Wednesday, 16 November 2011

More November reviews

Sea Monster’s First Day by Kate Messner, Illustrated by Andy Rash
Chronicle Books, £12.99 HB, 978011875646

With a vibrant cartoon style that will appeal to pre-schoolers, Sea Monster’s first day is a rather jolly take on the familiar first day at school story. Ernest is a sea monster who finds it hard at first to settle into the new regime of school life, especially since he is bigger than everyone else. He tries to join in games and be friendly, but everyone is scared of him or shouts horrible things like “you’re extinct”. Eventually Ernest starts to have fun - counting and singing, looking at shipwrecks, eating seaweed, playing “tug-of-war” with some fishermen and making friends with a gang of sturgeon over lunch - until he admits “with a little imagination and my new friends, this new school was working out just fine”.
Clearly designed to reassure children who are starting school, it delivers a heartening message in a friendly, comical way.
Rowan Stanfield

Don’t Want to Go! Written and illustrated by Shirley Hughes
Red Fox £5.99
978-1862 306707

Shirley Hughes has produced another great story in this delightful picture book which will surely become a classic. When mum is ill with ‘flu, and dad has to go to work, Lily has to go to Melanie’s house for the day. But Lily doesn’t want to go! At first she just sits under Melanie’s table hugging her toy dog, but gradually the activities of Baby Sam, Melanie, their dog Ringo, and Jack who they fetch back from school, all prove too interesting to ignore. Inevitably, by the time dad returns from work, Lily doesn’t want to go back home again.

This bright picture book is a great read-aloud. Children as young as 2 will identify with Lily’s feelings and enjoy the way the story is resolved as her confidence grows. The big bold pictures have the effect of immersing the reader into the story and the pace and length is just right to hold the attention of young toddlers, yet should also be enjoyed by older siblings. A beautifully produced simple story which will surely become a great favourite.
Liz Dubber

Bubble Trouble Written by Margaret Mahy

Illustrated by Polly Dunbar
Frances Lincoln (R) £6.99

Each and every one of Margaret Mahy’s picture books from Jam to A Busy Day for a Good Grandmother and Down the Back of the Chair, also illustrated by Polly Dunbar, are classics and a delight to read. It is a special pleasure to discover this new and exciting publication. Bubble Trouble is a rhyming mouthful of bubbles - wonderful rhyme and rhythm, alliterations and a tongue twister challenge make this book great fun to read aloud.

“Little Mabel blew a bubble and it caused a lot of trouble,
Such a lot of bubble trouble in a bibble-bobble way,
For it broke away from Mabel as it bobbed across the table,
Where it bobbled over Baby, and it wafted him away.”

Baby likes the sensation of being wafted away by a wobbling bubble but Mabel and her Mother are not so calm and a chase around the neighbourhood begins. The children next door join in, the elderly couple walking down the lane become aware of the danger, a jogger, the chapel choir and a mischievous boy called Abel all tag along as the bubble - with Baby happily inside - bounces higher and higher over the town. Abel saves the day, more by luck than judgement, and baby is reunited with his Mother and Sister.
Polly Dunbar’s gentle illustrations, in muted hues with splashes of vivid red and purple, are as magical as the text. The variety of characters are conveyed with clever and accurate pen lines which bring out all their warmth and humour.
As ever Margaret Mahy mixes family life with glorious fantasy and her books are a treasure to share.
Louise Stothard

Don’t Panic Annika Written by Juliet Clare Bell
Illustrated by Jennifer E Morris
Piccadilly £6.99
Any child, or parent, who is prone to needless panicking, will benefit from reading Don’t Panic Annika. Annika can’t help getting in a flap. She panics at the slightest thing e.g. getting her zip stuck on the way to a party or losing her favourite toy (which she does regularly). Her family try various methods to help calm her down “count to ten, really slowly” etc, but Annika still panics. Until one day when something terrible happens and everyone else starts to panic, while Annika remains calm. This is a funny, but realistic story about the things that small children find to worry about. Young children will easily be able to follow the story. Especially with the bright and amusing illustrations which perfectly complement the text. However, parents may wish to initially share the book with their child to help emphasise the message of what to do when things don’t run smoothly. With key words and phrases repeated throughout, Don’t Panic Annika is ideal for boys and girls who are learning to read alone.
Jane Hall

