When I think of Wendy Harmer, my mind goes to her comedy career before her foray into writing (The Big Gig anyone?). She’s had over 30 years as a household name in Australia, as a journalist and editor, a radio and TV presenter, and as a stand up comedian. For the kids at Charming HQ, however, Wendy Harmer means Pearlie, the kind-hearted fairy from Jubilee Park. The next stage (for all of us!) is to get to know Harmer’s work through her adventurous new heroine, Ava Anne Appleton.
Catching A Wave (Scholastic Australia, RRP:$9.99AUD) is book 3 of this series, which is pitched at 7-9 year old girls. Ava is an ‘accidental adventurer’ whose life is shaken up and spun around when her family decides to travel Australia in a motorhome for a year. With her mum, dad and dog by her side, she meets new friends and expands her horizons, learning lessons about confidence, courage and embracing whatever life throws at you.
Book 3 sees the family pull up at a coastal town where Ava wages war on plastic bags after realising their detrimental effect on the local wildlife. Each book in the series sees Ava pushed to overcome fears and challenges (ocean swimming and surfing, in this case) and form a special bond with locals – human and otherwise.
Chapter books for girls: friendship, adventure and challenges
Girls in this age group seem to fall into three categories: those who like to think deeply about a book and bond with a relatable central character (Ava’s made for them); those who prefer their life lessons served up by fairies (Pearlie girls); and those who don’t enjoy a story unless animals are involved! This is where Harmer’s spin off series Ava and Angus comes in.
Ava remains a key player, but it’s her cute puppy Angus who’s the star in a new adventure with an animal focus. In Showtime (Scholastic Australia, RRP:$9.99AUD), Ava and Angus head to the local show to see the rides and, of course, the animals. When daring twins Donna and Danny Donnelly tempt Ava to sneak into the animal’s shed at night time, dozens of prize animals escape their pens! Their happy trip has suddenly turned into a disaster!
There’s a lot to love about Harmer’s writing for this age group. Having Ava’s family on the move opens up story opportunities in a range of contexts, not just the school yard, as is often the case. There simply is no ‘comfort zone’ for Ava, because her zones change every day. There are some terrific lessons about resilience and being open to change here.
It showcases a family with an unconventional lifestyle and invites appreciation of all kinds of Australian cultural spaces – bush, beach, farm and city. Locations like surfside caravan parks or regional showgrounds are fictional, but completely recognisable. Sausages and onions on the beach BBQ, with cold orange cordial to wash it down? This is definitely an Australian childhood, recreated without reliance on stereotypes.
But what would I know? I also checked in with my Miss 9 for some feedback on this series. I figure it’s school holidays, so you may as well encourage kids into
slave labour reading books for you to blog about while you can!
What Miss 9 thought…
I really liked this book and I think it would be good for 5-10 year old girls, depending on their reading level. It starts easily, but gets harder to read and feels longer towards the end. The pages get busier as the pace of the adventure speeds up! The main character is Ava, and I would describe her as funny and a bit shy.
My favourite part of the book is when they go to the fair in Chapter 2, because I liked how excited they were when they saw new things like tractors, animals and a ride called The Whizzer. Ava shows excited emotions and body language on most occasions, actually – whether she’s very happy or very nervous. I could relate to that!
My least favourite part of the book was when they saw a truck drive past holding pigs with ribbons around their necks. I didn’t understand this at all until later, when they talked more about prize animals. When I look back, I can see that the storyline was being presented in that chapter.
When I finished this book I really wanted to know where Ava and Angus would go next. I can’t wait for the next book. Yay!
Visit the Ava Anne Appleton website for sample chapters, printables, puzzles and more.
Have your kids discovered Wendy Harmer? Are your girls Team Pearlie or Team Ava?