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Top 10 settings in children’s books.

When it comes to children’s books there are so many wonderful settings to choose from, but after careful deliberation, these are my Top 10.

1. Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. What’s not to love about this amazing setting? Hogwarts has it all in terms of mystery and magic. There is a Great Hall providing sumptuous feasts; a room of requirement which changes its properties just like its designation; common rooms requiring magical entry; secret passages; moving staircases; endless grounds and a Forbidden Forest.

Photo by nathanaels

2. The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. The Enchanted Wood itself is a magical place but it is the majestic Faraway Tree with its different land at the topmost branches which has entertained generations of children for nearly seventy years . Enriched by such wonderful characters as Moonface, Silky, the Saucepan Man and Dame Washalot, I spent much of my childhood in the Faraway Tree, as did my own children and countless other generations.

3. Wonderland from Alice’s Adventures by Lewis Carroll. A true fantasy world with a talking rabbit, a smoking caterpillar, a grinning Cheshire cat, a Mad Hatter, a Mock Turtle and a Queen of Hearts whose tarts are stolen by the Knave of Hearts. Sheer nonsense in a perfectly mystical and fantastic setting.

4. Peter’s Rabbit Hole from The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter, because it is the biggest and best animal home ever. It has its own kitchen, furniture and even a shop. Mr McGregor’s Garden is a pretty fun setting too, because it is the scene of great battles between the cheeky Peter Rabbit and the curmudgeonly Mr McGregor.

5. Camp Half-Blood from the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, because a training camp for the sons and daughters of ancient gods is pretty cool.

6. Treasure Island or Smuggler’s Cove or wherever else Enid Blyton’s Famous Five found themselves: exciting settings complete with a mystery to solve, devoid of pesky interfering parents, and all washed down by lashings of ginger ale.

7. Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl created a luscious fantasy factory which satiated the appetite not only of Charlie but children everywhere. With rivers of chocolate and edible gardens tended by the curious Oompa Loompas, the factory provided a stark contrast to the poverty of Charlie’s home.

8. The Emerald City, capital of the Land of Oz. In the  Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the Emerald City is built of green glass, emeralds and jewels,  and its residents wear green-tinted glasses to protect their eyes from the brightness. A magical place at the end of the yellow brick road, it offers hope to Dorothy and friends.

9. Neverland from J. M Barrie’s Peter Pan, the small island upon which the eternal boy spends his endless childhood. I like the fact that each child’s Neverland is unique, according to the whims of the individual imagination. Home to Tinkerbell, other fairies and the Lost Boys, Neverland really is a magical, mystical place.

10. The Underground Fairy City from Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl, because it is full of high-tech gadgetry and is the antithesis of any fairyland in other books.

Special mentions must go to: Narnia from the Chronicles by C.S. Lewis; Misselthwaite Manor from The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett; the Paris of Ludwig Bemelman’s Madeline and the London of P.L.Travers’ Mary Poppins.

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The brilliance of Artemis Fowl.

Artemis Fowl series

by Eoin Colfer,

Penguin Books, Australia.

 

Now it’s common knowledge among fans that the boy himself, the genius anti-hero Artemis, is brilliant. However the brilliance to which I am referring is that of Eoin Colfer’s series itself.

I was forced to read the first book in the Artemis Fowl series in 2002 when I was a teacher librarian at a boys’ school in Sydney. A group of Year 8 boys persistently nagged me to read me to read a book they had loved, which they described as ‘a fantasy book about fairies’. I politely declined, explaining that I hadn’t much enjoyed reading fairy books since my childhood Enid Blyton days. After deciphering the Blyton reference, the boys persevered (as they do), so I succumbed (as I do) and took Artemis Fowl home on a Friday. I spent that evening and weekend enjoying the most gratifying young adult reading experience I’d had since Harry Potter.

Artemis Fowl, the title character, turned out to be a twelve-year-old criminal mastermind who has cunningly secured the fairies’ book of secrets, and the fairies led by Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit are out for revenge. These are not your common bottom-of- the-garden Blytonesque fairies. No, these fairies are of the weapon-toting ass-kicking variety and I loved them as much as I loved Artemis Fowl. Full of clever writing with a great plot, packed with suspense and plenty of dry humour, I knew this book would be a success.

And what a success it has been. In the ten years since my first reading, the brilliant Irish author Eoin Colfer has written another seven equally brilliant books in the series. I now work in a different school to the one where I was first introduced to my friend Artemis, but these books have been just as beloved in my current library as they were in the other. The graphic novels which are being gradually published are also hugely popular, and Colfer’s website for the series is a favourite among the boys.

