Archive for October, 2012

The Best Book of 2012 is…

The best book of 2012, as voted by Christchurch kids is…The 26-Storey Tree House by Andy Griffiths and Terry Denton.  It came 1st, Skulduggery Pleasant: Kingdom of the Wicked was 2nd, Wonder was 3rd and The One and Only Ivan was 4th.

Thanks to everyone who voted.  The winner of the Best Books Prize Pack is Jackson.

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The joy of not writing

Is there a greater joy than the act of doing anything other than the thing that you’re supposed to be doing?

Last week I was supposed to be writing. But instead I was on the open road, tootling along country lanes around regional Victoria in the bottom right-hand corner of Australia. I was on tour, with all the glamour that the term ‘on tour’ implies. That is, not much. But a week of tootling about in a small Hyundai sedan and getting to meet a bunch of enthusiastic young readers was a joy.

When it comes to Victoria, I haven’t been much outside the capital city of Melbourne, so I was quite looking forward to seeing a bit of new territory. I quickly realised that regional Victoria is much the same as regional anywhere in Australia — the streets are broad, the locals are friendly and school kids are essentially identical regardless of location. That is, they’re glad of any disruption to maths lessons caused by a visiting author. And they’re always up for a laugh.

I spent a very enjoyable hour or so with the kids of Bairnsdale Primary School 754. Apparently in Victoria they number their schools according to the order in which they were founded. Sort of like how they number members of the Australian cricket team. And German prisoner of war camps. Anyway, Bairnsdale celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2014 and what a great little school it is. And this is in no small part to the fact that it has a school dog. His name is Ralph, he has his photo on the notice board alongside that of the principal and the teachers, and he is an important member of the school community.

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Ralph is a golden retriever, Labrador, something undetermined cross. And that is about the only cross thing about him. A more placid pooch I am yet to encounter.

Ralph attends classes, mostly those of his owner and teacher from year 6, and is a big help when kids need a circuit breaker. When someone is getting a bit frustrated or on edge with some issue or another at school, they take Ralph for a walk around the oval. They tell him their secrets, talk through their problems and by the time they get back, everyone has calmed down. It’s a brilliant idea.

Ralph sat in on my presentation to the year 5 and 6 kids, and he behaved pretty much the same way most kids do in my sessions. He fell asleep under a desk.

He did come to life when I called for volunteers for a mind reading experiment. But it was no use choosing Ralph for that. He knows how to keep a secret.

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Guest Author: Joseph Delaney’s Top 5 Scariest Creatures in the Spook’s Stories

Joseph Delaney is the author of one of my favourite series, The Spook’s Apprentice.  It’s seriously creepy and full of all sorts of horrible creatures.  As the Spook’s Apprentice, Thomas has to keep the County safe from the evil that lurks in the dark.  The latest book in the series, Spook’s: Slither’s Tale, has just been released, and to celebrate Joseph has joined us today to talk about his Top 5 scariest creatures in the Spook’s stories.

The Haggenbrood

This creature is used in ritual combat to determine the outcome of disputes between citizens of Valkarky (See ‘Slither’).  It has three selves which share a common mind and they are, for all intents and purposes, one creature. It is fast and ferocious with fearsome teeth and claws.

Grimalkin

This is the witch assassin of the Malkin Clan (See ‘The Spook’s Battle’ and also ‘I am Grimalkin’). She is deadly with blades and stores powerful dark magic in the thumb-bones that she cuts from her dead enemies with her snippy scissors in order to wear around her neck.

The Bane

This creature from ‘The Spook’s Curse’ is trapped behind a silver gate in a labyrinth of dark tunnels under Priestown Cathedral. It is a shape-shifter with a terrible power; the Bane is able to press a victim so hard that his blood and bones are smeared into the cobbles.

Golgoth

This ‘Lord of Winter’ from ‘The Spook’s Secret’ has the power to plunge the world into another Ice Age. If summoned from the dark he can freeze you solid and shatter you into pieces like an ice stalactite falling on to a slab of rock.

Morwena

She is the most powerful of the water witches (See The Spook’s Mistake). Fathered by the Fiend, she has a blood-filled eye which is usually closed, the lids fixed together with a sharp thin bone. But anyone she gazes upon with that eye is immediately paralyzed and she is able to drink that victim’s blood at her leisure.

Best wishes,
Joseph Delaney

Reserve your copy of the latest book in the Spook’s Apprentice series, Slither’s Tale, from your library now.

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Take a ticket to oblivion

Imagine a room full of people.

