl called Cara growing up and realising maybe everything she has been told isn’t all true.

(Future, Friendship, Mystery, Conflict, Poverty, Doubt, Historical, Love, Murder, Secret, Crime)

Fallen Grace

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Author – Mary Hooper

Age – 13+

London. 1861. The time of Charles Dickens and Queen Victoria. But also a time of terrible poverty and hardship. Grace Parkes and her sister Lily live this life of daily hand to mouth existence.

The story begins with Grace hiding her tiny baby’s body in a woman’s coffin at a cemetery – just so it doesn’t have a pauper’s grave.

She returns home to Lily promising herself a new start in life – a new beginning. But what follows is a loss of her home, her freedom and nearly even Lily. But there is something she doesn’t know – Something that will change their lives forever. Her father who left for America to find work has left them a fortune in his will. How will she claim what’s rightly hers and free herself of the family who is trying to claim it for themselves?

The cover of this book does not do it justice – proving the age old adage – Do not judge a book by its cover.

The Victorian setting for this novel is so richly written, I could almost smell the manure covered streets, and feel the damp London fog and the hunger of the characters. The ending is a page turner, wonderfully wrapping up the several threads of the story.

(Victorian, Historical, Courage, Grief, Poverty, Loss, Courage)

If you find me

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Author – Emily Murdoch

Age – 14+

Carey spends her days searching for and cooking food for her and her 6 year old sister Jenessa. That food might be bird or rabbit or anything else she can catch, then cooked over a fire as the tiny camper they live in is hidden deep in a forest, without electricity and running water. Their mum disappears for weeks on end chasing her meth habit, leaving them to fend for themselves. It’s so cold in the winter, they wear two sets of clothes and sleep in a small camping cot together.

One day a man and woman appear from the bush. Who are they? Should they hide like they’ve been taught?

Carey and Jenessa soon learn their lives have been full of lies and are about to change forever.

The characters and setting are convincing, and the plot steadily paced giving a fantastic read.

(Neglect, Family, Love, Perseverance, Fitting in, Survival)

No Stars to Wish On

No Stars to Wish on by Zana Fraillon

Author – Zana Fraillon

Age – 10+

Told in the viewpoint of a young boy, this is a sad but also uplifting story of a family torn apart. Poor, but happy, he lives with his mum and twin sister, cousins and great aunts. Then one day he is taken along with Baby Sal, to a place ruled by nuns and angry voices. His clothes are taken and he is given another boy’s clothes – He was called No.49.

Waiting for the nuns to realise their mistake, he is there for years but finds a way to overcome his fate. He believes if he tells his jokes, he will make the other children laugh, breaking the sadness of the place and hopefully – eventually, the nuns angry faces. But why are some kids given medicine and others none? And why is the old No. 49’s shoe in the compost?

Between 1920 and 1970 in Australia, children in poverty were torn from their families and put into government care, ‘for their own good.’ They were called the forgotten children.

(Family, Historical, Friendship, History, Australia, Vaccine, True, Experiment, Orphanage)

Revolver

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Author – Marcus Sedgwick

Age – 13+

It’s 1910 and Sig Andersson is sitting alone inside his family’s cabin, staring at the body of his father. Only hours before, he found his father out on the ice – frozen to death after falling through the centre of the lake.
Sig’s elder sister Anna has gone to town with his stepmother and the sled dogs, to bring someone to help deal with the body. And then comes a knock at the door….
A mountain of a man introduces himself as Gunther Wolff and he’s come to discuss something with Sig’s father.
No matter how hard life had been living in sub zero temperatures with little money or food, the next few hours of Sig’s life would the hardest he would ever live. Who is this man and what business did he have with his father? And even when he sees the body, Gunther Wolff refuses to leave.

This was something different. The setting was so real, it made me shiver. This thriller novel had me hooked from the first page and gave me an ending I didn’t see coming. Fabulous.

Awards – Printz Honor (2011), YALSA Awards for Best Fiction for Young Adults (2011), Publishers Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of the Year for Fiction (2010), ALA Best Books for Young Adults (2011)

(Awards, Ice, Family, Thriller, Death, Mystery, Fear)

The Bride’s Farewell

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Author – Meg Rosoff

Age – 14+

Pell Ridley doesn’t want to be married. She has seen her own mother become a creature of burden and misery after so many children and a life of work. On the morning of her wedding, Pell sneaks away into the night. Her mute half-brother (Bean) leaves with her on her beloved horse, Jack.

On the hunt for work they end up at a horse fair. Pell is a horse expert and she helps a man buy the best horses in return for payment of five pounds – but in the process she loses Bean, her horse and the money.

This is just the first of her trials and she endeavours to overcome them.

The Bride’s Farewell is set in early 19th century England. Pell is a strong character even when all seems hopeless. She’s strong minded and loyal to the ones she loves. The cover doesn’t do this story justice.

(Family, Conflict, Courage, Historical, Poverty, Growing Up, Horse, Running away, 19th Century)

The Bridge

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Author – Jane Higgins

Age – 14+

In a world where the city is divided in two by many closed bridges, Nik has worked hard at his grades to become a recruit of ISIS (Internal Security and Intelligence Services). But when they come recruiting he is not chosen. No one understands it – least of all Nik. That night their boarding school is attacked and a young boy is kidnapped. Nik ventures across the bridge to the other side to try and get him back. The side of the Breken – a people very different to his own. Or are they? Nik discovers many untruths, some closer to home than he’d like.

Winner of the Text Prize

Excellent NZ Fiction – shortlisted for the 2011 NZ Post Children’s Book Awards. (Teen)