And now we are at the end of the series which Colfer has referred to as “Die Hard with fairies”. The eighth and last book, Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian, was released this week. This will be met with great sadness from my little Fowlites, but I have no doubt that like other beloved series, Artemis Fowl will be re-visited many times by its vast legion of fans.

Recommended for ages 11+

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Top 10 books borrowed by boys

We are well past the half-way point of Term 1 and it’s time to look at what the boys are borrowing in the library:

1. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

No surprises here. The imminent movie release has increased interest in this exciting read. I have multiple copies in the collection and still cannot meet the demand. Lots of boys have a reservation on this one too.

 

2. Once by Morris Gleitzman

This is driven by Year 7 interest. The younger boys have really taken to Gleitzman’s trilogy, and it’s not hard to see why – Felix is such an appealing character which softens the content matter.

 

3. Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney

The latest in the Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise, these books are always popular.

 

4. Tomorrow When the War Began by John Marsden.

I don’t think this book is ever out of the Top 10.

 

5. The Death Cure by James Dashner

The very brilliant final instalment in the Maze Runner trilogy.

 

6. Department 19 by Will Hill

This book has been hugely popular since its introduction into the collection last year. Jamie Carpenter’s story has huge appeal for teenage boys, no doubt helped by the inclusion of Frankenstein. (Read my review of Department 19 here).The interest in this franchise will only increase with the release of the next instalment The Rising.

7. The Sleepwalker by Robert Muchamore

Part of the ever popular Cherub series. Cherub needs no promotion – it sells itself through word-of-mouth advertising amongst the boys.

 

8. Then by Morris Gleitzman

The sequel to Once and possibly the saddest book I’ve ever read.

 

9. The Angel Experiment by James Patterson

The first book in the Maximum Ride franchise. This series has always been strong and continues to entice new readers. The eighth book, Nevermore, is due out in August. The boys also like the Graphic Novel adaptation of this series.

 

10. Artemis Fowl: the Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer

The fourth book in the Artemis Fowl franchise. This series is eternally popular with the boys and it’s no wonder. Artemis Fowl is a brilliant character: intelligent, witty and calculating. It’s a pity he’s a criminal mastermind.

 

This list has few surprises, but in some ways I find it a little disappointing. I love the fact that the boys are reading and embracing the wonderful series that exist in the world of Young Adult fiction, however I wish there were more new titles on the list. The Maze Runner and Department 19 were the big hits of 2011 so I can only hope that there will be some equally exciting new releases in 2012.

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Top 10 favourite book quotes from children’s and teen’s fiction

There are obviously too many quotes to choose from, but these are among my favourites. Some will make you think, others will just bring a smile.

Hopefully they will all make you read the book.

 

1.No offence, but I’d rather kiss the horse.”  

Alex Rider in Point Blanc, Anthony Horowitz.

2. “I hope you’re pleased with yourselves. We could have all been killed – or worse, expelled.”

Hermione in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. J. K. Rowling.

3. “If I win, I’m a prodigy. If I lose then I’m mad. That’s the way history is written.”

Artemis Fowl in Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer.

4. “People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.”

 Pooh in Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne.

5.  “I’m wondering what to read next. I’ve finished all the children’s books.”

  Matilda in Matilda, Roald Dahl

6. “I don’t go looking for trouble. Trouble usually finds me.”

 Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, J. K. Rowling

7.  “Sometimes you’re a little strange, Bella. Do you know that?”

 Jacob, New Moon, Stephenie Meyer

 8. “That’s what Hermione does. When in doubt, go to the library.”

 Ron, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J. K. Rowling

  9.  “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Horton, Horton Hears a Who!, Dr. Seuss

10. “Curiouser and curiouser.”  

Alice, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass, Lewis Carroll

 

 Special mention to the master of the one-liner Rick Riordan, with this gem from Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief:

“The entrance to the Underworld is in Los Angeles.”

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How many of these books have your kids read?

Dymocks recently published its list of the Top 51 books for kids. You can see the original list here with recommended reading ages.

I’ve added a few annotations to the list – how many books on the Top 51 list have you and your children read?

 1. The Harry Potter series. J. K. Rowling.

First place is really no surprise and reflects the popularity, quality and longevity of the Harry Potter series. (The first book was released fourteen years ago). Perhaps these are the reasons why the Harry Potter books also rate a mention on nearly every one of my Top 10 lists .

2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Eric Carle.

A classic picture book first published over forty years ago. It should be on the bookshelf in every child’s room.

