Tag Archives: Middle Readers

Review: Lockie Leonard Human Torpedo

9780141307305Lockie Leonard Human Torpedo by Tim Winton

Penguin Books Australia, 1990

Yep, it’s summer and I’m on a middle grade/ YA surf reading spree. I actually loved this book. I really appreciated it but I don’t think teenage boys quite would:  it’s a bit… almost literary? A bit old-fashioned. I love the voice — snappy and masculine — but to me it sounds more like Tim Winton’s childhood than a modern day one.

Lockie Leonard, hot surf-rat, is in love. The human torpedo is barely settled into his new school, and already he’s got a girl on his mind. And not just any girl: it has to be Vicki Streeton, the smartest, prettiest, richest girl in the class. What chance have you got when your dad’s a cop, your mum’s a frighteningly understanding parent, your brother wets the bed and the teachers take an instant dislike to you and then you fall in love at twelve-and-three-quarter years old? It can only mean trouble, worry, mega-embarrassment and some wild, wild times.

Sentences I found funny

“The Leonards called Lockie the Human Torpedo because he took so long to get out of bed in the morning. Actually Lockie was slow at almost everything…”

“Lockie’s method of eating Weetbix was truly, awesomely foul. Let me just say that it involved a lot of milk, an overripe banana, and a spud masher.”

“Lockie’s mum was the serious sort. She liked to be involved; she was concerned, conscientious. She’d even been to Parent Effectiveness Training and for a few weeks after that she was just a flaming nuisance.”

“He went to school with a great daggy smile on his face like he’d come half-stoned from the dentist.”

[Trying to get his wetsuit off] “He pulled up from the front and got his arms pinned to his chest. No good. He pulled the vest down again and tried reaching back behind him and he ended up looking like a dumb 13-year-old pashing on with himself inside a bag.”

“I’m nuts,” he told himself. “I am a flamin’ fruitcake.”

Surf stuff:

“Genuine surf rat, grommet extraordinaire.”

“He picks off the second without any trouble. He took the drop loose-kneed and casual, taking out a wide, leaning bottom turn before hammering back up at the lip. As he swung round off the top again, he saw the hairy kid dropping in from the shoulder. You rotten mongrel, he thought.”

“It was a foul day, no argument. Southerly wind, no surf, and school tomorrow.”

“The air was colder than the water and his teeth were doing First Year Typing like they’d never heard of liquid paper.”

“The sun was almost down as he caught his last wave, leaning and cutting across its orange glistening surface as it rolled towards the beach like the twist in a great monster’s tail. His hand trailed in the smooth wall; he tossed his head back and hooted as the pitching funnel of its insides shot him down the line. He wasn’t thinking of anything. He didn’t need to.”


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Review: The Ballad of Cauldron Bay

The Ballad of Cauldron Bay by Elizabeth Honey

Allen & Unwin, 2004


This is the third in the Stella Street series. In this one, a bunch of the kids and assorted adults go on a beach holiday to the remote Cauldron Bay.

Written in first person from the point of view of Henni, a thirteen-year-old girl, the book is zany, funny and high energy, as well as at times wise and touching. The voice is very strong and immediately engaging—a benefit of first person.

Elizabeth Honey knows how to write a kids adventure.

  • Exciting remote location? Tick. Beach house with no electricity, built on stilts so it’s practically a tree house (with kerosene lamps and mosquito nets) and the older kids sleeping outdoors on the wide, covered verandah. Perfect.
  • Possibility for adventures without adults getting in the way? Tick. They’re allowed to run wild on the beach, rockpools, bushland and in town.
  • Adults still a comfort and support in emergency? Tick. While the kids were the ones that dealt with the emergency, the adults were able to arrive and help with the aftermath.
  • Good food? (I’m quickly learning this is a must!) Tick. Easter eggs, mountains of fried rice, pancakes in the morning, sticky lamingtons on the beach, Frosty Fruits after dinner.

She’s got a kids eye for funny little details (see cowries), clever ways of characterisation (see Easter eggs) and one of my favourite things she does is to describe something in a quirky, in-jokey way, and then continue referring to this throughout the novel (‘stickdog’, etc.) The book is a joyful reminder of just how wonderful a good wild holiday can be. Plus, it has a map!

easter eggs

Easter egg characterisation


The Oracle cowrie


Stickdog description


What happiness feels like


Front matter map. My book will need one of these

 The book was helpful for me in terms of how to handle a group of kids going on holidays together, in which adults play an important role, but give them enough space to have adventures.

Henni resonated with me as the oldest, tallest, and most responsible, as this is the same as the main character in my novel-in-progress.

My writing would definitely improve with a taste of Elizabeth Honey’s energy and craziness!

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Review: Five on Finniston Farm

Five on Finniston Farm by Enid Blyton

Hodder, 1997 (first published 1960)

FiveI loved these as a kid, but found this really painful to re-read as an adult.

Why did I find it painful?

I think part of the problem is the point of view (omniscient) with little to no internalisation, so I don’t feel I know any of the characters much beyond the surface. Even when there is some internalisation (usually only a line at a time) it feels too much like telling, and superficial or clichéd telling at that.

Maybe it feels painful because the dialogue is so old fashioned or forced?

Gee, Pop

Gee, Pop

Or because I feel she’s drilling at the same point or idea over and over to make sure that I get it? (The American father and son characters are obnoxious, the mother is over-worked, the twins are helpful and obedient, etc etc)

I do remember enjoying Enid Blytons as a kid. I liked their funny old-fashioned ways of speaking and how pleasant the children always seemed to be towards each other. They got up to great adventures and the food was always comforting and refreshing as if I needed replenishments alongside them on their adventures.

Running with butter

Running with butter!

Okay, the food was still pretty good on re-reading, even if I didn’t feel like anything else stood up. Home-made buns, anyone?

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Review: Hazel Green

Hazel Green by Odo Hirsch

Allen & Unwin, 2004

Hazel Green

“Sometimes you really are terrible, Hazel.”

Good, thought Hazel Green. Everyone should be terrible sometimes.

I read this book as a kid, and what I remembered from it was not the plot or characters, but the mouth-watering descriptions of the backroom of the bakery. It’s a hot, buttery, cinnamon-y smell; a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory-type fantasy world where the baker invites you in drink hot cocoa and to taste-test his new pastry inventions. 

On re-reading, I wasn’t disappointed.


“She hardly wasted a second on the breads”

Sounds like the best invention ever

The Chocolate Dipper

Odo Hirsch’s writing style is lovely, both humorous and serious, with tension and stakes relevant and believable for the young characters. He plays very cleverly with a sense of unfairness and injustice that most kids can relate to (haven’t we all had to deal with frustrating adults who just don’t understand what’s going on?) as well as creating loveable adults who are kind, fair and honest to the kids.

As always, for my own writing, I’m interested in the point of view. Here it’s omniscient, as if the narrator is looking down from a tall apartment balcony onto the goings-on in the street. The POV is mostly close on Hazel’s shoulder, but leaves her a couple of times in order to show us what the other kids are up to when they are excluding Hazel.

As a protagonist, Hazel is courageous, determined and quirky. As readers I think we like her because she’s brave and honest: important qualities that are admirable in a young character.

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