Wolf Girl #7: Crash Course – Anh Do

Illustrations – Lachlan Creagh

Gwen and her pack are travelling by train to Tunny, where her parents were last seen. On their way, Gwen finally gets to see her sister, albeit briefly.

Their arrival at Tunny attracts plenty of attention and it isn’t long before Gwen and the dogs wander into a crossover with the characters from the Rise of the Mythix series.

This series started out with so much promise but it’s frustrating me now. Gwen travels all over the place but she’s not really getting anywhere. Her lost family are dangled in front of her, the hoped for reunion is thwarted, over and over again.

Crossovers can be fun when they make sense. Your favourite characters are placed in situations you wouldn’t usually find them in and their interactions with characters from other series can show you aspects of their personality you didn’t know existed. A crossover done well can enrich both series. Crossovers in Anh Do’s books have been feeling like advertisements for quite a while now.

Stubborn hope has kept me here this long. I want to be there for the payoff. The stakes remain high, there are plenty of action scenes and the target audience are probably still loving this series. I’m just looking for the heart that was there in the beginning, in the time before crossovers.

Multiple animals were harmed in the pages of this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

As the train Wolf Girl is driving hurtles towards the locked gates of an enemy city, the last thing Gwen expects to see out the window is her long lost sister!

Soon the pack are on an epic chase, encountering deadly enemies and plenty of prehistoric surprises.

But just when things seem most dire, help arrives in an unexpected form!

World of Weird – Tom Adams

Illustrations – Celsius Pictor

One of the things I remember my Nan saying throughout my childhood was ‘normal is boring’. She was most certainly never boring and she didn’t want me to be boring either. An all too obvious outcome of being told this by my favourite person in the world has been that if I hear something’s weird, my brain says, ‘Ooh, tell me more’. A book with weird in the title is pretty much guaranteed to wind up on my TBR pile.

The more mysterious or gruesome the better!

Dr Leila McCreebor’s great grandfather, “the eminent explorer and philosopher Dr McCreebor”, left notebooks containing records of the curiosities he encountered in his life. Here, Leila presents annotated records of curios grouped into the following categories:

  • Artificialia – pieces of art
  • Naturalia – natural objects, animals and people
  • Spiritualis – the spirit world
  • Scelus et Supplicium – crime and punishment
  • Scientifica – scientific instruments
  • Magicae – magic
  • Morteum – death.

There are so many ingenious and bizarre finds in this book, and I’m tempted to tell you about all of them. I’m going to restrain myself, though, sharing my favourite weird thing from each chapter.

The Tempest Prognosticator (storm predictor) was the brainchild of George Merryweather. George had paid enough attention to leeches to realise that they become agitated before a storm. George transformed this fun fact into an early warning system, inventing a contraption that consisted of twelve glass jars, levers and some bells. A leech in a jar would flick a lever when agitated, which would then ring a bell. If all the bells tolled, then it was a sure sign inclement weather was on its way.

People believed that if the hand of a hanged man was severed as he still swung from the gallows, the hand would gain the powers to put people to sleep and unlock doors. The perfect tool for a burglar! The thief could even light the fingers of the hand, as if they were candles. If any of the fingers or thumb failed to light, it showed there was someone still awake in the house.

Trepanning: when you cut holes in people’s skulls for … reasons, oftentimes without anaesthetic.

I’d heard of the Brazen Bull before. A victim would be locked inside a hollow bronze bull, a fire would be lit under the bull and then the cooking alive would begin. What I wasn’t aware of previously was that the bull’s head contained tubes and pipes that “turned screams of agony into the sound of a bellowing bull, like some warped musical instrument.” The moral of this story? Don’t set your Delorean to Sicily around 2,000 years ago.

You’ve heard of having a feather in your cap but have you heard of a cap covered in teeth? Eighty eight teeth cover this 19th century London tooth puller’s felt cap.

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Want revenge Roman style? Well, you’re going to need a curse tablet. Then you can call upon the gods or demons to exact revenge upon those who vex you.

