The non-slate story from the 2015 Hugos Novelette category. It had significantly better writing than the other four stories, so all credit to the authThe non-slate story from the 2015 Hugos Novelette category. It had significantly better writing than the other four stories, so all credit to the author and the translator for that. I liked the premise of the story and I really liked the balance between serious and almost whimsical as the story went on. I think the subject matter was well suited to the length, which was notable as well. However, there was a moment where the protagonist expressed such a cliched piece of sexist thought that it really threw me.
Willem has been given special homework – to make two ‘real friends’. But it’s difficult when he has difficulty communicating with people his own age aWillem has been given special homework – to make two ‘real friends’. But it’s difficult when he has difficulty communicating with people his own age and most of the boys he knows are engaged in an ongoing gang war. Sasha is angry with herself for playing along when Willem is being bullied. And Finn is just angry, angry at the situation he’s in, angry that he can’t seem to find a way out. When they meet Archie and his several forms of magic – cars, community, music and an old Spitfire plane – things finally start to move in the right direction.
There were a lot of things that I really enjoyed when it came to the plot of this book. Spitfires are my favourite vintage aircraft (we got to see a pair fly when we visited an airshow in New Zealand in 2011 – I highly recommend it) so I loved seeing the Spitfire play such an important part to the story. I loved the recognition of the women who ferried planes during World War Two. I also really liked the setting – the cycle of rivalry and disadvantage felt really authentic.
I just wish the writing had lived up to the promise of the story. It just didn’t flow the way I wanted it to, and it distracted from the story telling at times. There were occasions where there was too much plot – a romance story from World War Two felt a little too much, and the story would have been just as strong without it.
I thought that Willem’s Asperger’s Syndrome was dealt with well, too. The story alternates between his narration and Sasha’s and it actually helps create a good picture of what’s happening in his head and what outsiders can see. It was interesting to see a story where the main character’s disability was important, but it shared importance with the other stories going on. There’s always room for more stories with characters with disabilities, and I think there’s scope for some contrast and compare talk between Willem and other books featuring characters with disabilities.
This was a very fast-moving book, but I felt that it actually moved too fast and had too many elements. There are references to Sherlock Holmes, to stThis was a very fast-moving book, but I felt that it actually moved too fast and had too many elements. There are references to Sherlock Holmes, to steam punk elements, to the First World War, to suffragettes, to Nazism and to the development of inventions including the atomic bomb. As an adult, it’s a little exhausting. I also wonder how many child readers would ‘get’ all the references (there were some I vaguely got, but couldn’t explain) and if they’re not accessible to the core readership, are they all necessary?
Another consequence of the fast pace was that the book felt a little too unreal. I was reminded of the Mary Russell, the CHERUB and the Ranger’s Apprentice books when I read The Firebird Mystery, and the way the main characters had to go through a period of training before getting involved in mysteries or adventures. The longer training time also gave the characters time to develop relationships with their mentors (or in CHERUB, with their follow CHERUB agents and handlers). All of that felt lacking in The Firebird Mystery, so it felt a little unreal when Jack talked about the relationship with his mentor, when we’d barely seen them spending any time together.
Putting aside the crowded feeling of the book, it is a really well written mystery – I definitely didn’t pick who-dunnit before it was revealed. The writing was engaging and I was hooked to keep reading until the end. There are definitely young readers who would be hooked by the book, and those who understood the references would probably be amused by them.
All in all, though, I wished that the different elements of the story had been pared down. It felt a little like I was reading two or three stories in one – spreading them out over two or three books would have given space for the characters to breath and the good writing to shine. I feel like this is an author who can write a really, really good adventure book – but I don’t feel like this is the book.
I was drawn to this book when I saw it on display at the library, and I’m very, very glad I was. It’s a children’s book (suitable from around 8 yearsI was drawn to this book when I saw it on display at the library, and I’m very, very glad I was. It’s a children’s book (suitable from around 8 years and above) set in Sydney, combining mystery, history and adventure in one big Famous Five-esque story. It’s about 4 children, including a brother and sister, who were probably closer friends some time before the story started, but still get together every now and then to hang out. One day, a change in tidal conditions leads them to a cave, and beyond that a network of tunnels beneath the old ‘ghost house’. Only, the secret they’ve uncovered may not be as secret as they hoped, as strange men begin to watch what they are doing.
