Tag Archives: children’s fiction

Guest Post: Danica Davidson

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Danica Davidson is the author of a number of books based around the game Minecraft. Now, I’m not overly familiar with Minecraft, but my ten year old daughter loves playing it, watching videos about it, and reading informational texts and fictional stories set in the Minecraft world. You could say she is a little bit obsessed with Minecraft! And so are many of her friends. So when the opportunity of a guest post by Danica came along, I jumped on it. Now read on to learn a little about Danica’s books!

Millions of people play Minecraft, making the worlds they create come alive for them. I play Minecraft, but I also do something else: I write adventure novels that take place as if Minecraft is real.

It started as a single book, Escape from the Overworld, where an 11-year-old boy named Stevie, who lives in the Minecraft world, accidentally discover a portal to Earth. There he befriends a girl named Maison, and the two go on adventures and journeys throughout the worlds, including the Overworld, the Nether, the End and even Earth. From there, the books Attack on the Overworld, The Rise of Herobrine, Down into the Nether, The Armies of Herobrine and Battle with the Wither were released, and they’ll be coming out as a box set November 7.  Their adventures include stopping a monster attack on the school, saving Minecraft after cyberbullies hack into it and turn it into eternal night, and fighting against the evil Minecraft villain Herobrine. The books have lots of chapter cliffhangers and also discuss real-world things, like friendship and bullying.

On November 7, my spinoff series begins coming out with the book Adventure Against the Endermen, and Stevie and Maison will have new villains to fight and have to discover mysteries from ancient days in the Overworld.

It’s a totally new way to look at Minecraft, but that’s part of what makes Minecraft so fun. It encourages and allows you to create, and to create in whatever way you see fit. I love how this aspect lets kids implement their own creativity. They can literally build not only their own buildings, but their own worlds. I’m kind of doing that with these books, and I hope they can be a fun way for Minecraft fans to enjoy novels that involve their favorite video game. But I also make sure the stories are adventure stories at heart, so even if you’re not a Minecraft fan, you can still read them.  Besides having fun reading adventure stories, I hope these books can encourage kids to find their own preferred creative outlets.

 

And a little about Danica…

Danica Davidson is a a writer that has penned a series of unofficial Minecraft adventure novels. She has also written numerous articles for a range of well known publications, comics and a book on how to draw Manga art.

Her latest series of Minecraft books will be launched this month, and are suitable for primary school students.

Visit Danica on her website or Facebook. Her books can be purchased through Book Depository and Amazon.

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Guest Post: K. E. Rocha

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K. E. Rocha (Kristin) is the author of the wonderful Secrets of Bearhaven series. This exciting adventure series is suitable for upper primary school students and up. As I read the first book in the series I found myself immersed in an incredible world with cunning villains, young heroes, and bears that quickly felt like old friends. It even includes bear language developed especially for these books.

Kristin has kindly written a guest post for Today We Did to tell us a little bit about herself and why she writes.

If you had told me when I was in third grade that I would be an author one day, I would not have believed you. I know it might seem like all authors say that, but I really would have been horrified by the idea. As a third grader I was still struggling to learn to read. I had to be in special classes, working with literacy specialists, and as a result, reading and writing just felt like hard work to me.

I was in sixth grade when an author’s visit to my school inspired me to become a writer. By then I had finally caught up to my peers in reading and was enchanted (like I think most kids were and still are!) by the magical world of Harry Potter. The author at my school that day was none other than J.K. Rowling. When she read from her third Harry Potter book and talked about the incredible series she’d created I quickly realized that dreaming up worlds and people, and bringing them into existence in a story, was the coolest job I could imagine.

I wrote Secrets of Bearhaven for the reader I was in the third grade, and the one I was in the sixth grade, because it is my hope that these books will help all types of readers fall in love with reading. The vocabulary is meant to be accessible and the chapters intentionally short for less confident readers—like I was for so long. At the same time, the excitement of the adventure, and the themes of family, animal rights, and communication are intended to draw in avid readers—like the one Harry Potter helped me to become.

What’s more, I want kids to feel empowered by Secrets of Bearhaven, whether they are empowered to write their own stories and find their own voices, or empowered to stand up for what they believe in, like Spencer does in each of the four books.

I think it’s essential for kids to have the experience of being transported by reading. Stories about characters with super powers who go on otherworldly adventures are important. They allow our imaginations to fire. But at the same time, I think it’s equally important for kids to read about characters who really aren’t so different from themselves, and who still go on to do extraordinary things. Those are the stories that change us by showing us what we might be capable of.