Every three years, at a ritual known as Ma’nene, the Torajan dig up their dead relatives, give them a wash and dress them in new outfits before burying them again.

I really enjoyed this book and know my Nan would have loved it too. There was enough information to be interesting but not so much that readers who aren’t as fascinated as I am with all things weird and wonderful would get bogged down in details.

Celsius Pictor’s illustrations complimented the text well. They had a vintage feel to them. This made the book seem more authentic, as Dr McCreebor is said to have lived during the reign of Queen Victoria.

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Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In the 21st century, a scientist uncovers their Victorian ancestor’s notebook in a box. This ancestor is Dr. McCreebor – an eminent explorer, philosopher, and collector of the very strange and truly creepy.

Dr. McCreebor’s book is filled with the dark and disturbing stories he has collected on his travels around the world. And now, after over 125 years in a dusty attic, Dr. McCreebor’s writings can be read by only the bravest.

Discover the fascinating stories behind a series of objects, people, and places in every chapter. McCreebor writes from a Victorian perspective – and his descendant isn’t afraid to write notes in the margins, bringing the science into the 21st century.

Uncover Artificalia (man-made objects), Naturalia (natural creatures and beings), Spiritualis (the spirit world), Scelus et Supplicium (crime and punishment), Scientifica (scientific tools), Magicae (magical objects), and Morteum (skulls, bodies, and more). Steampunk illustrator Celsius Pictor intricately illustrates McCreebor’s sketches, maps, records, and photographs.

From shrunken heads to witches’ charms, saints’ blood to graverobbers’ remains, hangman’s salve to trepanning tools, this book is a peek into our grisly and macabre past.

When Women Were Dragons – Kelly Barnhill

“All women are magic. Literally all of us. It’s in our nature. It’s best you learn that now.”

Sometimes a cover image is enough to reel me in. Sometimes I only need to read the blurb to know for sure that a book is destined to become a favourite. Sometimes, just sometimes, I’ll only make it to the third page before I buy the ebook so I can highlight passages to my heart’s content. This is that book.

Marya Tilman’s transformation on 18 September 1898 was the “earliest scientifically confirmed case of spontaneous dragoning within the United States” but there were records of dragoning occurring centuries prior. You might believe that it was all over after the Mass Dragoning of 1955 but you’d be wrong. So very wrong.

For those whose feet remained firmly on the ground on 25 April 1955, life went on. People still went to work. Children still went to school. It was business as usual. But this new normal came at a cost.

Dragoning is unmentionable. Don’t talk about what happened.

Forget those who dragoned. They never existed in the first place.

Keep your eyes on the ground. You don’t want any dangerous ideas.

Perhaps this is how we learn silence – an absence of words, an absence of context, a hole in the universe where the truth should be.

This is Alex’s memoir (of sorts). Alex saw her first dragon when she was four. She was still a child when the Mass Dragoning happened. Through her eyes, we not only see how the Mass Dragoning changed society as a whole but also how it impacted upon Alex’s own family.

Through dragoning, this book explores trauma and the silencing that often takes place in its aftermath. It’s about how women diminish themselves to fit into the shape that society prescribes and the toxicity of secrets. It’s the power of women taking up space and refusing to be gaslit anymore.

When I started this book I thought it was going to be about an alternate 1950’s, one where women got pissed off with the patriarchy and turned into dragons. And it is. Sort of. But it’s so much more. There’s rage in this book but there’s also joy.

It is joy that burns me now, and joy that makes my back ache for wings, and it is joy that makes me long to be more than myself.

I fell in love with auntie Marla and Beatrice. I met the best librarian ever. I felt rage and helplessness alongside determination and hope and love. I ugly cried. Oh, did I ugly cry.

I felt a kinship with the characters who dragoned and a fire inside that I fully expected to result in my own dragoning. I love this book so much!

“Today’s the day!”

Content warnings include mention of alcoholism, death of animals, domestic abuse, racism and sexual assault.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

In a world where girls and women are taught to be quiet, the dragons inside them are about to be set free …

In this timely and timeless speculative novel, set in 1950’s America, Kelly Barnhill exposes a world that wants to keep girls and women small – and examines what happens when they rise up. 