Theodore Boone Written by John Grisham
Hodder & Stoughton £6.99
Theodore Boone is the first book for 8-12-year-olds from best-seller John Grisham. Thirteen-year-old Theo is obsessed with the law. His parents are lawyers, his dog is named Judge and his favourite pastime is visiting the local courthouse. The big case there at the moment is a murder trial in which the accused looks certain to be acquitted of murdering his wife. Then Theo is told in confidence that someone he knows saw the murderer leaving the house, but is unwilling to come forward. Theo is faced with a dilemma; break a confidence, or let a guilty man go free. Theo is an odd hero. A teenager with adult interests, he has little in common with his classmates, frequently offering them legal advice. Yet one can’t help but warm to him, as his enthusiasm for the law is infectious. The murder trial initially appears cut and dried, but the pace increases when Theo discovers the new witness and there is the race against time to persuade him to come forward. Whilst a legal story runs the risk of being too dry for this age group, with Grisham cutting through the legal jargon to keep it compelling, Theodore Boone is not guilty!

Jane Hall

Lots of new reviews - November 2011

Blue Chameleon Written and illustrated by Emily Gravett
Macmillan £5.99
This is a brilliantly simple idea for a picture book, and works very well indeed. The blue chameleon on the front cover is a sad and lonely creature – he is lonely! The book takes us through a riot of colour and fun as he meets objects and animals and takes on their colour and mimics their shape. When he eventually meets up with another chameleon, they together become truly colourful.
I shared this book with a two and a half year old, and she found it hilarious! She was soon laughing out loud at each new image. As a result this was a delight to read, and prompted conversation about colours and shapes and making friends.
The production is clean and very simple –big bold images on plain white backgrounds, so that nothing, not even a narrative story, detracts from the main message of this very simple yet effective book. The only words are the names of the objects with an adjective in each case (yellow banana, spotty ball) and occasional comments from the chameleon in speech bubbles.
Liz Dubber

FRANK & TEDDY MAKE FRIENDS Written and illustrated by Louise Yates Jonathan Cape £10.99
Professor Frank Mouse is very clever and can make almost anything – but he is too shy to make friends. Then he has a brilliant idea – he makes Teddy, who tries to be helpful but is sometimes very messy! When a crisis occurs, Frank Mouse begins to see Teddy in a different light. This deceptively simple tale, with its appealing illustrations, is the perfect book for making young readers think again about friendship and the importance of sharing.
Marianne Adey

by Eva Ibbotson
Marion Lloyd Books £10.99

When Hal’s wealthy, house proud parents try to take his beloved new dog, Fleck, away from him, he knows he has no choice but to run away to his grandparents. Fleck has come from The Easy Pets Dog Agency, and has companions who also need rescuing! Plenty of goodies and baddies make this last novel from Eva Ibbotson an exciting and satisfying read.
Marianne Adey

The Django Written and illustrated by Levi Pinfold
Templar £6.99
From the very first page, there is something thrillingly eerie about this incredibly vibrant and detailed picture book. From crowded, heavily detailed street scenes to stunning open countryside vistas, Pinfold’s illustrations are fascinatingly exquisite and magical. Somewhat reminiscent of (Flemish painter) Pieter Bruegel’s iconic peasant scenes, there is a wealth of detail on every page and with a cleverly employed fish eye lens effect that draws you into each scene.
The almost wooden looking, spookily blank faced characters would send a chill down your spine if it weren’t for the warm, humorous prose that accompanies them. Told in the first person from the point of view of Jean, a small boy with a lovely turn of phrase - “... I jigged my way into the pigsty, toe-tapped on the tractor, hoofed it in the cow field, and got down with the geese.” - The Django has all the ingredients of a classic fairy tale. The Django itself is a kind of imp that causes all sorts of mischief for which Jean is blamed. It follows the boy around until he gets fed up with getting into trouble all the time and tells it to go away - but then finds himself missing it.
Sure to be appreciated by the child that loves to be a little bit scared, but with a happy enough ending to ensure there’ll be no nightmares, this is the sort of book that will stay with you long after closing its covers.
Rowan Stanfield