Spencer is not blessed with any superpowers. He’s not even the fastest kid on his school baseball team, but he rises to the occasion, because the people he loves, and the animals he cares about are threatened. It’s my hope that readers see themselves in Spencer and in doing so, see how powerful the combination of courage and determination can be.

So whether your child is out there saving bears or, like third grade me, still trying to work out what’s so great about reading and writing, I hope they find the books, characters, or authors that inspire them.

And thank you Sara for inviting me to share a little about myself and what makes me so passionate about reading and writing!

Kristin

 

Visit Kristin on her website, Facebook, or Instagram. And definitely check out the Secrets of Bearhaven pages at Scholastic for more information about the books and some cool extras like learning the bear language and watching the book trailer. There are plenty of great reviews of the books on Goodreads too.

You can also purchase the books from Book Depository, and  Amazon.

 

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Brady Plays the Fiddle by Melissa Auell

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Brady Plays the Fiddle by Melissa Auell, 16 pages, picture e-book, published by Jade River Publishing in 2017.

Brady the Badger is interested in learning to play an instrument. His parents take him to a bluegrass festival where he hears some instruments being played and gets to meet the musicians.

Brady Plays the Fiddle is a sweet and lyrical story which introduces a range of string musical instruments to young children. Each instrument is played by a different animal.

The story is told through rhyme, which is best read aloud. My kids immediately asked me what bluegrass was. If I was reading this to a class, I think it would be useful to have some samples of bluegrass music for the children to listen to. And of course, if possible, the actual instruments from the story. It would make an awesome music lesson to read the book, and then try out a mandolin or a dobro!

The illustrations were very bright and reasonably simple. I think that they would appeal to young children. However, I felt that the illustrations of Brady lacked continuity between the first couple of pages and the rest of the book. This may have just been my perception as he went from being drawn from the front, to being seen side-on. His nose was also a darker shade of pink and his fur a darker grey in the later pages. I know it seems pedantic, but initially I didn’t realise that both badgers were Brady.

My favourite illustration was on the front cover; there Brady is feeling the music and obviously enjoying himself. The background to this page is expertly coloured too. It really was an excellent choice for the cover.

Brady Plays the Fiddle is a nice book most suitable for toddlers, preschoolers and lower primary school children. It is a great way to introduce these instruments to children and would make an useful addition to preschool music programs.

 

*I received this book as a digital edition from the author in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

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Secrets of Bearhaven by K.E. Rocha

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Secrets of Bearhaven by K.E. Rocha, hardback novel, 244 pages, published by Scholastic Press in 2016.

Spencer has learnt a lot about bears in his eleven years, after all, both his parents work in bear advocacy, so he has been brought up on bear facts and stories. However, nothing could prepare him for the huge secret they have been keeping.

My ten year-old read Secrets of Bearhaven before I did. Afterwards, she told me it was the best book that she had read this year! Considering how many books she rips through every week, this was quite high praise, so I read it straight away. And I agree with her, this book is excellent. It is a very fast-paced novel full of action and excitement. There is intrigue, crafty villains, and amazing technological advancements. I was hooked from the first few pages, and now both my daughter and I want more!

The world of Bearhaven is beautifully constructed down to the smallest detail. The homes, the shops, roadways and fields; it is all described so carefully that the place comes alive. And the residents of Bearhaven are all very individual with varying physical characteristics and personalities. It would be amazing to walk among them and explore their beautiful home. Rocha has created a better world for these bears, completely hidden within our own world, and it is amazing.

All of the characters are well developed and complex. Spencer is a brave and determined boy who shows strength under pressure. He is clever, innovative and very likeable. He makes an excellent lead character. But it is Kate that I loved the most. The adorably curious and mischievous baby bear that befriends Spencer from their first moments together. She was quirky and fun and made me laugh. Uncle Mark is pretty cool too! I like the way he treats Spencer and the relationship that they have.

Most suitable for upper primary and lower high school students, Secrets of Bearhaven will not disappoint. And it is only the start of Spencer’s adventures; the story continues in Mission to Moon Farm, followed by Hidden Rock Rescue and the latest release, Battle for Bearhaven. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series soon.

 

*I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

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Lost in the Woods by Dennis Mews

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Lost in the Woods by Dennis Mews, e-book, 189 pages, published in 2016.