Something like a university lecture hall; one of the really big ones. Tier upon tier of seats with those little fold-up wing desks that drive teachers nuts because kids can’t help but muck around with them rather than listening to the sage on the stage below.

Okay. So we’ve got our room. It’s choc-a-bloc with people. Hundreds of them. And they all have at least one thing in common. They have assembled on this particular day because they all want to become authors.

More than anything else in the world, they want to write books. They want to see their work on bookshelves in bookshops, available for download from online retailers and, most importantly, they want other people to read them.

Now, in front of this room full of eager scribes stands a lecturer — man or woman, it doesn’t matter. This lecturer is one of those no nonsense types who could easily have taken up a career in insurance assessment, or death row security.

He or she fixes the attendees with a terminal stare. ‘Hands in the air everyone who has started writing a manuscript.’

A forest of arms reaches for the ceiling.

‘Keep ‘em up if you’ve finished writing the first draft.’

Timber! Half the hands fall.

The lecturer sucks in a lungful of air and yells, ‘Unless your hand is still in the air, leave. NOW.’

Much swinging of wing desks, much scraping of feet, much muttering of curses as the rejected slope to the exits.

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The lecturer waits until the last of the castoffs is gone and the doors have swung closed. She glares out at those remaining. ‘Who here has taken their manuscript through at least three re-writes?’

About half the hands go up. The lecturer points to the doors. ‘The rest of you — out!’

Scraping, muttering, fuming, they leave.

The lecturer goes on.

‘Who has a problem with rejection? Criticism? Crippling self-doubt? Out! Out! Out! Are you obsessive? Hermitic? Self-destructive — NO? Then go away.’

As the dust settles and an eerie silence fills the hall, there are only two people still seated at their desks. They both have the lean and hungry look of Olympic athletes, vying in a race with just one medal on offer. The lecturer fixes them with a steely eye.

‘Are you two willing to earn about a fifth of the average national wage, have no job security and absolutely no guarantee of critical or commercial success?’

The two people nod like starving dogs, manic looks in their eyes.

One of them speaks. ‘Should we give up everything and become writers?’

The lecturer considers them carefully, then shrugs. ‘You’re clearly no other use to society, so why not?’

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Who Could That Be at This Hour by Lemony Snicket

 

Before you consider reading “Who Could That Be at This Hour?” ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are you curious about what is happening in a seaside town that is no longer by the sea?
  2. Do you want to know about a stolen item that wasn’t stolen at all?
  3. Do you really think that’s any of your business? Why? What kind of a person are you? Really?
  4. Who is standing behind you?

Who Could That Be at This Hour? is uncanny, peculiar and outlandish, all words which here mean ‘quite strange.’  It’s the first book in Lemony Snicket’s new series, in which he gives an account of his apprenticeship in a secret organisation, ‘in a town overshadowed by a sinister conspiracy, culminating in some unnerving and troublesome truths that lay buried for a number of years, while people were busy doing somthing else.’  The story is addictive and once you start, it’s very hard to put down.  It’s set in a strange little town, containing ‘a sea without water and a forest without trees,’ and it’s full of bizarre events and curious characters.

Nobody in this story is quite who they first appear to be.  There is Lemony’s chaperone, S. Theodora Markson (don’t ask what the S stands for) who is not as competent or highly skilled as she portrays, the mysterious, coffee-drinking Ellington Feint, the shadowy Hangfire, and even Lemony Snicket himself.  I love the way that Lemony Snicket describes some of the weird people he meets, like Stew,

He looked like the child of a man and a log, with a big, thick neck and hair that looked like a bowl turned upside down.  He had a slingshot tucked into his pocket and a nasty look tucked into his eyes.

My favourite characters in the story are Pip and Squeak, the two brothers who drive the Bellerophon Taxi.  They are supposedly filling in for their father, but they’re so short that one steers while the other sits on the floor and pushes the pedals.

If you love mystery and adventure stories, but also want a bit of a laugh, Who Could Be at This Hour? is the perfect book for you.  Grab your copy now from your library or bookshop.

5 out of 5 stars

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Enter the Billionaire Writing Competition

The Crystal CodeTo celebrate the release of The Crystal Code, book four in Richard Newsome’s award-winning Billionaire series, Text Publishing are running a writing competition for students aged 10–13 years.

The winner’s school will receive a $1,000 credit voucher and the winning writer a $100 credit voucher to spend in one New Zealand bookshop, courtesy of Text Publishing.