A Paper Engineering Master Class Ruth Wickings & Frances Castle
Walker Books £14.99

A family book to explore and try out your paper engineering skills with the included pre-printed and pre-folded parts to press out that are also ready to stick. This is a chance to form and make a dragon, castle, Frankenstein’s Lab and an exotic jungle pop up. Helpful information is also provided on basic folding structures and paper mechanics to help you design, build and bring your own imaginative ideas into 3D storytelling.
Mike Simkin

Wanda and the Alien Written and illustrated by Sue Hendra
Red Fox £5.99
978-184941018 2
Beautifully bright, full page illustrations and bold print make an immediate impact and confirm this as an optimistic and happy story.
Wanda and the alien like each other instantly and Wanda is quick to fetch her tools to help mend the Alien’s rocket. The two have fun and become firm friends despite the language barrier. But when Wanda wants to introduce her friends they’re nowhere to be found... until she eventually looks up! And the moral is ‘don’t be too quick to judge’ for once they get to know him, the alien became everyone else’s friend too! An altogether delightful book.
Gill Roberts

When Titus Took the Train Written by Anne Cottringer
Illustrated by Sarah McIntyre
Oxford University Press £5.99
Brilliant colours and a busy cartoon style prepare readers for a story that’s anything but dull. The book opens on a double page spread of Titus’ drawings of his escapades on the train – and he clearly had some great experiences! Yet the actual story starts calmly enough with a trip to the train station and waving his mother and father goodbye as he gets on board the train to travel out of the city. Then the fun starts. Through a series of vivid cartoon spreads, Titus saves the train from a series of unlikely adventures and ensures that the train arrives safely at its destination. Great to share with children as the journey is made wild and dangerous by Titus’s imagined adventures. There is plenty of scope for discussion about what is real and what is imagined. Lively and fun it also includes ideas for follow up drawing and other play activities.
Liz Dubber

The Boy who Cried Ninja Written and illustrated by Alex Latimer
Picture Corgi £5.99

Every time Tim tries to explain that it was a ninja who ate the last piece of cake or a giant squid which ate his homework, his family refuse to believe him. They keep sending him out into the garden to rake the leaves and think about what he’s done. Tim concludes that it’s probably better to lie and pretend that he is responsible for domestic disasters. Sadly this only earns him further leaf-raking and thinking duties. Tim then hits on the plan of luring the pirate, sun-burned crocodile, the time-travelling monkey (and the rest) to a party so that he can demonstrate his innocence. Confronted with proof that he was telling the truth, Tim’s family punish the real culprits (they are sent to the garden too) and Tim is vindicated. This is a slyly funny picture book which firmly allies itself with children against unimaginative parents. Its illustrations are nice and funky, making this an ideal picture book for a wider age range.
Stella Madden

Banana Skin Chaos Written and illustrated by Lilli L’Arronge
Bloomsbury £5.99
Little Hubert is not sure why he’s being scolded for dropping his banana skin! But such a thoughtless action can cause cumulative chaos if you really think about it! The sheer naughtiness of enjoying others’ predicaments makes it hilarious and the reminder that using our imagination can be fun, all the more subtle. This is a huge, wordless treat, brilliant for sharing and a valuable stimulus to many vital aspects of language and literacy development, not to mention the stimulus to actually ‘think’. There’s also a mischievous reminder that it’s not just children with banana skins who cause chaos. Note the drain cover! The artwork is brilliant in this thoroughly enjoyable book.
Gill Roberts