Alex Green is four years old when she first sees a dragon. In her next-door neighbour’s garden, in the spot where the old lady usually sits, is a huge dragon, an astonished expression on its face before it opens its wings and soars away across the rooftops.

And Alex doesn’t see the little old lady after that. No one mentions her. It’s as if she’s never existed.

Then Alex’s mother disappears, and reappears a week later, one quiet Tuesday, with no explanation whatsoever as to where she has been. But she is a ghostly shadow of her former self, and with scars across her body – wide, deep burns, as though she had been attacked by a monster who breathed fire.

Alex, growing from young girl to fiercely independent teenager, is desperate for answers, but doesn’t get any.

Whether anyone likes it or not, the Mass Dragoning is coming. And nothing will be the same after that. Everything is about to change, forever.

And when it does, this, too, will be unmentionable…

The Lost Ryū – Emi Watanabe Cohen

It’s been twenty years since the bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The big ryū disappeared soon after the war. Ten year old Kohei is convinced that if he can find them, he’ll be able to make Ojiisan, his grandfather, smile again.

Kohei lives with Ojiisan, who spends his time drinking and being angry, and his Mama, whose subscribes to what is referred to as ‘shikata ga nai’, meaning “there’s nothing to be done – move on, carry on, and don’t brood over things that can’t be helped.” This is a really polite way of saying she doesn’t actually ever deal with anything.

Kohei’s father died when he was three years old. Although I didn’t get to meet him, his words resonated with me.

Do not quit. You must keep trying to make things better, Kohei, because there are always good things you can do.’

While the blurb piqued my interest in this family, I’ll be honest: I was mostly here for the dragons. The little ryū were absolutely adorable.

I knew I’d love Yuharu, Kohei’s little ryū, as soon as I discovered she was fluent in sarcasm, but I loved all of the ryū I met. They have unique personalities and quirks, and they talk! I definitely need one to adopt me.

Even though I wanted to dragon-nap Yuharu, the standout character for me was Isolde, Kohei’s new neighbour. She’s yearning to find a place where she can feel like she belongs. She’s capable of standing up for herself when she needs to and she has a heart of gold. She’s also wise beyond her years.

‘Because talking helps. Things always seem simpler when you say them out loud. And eventually, you stop talking, and you realise that if your sentence can end, so can your troubles.’

While the dragons were everything I’d hoped they’d be, at its heart this book is about the legacy of war. Although the children in this book haven’t personally experienced war, their parents and grandparents have.

The lasting impact of this trauma is clearly shown by what the characters talk about and what they don’t, what emotions are expressed and which remain hidden. Despite the difficulty of many of the issues that arise for the characters, there is also hope.

Things that hurt were able to heal.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Kohei Fujiwara has never seen a giant dragon in real life. The big ryū all disappeared from Japan after World War II, and twenty years later, they’ve become the stuff of legend. Their smaller cousins, who can fit in your palm, are all that remain. And Kohei loves his ryū, Yuharu, but he has a memory of the big ryū. He knows that’s impossible. In his mind, he can see his grandpa – Ojiisan – gazing up at the big ryū with what looks like total and absolute wonder. When Kohei was little, he dreamed he’d go on a grand quest to bring the big ryū back, to get Ojiisan to smile again.

But now, Ojiisan is really, really sick. And Kohei is running out of time.

Kohei needs to find the big ryū now, before it’s too late. With the help of Isolde, his new half-Jewish, half-Japanese neighbour, and Isolde’s Yiddish-speaking dragon, Cheshire, he thinks he can do it. Maybe.

From debut author Emi Watanabe Cohen comes a story of magic, a mysterious family legacy and the lengths to which we’ll go to protect the people we love.

Miss Mary-Kate Martin’s Guide to Monsters #1: The Wrath of the Woolington Wyrm – Karen Foxlee

Illustrations – Freda Chiu

‘There are those that hunt monsters to harm them and there are those that hunt monsters to help them.’ 