To be part of the competition, you must write a story of no more than 500 words about what would happen if you inherited billions of dollars.

The competition is open now and entries have to be in by Friday 9 November.  For more information and to download an entry form, visit the Text Publishing website.

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Ssshhh … genius at work

Read our 2011 Star Authors' postsShut up.

No, really. Just shut up.

Zip the lip. Bolt your cake hole. Button your trap. Fermez la bouche.

That’s better.

Now turn off your iPod. Pull the earbuds out.

Now, do you hear that?

That strange whooshing noise in your ears?

That’s the sound of your brain saying thank you. It’s the sound of your thoughts taking shape. It’s a soundtrack of what takes place when you make the effort to switch off from the incessant attack on the most assaulted of our senses.

You can block your nose (smell), you can close your eyes (sight), you can shut your mouth (taste) and you can stand on one foot and make like a scarecrow (touch). But it is very difficult to block out the sounds of our everyday lives.

However, when you do stop yakking and toss the music in the top drawer, it is amazing what you can hear.

Notions being born. Pinpoints of logic being connected. Stories ripening like a marinating t-bone.

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For many years I worked in Sydney, driving my car the fifty minutes to the office each day. To pass the time, I listened to the radio. Chat. Songs. Advertisements. Noise.

I had been tinkering in my spare time on what was to become my first book, The Billionaire’s Curse. I’d do a bit of writing on weekends or late at night, if I could muster the energy. But I wasn’t making much progress. I could never find the time to think about the story and how it should develop.

Then one night, as I was driving home from work, I switched off the car radio.

It was an eerie experience. What was this thing? This thing called silence.

Then, like some rusted piece of machinery that had lain dormant and unloved under a tarp in the back of the workshop, my brain fired into life.

Action scenes revealed themselves. Lines of dialogue played out in my ears. Characters wandered in and introduced themselves.

It was astounding what was revealed once I shut out all the competing noise. That drive home soon became my favourite part of the day. When I could be alone. Just my thoughts and me.

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That one day of the year

When my ultimate goal of complete world domination finally comes to pass — it’s important to have a hobby — I have drawn up a list for things to do on the first day.

First, the violent suppression of all talent-search reality TV programming, with appropriate levels of public floggings and/or executions of those involved. The latter component is to act as a reminder to the rest of humanity of just what a bad idea these shows are.

Second, to declare a global day of play.

On that one glorious day each year, every child on the planet is to be shoved sharply between the shoulder blades from their place of residence and into the general direction of outside. Their parent or guardian is then to say the following: ‘I don’t want to see you again until the sun goes down.’ They are then to slam the door shut.

What happens next is up to the child and their friends. No further direct adult supervision is required.

Some of the minor issues will need to be worked out. Sure, those kids living close to the poles in summer will be having a very, very long play. Conversely, in winter they’ll never get out of bed. But these are details. I’m a big picture type of guy. I refer you to my first action point on day one of the glorious new regime. (And, in particular, to the bit about floggings and/or executions.)

Yes, there will be kids who will go through some level of withdrawal from not having a parent hovering over their shoulder with a hand wipe and a water bottle. Yes, there will be parents who go into meltdown not knowing the precise geo-location of their child to within a 20cm radius.

But there will be play. And there will be adventure.

Knees will be scraped. Skin will be barked.

Pirates will attack; aliens will be repelled.

Chess games will take place in the cool shade of a tree in a park.

Teams will be chosen. Some will win. Some will lose.

Books will be read in hammocks.

Dogs will be chased.

In the event of rain, card games will take place under the kitchen table that has been covered with a blanket.

Cardboard fortresses will keep safe the princess from the dragon.

Robbers will be shot. Many, many times.

Balls will be hoisted aloft. Kites will be flown. Bikes will be ridden downhill at ridiculous speeds.

Tea will be served in impossibly small plastic teacups. (Sandwiches will be optional.)

Mud will be gathered from the sides of creek banks and liberally distributed into little sisters’ hair.

There will be much screaming.

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Tadpoles will be swept up in nets and placed into glass jars of murky water.

Lakes will be paddled into. Swimming and dive-bombing may take place.

There will be races to see who can hop backwards the fastest.

New sports will be invented. Pushbike polo with a soccer ball will be a big hit until someone runs over the ball and punctures it.

Pocket money will be spent on lollies. Lot and lots of lollies.

There will be singing. Not pre-packaged talent show singing, but honest-to-goodness straight from the heart I really don’t care what you think of it singing. Just for the fun of it.

Stories will be shared. Bad jokes will still cause laughter even though they are really, really bad.

