Reviews: Two Junior Fiction Books

Kay Morfett reviews two very different, yet equally intriguing, additions to Aotearoa’s junior fiction genre. Tim Tipene’s The Book That Wouldn’t Read is an inspiring tale that centres children who struggle with reading and Sally Sutton brings all the mayhem and mystery that we love from the Lulu & the Dance Detectives series in this second instalment titled The Pool Party Poisoning.

The Book That Wouldn’t Read, by Tim Tipene & Nicoletta Benella (Oratia)

The main character, an unnamed boy, does not like reading so when he finds a book in the library with a ‘strange name for a book’, he decides he must read it. The Book That Wouldn’t Read, however, does not want to be read! The words move around the pages and they change colour, or even disappear. Sometimes the words run away, right off the page and the poor boy has to chase them down so he can keep reading his book—looking under the furniture, looking in a cupboard and even jumping over a table to get the words back into the book!

Obviously, this is a special book and it gets the boy thinking as well as reading. At one point, the boy relates to the way the book is acting and familiarises its actions with his own—trying to get out of doing things he does not want to do, taking his time and being distracted easily. When the book tells him to daydream or to divert others’ attention by talking, he realises that is what he usually does, but not this time. This time the boy wants to finish the book.

And try and try and try, does the boy, to read this book. He will not give up, despite The Book That Wouldn’t Read’s best efforts to try and put him off and make it too hard to read this unique and special book. 

Spread from The Book That Wouldn’t Read by Tim Tipene

The book adds in really hard to read words with unknown meanings to its story, like bebop and axoloti. Around midway, strange animals suddenly start to appear, and the book even tells the boy to perform movements; to jiggle and jump about and make loud, embarrassing animal noises. 

Throughout the story, his classmates and the librarian consistently tell him to be quiet and put their fingers to their lips to say ‘shhh!’. They get frustrated with his constant interruptions of funny noises and weird actions, but the boy knows he has to keep reading.

The book tries to scare the boy away by making him pronounce really long, difficult words, so the boy tries to look at the pictures instead of reading all of the words. But then the book makes that awkward by turning the illustrations into words! 

The boy understands that the book is trying to put him off, to make him give up but his determination takes over and the boy does not let the book beat him! He soon realises that the book has no point to it, that there is no storyline like in a normal book, and that it is just a book filled with stumbling blocks to put him off!

Spread from The Book That Wouldn’t Read by Tim Tipene

Eventually, the boy asks the book to help him get through to the end and provides encouragement and friendship to the book. This works, and eventually the boy prevails and completes the read, sharing the message to keep going, no matter how hard the journey is and despite any obstacles that may stand in your way.

The end pages are teal/blue and this colour is taken throughout the book. It is included in the illustrations by Nicoletta Benella and some of the text is randomly written in teal too. 

The illustrations are clear and clean and fit around the text well. They describe what is going on in the story perfectly and are vibrant and colourful.

The text is laid out well throughout the book and is an easy-to-read font in shape and size. There are not more than five lines in a chunk at a time on each page. 

I would recommend this book for tamariki aged 4-10 years. It is a lovely picture book for little ones and a great discussion starter for reluctant readers and even older tamariki that encounter difficulties with reading.

The Book That Wouldn’t Read

By Tim Tipene

Illustrated by Nicoletta Benella

Published by Oratia Books

RRP: $26.00

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Lulu and the Dance Detectives #2: The Pool Party Poisoning, by Sally Sutton & Lily Uivel (Penguin)

Lulu leads the gang again in the second installation of the Lulu and the Dance Detectives series. The title itself sets the scene for a very serious whodunnit plot—who, we ask, would be poisoning anyone at a pool party?! 

The story is told by Lulu, who together with her five partners in crime—known as the Silver Star Dancers, comprising of (Lulu of course), Brio, Tina, Mouse, Frankie, Kenji and the four-legged sidekick, Yappy—sets on another dancing adventure. This time they find themselves in a swimming pool at the home of the rich and super famous Coco van Der Wilde, inventor of the My Best Friend face cream.

Page from The Pool Party Poisoning

The Silver Star Dancers practice their moves in the yucky school swimming pool, or at least try to until they are almost frozen—the water is so cold! Tina makes some beautiful purple mermaid and merman costumes and then they are ready for Estelle van Der Wilde’s big party! Lights, costumes, action, and birthday cake, what could go wrong? Apparently everything for poor Estelle.

First, there is a burglar that breaks in and tears up the party bags, throwing candy and fizzy drinks everywhere. Then, someone sabotages the birthday cake by hiding Coco’s car key, keeping her from picking up the birthday cake. 

The title itself sets the scene for a very serious whodunnit plot—who, we ask, would be poisoning anyone at a pool party?! 

Mouse gets a bit side tracked when she locks herself in the bathroom, but Lulu is straight to the rescue—climbing through the window and everything! Mysteriously, the birthday party invitations are found in the bathroom, hidden behind the toilet instead of being sent out to all of Estelle’s friends. And if that were not enough to ruin anyone’s birthday party, someone sneaks into the house just as the Silver Star Dancers are about to perform, and with a bang and a pop, the balloons and ‘Happy Birthday’ sign are destroyed. 

Eventually, the team are able to carry out their synchronised dance for Estelle, but then the pool water turns purple, which leads to everyone jumping out the pool for fear of being poisoned! However, once the team realises it is not poison but rather the fault of the pretty costumes, everything takes a turn for the better and Estelle’s party starts to come together. 

Page from The Pool Party Poisoning

There is a delicious birthday cake from the cake shop (Mouse found Coco’s car keys after a daring run down the swimming pool slide in the midst of the Dancers being ‘poisoned’) and lots of friends to join in the fun (Lulu invited them from next door). Estelle finds many new buddies at her pool birthday party and has lots of fun in the end.

The larger illustrations cleverly provide additional clues to look out for, to help you work out the crime before you get to the end of the story.

This book is aimed at readers aged 6-9 years. It has a large font with wide spacing and some of the text is in bold/italics to emphasise speech and actions. The book also contains lots of illustrations that depict how the characters are feeling, which are a nice touch. The inclusion of a prologue and lots of chapters gives readers the feeling of a more grown-up layout. 

Each chapter has the same pool-side illustrations by Lily Uivel to remind you of the storyline and throughout the book there are lots of little pictures to look at too. The larger illustrations cleverly provide additional clues to look out for, to help you work out the crime before you get to the end of the story.

The back of the book has four pages of great facts about synchronised swimming and a two-minute mystery for the reader to try and solve themselves to complete the package!

This is a fun, enjoyable read that I would recommend for tamariki aged 6-10 years. There’s plenty of illustrations to break up the text so the book will appeal to most young readers.

Lulu and the Dance Detectives #2: The Pool Party Poisoning

By Sally Sutton

Illustrated by Lily Uivel

Published by Penguin Books Ltd.

RRP: $16.00

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Kay Morfett

Kay is a Community Librarian in Christchurch and has worked in various types of libraries for the last 14 years in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. She has been a Picture Book Judge since 2020 for the Storylines Notable Book Awards.