Little Grey Donkey Written by Nicole Snitselaar

Illustrated by Coralie Saudo
Top That Publishing £5.99

Little Grey Donkey lives on his own, on an island in the middle a vast sea and everyday a little girl, Serafina, comes to visit him. She brings him carrots and keeps him company and they play games together. But one day Serafina doesn’t arrive and the Little Grey Donkey waits in vain for her visit. Eventually he decides to go and look for her. His journey is far longer and more difficult than he had expected but he bravely continues along the narrow track. At the bottom he finds a small boat and remembering that Serafina has taken this journey every day, he swallows his fears and rows across the sea to her village.
This is a journey story; a story about the power of love and friendship and is told simply and effectively. The illustrations are bold blocks of warm colour and rounded shapes combined with the startling white of Mediterranean houses. There is a collage feel to the pages and the addition of numerous tiny thumbnail sketches of birds, insects and shells is effective and great fun to search for.
Louise Stothard

Sir Laughalot by Tony Mitton and Sarah Warburton
Orchard, £5.99 PB, 9781408302750
A tale of a knight who can’t stop chuckling, even in the face of apparent danger. Sir Laughalot comes up against a dragon, a giant and a witch, but each time finds something hilarious about his foe. Luckily the foes see the funny side too and the situation is diffused. Eventually he meets a giggly girl who loves to laugh as much as him and they live (very) happily ever after with their two chuckly twins. Told mostly in rhyming couplets, it has a pleasing pace and witty illustrations to match. Great for teaching kids to appreciate the funny side of life and to not take themselves or their would-be antagonists too seriously.

Sticky Ends Written by Jeanne Willis
Illustrated by Tony Ross
Andersen £9.99
When I was six or seven I was given a copy of Heinrich Hoffman’s Struwwelpeter. I was so upset by the book that it had to be hidden from me. What distressed me wasn’t just the fate of poor Suck-a-Thumb (The great tall tailor always comes / To little boys that suck their thumbs) but Struwwelpeter himself - that insane bird’s-nest of hair and foot-long fingernails - and the book’s general tone, stony-faced, iron-fisted, attritional, unforgiving, and not the slightest bit funny. These were cautionary verses with - literally - a vengeance.
The book, and my acute reaction to it, came to mind as I was reading Jeanne Willis’s characteristically racy contribution to the genre, Sticky Ends. The jokey title straightaway hints that we’re being offered a brighter, much less constricted universe than that of Hoffman’s verses. As I read about finding teeth and eyes in school dinners, about Icy Clare Who ran off in her underwear, and Lardy Marge who buttered everything Beyond the buns and bread, and also Filthy Frankie Who refused to use his hanky - I couldn’t help wondering whether, assuming there’d been an equivalent of Sticky Ends available when I was a child, I would have been allowed a copy.
I think the answer would have been no, for two reasons. Although we had books, we weren’t a bookish family; we wouldn‘t have known, for example, about Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children, in which he brilliantly and subtly undermines Hoffman. What’s more, we were precariously middleclass and always chasing that chimera Good Taste.
Sticky Ends, I’m relieved to say, is totally devoid of Good Taste. After all, even though accidents happen in the best-regulated families, nice girls do not run around in their underwear. Nor do polite boys sneeze so that the strings of goo / Shot from his nose like superglue. And as for Lardy Marge, she’d be on a crash course of Evian and lima beans.
By their very nature cautionary verses have morals rattling around in them like mottos in Christmas crackers, but, in truth, the moral content of Sticky Ends is seldom emphasised. Obviously it’s better to carry a hanky, wear your glasses if you need them (’Spec-Less Rex’), not pinch people (’Felicity Finch’), lay off the bubblegum (’Bubblegum Pete’), and be careful using the toilet in the dark (I have a sister who didn’t / Who had the most awful mishap; / A monster was using the toilet and … / My sister sat down on his lap! ’Don’t Go to the Bathroom’). The morals arise, self-evidently, from the contexts and Jeanne Willis is too much of an entertainer to want to spend time dwelling on them in her jaunty verses.
This is a joyful and highly recommendable book, and one that gives a well-deserved two-fingered salute to the angst-ridden stuff often dished out to older children. Tony Ross’s exuberant and colourful illustrations add to the general joie de vivre.
Chris Stephenson