Adults will still be in evidence. If a kid decides that throwing rocks at another kid sounds like fun, a stern word will come from a passing grown-up, along the lines of, ‘Don’t be stupid or I’ll tell your mother.’

Friendships will be forged in the fire of battle. Talents will be discovered. Skills will be honed.

Much joy will be had.

Sound ridiculous? This worldwide day of parentless play? When kids run free together, explore the boundaries of their known world and ramble home at sunset, their cheeks red, knees grubby and stomachs growling? How could it possibly work?

It used to. That was every day of my summers when I was a kid.

And I had the time of my life.

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My Story: Victorian Workhouse by Pamela Oldfield

My Story: Victorian Workhouse” is set in Victorian times, and is written in the form of a diary, kept by fifteen-year-old Edith Lorrimer, who lives with her mother and cousin. Edith is used to comfort and kindness, so what she sees in her visits to the local workhouse take her breath away.

Edith’s mother is a member of the Board of Guardians at the workhouse. She decides to show Edith what her job is like, and so one day she takes her to the workhouse.

Edith is horrified by the way the inmates are treated: they are given pitiful rations, are treated in cruel ways, and are forced to do exhausting jobs all day long. She listens to Board meetings, and quickly realises that most of the members are strict, unkind and greedy. Blankets and food that are supposed to be for the inmates are mysteriously vanishing, probably being sold for money, and Edith and her mother have a good idea of who is behind it.

People live in the workhouse when they are too poor to afford shelter or food for themselves or their children. Young mothers, children and the crippled elderly all beg the Board for “indoor relief” in desperation. Edith is sickened by the ways of the Board, and pities the inmates, but it isn’t until she meets Rosie that she really understands what life in the workhouse is like.

Rosie Chubb is a girl of Edith’s age. She is defiant and rude, and is often punished by the Board in despicable ways. Edith befriends Rosie, and is determined to learn her “life story.” Bit by bit, she begins to learn about Rosie’s life, and records the details in her diary, as well as the everyday happenings of her own life. Edith’s family are concerned about Rosie’s safety in the workhouse. Will Rosie ever be set free from her prison? Can Edith help her new friend?

I found “My Story: Victorian Workhouse” an enlightening read. The book cleverly stirs facts about life in Victorian times throughout the story in a light way. I felt as though I was seeing Victorian England through Edith’s eyes, and experiencing the horror of the workhouse myself. However, I did find the ending a little abrupt. Apart from that, it is a very good read. I rate it 8 out of 10, and would recommend it to everyone; from boys to girls, from children to adults!

By Tierney, age 13.

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My favourite seriously spooky authors

Some of my favourite stories are ones that creep me out and send a chill down my spine.  When I was a kid there weren’t many authors who wrote horror stories or ghost stories.  R.L. Stine’s books were about the creepiest I could find and he’s still writing them today.  If you look up R.L. Stine in the library catalogue, you’ll find we have 97 of his books in the library!

If you like horror stories, ghost stories or stories about the supernatural there are now lots of authors who write these stories. Some of my favourite seriously spooky authors are:

Who are your favourite seriously spooky authors?

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A white-edged raging defence of comic books

There are two words which, when mentioned together, are guaranteed to get me frothing at the mouth in a barely controllable rage: ‘reluctant’ and ‘reader’.

The term reluctant reader is tossed about by the unthinking and the well-meaning in equal measure. It’s usually aimed at boys of a certain age, and I find it completely and utterly repugnant. I’m probably over-reacting (I have a tendency towards ranting) but hear me out.

I’ve seen it used as a pejorative: I suppose this book might be popular with the reluctant reader set. As if a book that kids actually want to pick up and read is somehow a bad thing. This sneering condescension is at the heart of a boorish them-and-us mindset from adults who ought to know better. You know the type: Tarquin and Jacinta devour books like starving geniuses, but Johnno (eye roll) well, I suppose not everyone can be a READER.

First of all, bully for Tarquin and Jacinta — good for them. Second of all, geniuses or not, they warrant no more or less consideration in their learning than does Johnno. How dare anyone be consigned to the big bin labelled HOPELESS because they don’t happen to share your ideal of what constitutes a good book. Perhaps if snotty parent/teacher/librarian could put a clothes peg on their nose for long enough to consider for a second that maybe Johnno doesn’t read because he thinks The Famous Five is outdated tosh, and he would be more than happy to lose himself in a story if only someone would show him a good one.

Which brings me to the subject of comic books. 

