Book Bites: Fun & Family
Contemporary en point junior and middle grade novels are undeniably making a solid comeback. The variety of subject matter is virtually infinite yet one element common to the most popular choices 7 – 13-year-olds make, is humour. These next few titles expertly embrace funny as a way of relaying serious storylines in the most entertaining ways.
Frightfully funny, this easy to read junior novel will have 6 - 10-year-olds snickering with delight at Gorski the vampire's dilemma following a run in with the recalcitrant fruit-loving bat, Nectar. After being bitten by Nectar, Gorski's erstwhile vampish traits disappear at an alarming rate. Horrified, his family rally to reverse his transformation before it's too late and he remains a blood-phobic, fruit eating vampire forever.
Cute twists, coffin-loads of pun-some fun (in nearly every paragraph which is choke-causing crazy for adult readers but which the intended audience should fine hilarious) plus plenty of ghoulish illustrations by Danny Willis make Gorski’s Bitemare the perfect chapter book to exhume again around Halloween time.
Title: Gorski’s Bitemare
Author: Robert Favaretto
Illustrator: Danny Willis
Publisher: Ford Street Publishing, $ 12.95
Publication Date: 1 February 2019
For ages: 6 - 10
Type: Junior Fiction
Buy the Book: Ford Street Publishing, Boomerang Books
Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables
I never expected this light-hearted middle grade read to be SO MUCH FUN! Tim Harris's bright and breezy writing style weaves a satirical pastiche of primary school characters, each more complex and compelling than their ordinary student personas suggest, into a page-turning, belly-busting good time. Their new shrewd and savvy, and very sparkly, substitute teacher, Mr Bambuckle teases each of their remarkable stories out until miraculously, the class begins to bond and morph into a creative, cohesive, productive whole.
Room 12 B quickly come to love Mr Bambuckle who is as mysterious and magical as he is sagacious and kind. However his avant-garde teaching methods and unswayable good humour do little to endear him to the rest of the faculty let alone, Mr Sternblast, the school principal.
This is a story, or rather a marvellously glutinous collection of stories, that will entertain middle and upper primary readers as well as tweens because it reflects a glorious cross-section of classroom psyche dissected by one of the best role models for education; a progressively thinking teacher – Mr Bambuckle.
Highly recommended and not just because of the pigeon.
Spoiler alter: you'll have to read the whole series (of four books) to see how things pan out for Mr Bambuckle. Book one ends on a precipice of uncertainty and convictions.
Title: Mr Bambuckle’s Remarkables
Author: Tim Harris
Illustrator: James Hart
Publisher: Penguin Random House Australia, $14.99
Publication Date: August 2017
For ages: 7 - 13
Type: Middle Grade Fiction
Buy the Book: Boomerang Books, Penguin Random House
Don’t Follow Vee
Phommavanh's chatty conversational narrative style and ability to capture the essence of the tween female psyche is en point in his latest middle grade read, Don't Follow Vee. Coincidentally, released at a time when social media standards are yet once again altering to suit moods and improve societal health (with the removal of Insta likes), this story centres around Insta-addiction and its impact on a young kid, Vee aka Veronica Lee and her Insta obsessed mother who lives her life vicariously through The Vee Chronicles.
Vee and her single mum lead a normal, colourful life that just happens to be enjoyed by their zillions of followers, every single pixelated minute of it. The thing Vee desires most of all is a less voyeuristic existence. She craves anonymity and less pressure to be pose-perfect 24/7. And yet as Vee explores ways to derail her mother's online popularity or rather shift the attention from herself more to her mother, she unwittingly pushes those who genuinely admire and cherish her further and further away until she finds herself literally alone, in the limelight.
This is a keyed-up read, brimming with lively language and witty inferences that Phommavanh balances with surprisingly tender moments like; 'I can't shake away her gloomy vibes, it's like I'm smuggling rain clouds under my jumper.’
I confess the stream of Ludditeness ebbs relentlessly through my veins so I always find first world tales of social media faux pas and angst a little morally dour; they agitate my soul and make me want to wipe all my SM accounts to escape the absurdity of it all. Perhaps that is what Phommavanh wants us to feel however Vee's tale also firmly reminds us that keeping it real is the ultimate goal and if kids can harness reality with contemporary social norms, then they can achieve anything they want.
There is a lot to love and laugh over in this supremely relatable and timely tale which reminds me of the old chestnut: 'It's nice to be important, but it's important to be nice'.
Title: Don’t Follow Vee
Author: Oliver Phommavanh
Publisher: Puffin Books, Penguin Random House Australia, $16.99
Publication Date: May 2019
For ages: 9 - 14
Type: Middle Grade Fiction
Buy the Book: Penguin Random House, Boomerang Books