Here in Australia we really are remarkably lucky that we have a thriving children’s literature industry, and there are Aussie authors producing terrific books with an Aussie flavour for the emerging 6-9 year old reader. It can be difficult for a children’s librarian to find books for this age group: they want to read ‘chapter books’ with interesting plots but the text needs to be easy-reading without being formulaic or patronising.
Random House’s new Lulu Bell series features a heroine who loves animals. (Her pets include two large dogs, two cats, and a rabbit.) She, aged 8, is the practical one in the family: her siblings Rosie aged 6 and Gus aged 3 are into those fantasies familiar to us all from costumed appearances of angels and superheroes in shopping centres. Their mother is an artist and their father is a vet, and since they live adjacent to the vet hospital Lulu helps to care for injured and orphaned animals, which in Lulu Bell and the Birthday Unicorn includes a runaway pony.
With ten excited six-year-olds coming to Rosie’s birthday party Dad is needed on deck and Lulu needs to organise the lolly-bags, but nonetheless Lulu goes to help him rescue the horse. A gorgeous white pony, it is then brought back to the family’s backyard while the police try to find its owner. Disaster strikes when Gus lets the pony into the kitchen where it demolishes the beautiful mermaid cake, half an hour before the guests are due to arrive. It is Lulu who saves the day with creative ideas and a use for the naughty pony which readers can probably guess from the title.
There’s another runaway in Lulu Bell and the Fairy Penguin. This time it’s a dog which chases a little penguin on the beach, and Lulu captures the dog and guards the penguin till Dad arrives to take care of its minor injuries. This is a series for ‘girly’ girls: while Lulu is clever, resilient and resourceful, she is into colouring in and ‘decorating’, and *sigh* she squeals with shock when some boys squirt water at her instead of squirting them back. She wants to do fairies for the school mural and she builds a fairy palace with the flotsam and jetsam at the beach. It is *sigh* her brother who destroys the palace, but (this sounds mean, but teachers trying to avoid gender stereotyping will understand) I was pleased at least to see that it’s the girls who succeed in restraining the runaway dog and it’s the boy who grazes his knee that cries.
Lulu’s adventure with the penguin provides her with an idea for the mural that links with the school community, and there’s a happy opening ceremony at the end starring the heroine because it’s her design that is chosen. (The happy ending also includes finding the missing cat and her kittens as well, but I was a bit mystified as to why a vet wouldn’t have had the cat de-sexed as any responsible cat owner would.)
The text is easy-reading, with lively B&W illustrations on most pages, and there are more to come in this series.
Random House have also sent me The River Charm by the same author, but that’s for older children. According to the synopsis at the Random House website:
A river pebble on a charm bracelet has an astonishing true story to tell, of one family’s bravery and survival in harsh colonial Australia . .
When artistic Millie visits a long-lost aunt, she learns the true story of her family’s tragic past. Could the mysterious ghost girl Millie has painted be her own ancestor?
In 1839, Charlotte Atkinson lives at Oldbury, a gracious estate in the Australian bush, with her Mamma and her sisters and brother. But after the death of Charlotte’s father, things start to go terribly wrong. There are murderous convicts and marauding bushrangers. Worst of all, Charlotte’s new stepfather is cruel and unpredictable.
Frightened for their lives, the family flees on horseback to a stockman’s hut in the wilderness. Charlotte’s mother and the children must fight to save their property, their independence and their very right to be a family. Will they ever return together to their beautiful home?
Based on the incredible true-life battles of Belinda Murrell’s own ancestors, one of Australia’s early artistic and literary families, the Atkinsons of Oldbury.
It sounds an ideal book to appeal to 10+ readers but at 320 pages it’s quite long and I’ve got rather a lot of junior fiction to pre-read for school, so I’ll have to get back here with my review of The River Charm some time in the future.