Nadia Hamilton has just started at her new school, The Grange, when her class goes on a week long camping excursion in the wilds of Wales. Nadia doesn’t really want to be there, but she doesn’t yet know how exciting and stimulating the outdoors can be. Craig Wilson is a troubled teen on the run from the police and some dangerous criminals after he stole their car, which contained a mysterious package. He ends up in the woods nearby the school’s camping ground, where he needs to find shelter and food while he hides out, but he keeps running into Nadia.

The premise of the story was good, but I found the execution somewhat lacking. It didn’t flow smoothly as it jumped between the perspectives of Nadia, Craig and Nadia’s teacher, Mr Thomas, which I occasionally found confusing. For instance, I thought it was Nadia that went orienteering, became lost and then was “rescued” by Mr Thomas, but then later in the book, he thinks about Claudia being left alone in the woods by her parents and becoming lost. Maybe I just got mixed up, but in either case, why didn’t the child recognise Mr Thomas, when Nadia met him two days later when she started in her new class, or Claudia, as her own teacher? And there were a few other small things that weren’t quite right, like Nadia zipping up the tent up when they were actually sleeping in their wood shelters. I found the accumulation a little irritating, which lessened my enjoyment of the story.

Nadia was quite annoying; she kept breaking the rules, wandering off and generally being a pain in Mr Thomas’ side. She was also a bit whiney, and not very tolerant of others. I didn’t much like Craig either. He was a bit dim, and made some very bad choices. The teacher, Robin Thomas, I did like. He was a very experienced teacher trying to give his students the best education possible. He really took on a lot to have twenty, sixth graders in the woods for a week by himself. I would have thought for that age group it would have been more appropriate for more adults to accompany the kids on an excursion, especially one of that duration and location.

This was an okay read, it just didn’t quite do it for me. Perhaps I would have liked it more if I was still a child. I think I will ask my ten year old to read it and give me another perspective.

Lost in the Woods is suitable for upper primary and lower high school children. There was some death, violence and guns within the story.

 

*I received this book as a digital edition from the author in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

 

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An Unlikely Friendship by Jasmine Fogwell

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An Unlikely Friendship by Jasmine Fogwell, paperback novel, 118 pages, published by Destinēe Media in 2016.

Ten year old James and his parents return to their village home after a year living in the city. Whilst looking for a new house, the family stay in the local inn, where James meets the mysterious old lady that lives on the third floor. They soon discover that they have both encountered something in the forest that no one else believes really exists.

An Unlikely Friendship is the first book in The Fidori Trilogy. It is a short and easy read that I finished quickly. The writing was simple and  clean and the plot was easy to follow with some black and white illustrations. It was interesting enough to keep me reading, and to make me want to read the second book. However, if the other two books are of similar length to this one, I think that it could have been presented as a single book, rather than be divided into a trilogy. It was just really getting into the story when the book came to an end.

Overall I liked the premise and the execution. I would have been super excited to discover and befriend creatures like the Fidoris as a child, and if I’m honest, I still would be! The description of the Fidoris was excellent, and I can easily picture these funny little creatures living above the forest canopy. The description of Mrs. DuCret was also good; she seemed like a very lonely and unhappy old lady until James came into her life. Their burgeoning friendship, though a little strange, was good for both of them.

An Unlikely Friendship is most suitable for middle to upper primary school children. I am looking forward to continuing the story in the next book, The Purple Flower.

 

*I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review. I did not receive any other remuneration, and the review is composed entirely of my own opinions.

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Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford

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Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford, paperback novel, 400 pages, published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in 2016.

My daughter insisted that I read this book, and I’m glad that I took her advice. Time Travelling with a Hamster is a wonderful and quirky story about a boy whose father invented a time machine, and then died.

At twelve years old, Al (short for Albert) is sent on a unbelievable and almost impossible adventure back through time in an attempt to prevent his father’s death. The story is funny, heart-felt, and completely original. An excellent read that was interesting from start to finish, with colourful characters and a fantastic plot.

The concept of time travel is fascinating, and also terrifying. Any change made in the past could drastically alter the future, but if one could prevent the death of a loved one, would the consequences be worth it? I really liked the way that time travel was approached in this book, and that the travelling apparatus was made up with an old laptop and a tin tub! The calculations that Al’s dad devised to make time travel possible were complicated, but the theory was well explained and enlightening. I thought the science aspects, including the concept of mind palaces for memory retention, were treated appropriately for the intended age group, and made for very interesting reading.