There’s a lot to like about this book. I came to it in a funny mood, too caught up in something else I was reading, so the simpler language and ‘jump straight into the story’ approach jolted me at first. It took me a little while to appreciate the beauty of that, the way the characters – David, Andrea, Martin and Kitty – are ‘unpeeled’ as the story progresses. There’s something very real about the difference among the children – for example, David goes to a selective school; Andrea and Martin are at the same school, but Andrea struggles while Martin thrives; Kitty is younger than the others and still at a primary school, thinking about the possibility of a selective school for the future. There’s no pretending that the friends are all alike, or that their interests necessarily overlap. What does overlap is a shared path and an interest in the ghost house and the tunnels beneath it.
The mystery part of the story is well done too. There’s a real atmosphere created in the tunnels, and the history around them is based on actual history – so another piece of ‘our’ story is being told. It’s acknowledged that different cultures came together to create the community that the children live in, but also that things could be very difficult for some of the residents. The only thing that bothered the teacher/parent in me, was that the children didn’t go to an adult for help when they were being attacked by adults who were strangers – it didn’t ring quite true considering the amount of effort being put into teaching children about safety these days.
This is a book which would make a great read-aloud in an older classroom. It demonstrates the mystery genre really well, and I’d encourage teachers and teacher librarians to book talk and share it. Depending on the age of the children reading it, they might want to explore some Famous Five books or look towards a book like A Whole Nother Story (which is hilarious) or Lemony Snicket. A slightly older reader might even enjoy Trixie Belden (which they keep re-releasing) or they could try the awesome Mosquito Advertising books (which are set in Brisbane so are double awesome).
A quick, easy read with few twists and turns. Dash is a regular Australian kid with an interest in space. One day he discovers a program intending toA quick, easy read with few twists and turns. Dash is a regular Australian kid with an interest in space. One day he discovers a program intending to send kids into space and to his amazement he gets into the program. But his doubts grow as the launch day gets closer.
I love the concept of this story, and I can see a lot of students enjoying it. I really enjoyed the developing relationship between Dash and the trainer and between Dash and one of his fellow trainees, Yada. But something was missing in this story. I'm not sure if it rushed through too quickly (it was a very quick read) and therefore it felt that things were missed, or if it was just that I wasn't convinced by the kids who were chosen. This seems like it would have been a great book to see the quirks and personalities of gifted children - the kind that would have been chosen for a project like this. But those chosen seem a bit too normal, and therefore a bit boring - we barely get to know the, at all.
Despite this, I can see lots of uses for this book inside and outside the classroom. Pairing it up with other space books - fiction and non fiction would be great. Additionally, there's a tonne of interesting moral questions which you could discuss related to this book....more
So I've finally finished the published Ranger's Apprentice books (don't fear - John Flanagan pointed out in the talk I was at on Thursday that there wSo I've finally finished the published Ranger's Apprentice books (don't fear - John Flanagan pointed out in the talk I was at on Thursday that there will be at least one more). I'll start with my thoughts on the Lost Stories and then move back to the series as a whole.
This is a series of short stories covering everything from how Will's parents really died, through to random adventures through to more important milestones. The stories are short and easily digestible, which was good because there were some I liked more than others. While these stories fill in some holes, they also create a few more which is also fun for any reader young or old. I particularly liked the way the stories were bookended with the story of an archaeology dig in the 19th century uncovering the stories.
As for the series as a whole - well I can understand why they're so popular with my students now. They are fantasy - but like Harry Potter, they're set in a world close enough to ours to be easily relatable. They're set in a medieval-like world, which brings the knights and princesses which are so fascinating - but the world is fantastical enough to allow women to take on greater roles and conditions to be a little more palatable. There's adventure, grizzled mentors, humour and great friendship. All in all, a great series for both boys and girls to read, and one that many adults would probably enjoy as well....more