3. The Very Bad Book. Andy Griffiths

This is classic Andy Griffiths, and definitely a book that to which some parents and teachers will need to apply Reading Rule no.6  – loosen your filter.

4. Where is the Green Sheep? Mem Fox & Judy Horacek

This is a great book to teach younger children that despite external differences we are all the same.

5. The Vampire Academy novels. Richelle Mead.

These books are extremely popular with teenage girls which is clearly reflected by their place in this list. They also hold third place in my Top 10 books for teenage girls .

6. The Hunger Games trilogy. Suzanne Collins.

This is a fabulous series, equally popular with girls and boys. The much anticipated movie release due in 2012 will only serve to heighten both the awareness and popularity of the book.

7. Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Jeff Kinney.

Hilarious for all ages and great for sharing at bedtime.

8. Anne of Green Gables. Book 1. L. M. Montgomery.

A classic novel with a delightfully clever and precocious protagonist.

9. Possum Magic. Mem Fox.

One of the more famous Australian picture books. This is the book I send friends overseas when they have a baby.

10. The Tomorrow series. John Marsden

This series makes my Top 10 books for teenage boys and my Top 10 books in the library lists. It is one of the most popular literary series for YA ever written in Australia.

11. Where the Wild Things Are. Maurice Sendak.

A powerful picture about the magnificence of childhood imagination.

12. The Twilight Saga. Stephenie Meyer.

Put aside your literary snobbery (Reading rule no. 5) and celebrate a series that has sold over 100 million copies and got kids around the world reading.

13. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Roald Dahl.

Pure Dahl genius combining every child’s fantasy with a message about honour and integrity.

14. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. Mem Fox.

Published only a few years ago, this has quickly become a new Mem Fox classic.

15. The Chronicles of Narnia. C. S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the first and best known of this seven book series. Fantasy at its best.

16. The Magic Faraway Tree. Enid Blyton.

Children of all ages just adore Moonface, Silky and the Saucepan Man.

17. Goodnight Mr Tom. Michelle Magorian.

A beautiful book set in wartime England.

18. Green Eggs and Ham. Dr Seuss.

Loved by all ages, this is the first of a few mentions of books by the celebrated Seuss.

19. The Percy Jackson series. Rick Riordan

This refers to the first series of five books, loved by boys and girls alike. The second series, Heroes of Olympus is proving equally as popular.

20. The Ruins of Gorlan. Book 1 of the Ranger’s Apprentice series. John Flanagan.

This fantasy series has eleven books in it, with another due out in November 2011. Very popular with teenage boys.

21. The Cherub series. Robert Muchamore.

The most recent book in this series is currently the third most borrowed book in the library. I have trouble keeping this series on the shelves.

22. Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy. Lynley Dodd.

The very popular picture books about a lovable dog and his friends.

23. The Gruffalo. Julia Donaldson

Another picture book about the power of childhood imagination. Fantastic rhyming.

24. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll.

Always popular, even before Johnny Depp became the Mad Hatter.

25. Artemis Fowl. Book 1. Eoin Colfer.

Artemis Fowl is a 12 year old criminal mastermind. These books have great plots and terrific humour.

26. The Mortal Instruments series. Cassandra Clare.

This series is extremely popular with the boys in the library.

27. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. Michael Rosen.

A fantastic picture book for reading aloud (Reading rule no.3). This was a favourite in our house when our children were little.

28. Winnie-the-Pooh. A. A. Milne

A favourite of children and adults everywhere.

29. Wombat Stew. Marcia K. Vaughan.

Like Possum Magic, this is another classic Australian picture book, a modern folktale.

30. Obernetwyn. Book 1. Obernetwyn Chronicles. Isabelle Carmody.

Classic fantasy, and in my experience more popular with girls than boys.

31. The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. May Gibbs

This book has never been out of print and contains the most beautiful illustrations in Australian literary history.

32. Stormbreaker. Book 1. Alex Rider series. Anthony Horowitz.

I love the Alex Rider books. Alex is intelligent, decent and funny.

33. Dear Zoo. Rod Campbell.

A picture book for early readers, great for reading aloud.

34. Diary of a Wombat. Jackie French.

I laughed out loud the first time I read this book. A picture book for all ages about a wombat with serious attitude.

35. Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Dr Seuss.

More classic Seuss. No explanation necessary.

36. Grug. Ted Prior.

Over thirty years old, this story set in the Australian bush is still a favourite.

37. Guess How Much I Love You. Sam McBratney

A beautiful book which has become a worldwide phenomenon selling over 18 million copies. I even have a copy in German.