Miss Mary-Kate Martin has much better shoes than I do, red sparkly ones. She also has the strawberry-scented notebook and glitter pens I desperately need in my life and the anxiety I’d like to return for a full refund. 

Mary-Kate is about to accompany her mother, Professor Martin (but we call her Prof), on an archaeological dig for the first time. Because Mary-Kate isn’t that good at beginnings or endings, she’d much prefer to stay at home with Granny, but Granny’s recently discovered the joys of bus trips so she’s off on her own adventure.

So, it’s time for a train ride (facing forward, of course) to the sleepy village of Woolington Well, which, incidentally, has a well.

While Prof is busy investigating some bones recently found in said well, Mary-Kate will be conducting her own investigation into why saucers of milk have been placed in front of every doorstep. Because Mary-Kate has an inquiring mind, she quickly becomes caught up in a century’s old town mystery. 

This was the strangest place she’d ever visited. 

Mary-Kate likes facts, red sparkles and infomercials. She doesn’t like complicated sandwiches, brown colouring-in pencils, small talk or mismatched clothing.

Her personality is complimented by new friend Lady Arabella Woolington, a bubbly, chatty local girl with an unforgettable hairstyle.

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During the course of her investigation, Mary-Kate also meets a pony who just wants to get on with their meal and some townsfolk who may have the answers to Mary-Kate’s questions about ‘the you-know-what’. 

‘The legend says it likes children.’ 

I loved the way anxiety was portrayed in this book. Mary-Kate is almost ten and she has a counsellor, Meg, who has taught her very helpful ways to manage her anxiety, including grounding, distraction and breathing techniques. 

Mary-Kate is a kind and compassionate girl. She not only notices when other people are struggling themselves but is able to suggest coping strategies to them based on what she’s found helpful.

I admire Mary-Kate’s determination and bravery, and love the creativity she uses in categorising her bad days with her “H scale of Horrid”.

At the beginning of each chapter, you’ll find a quote from P.K. Mayberry’s Complete Guide to Monsters of the Northern Hemisphere. These quotes invariably provide a clue about the chapter’s contents but also made me want to meet P.K. Mayberry.

My favourite Mayberry quote was: 

Monster hunter Professor Lavinia Lightfoot famously once said, ‘People who have seen a monster are usually a lot more interesting than people who haven’t.’ 

Freda Chiu’s illustrations are so much fun, regardless of whether they’re emphasising Lady Arabella Woolington’s halo of hair or capturing the disinterest of Pickles the pony. 

I absolutely adore Mary-Kate. I want to learn more about Prof. I really hope Lady Arabella Woolington finds a way to insert herself into at least one of Mary-Kate’s future investigations. 

I know it’s still early days but I’m confident I’ve found a new favourite series. I can’t wait to go monster hunting again! 

The Rule of Monsters states that people who have met one monster are statistically much more likely to meet another. 

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

There are those that hunt monsters to harm them and there are those that hunt monsters to help them. Which one are you?

Dressed in sparkly red shoes and carrying her strawberry-scented notebook, Mary-Kate is accompanying her archaeologist mother to the tranquil English countryside to investigate some interesting bones found in an old well. But once they arrive, they realise that the village of Woolington is not as peaceful as it seems. Mysterious noises, earth tremors and a terrifying legend have the locals frightened. 

Could there be any truth in the myth of the beast who lives in the ancient well? And if so, why would it return? Mary-Kate might be anxious, but she is not afraid to get to the bottom of this monstrous mystery.

Wylah the Koorie Warrior #1: Guardians – Richard Pritchard & Jordan Gould

Illustrations – Richard Pritchard & Sierra Pritchard

Spoilers Ahead! (marked in purple)

Meet Wylah (pronounced Wheel-la). She is confident in her artistic ability but not so much in the skills you’d find in the average warrior. Her claim to fame to date has been winning a throwing competition (she was the only competitor because everyone else was sick that day).