Wanted; the Perfect Pet Fiona Roberton
Hodder £10.99
The story in this book is perfect for young children. Henry wanted a dog as his perfect pet and he advertises for one. A sad and very lonely duck reads the advert and disguises himself as a dog. Henry adores his dog but when the disguise falls to pieces he isn’t sure that he actually wants a duck as a pet. However, he eventually decides, after some research, that the duck will do!
A happy ending--yes, but it’s all a bit clinical. There is no emotion in the choice of the little, lonely duck as a pet.
The illustrations are humorous but they are not very colourful or appealing to young children. I think an adult would need to work quite hard to “sell” this book to a young child.
Patricia Thompson

Get Well Friends Written by Kes Gray

Illustrated by Mary McQuillan
Hodder £10.99
This is just the kind of book to appeal to young children. There are bright, humorous illustrations, with just enough detail to provoke discussion but not so much as to make them confusing. Children might however wonder why, at the end of the book the nurse who is dispensing the medicine is a little girl and not Nurse Nibbles who is the character introduced at the beginning of the book as the nurse!
The text is simple and repetitive and the naming of the animals with the same initial letter e.g.; Cynthia the centipede and Hamish the hamster- could lead to a game of naming other animals.
Patricia Thompson

The Animal Bop Just Won’t Stop! Created by Jan Ormerod and Lindsay Gardiner.
Hodder; £10.99
With bright, beautifully coloured illustrations, this book would be very attractive to young children. There is so much potential language that could be developed from them alone.Add the richness of the text and the rhythm and there is an even better book. The children are encouraged to move like all the different animals and sometimes to make their sounds.All in all, this is an attractive, “fun”, book.
Patricia Thompson

The Queen of France Written by Tim Wadham
Illustrated by Kady McDonald Denton
Walker £11.99
This is a charming story about role play and finding out about the love a family gives day-to-day. Rose wakes one morning feeling decidedly ‘royal’ and so, on dressing-up for the occasion, she becomes the Queen of France and goes to find Rose’s mother. Finding her in the garden planting rose bushes the ‘Queen’ pricks her finger but she rejects Rose’s mother’s offer of kisses and goes to find the ‘Royal Physician’. Finding only Rose’s father, who asks the ‘Queen’ to tell Rose that he has an exciting pirate bedtime story for her, the Queen of France returns to the house to become Rose. After putting a bandage on her finger and tidying her room Rose goes to find the Queen of France and so goes back to the dressing-up basket and jewellery box. Through switching roles between being just Rose and the Queen of France, Rose learns about the place where she is happiest, and that is with the loving parents who dote on her and not in a palace with servants.
A lovely warm story that’s accompanied by equally delightfully gentle illustrations that will make a lovely sharing book at bedtime.

Heather Blackham

I’m sure I saw a Dinosaur Written by Jeanne Willis

Illustrated by Adrian Reynolds

Andersen Press £10.99
The soft painterly and rich hues of the illustrations convey the atmosphere of the seaside town which is taken over by the news of a dramatic event - or not! The boy is sure he’s seen a dinosaur and that he was seen too so he runs to tell the townsfolk and they all rush to the seashore. The amusing rhyming text lists them all - the fisherman tells the butcher, the baker tells the vet and they arrive with all sorts of paraphernalia to catch a dinosaur and wait. The news spreads and the navy come, and the airforce, with tanks and divers, cannons and snares and search the sea until late but with no success. The little town is so busy with all the visitors and the boy’s Daddy sells lots of ice creams but the question remains. Was there really a dinosaur after all?
A book to entertain and keep everyone guessing and such fun to return to many times.
Louise Stothard