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I read a colossal number of comic books when I was a kid. Cracked, Cor, The Beano, Peanuts, Donald Duck, Richie Rich, The Archies, Phantom, Commando, Twilight Zone … and the daddy of them all: Mad Magazine. Under the careful tutelage of Alfred E. Neuman, I was introduced to literature and movies, to history and geography, to satire and word play. It piqued an interest in US history that continues to this day. Its soft scepticism and lack of reverence for authority probably nudged me towards my early career in journalism. When I was done reading textbooks or set novels, it was towards my stack of Mad Magazines that I gravitated. The owner of the local second hand bookstore would keep any fresh titles aside for me, knowing full well that I would buy them. For an inquisitive 11-year-old, they were my window to a mad world.

So rather than branding a kid as a reluctant reader, maybe they just need the right thing to read. There aren’t so many classic comics being published these days, but there has been an explosion in the field of graphic novels. If you’re worried your kid isn’t reading, I’d spread a bunch of graphic novels around the house like cockroach baits. Just like the real thing, they’ll start nibbling soon enough. You’ll be surprised where it can lead.

 

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A Medal for Leroy by Michael Morpurgo

Michael Morpurgo has written some of my favourite stories – Private Peaceful, Alone on a Wide, Wide Sea, and Shadow.  He one of the best storytellers around.  Michael’s latest book, A Medal for Leroy, is inspired by the life of Walter Tull, the only black officer to serve in the British Army in the First World War.

Michael doesn’t remember his father, who died in a Spitfire over the English Channel. And his mother, heartbroken and passionate, doesn’t like to talk about him. But then Michael’s aunt gives him a medal and a photograph, which begin to reveal a hidden story.

A story of love, loss and secrets.

A story that will change everything – and reveal to Michael who he really is…

A Medal for Leroy is a story of war, love and family secrets.  Like many of Michael’s other stories, it’s told from the point of view of someone who is old (in this case Michael) looking back at his life and telling the reader the story of what happened.  I really like this style of storytelling because it makes you feel like you are just sitting down for a cup of tea with the main character while they tell you the story.  Michael tells us that he never knew his father because he died during the war, but his mother and his aunties love him very much.  When one of his aunties dies, she leaves a special package for Michael, full of family secrets.  In this package, Michael learns about his auntie’s life and about the father he never knew.  Her story is heart-breaking, but with moments of happiness and hope.

Once again, Michael Morpurgo has written an emotional story that you get caught up in.  Even though the war is happening, you hope that everything is going to be fine, that Martha will meet Leroy again, and her father will welcome her home.  As always, Michael presents the realities of war to portray what life was like during this horrible time.  Even though Michael has returned to a topic that he has written about many times before, A Medal for Leroy, is a different story and just as wonderful as his other war stories, like Private Peaceful, War Horse, and An Elephant in the GardenYou can read more about the person who inspired this story, Walter Tull, at the back of the book too.

4 out of 5 stars

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Dream on, dopey

‘So, when are you going to write a real book? You know — for adults.’

How does one respond to such a question?

A knee to the groin? A sharp slap across the cheek? A ninja star to the throat?

No. Of course not. You smile benignly and say, ‘I already write real books. Kids are people too.’

I don’t buy the notion that books for children, particularly those aged nine to twelve — my target readership — are somehow inferior, or don’t meet the standards of a ‘book for adults’.  What does that even mean? Are the characters somehow illegitimate because they’re too young to shave? Are the themes irrelevant because they don’t involve a mid-life crisis?

Some of the wisest people I’ve met have been aged under twelve. Conversely, some of the dopiest people I’ve met have grey hair, wear suits and work in jobs that they hate.

I write books for middle grade kids for the very reason that they don’t wear suits and spend their lives in pointless meetings.

They have the luxury of youth and a lifetime of adventure ahead of them. I want to tap into that sense of, as the French say, joie de vivre.  You know, before they go grey and feel the need to buy a red sports car.

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It’s all about life on the cusp. About transitions. About security in the present and uncertainty in the future. Middle grade is where friendships are first tested, and sometimes found wanting. It’s where the simple things are often the most important things. It’s where a broken arm isn’t a tragedy; it’s part of the adventure. It’s a time of wonder, of first freedoms, of staying up later than you’ve ever been allowed before. It’s about failing. And trying again. It’s the first glimpse through the window of life and knowing with every ounce of spirit in your bones that there’s something amazing on the other side. And you have this one special friend, ready to explore it all with you.