Wylah is going to need to find the warrior within though because the dragon army have stolen her Tribe and their animals, and it’s up to Wylah to save them. 

‘You can do this, you can save our people, Wylah, the Koorie Warrior. Rise up, rise up within.’ 

To do this, Wylah and Po, a fellow artist, will need to find the five Guardians. 

‘Guardians are the protectors of Tribes and the lands they live on. Powerful creatures that reside inside Totems’ 

When I was growing up there were an abundance of books available with characters I could easily identify with so I can’t imagine what it must be like to not have that. The first in a new series, Wylah is the Indigenous hero that’s been missing from the shelves for too long. 

I loved that when most of the characters were introduced I learned the meaning of their name. There’s also a glossary in table form at the end of the book that tells readers both the English and Peek Whurrong words for names, their meaning and how to pronounce them. For the animal characters, their species is also included.

Without a doubt, Wylah’s name meaning has the most significance. Wylah comes from the word Wilan and means yellow-tailed black cockatoo. This is absolutely perfect because the yellow-tailed black cockatoo is author Jordan Gould’s tribal totem.

Wylah doesn’t immediately fully embrace her new role as the Koori Warrior, which made her more relatable. She has doubts about her abilities and she doesn’t magically become skilled in all of the areas she will need to be. It’s especially evident when she’s training that this isn’t going to be a success only journey. 

Despite her lack of experience, Wylah has the heart, courage and determination of a warrior, and I’m keen to watch her grow into her new role as the series progresses.

I’m interested in finding out how old Wylah is. This would have been important to me as a kid as I preferred to read about kids who were my age or older.

I liked all of the animals (even the dragons) but my favourite was Bunyip, who’s not quite as fearsome as they may like to think they are. The Guardians spoke and some other animals did as well. However, some didn’t and I’m not quite sure yet what the distinction is between those who speak and those who don’t.

I really enjoyed the illustrations. The megafauna are realistic and the people are expressive.

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The chapters where we follow Wylah were told in first person and had a boomerang picture above the chapter numbers. Those that focused on what was happening with the rest of the tribe were in third person, the pages were grey and the picture above the chapter numbers changed to an amulet. The boomerang and amulet were both appropriate design choices and the distinctions prevented me from ever having to wonder what perspective a chapter was being told from.

As I’d expect in a book that’s introducing a series, the premise was set up and I met some of the characters who will be important in future books. Some answers were provided but there are multiple plot points that will be ongoing.

I did have questions about a particular event in this book that weren’t answered. Why did Livingstone ask the people from Wylah’s Tribe where their home was when they’d just been taken from there by the dragons? Couldn’t the dragons have taken him to it?

Content warnings include death of a family member.

Thank you so much to Albert Street Books, an imprint of Allen & Unwin, for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Meet Wylah: warrior, hero and friend. Her adventures have been 40,000 years in the making!

Wylah is brave, clever and strong-willed, and all her best friends are giant megafauna animals. But she isn’t a warrior. Not yet, anyway.

Then comes the day when her family is stolen by the dragon army, and her life is forever changed. She must find the courage to set out on a journey to save them. What will it take for Wylah to become a warrior, like her Grandmother before her?

Introducing an unforgettable cast of characters, Wylah the Koorie Warrior is a heart-stopping and imaginative adventure, inspired by First Nations history and grounded in culture.

Matariki – Kitty Brown

Illustrations – Kirsten Parkinson

I love learning about different cultures. I’d never heard of Matariki before so I was especially keen to get my hands on this book.

The blurb tells you that it “explores the nine stars of Matariki” but assumes you already know what Matariki is. I didn’t, so I asked Google.

I learned that “Matariki is a special occasion in the New Zealand calendar which marks the start of the Māori New Year.

Signified by the Matariki cluster of stars reappearing in our night sky, this is a time to reflect on the past year, celebrate the present, and plan for the year ahead.”

I found this quote, along with an easy to understand introduction to Matariki.

Armed with this new knowledge, I delved back in. If you already know about Matariki, this book provides readers with specific ways they can honour and celebrate this time. 