Naughty Toes Written by Ann Bonwill

Illustrated byTeresa Murfin

Oxford University Press £10.99

Trixie and her sister Belinda are thrilled to be going to ballet classes together. But in spite of jazzy hands and expressive body movements, everyone realises that Trixie will never become a ballet dancer. Happily, by the end of the book, she is still dancing but in a form that’s more her style. Breezy, chic pictures add energy and drama to this story which encourages everyone to follow their own individual talents - even if it’s very different from their siblings - and indeed, their own expectations.
Benjamin Scott

Welcome to Silver Street Farm Written and illustrated by Nicola Davies
Walker £3.99
The story of how three children start a city farm is a tadge far-fetched, but all the more entertaining for that. Gemma, Karl and Meera are engaging characters who become friends - and farm fans - on their first day at school. When they get the chance to fulfil their dream of starting a farm they soon run into opposition from the council. Fortunately there are helpful adults on hand - the local police force and the local DJ - so the resourceful children win through. This simple tale, first in a new series, has lots of young reader appeal, not least an array of eccentric farm animals. Paw-prints on every page and a good sprinkling of expressive line drawings complement the lively text, making it very accessible to inexperienced, young readers.
Julia Jarman

Alex Storm, Storm Rider Written an illustrated by Shoo Rayner
Orchard Books
978-1408302651 £3.99
Here is another fast-paced, exciting adventure for Axel Storm, the young man who lives an unusual life. His parents are both rock stars but their privileged life has its draw backs – unwanted press attention being one of them. But, for the moment, their main concern is the predicted thunder-storm which is due just when they about to hold a huge open air concert at Prairie Plains. They are very worried about losing money and disappointing their fans. Then a mysterious message about a top-secret plan to help arrives by balloon from Uncle Taylor. His parents are concerned that the press may find out about this but he is determined to find out more. The marvellous invention to keep the rain away doesn’t go exactly to plan and Axel finds himself in a very tricky situation but manages to save the day – and they get good press coverage too!
Great fun, with lively illustrations and ideal for emergent readers.
Louise Stothard

Shark Bait Written by Justin D’ath
A&C Black £5.99

Sam Fox finds himself in trouble while on holiday at the Great Barrier Reef. Together with his new friend Michi, they are swept away by a freak tidal wave, and the strong current carries them further out to sea. As night begins to fall the friends are alarmed to discover that they are not alone. Although this story is completely unbelievable, with the boys facing more peril in a few hours than most people face in a lifetime, it is great fun, fast paced and very exciting. Although they are unable to speak each other’s language, they use their imagination to make themselves understood. This adds to the tension as their delay in understanding brings them even closer to danger. This thrilling book is ideal for those, particularly boys, who think they don’t like reading.
Jane Hall

MOON PIE Written by Simon Mason David Fickling £10.99

Some time after after Mother’s death, when life had fallen into a more or less normal pattern something strange seemed to be going on. Dad was doing some very odd things – suggesting midnight picnics, disappearing unexpectedly, and spending lots of time in the garden shed. When Martha finally learns the truth – that her dad has become an alcoholic, and that their life is disintegrating, she takes action. This thoughtful family story deals with an all too common problem – parental alcoholism – in a realistic manner. Martha’s relationship with her younger brother and her search for her own identity as a budding actress add richness and humour to the novel.
Marianne Adey

Sam in the Spotlight Written by Anne-Marie Conway
Usborne £5.99

Sam in the Spotlight is a moving blend of love, friendship and family disarray. Sam is desperate to get the lead role in the Star-Makers’ latest play, but is up against stiff competition from her fellow thespians, and also her mother who is concerned that Sam’s school work is suffering as a result of her time with the drama group. Sam has further worries: no one will tell her why her sister has suddenly left home, what secret her is Dad hiding and now, after falling out over boys, she has lost her best friend. Anne-Marie Conway has, in the past, run a children’s drama group and her enthusiasm for this is obvious. Vivid characters and incidents - tension at auditions, excitement at dress rehearsals, things going wrong on the opening night - are handled sensitively with things sometimes getting worse before they get better and illustrating that life isn’t always straightforward. Sam’s pressures at home are well balanced by the fun of the Star-Makers Club, especially Arthur the caretaker’s attempts at romance.
Jane Hall