Middle grade is life as a concentrate, distilled into its purest essence. And it is a privilege to write those stories.

So how did I respond to my inquisitor, the one who asked if I was ever going to write a real book? I flung a copy of my latest edition at his head. It bounced off, producing a red welt and a satisfying yelp of pain. ‘That real enough for you?’ I asked.

In my dreams.

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Interview with Ivy and Bean

Saturday 13 October is International Ivy + Bean Day.  To celebrate we’re having special Ivy + Bean parties in some of our libraries.  You can bring a friend along and enjoy activities, games, giveaways and a reading of the latest Ivy + Bean story.  It’s all FREE and there is no need to make a booking, so just come along.  Here’s where the parties are on Friday 12 October:

  • Shirley Library, 10:30-11:30am
  • Upper Riccarton Library, 10:30-11:30am
  • Diamond Harbour Library, 3:00-4:00pm

I sat down with Ivy and Bean to ask them a few questions about their favourite things and what they like about each other.  Thanks for joining us Ivy and Bean!

 

How did the two of you meet?

Ivy: Bean was running away from home.

Bean: I had to run away from home. Because of Nancy. That’s my older sister.

Ivy: You had to run away from home because you wiggled your behind at Nancy.

Bean: But I wouldn’t have wiggled my behind at her if she hadn’t been trying to get me in trouble.

Ivy: But she wouldn’t have been trying to get you in trouble if you hadn’t taken her twenty dollars.

Bean: But I wouldn’t have taken her twenty dollars if she hadn’t been such a tightwad.

Ivy: So really, it was Nancy who helped us meet.

Bean: Sometimes Nancy’s okay.

 

What do you like best about your friend?

Bean: She can cross one eye without crossing the other.

Ivy: One time, Bean ate wood for a dollar.

 

Who is the most annoying person you know?

Ivy: There’s this girl named Nellie in the book I’m reading who’s really annoying. She says mean things about the main girl’s dog.

Bean: She’s not real. You can’t say she’s the most annoying person you know, because you don’t really know her.

Ivy: I know her. I’m reading about her.

Bean: But she’s not real. She’s in a book. You have to say someone real.

Ivy: You.

Bean: You.

 

What is your favourite food?

Bean: Syrup! Or doughnut holes! I love doughnut holes! I can stick four of them in my mouth at once and then I smash them flat between my tongue and the top of my mouth. It’s great!

Ivy: Chocolate mousse. I used to think it was made out of moose.

 

What do you want to do when you grow up?

Ivy: I’m going to be a witch.

Bean: I’m going to write the fortunes that go inside fortune cookies. Or be an arborist. I haven’t decided.

 

What is your most embarrassing moment?

Bean:  I don’t want to talk about it.  Sometimes, people are thinking about other stuff and aren’t paying attention every single little second and they don’t exactly see where they’re going and it’s not their fault.

Ivy: It could have happened to anyone. It probably does happen to almost everyone, but maybe not when twenty-six other kids are watching.

Bean: And their parents.

Ivy: Never mind.  They probably would have painted that part of the room over anyway.

 

What’s the craziest scheme you’ve ever come up with?

Ivy: Crazy?

Bean: Crazy?

Ivy: Do we do anything crazy?

Bean: Nah. He must be talking about someone else.

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Skulduggery Pleasant: Kingdom of the Wicked

Kingdom of the Wicked is the latest installment in the very popular Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy.  I had been very eager to read the seventh book, and so as soon as I got my hands on my new copy, I sat down and began to read feverishly.

From the very first page it is obvious that this book is going to be even better than the previous one.  Skulduggery and Valkyrie have got their hands full, as numerous mortals across the city are suddenly gaining magical powers, and are dreaming of a man named Argeddion.  They start to investigate, and so begins a new adventure, full of hideouts, evil teenage sorcerers, and lots of fighting.

Valkyrie is still struggling to keep control of her evil half, Darquesse, and her reflection is becoming more life-like by the day.  When Valkyrie is given a temporary power (or perhaps curse), the trouble- and adventure- increases. The plot thickens and twists as the book progresses, more challenges being thrown at Skulduggery and Valkyrie as they strive to defeat the evil Kitana and her friends, Doran, and Sean.

Kingdom of the Wicked introduces you to many new characters and takes you to various new locations, such as the magical gaol (fit with the ultimate security system), the Alps (home to not-so-friendly Abominable Snowmen) and a couple of different dimensions (really).  It is packed with the humour, adventure, and originality that made us all fall in love with the Skulduggery Pleasant series in the first place.

