Tag Archives: boys

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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The reality of a tragic world

The Shiny Guys

by Doug MacLeod

Penguin, Australia, 2012

This is the first Doug MacLeod novel I have read and Mr MacLeod is my new hero. I received a copy of The Shiny Guys last Friday at a professional development day hosted by Penguin and started reading it on the train on the way home. When I arrived home all chores were ignored and I devoured the rest.

Set in a mental health institution, The Shiny Guys is an intelligent and sophisticated young adult novel. It explores the complicated issues of teenage angst, depression and mental illness via beautifully crafted characters and a compelling narrative.

Colin Lapsley is fifteen years old. His family has suffered an appalling tragedy and Colin is now a patient in Ward 44, largely due to the so-called ‘shiny guys’: huge cockroach-like red men which terrorise Colin. Whilst undergoing treatment, Colin discovers a portal to a parallel world where the shiny guys actually exist. Colin shares this exciting discovery with fellow patients Mango, his trusted friend, and the newly arrived Anthea, who promisingly sees shadows which Colin senses may be his shiny guys.

The Shiny Guys will make you laugh and cry, but most of all it will break your heart. Colin is the most wonderful protagonist and reading his narrative from the comfort of one’s lounge chair, it is impossible not to feel sadness at the reality of his tragic world. Yet this novel is not a tragedy – far from it. It is a celebration of the spirit of a unique individual and an intelligent examination of the way in which the human psyche deals with grief and suffering.

The Shiny Guys would be an excellent set text for years 9 and 10. It is rich in character and plot, and the references to Kafka will generate excellent discussion and further reading.

Recommended for ages 14+

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The thrilling world of Erebos


by Ursula Paznanski

Allen & Unwin, 2012


There have been many YA books written about computer games, and the merging of the real world with the cyber world. Despite this, Ursula Poznanski manages to bring something unique to Erebos by merging the cyber world of the game (and the lives of the teens who play it) with a real life thriller.

Sixteen year old Nick Dunmore is handed a DVD by a student at his school and told that the game on it is ‘amazing’. He soon discovers this is the modus operandi of the game distributors: to surreptitiously pass the game from student to student, under very strict guidelines.

Nick installs and launches the game, agreeing to stringent conditions before gaining full admittance to the world of ‘Erebos’. The game draws him into its very realistic world, communicates with him and eerily seems to know him.

Nick, like the other players, is soon addicted but in order to stay in the game he is required to carry out tasks in the real world. This is the curious and sinister aspect of the game: the way in which it compels its adolescent participants to carry out instructions in the real world, some of which are manipulative, others of which are cruel and some of which have dire consequences.

Erebos had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Originally written in German, the English translation by Judith Pattinson is clearly excellent as the text is both compelling and riveting. It is not hard to see why Erebos is an award winner and international bestseller.

Recommended for ages 13+

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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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The Reading Rules in action

Recently I’ve been busy with the wide reading program in the library which has made me consider the importance of the Reading Rules, in particular: No.3 Read to them, No. 5 Don’t be a snob and No. 6 Loosen your filter.

The catalyst has been a short story which I have chosen to read to the boys during the lesson. It is called The Incident and is an old favourite of mine, from Andrew Daddo’s 2002 book Sprung. The Incident is a story about two very naughty little boys who test the veracity of a helmet supposedly once owned by Luke Skywalker. The problem is that they test the helmet’s strength by dropping a brick on it – while the family dog is in it.

This incident is after the story opens with the boys already being in serious trouble – for drinking urine. They also have a distinct problem with honesty and telling the truth to their parents.

Having said all this, the story is written in such a way that the reader (or in my lesson the listener) knows that it is a humorous story and is intended purely to entertain. And it entertains in bucketloads. The boys have gasped, giggled and laughed out loud during this story and have even given applause at the end – a high compliment for high school boys at the end of a lesson.

There are many boys in my lessons who began the year saying they did not enjoy reading or indeed did not enjoy anything much at all about books. But by reading to them and loosening my filter to read something that many teachers would think lacks literary merit (or any merit at all), I am teaching the boys that reading can be fun. And at no point in the lesson has there has been any literary snobbery at all.

I see the results of my efforts in the wide reading program on a daily basis. Not only are the borrowing figures of the boys sky high (1,000 more books borrowed than at this time last year), yesterday I saw two boys who have previously wandered aimlessly around the library actually sitting down engrossed in their books: one was reading I am Number Four, another The Power of Six – both books I have read and promoted to the boys in wide reading lessons.

Everything I do to encourage reading comes back to the core rules and they really do work. There is nothing more satisfying to me than seeing a reluctant reader with a book in hand and enjoying the experience. The Reading Rules really do work, especially if you remember Rule No. 10 – don’t give up.

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A beautiful coming-of-age story

When We Were Two

by Robert Newton

2011, Penguin, Australia


This is a beautiful coming-of-age novel. Set in country New South Wales, during the early part of the twentieth century, it tells the story of Dan who leaves his abusive father in search of his mother. He has barely begun his journey when he is joined by his younger brother Eddie and the family dog Bess. Eddie clearly has an intellectual disability and Bess is ill, thus Dan is unwilling to include them on his trip, however he soon succumbs to Eddie’s insistence and the trio begin their long journey.