38. Hush, Hush. Becca Fitzpatrick

This book is for teenage girls who enjoyed the Twilight series. It meets the needs of the current interest in the paranormal.

39. Treasure of the Emerald Eye. Book 1. Geronimo Stilton. Geronimo Stilton.

An adventure story for primary aged children.

40. Wolves of Mercy Falls series. Maggie Stiefvater

Fantasy romance series about (in the words of the author) “werewolves and kissing”.

41. The Cat in the Hat. Dr Seuss

My all time favourite Dr Seuss. I learned it off byheart as a child and can still recite most of it. I must have driven my parents mad. 

42. The Hobbit. J. R. R. Tolkien.

Lord of the Rings is more popular in the library, but The Hobbit is an all-time classic.

43. The Witches. Roald Dahl.

Dahl’s witches are the original and the best.

44. Zac’s Moontrip. Book 1. Zac Power Test Drive. H. I. Larry

Primary school boys love Zac Power.

45. Maze of Bones. Book 1. The 39 Clues. Rick Riordan.

Whilst this series hasn’t taken off in the library, it has been incredibly popular elsewhere. Riordan knows how to write great mystery and adventure.

46. Each Peach, Pear Plum. Janet and Allan Ahlberg

A more stylish Where’s Wally, where children read the poem for clues to help them find a character hiding in the illustration.

47. The B.F.G. Roald Dahl

The third Roald Dahl on the list. He is the original and one of the best.

48. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Beatrix Potter

Peter Rabbit is so cheeky, and Mr McGregor is the classic cranky farmer. Accompanying the entertaining story are the beautiful and very famous illustrations.

49. Magic Beach. Alison Lester

Alison Lester is a prolific writer of picture books and a  favourite of teachers who love her work. This book explores the perfect beach.

50.Little Women. Louisa May Alcott

This book has stood the test of time due mainly to the character of Josephine March who makes my list of Top 10 heroines for girls.

51. Five on Treasure Island. Book 1. Famous Five. Enid Blyton.

I am so glad that the Famous Five made this list! Every child should read adventures involving smugglers and spies, washed down by lashings of ginger beer.

It’s a well-rounded list including a mixture of the old and the new; books for early readers, primary school children and young adults. Adults too actually, as I’ve read most of them. The ones I haven’t are now on my list.

How many have you read?

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Top 10 heroes for boys

Whilst these heroes come from fiction that is classed by publishers and booksellers as “boys” fiction, the characters I have chosen are champions for both boys and girls.

To me, a hero is someone with many qualities. A hero displays bravery of course, but humility as well. A hero is intelligent but self-deprecating at the same time. A hero is industrious and enterprising, with an excellent sense of humour. Above all, a hero in a boy’s book must be entertaining.

My top 10 heroes for boys fulfil some or all of these qualities:

1. Harry Potter (by J. K Rowling)

Harry is brave and resourceful, yet he is far from perfect. He is not a particularly good student and is shy around girls. He makes enemies and he makes mistakes. Yet he is a true friend, both loyal and honourable.

2. Alex Rider (by Anthony Horowitz)

Unlike Harry, Alex is intelligent and pretty cool. He can speak other languages, is pretty handy with weapons and other devices and is great with the funny one liner.

3. Shane Schofield aka Scarecrow (by Matthew Reilly)

Scarecrow is a legendary Marine and revered by teenage boys everywhere.

4. James Adams (by Robert Muchamore)

The protagonist from the first twelve Cherub novels, James is intelligent, good looking and successful with the girls. He is a bit of a lad, which contributes to his appeal.

5. Greg Heffley (by Jeff Kinney)

Greg is the narrator of the successful Wimpy Kid franchise.I think kids love Greg so much because he is an “everykid”. He may lack many or all of the talents of the heroes in this list, but what he lacks in sophistication he makes up for in sheer determination and heart.

6. Percy Jackson (by Rick Riordan)

There is something very appealing and alluring about a boy who is also a half-god. Maybe this is why girls especially love the Percy Jackon series.

7. Biggles (by W.E Johns)

What’s not to love about this timeless young pilot and adventurer?

8. Artemis Fowl (by Eoin Colfer)

Yes, I know he’s a criminal mastermind, but he is such an entertaining one. Artemis has the mind of a man in a child’s body.

9. Huckleberry Finn (by Mark Twain)

Huck is brave, independent and quick-witted. Despite overcoming adversity he retains an appealing innocence.

10. James Bond (by Ian Fleming)

007 needs no explanation. A special mention to the Young Bond books by Charlie Higson, which follow James’ life from his teenage years.

 

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