I was intrigued by Mr. Landy’s development of the magical world, overjoyed to have new characters to love or hate, and ecstatic to be reunited with my favourite characters.  As usual, Mr. Landy’s wit and humour had me rolling on the ground laughing.  One of my favourite “funny characters”, Desmond Edgely (Valkyrie’s dad), continues to amuse readers with his antics (although I don’t think Valkyrie finds them as amusing):

“’The great hunter-gatherer has returned victorious,” he announced. “I bring the womenfolk newspapers, fresh milk and bread.  The newspapers led me on a merry chase, but the bread and fresh milk didn’t stand a chance.’

‘Well done, dear,’ Valkyrie’s mum said.

Her dad sat.  ‘And I’ve also found Stephanie a new boyfriend.’

Valkyrie choked on her cereal and her mum looked up sharply.

‘You’ve done what?’”

Vaurien Scapegrace returns, providing even more laughs.  If you haven’t read the series, Scapegrace is (at this point in the series) the head of a zombie, who was once a murderer wannabe.  I’m sure you can already tell that Scapegrace, like so many of the characters, is a very unique person, who adds even more flavour to the addictive taste of the book.

All of this is just a hint of the experiences promised, should you choose to read the latest  Skulduggery Pleasant adventure.   I will warn you though; once you begin reading, you will never want to stop!

By Tierney, age 13.

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The thot plickens…

I’m up to my armpits in plotting at the moment.

Some writers adopt the headlight approach to their novels. American author EL Doctorow is credited with saying, ‘Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’

I’m sure that’s comforting for some.

I need to know where I am at every stage of my journey. So I take the obsessive military planner approach to my books. That is, I need high-res satellite imaging of every inch of the way and don’t bore me with diverting side trips to that picturesque lake back at the turnoff. My troops are massed and they have a plan to follow. The logistics are in place; the supply line is organised. We march at dawn!

I plot. A lot.

It always starts the same way. With a 240 page A4 spiral-bound notebook, and my lucky mechanical pencil (a LAMY scribble Druckbleistift that I picked up at a stationers in Auckland about ten years ago, if you must know.) I’ve used that pencil for all my books and would be lost without it.

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I always have a firm idea of where the story is going to go before I begin. I crack open the notebook and start, very simply, with the prologue. And I write. In pencil. For about three months. I average about three chapters a week. So over twelve weeks I can complete an 80,000 word novel. At least, the first draft of that novel. Once I’m done, if I have the luxury of time, I put it away for a month or so and let it fester in its own juices. Then I crank up the laptop and start the task of typing it up, embellishing and polishing as I go. At this stage some characters blossom and others wither. Various plot twists are crinked and action scenes are choreographed in minute detail. I can often be found prancing around the house, trying to recreate a chase sequence or a fight scene, just to make sure it’s feasible. It will take about six weeks to complete that second draft. Then the editing kicks in. I’ll go through the manuscript at least a half dozen times, making it perfect, before I submit I to my editor, who will then show me just how far from perfect it actually is. By the time the manuscript is ready to be typeset it will be on its tenth draft. The whole process — from notebook to bookshop — takes about a year.

Then I start again.

I’m up to Chapter 27 of my next book. There’s about six chapters to go. It’s a fairly involved mystery and it has taken a long time to set the dominos in place. I’m just about to push the first one, and it will be action all the way to the finish line.

And I know exactly where that finish line is — I have a satellite image of it seared into my brain.

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The 26 Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths

The 26 Story Treehouse is a sequel to the hilarious comedy also by Andy Griffiths: ‘The 13 Story Treehouse’. with pictures by Terry Denton, the book is great for all ages. About two unlucky people who get stranded on an island, they soon build a treehouse (with 26 stories). I liked it because I’ve read almost every Andy Griffiths book on earth and also once I started reading it, well, I just couldn’t put it down. Soon to come is yet another volume called the ‘The 39 Story Treehouse’

By Asher (age 10)

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Hugo Pepper by Paul Stewart

Hugo Pepper is a 12 year old boy who lives in the Frozen North. His parents, Phineas and Phyllida Pepper, were eaten by polarbears when he was 1, so Harvi and Sarvi Runter-Tun-Tun took him in and raised him as their own. Harvi and Sarvi are simple reindeer herders who leave gifts out for “the snowgiants”, and as Hugo gets older he helps them with the reindeer. One summer, Hugo was looking around the milking shed when he came upon a battered sled, the sled that his parents had arrived in the Frozen North on. With teary good-byes from Harvi and Sarvi, Hugo took off in the sled to Firefly Square, where his parents used to live. He makes friends with the occupants of Firefly Square, and ends up ridding them of a nasty magazine editor who continues to write horrible things about them.