The relationship between the brothers is immediately clear. Dan is Eddie’s champion and protector, taking on his brotherly role with tenderness and understanding. Eddie looks to Dan for guidance, strength and succour. It is obvious that both boys have suffered deeply at the hands of their cruel father.

Their journey is punctuated by meeting various characters on the road, some honourable like the Chinese gold seeker Ah Ling, others not so noble. The pivotal point in the story comes when the boys meet a small group of men marching to the coast to enlist as soldiers in the Great War. Dan and Eddie join this cluster of men, becoming a part of the small clique. During the ensuing journey they learn about the innate gentleness and kindness of good men and ultimately about acceptance and belonging.

The main themes of this book are love and loyalty. Dan, whilst burdened with guilt about Eddie’s disability, displays unselfish love and devotion to his younger brother. The relationship between the two brothers is beautiful, and Dan’s ability to provide gentle, selfless love is surprising given the role model he has had. Dan explains this by suggesting that it was his father who taught him what not to be: “Whenever a mean streak got hold of him, my father taught me kindness, and whenever he hated, he taught me love”. The men in the marching group are all affected by Dan’s guileless love. Despite this sensitivity and the gentle treatment of his brother, Dan is tough and stoic where necessary, never making excuses or shirking responsibility and as such is an excellent role model for modern young men.

Robert Newton is a talented writer. The narrative flows effortlessly and the reader is able to piece together the back story of the boys whilst being fully immersed in the current plot. Newton creates believable characters in an authentic historical context with settings, descriptions and language evoking the era in which the novel is set.

Recommended for ages 12+

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Top 10 adventure authors for teens

There is nothing guaranteed to get a teenager reading more than an exciting, action-packed thriller. The authors in this list have written the page-turners; the books which are full of suspense and adventure, and which grow in popularity through word of mouth promotion.

There is a prevalence of British authors in this list, as well as an abundance of ex-military heroes. Another commonality is the theme of orphaned children being recruited by government agencies to work as spies – aspiring authors take note.

It is important to remember Reading Rule no. 5 here – this is simply a list of authors known to get teens reading. It does not pretend to be a list of classic authors, nor do these authors pretend to be writers of great literature.

1. Matthew Reilly.

Reilly is the master of the action packed adventure story. Teenagers (especially boys) devour his books, which are full of non-stop action and leave the reader quite breathless. Reilly’s latest book, Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves, has just been released and continues the adventures of his popular hero Captain Shane Schofield.


 2. Anthony Horowitz

Horowitz is the author of the popular Alex Rider books which follow the winning formula of orphaned teenager with special skills being snapped up by the government to work as an undercover operative. Horowitz is a great story teller and Alex Rider is an extremely popular hero with teens.

3. Andy McNab

McNab is one of a number of ex SAS members who now make their living as authors. His non-fiction book Bravo Two Zero was a huge success and McNab now writes fiction as well, featuring the character Nick Stone who is an ex SAS operative working for British Intelligence

4. Robert Muchamore

Muchamore is the author of the hugely popular Cherub series, about a secret British spy organization which employs children as spies.  His other series, the Henderson Boys is set during World War II and deal with the creation of the Cherub organization. The Cherub series is one of the most popular in recent years.

5. Robert Ludlum

Ludlum needs no introduction. The Bourne Identity is an extremely popular thriller written in 1980. It has stood the test of time, no doubt assisted by the 2002 film starring Matt Damon.  The sequels The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum have also proven popular. Despite Ludlum’s death in 2001, the franchise has continued with other books in the series written by Eric Van Lustbader.

6. Tom Clancy

I always know when books are particularly popular in the library as they need regular repair and eventual replacement. Clancy’s books have fallen into this category in every library I’ve worked in. The most popular Clancy books are those about Jack Ryan ex-Marine and CIA operative, such as Patriot Games and Clear and Present Danger.

7. Chris Ryan

Yet another British ex SAS turned author. The One That Got Away is his account of the Bravo Two Zero mission that he, like McNab was a part of in the first Gulf War. Ryan has written two series for teens: Alpha Force and Code Red. His current series for teenagers is Agent 21, which is about an orphaned teenager seconded by the government to work as a spy.

8. Lee Child

Child is the author of the hugely popular Jack Reacher novels. For a change of pace, Reacher is not ex SAS, rather he is a former military policeman. There are sixteen Jack Reacher novels, with the ninth in the series One Shot currently being made into a movie.

9. Dan Brown

Teenagers, especially boys, really enjoy the Dan Brown books. Clearly they enjoy the action and suspense, but they also really enjoy the treasure hunt aspect of them.

10. Vince Flynn

Flynn writes political adventure thrillers, and I’ve heard him referred to as the thinking person’s Matthew Reilly.  Flynn’s hero is Mitch Rapp, undercover CIA counter-terrorism agent.

Update: Special mention to Joe Craig for all the fans of the Jimmy Coates series.


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