I’ve had a burst of middle-grade books, all of them wonderful in their own ways. Two are by much-loved Australian authors, and I hope they will find a large audience.
HAVE SWORD WILL TRAVEL, BY GARTH NIX AND SEAN WILLIAMS
These two prolific writers have – separately and together – produced a wealth of hugely enjoyable fantasy stories for younger readers.
And this first of a new series is no exception. Odo, at 12, is the seventh son of the village miller, while his best friend Eleanor is the daughter of the local apothecary.
One day, hunting for eels in what’s left of their dying river, Odo sees something glint in the muck. It’s an enchanted, talking sword, and it’s a little confused about who has woken it from its long sleep.
Since only a knight could have done so, that must mean that Odo is a knight, so the sword – Hildebrand Shining Foebiter – makes him a knight on the spot, unsettling Eleanor who is sure she is the one destined for that role.
Since a knight needs a quest, they find one – and it introduces them to battles and magical creatures and dragons, and an understanding of what it really means to be a knight.
This is a story that is pure delight from start to finish, tackling a range of social issues without ever being heavy handed or preachy.
THE EXTREMELY INCONVENIENT ADVENTUTRES OF BRONTE METTLESTONE, By JACLYN MORIARTY
She quickly reassures readers that it’s OK, because she didn’t know them very well. They left her with her aunt Isabelle as a baby, and had been off on adventures ever since.
When a telegram arrives announcing their death, she discovers their will gives her a range of very specific tasks to carry out – on her own.
And it’s edged with faery cross-stitch, which means if she breaks any one of its commandments, there will be terrible consequences.
It’s terrifying, but Bronte is determined to do her best, even if she’s only 10. It’s quite a journey too – there are elves, dragons and water sprites, life-saving heroics, cousins and aunts she’s never met before, as well coming face to face with the terrifying Whispering King.
Jaclyn is one of the Moriarty sisters, with Liane and Nicola also regulars on the bestseller lists.
Jaclyn is best known for her YA stories, with this being her first foray into middle-grade books, with more to come. The delightful illustrations are by Kelly Canby.
It’s a r remarkably sweet story, that’s magical and fun too.
TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN, BY JOHN GREEN
It looks like he’s done it again with Turtles All The Way Down, which is aimed at a younger audience of middle-grade readers.
Aza, 16, suffers from OCD and anxiety, which makes everyday events like school brutally difficult. Lucky she has her best friend Daisy, who has been through everything with her.
When Daisy hears of $100,000 reward for information about a missing billionaire – and discovers Aza has a link to the billionaire’s son, Davis – she’s keen to get involved.
Aza discovers her old connection to Davis is still there, and the friendship grows, but none of that stops the uncontrollable, destructive thought spirals that take over when she becomes anxious.
She knows her obsessions put pressure on her relationships with Daisy, Davis and her mother, but that knowledge doesn’t help her find a way out.
The characters are as thoroughly engaging as Green’s many fans will expect, even though the missing billionaire plot doesn’t make much sense (as with the author plot in The Fault In Our Stars).
These books were published in October/November 2017.