This book is a great read for ages 9-13 because it uses descriptive language and the storyline is easy to follow. I couldn’t put it down, I had to keep reading because Paul Stewart made each chapter close with a hint of mystery, which leaves the reader longing to read on.

There are several illustrations in this book, which I found good because you could use the illustrations as templates for what you imagine the characters to look like.

Paul Stewart is also the author of The Edge Chronicles, another set of books well worth reading.

Megan Blackwood (12)

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Welcome to Villainy — Population: You.

Villainy.

It is such a good word. It could be a village in the south of France, where all the villains go for summer holidays. Can’t you just picture it?

‘Oh, I bumped into the Voldemorts down at the market this morning, dear. I’ve invited them round for drinks and canapés to watch the sunset from the terrace. They asked if they can bring the Blofelds as well. I hope you don’t mind?’

‘Ernst and Muriel? That’ll be marvellous. Haven’t seen them since Ernst threatened New York with nuclear annihilation. That was a laugh.’

‘And you’ll never guess who I saw stumbling out of the bottle shop carrying a crate of Chianti.’

‘Not Hannibel Lecter! He’s got a nerve showing up here again after that barbecue debacle at his place last year.’

Ah, villains.

Where would stories be without them? They would be very dull affairs indeed.

I love writing villains. As characters, they are infinitely more interesting than normal folk. That’s because a good villain has a back-story. For villains to be truly effective they can’t just have woken up one day and decided, ‘You know, I reckon being a villain might be kind of neat.’

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They need to earn their villain stripes. Dastardly deeds must be begat from somewhere. There needs to be a motivation that drives a villain towards their nefarious plans. Whether it be greed borne of deprivation, or lust for power derived from early childhood bullying, your average villain needs to have a rational reason for doing irrational things. Threatening to drop a nuclear device on New York is irrational, but seeking revenge for a past wrong is an entirely rational human response. So when I write my villains, I try to create a complex character who is simply following a clear line of thinking that would be apparent to everyone if only they were as clever as the villain. There is nothing more boring than a cartoon villain who does bad stuff for no better reason than they are a ‘bad’ person, whatever that is. Good stories are not made of such stuff.

Good villains are potentially likeable; the kind of person you could enjoy time with if only they didn’t overreact so much. At their heart, they tap into the dark side that everyone possesses and reflect our own potential for nastiness — a potential only kept in check by our moral selves. A good villain should rattle the bars of that cage that we keep locked up tight in our hearts and not dare admit to its very existence…

In the meantime, I’ll see you in Villainy.

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The Flytrap Snaps by Johanna Knox

The Flytrap Snaps is the first book in The Fly Papers series by Johanna Knox. It is an quirky yet cool tale. I even found the dedication page unique:

Dedicated to all the carnivorous plants that sit on our window sills and inspire us (you know who you are).”

Spencer Fogle is the hero of this story: he lives in the town of Filmington, which is famous for its variety of landscapes. For this reason it is used by producers all over the world to film movies, ads and videos. Spencer is used to hearing screams on his way to school. One day, Spencer hears a scream, and something tells him that this is not special effects in a horror film. He goes to investigate…and so begins a mysterious adventure, involving carnivorous plants, hench-women, wrestling and shampoo ads.

Dion is Spencer’s friend, and meets Spencer during the story. Dion is very theatrical, and dreams of becoming a movie star. He also happens to be a Venus Flytrap with four eyes. Yes…I think that Dion Horrible (his stage name) is definitely the most original element of the book!

I think that Johanna Knox has done a wonderful job of fleshing out the characters. I imagined each one very vividly…from Tora, a wrestling expert with amazing hair, to Spencer’s parents, who own a business that sells stuffed food, such as sardine-stuffed lemons. I also admire the way she writes in such a consistently humorous and strong way. There wasn’t a dull moment in the book, nor a moment when I wasn’t smiling at Dion’s antics.

The mystery gets darker as the book progresses. You will find yourself rooting for Spencer and Dion, hating Jimmy Jangle and his salami-breath sidekicks, Sybil and Cassandra, and turning the pages faster and faster as the pace of the adventure quickens. Will Jimmy Jangle find Dion? What is Tora’s secret? Will Dion get his change at fame? You will find the answers to these questions- and more- by reading The Flytrap Snaps.

By Tierney.

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