Latest offerings from series books impress

Raymon Hubers looks at the latest series books for younger readers.

There are several great series books among recent publications for intermediate-aged readers.

Scorched Bone by Vincent Ford (Scholastic, pbk, $19) is an exciting novel, the first in a series called "Chronicles of Stone".

The story is set in a primitive tribal era when people lived in caves and hunted with simple wooden spears.

The People of the Canyons are starving so Trei and his mystical sister Souk travel north to seek bison and mammoths; and meet other tribes such as the Elk Eaters.

Ford does an excellent job of re-creating an ancient society with its shamans, initiations and emerging technology.

Engaging characters blend with satisfying action.

My Friend Percy & Buffalo Bill by Ulf Stark (Gecko, pbk, $17) is another delightful story in this series about the irrepressible Percy.

Ulf's holiday on a Swedish island is shaken up when his blood brother invites himself.

Everyone (except Ulf) is enchanted by Percy's antics, including Ulf's girlfriend and his curmudgeonly grandfather.

Stark is the master of bittersweet comedy, and many life lessons emerge naturally from the humour.

The grandfather character is a cracker and the subplot about his marriage is very moving (for adult readers at least).

Readers aged over 10 will enjoy this book.

Aunt Effie and Mrs Grizzle by Jack Lasenby (Longacre, pbk, $18) is a wonderful entry in this series about a rollicking aunt, her six pig dogs and 26 nieces and nephews.

She introduces the children to Mrs Grizzle, a red-haired, double-jointed witch, and we find out what happens to the treasure.

Lasenby's inventiveness knows no bounds, ranging from monster pukekos and chamber pots to edible gunpowder.

A unique stew of outrageous humour and cultural references.

My favourite recent fantasy series is the seven-part "Keys of the Kingdom" by Australian writer Garth Nix.

The sixth book is Superior Saturday (Allen and Unwin, pbk, $19) in which the hero Arthur Penhaligon has to win the sixth key from the oldest, most powerful sorcerer.

To do so, he must assail the Upper House and confront hordes of evil creatures.

Many quirky characters and a cliffhanger ending; although I recommend reading the series from the start to understand this intricate fantasy world.

For younger readers, Dunedin author Sandy McKay has written a comical look at school science fairs.

Eureka! (Mallinson Rendel, pbk, $18) tells the story of Joey, who decides to make his frazzled mother into a project.

He tries to find a way to relieve her of household chores.

There's some lovely sly humour here involving elbow grease, as Joey discovers the benefits of problem-solving.

Suitable for ages 8 to 10.

The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo (Walker Books, hbk, $30) is a highly unusual children's book about life in the concentration camps.

This story within a story involves a reporter who interviews a famous violinist, but is told not to ask the Mozart question.

It emerges that during the war, Jewish prisoners who were musicians were often made to play Mozart while others were led to the gas chambers.

The book conveys both the worst and the strongest sides of human nature.

It has haunting illustrations by Michael Foreman.

Perhaps best shared with children as a read-aloud.

Black Baron by Robyn Opie (Walker Books, pbk, $15) is a fast-paced, short novel for junior readers who are just discovering chapter books.

The Baron is the best racing cockroach Jake has had, until his mum discovers it and targets it for extermination.

There are a couple of narrow escapes before the bug finds a sort of cockroach heaven. Good fun.

- Raymond Huber is a Dunedin teacher.


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