Xander’s life is pretty typical of that of a 12-year-old boy. He has two best friends – Cat and Tee-Jay, a loving mum and dad, and a younger sister Phoebe who always finds the positives in everything – despite being in a wheelchair. He wishes he could be brave and courageous like his sister and the superheroes he loves to draw – but he isn’t. He wishes he could stand up to the boys that bully him at school – the Clagg brothers aka the ‘Bruise Brothers’ – but he doesn’t. He wishes he could solve the mystery of why the alpacas on Cat’s farm are dying – but he can’t.
Until one day he finds a golden ink pen and discovers that anything he draws with this magic pen comes true. He defeats the Clagg Brothers, enables his sister to walk again, helps his father win a fishing contest that gives the family more money than they’ve ever had, and comes first in a school math competition, even though his friend Tee-Jay deserved the prize more.
But each time something wonderful happens it quickly turns into something awful. He alienates his friends, his once loving mum and dad are no longer speaking to each other, and Xander himself has changed under the influence of the pen. Instead of the sunny, easy-going person he once was Xander is now bitter and spiteful.
But sister Phoebe comes to the rescue with her truthfulness and unwavering support. Xander is soon making amends for situations that went awry. The mystery of the poisoned water and dying alpacas on Cat’s farm is the last problem needing to be solved. Xander knows he can’t do it alone and that to solve the mystery, he has to earn back the trust of his friends Cat and Tee-Jay and together find the solution.
David Lawrence tackles some deep and serious issues in this story with warmth and compassion. Disability, bullying, greed, and dishonesty are woven into the story in a way that is age appropriate and meaningful for readers. Cherie Dignam’s black and white illustrations enhance the story and provide the perfect visual insight into the main characters.
This is Book 2 of The Pen series.
Teaching themes could include fantasy, families, bullying, communities, friendship, greed, problem solving, disability, trust and courage.
Find out more about David Lawrence
Find out more about Cherie Dignam
Published by EK Books an imprint of Exisle Publishing
Release date: 14 November 2023
Recommended for ages 9 to 13
The Impossible Secret of Lillian Velvet: A Kingdoms and Empires book by Jaclyn Moriarty. Ill. by Kelly Canby
For most of her short life, Lillian Velvet has lived with her stern, uncompromising and decidedly unaffectionate grandmother. Her days are regimented and she must follow the routine set for her otherwise there is the sting of a sharp reprimand. But things change dramatically on the day of her tenth birthday. Grandmother gives Lillian a jar of gold coins and tells her, ‘Don’t go out, don’t open the door to anyone – and don’t spend all your coins at once,’ which seems odd to Lillian as she’s not allowed to go out so how could she spend her coins? Just when she thinks things cannot get stranger, she feels an almighty shove and finds herself somewhere very different to her home in Bomaderry.
Lillian has begun her adventures in the Kingdoms and Empires series where magic, intrigue and a certain spurious character called Mr Turtlehaze follow her everywhere. Each time she experiences the shove she finds herself in another kingdom that costs her more of her gold coins, and where it falls upon Lillian to save someone from danger. Throughout her seemingly disconnected forays she encounters Shadow Mages, True Mages, Sparks, Hurtlings, Spellbinders and even a Queen – all creatures and people she has never met but who are somehow familiar. Lillian also meets the various members of the Mettlestone family who are brave, courageous, and kind. They will all play a key role in helping Lillian discover who – and what - she really is.
This intriguing, character driven plot is like a puzzle, with each chapter disclosing another piece about Lillian and her time travels. Readers will be captivated from the very beginning by a fast paced, compelling, and intricate storyline that will have them on the edge of their seats anticipating the final, monumental revelation of Lillian’s secret. Kelly Canby’s colourful cover design and delightful black and white chapter illustrations with their Picasso-esque faces are the perfect complement to a wonderfully quirky and endearing story.
Although this is Book 5 and I read it as a stand-alone, it only left me wanting to find out more about the wonderful worlds that came before this one, created by the talented Jaclyn Moriarty. This was my first venture into the Kingdoms and Empires series but it won’t be my last.
Teaching themes could include magic, fantasy, quests, spells, humour, courage, resourcefulness, family, friends, belonging and love.
Find out more about Jaclyn Moriarty
Find out more about Kelly Canby
Published by Allen & Unwin
Release date: 31 October 2023
ISBN: 9781761067570 (HB)
Highly recommended for ages 10 - 14