The cover image, which represents Pōhutukawa, was my favourite illustration.

I would have appreciated a small section at the back of the book that told me how to pronounce the names of the stars so I didn’t need to rely on Google.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this picture book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

How can we celebrate Matariki? Let’s look to the stars!

Maumaharatia: Remembering our past 
Tiakina te taiao: Caring for our environment 
Te whakawhanaungatanga: Connecting with our people 

Me pēhea tātou e whakanui i a Matariki? Tirohia ngā whetū!

Maumaharatia te onamata 
Tiakina te taiao 
Te whakawhanaungatanga ki ō tātou iwi 

Explore the nine stars of Matariki in rich, detailed imagery and bilingual text. Dive into the meanings of the stars and Matariki itself. Encourage whānau to remember, celebrate and reflect at this important time of year.

The Greatest Thing – Sarah Winifred Searle

In this semi-autobiographical graphic novel, Sarah Winifred Searle introduces us to Win. Their two best friends have enrolled at a new school so Win is starting the tenth grade alone. Fortunately for Win, they have art and it’s through their independent study with Mrs Fransson that they meet April and Oscar.

I found the struggles of all three characters relatable. This could have been quite a dark story and it does touch on some difficult topics, specifically those relating to sexuality, identity and body image.

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There’s an exploration of mental health and the feelings of being alone and not fitting in. 

I mean, I don’t belong here. I feel like I work so hard to keep afloat but no one sees or hears me. 

The friendship between Win, April and Oscar makes all the difference.

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Their friendship isn’t always easy and things don’t always work out as planned but their connection gave this story the injection of hope that it needed. The zine they worked on together, which is included in its entirety, was heartbreaking and beautiful. 

While I connected with some of what Win and April were struggling with, it was Oscar who stole my heart. I absolutely adored him. 

I wish I could hear the song Win and Oscar listen to. I loved the illustrations and the colour palette. 

Teenage me would have read this graphic novel so much that it would have disintegrated in my hands. Adult me is definitely keen for a reread.

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To see myself through your eyes, as I look to someone who loves me … it has simply been the greatest thing. 

Content warnings include biphobia, eating disorders, fatphobia, mental health and self harm.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

It’s the first day of Grade Ten, and Winifred is going to reinvent herself. Now that her two best (and only) friends have transferred to a private school, Win must navigate high school on her own.

Luckily, she isn’t alone for long. In art class, she meets Oscar and April. They don’t look or act like the typical teenagers in her town: they’re creative, a little rebellious and seem comfortable in their own skin in a way that Win can only dream of. 

But even though Winifred is breaking out of her shell, there’s one secret she can’t bear to admit to April and Oscar, or even to herself – and this lie threatens everything.

Win needs to face her own truths, but she doesn’t need to do it alone. Through the healing power of clandestine sleepovers, op-shopping and zine publishing, Win finds and accepts what it means to be herself.

Sherlock Bones #3: Sherlock Bones and the Art and Science Alliance – Renée Treml

Bones, a skeletal tawny frogmouth, and Watts, a stuffed blue Indian ringneck parrot, are exhibits in the state Natural History Museum. Grace is a raccoon whose love of chocolate makes her exceedingly relatable. She’s also the only one of the three who needs to breathe. 

It’s a good thing we’ve visited them today because there’s a new mystery to solve. 

Really? A mystery? I love mysteries!

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There’s a new exhibit opening tomorrow called Art & Science Alliance and rumour has it that one of the paintings is haunted. Luckily, Bones, Watts and Grace are on the case. 

They’re going to need plenty of courage because apparently this ghost hisses. They may also need someone to help them pronounce ‘macabre’ and perhaps a dictionary so they can figure out what it means. They’re definitely going to need some chocolate (well, Grace and I do).

As usual, I loved the illustrations and accidental learning. I didn’t find this mystery as funny as the previous two but I did appreciate the inclusion of a drop bear in the new exhibit. 

Nivlac, who we met in Sherlock Bones and the Sea-Creature Feature, used their very specific and entirely awesome skillset to assist our mystery solving trio.