Grandpa Byron was the best character; with his mix of traditional Indian and western clothing, his moped, intelligence, impeccable memory and odd head bob, I couldn’t help but love this wonderfully eccentric character! Of course, Al is pretty awesome too. He was being bullied at school, and intimidated by his horrible step-sister, yet he was strong, innovative and brave. He had to be courageous and loyal to follow his dead father’s wishes when they seemed so crazy and difficult, but his love and trust for his dad was stronger than any fears he may have had. The close relationship that Byron and Al shared was enviable and emphasised the importance of family bonds.

I now also desperately want a cute little hamster that I can call Alan Shearer the Second!

Time Travelling with a Hamster is most suitable for upper primary to lower high school students. It’s a great book for kids interested in science and humorous adventure. We also have Ross Welford’s next book, What Not to do if you Turn Invisible, which I hope will be every bit as good as Time Travelling with a Hamster.

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The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth

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The One Safe Place by Tania Unsworth, paperback novel, 295 pages, published by Scholastic Inc. in 2014.

Until his Grandfather’s death, Devin had always lived on their farm in an isolated valley, partially protected from the heat and dryness plaguing the world. Left alone, Devin heads for the city, which he has only ever heard stories of. There are many homeless children living off the streets of the city, and most of them have heard of a special place just for children like them. Devin, and his new friend, Kit, soon discover that this child’s paradise isn’t just myth, but it isn’t the perfect place to grow up either.

I thought this book got off to a slowish start, but it quickly evolved into a page-turner. It was an interesting story, though the subject matter was rather darker than I expected. The goings on at the home for children were really very creepy and original. And directed all by the perfect villain, the Administrator. There was nothing likeable or agreeable about the Administrator; she was downright scary and mean. An excellent character to pit the hero against!

Devin was an intelligent and brave hero. He was likeable, personable, and a little naive. And like most heroes, I had no doubt that he would somehow overcome all adversities and lead his friends to safety. His friends were great characters too.  Many of the characters in The One Safe Place were children or early teens, and it was interesting getting to know them. These kids may have come from different backgrounds, but they found themselves in the same predicament, with various reactions and methods of coping with it. I felt that all the characters were well written and expressive.

Overall, The One Safe Place was an entertaining and somewhat unsettling read that I enjoyed. It would be great for kids keen on dystopian and science fiction novels.

The One Safe Place is suitable for upper primary school through to middle high school students.

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The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave

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The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave, paperback novel, 228 pages, published by Chicken House in 2016.

The coastal town where Isabella lives is governed ruthlessly by a man that arrived from over the seas several decades earlier. He has banned travel away from the island, as well as through the forest to the interior of the island. Isabella longs to explore and map her island as her father had previously mapped foreign lands as a cartographer. When her best friend goes missing, presumed to have passed into the unknown territories beyond the forest, Isabella might just get her wish.

This was an easy and quick read with adventure, monsters, myths and a harsh dictator looking out only for himself. It didn’t take me long to get into the story, and I was intrigued by what or who could be beyond the town. It took longer to build up the characters and setting than I expected before getting to the adventuring, but I enjoyed getting to know everyone. The adventure was great, with conflict and action at a reasonable pace. I would have liked a little more explanation for why “The Banished” were banished in the first place, and how they had survived for so long. I also wondered how the Governor had come to be so powerful with such complete control over the town and its inhabitants. Still, the story was fun and entertaining.

Isabella was a plucky lead character; she was brave, determined and intelligent. I didn’t like Lupe nearly as much, but she did show moments of incredible courage under pressure. She was a good friend to Isabella, despite her usual self-involvement, and her relationship to the Governor. Pablo was rather surly, yet he had a soft spot for his old friend Isa, and was always looking out for her.

The pages of this novel were bordered with cartographical and nautical line drawings and symbols. It didn’t interfere with the text at all, though my eyes were often drawn to them as I read.

The Girl of Ink and Stars is suitable for upper primary and lower high school students.

 

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The Cat Wants Cuddles by P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford

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The Cat Wants Cuddles by P. Crumble and Lucinda Gifford, hardback picture book, published by Scholastic Australia in 2017.

Kevin is back, and this time he wants cuddles, or does he?

We just loved Kevin in The Cat Wants Custard, so as soon as his new book was available we bought it. And we have read it and read it, and we love it.

The illustrations are gorgeous, and the story amusing. Kevin is the epitome of all domestic cats; self-centred, demanding and moody. His expressions throughout the book really say it all. My favourite part is when he is hiding; he finds some excellent places! And the way he treats the dog reminds me so much of my own cats.

The Cat Wants Cuddles is a perfect read aloud for preschoolers and lower primary school children that is also enjoyable for the adult reading.

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