I hadn’t thought this before but now I can’t think of anything else; Bones does kind of resemble a stick insect wearing a sombrero. 

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I’m looking forward to my next visit to the Natural History Museum. 

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

The intrepid Sherlock Bones and his quietly funny sidekick, Watts, and their animal friends are back to sneak around the museum and solve any mysteries that come their way. Full of fun, friendship and fascinating facts, this fabulous graphic novel is perfect for young readers who love adventure, mystery and a little bit of mayhem.

Hi there, I’m Sherlock Bones – tawny frogmouth skeleton, chief sleuth and star of all museum-related investigations!

Today is an exciting day because the museum has a new exhibit – and a new mystery!

Together with my partners, the ever-brilliant Watts and talking bundle of fur Grace, I’m here to track down the ghost that’s destroying the museum.

You might not be able to hear Watts, because, technically, she’s a stuffed parrot, but I always know what she’s thinking.

And right now she’s thinking: Can we solve the mystery of the haunted painting?

The Champ! – Anh Do

Illustrations – Dave Atze

Twelve year old Summer absolutely adores sports! She wishes she was good at them like her older brother, Carl. Although she fantasises about leading her team to victory, the truth is that Summer doesn’t have a team. Despite her passion, she’s not good at any sport, so much so that she always seems to be picked last.

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All of a sudden, though, Summer is a sporting superstar. 

‘How did this happen?’ 

Well, remember the meteor that changed Amber’s life forever, the one that resulted in her becoming Skydragon? Well, if I’m not mistaken, that very same meteor made an appearance at Rockstone too. 

As Summer walked back to the house, she realised her body felt different, somehow. It was still her body, but it felt more flexible and powerful. 

The variety of effects the purple goop has had on people reminds me of the particle accelerator explosion at STAR Labs. I’m also wondering if there are more superheroes (and villains) in this world that we haven’t been introduced to yet. Summer begins to use her new skillset to become a superhero.

Of course, there’s no point having a superhero if they don’t have an archnemesis. It appears the grumpy librarian who is currently volunteering for this position is the Book Witch. You know she’s pure evil because her nefarious deeds extend to inflicting paper cuts! Now, we may want to boo at the witch because she uses books at weapons but at least she’s doing her part to stop the spread of COVID.

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That’s not to say that there isn’t going to be a shadowy government organisation on the Champ’s trail. 

Summer has a supportive and adorable best friend, Wilbur. We don’t see much of Wilbur in this book because he’s busy with choir rehearsals but I have a sneaking suspicion that he’s going to be getting some more page time as the series progresses. 

There’s a picture of him on the back cover and a sticker (this book has stickers!) showing him wearing a cape so I’m hoping he becomes the Champ’s sidekick. I’m also hoping he has a brilliant sidekick name like Ice cream Boy; the logo on his shirt has a picture of an ice cream cone and a B, and he’s wearing what looks to be an empty Neapolitan ice cream container on his head with cut outs for his eyes. I just know Wilbur is going to be my favourite character. 

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I enjoyed the illustrations, although there were a few that didn’t entirely line up with the details in the text, e.g., reference is made to four rubber bats but only three were pictured. 

The most interesting discrepancy to me, though, suggested a potential fun fact about the series. This is pure conspiracy theory at this point but I think Summer’s name wasn’t always going to be Summer. In two illustrations, this character’s name is shown and they say Katie, not Summer. 

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I’m curious to find out how Carl and Summer support themselves. I’m also wondering whether Summer is going to be sensitive to the impact her new skills are likely to have on her brother, especially considering what the meteor has taken from him. 

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Summer loves sport. She would love to charge down the field towards an open goal, or soar through the air over the basket. She would love to be part of a team. But instead she always seems to be the last one picked.

That is until the day her life changes forever… Until the day Summer becomes THE CHAMP.

But even the Champ will have her work cut out for her if she is going to keep her brother, her best friend and her whole town safe from the dastardly plans of the wicked Librarian…