The Crowfield Demon Written by Pat Walsh
Chicken House £6.99
Short-listed for the Times Children’s Fiction Competition, Pat Walsh’s first book, The Crowfield Curse, set the pulse racing with it’s absorbing, sometimes terrifying, account of a young boy’s life in a fourteenth century abbey. It would be wise to read this before embarking on the latest novel, if only to absorb the flavour and fascinating detail of monastic life, and of William’s involvement in the Abbey’s story.
Our young protagonist is facing a new set of older, even darker questions requiring his attention: why is the Abbey building beginning to crumble? Why are things going so badly wrong with the religious order? What will William find beneath the floor of the side-chapel?
How will the forces of evil be confronted in Crowfield’s enclosed community?
I was, momentarily, concerned that the unravelling of the deepening mystery seemed to lean too heavily on the appearance of grim, ancient documents and characters with disturbing, magical abilities. Nevertheless, this is a powerful and successful addition to Crowfield’s story.
Jack Ousbey

Little Manfred Written by Michael Morpurgo
Illustrated by Michael Foreman
HarperCollins £12.99

This is a thought-provoking story that depicts the human side of the conflict of war. Whilst playing on the beach near their farm, Charley and her little brother Alex, along with their dog Manfred, meet two elderly, care-worn men, Walter and Marty, after Manfred disturbs the men’s walk. Walter and Marty’s initial irritation disappears when they learn Manfred’s name and how he came by it. To the children’s amazement Walter appears to know everything about Charley and Alex’s family. He tells them a moving story that crosses generations and demonstrates the strength of humanity that can exist between perceived enemies. It addresses how German prisoners of war often found friendship on enemy shores – even sometimes making England their home after the war. Set in 1966 at the time of the England v. Germany World Cup final, the story recounts the horrors of the war at sea during the Second World War. Told with Michael Morpurgo’s sensitivity and clarity, without over-sentimentality, this story beautifully illustrates how the past and its effects are always intertwined with the present – and consequently the future. Illustrations by Michael Foreman that tell a visual story in their own right successfully complement the narrative. The story is all the more poignant by being loosely based on true events - a wonderful tale that reveals the human casualties and survivors of war on both sides and so removes itself from the usual war-based rhetoric.
Heather Blackham

Night on Terror Island Written by Philip Caveney Andersen £5.99 978-1849392709

Kip is movie mad which is not surprising as he helps his Dad run the family’s struggling independent cinema. Prospects are gloomy until a mysterious stranger, the all-knowing Mr Lazarus, appears in response to an advert for a new projectionist. Unbeknownst to Kip’s Dad, Mr Lazarus brings his own equipment to the projection room, special equipment that can send people into films. At first it all seems like a bit of fun but when Kip’s annoying younger sister ends up in Terror Island, it’s up to Kip to rescue her before the final credits roll.

After a brief setup Night on Terror Island is full of intrigue and action, powering along without pause for breath. Both the mystery of Mr Lazarus’ background and the twists and turns of adventure, once the kids are trapped in the film, will keep readers turning the page. Told from Kip’s perspective in a fresh, authentic voice, the family relationships and wider friendships are believable and contribute to the tension when lives are at stake. With sequels no doubt on the way, this book would be perfect for reluctant readers, especially those that are more used to watching than reading stories.
Annalise Taylor

Mistress of the Storm Written by M L Welsh

David Fickling £6.99

From a mysterious opening to a thrilling climax, the pace of this book never slackens. Set in the little harbour town of Wellow, the plot develops little by little. The story is set in some indeterminate time where events from different times seem to occur but no-one seems to notice or comment . For example there are definite modern features such as secondary schools that have girls’ dinghy sailing teams and yet sailing ships from the last century appear, but no-one seems to find this unusual. There is even an attempt to wreck a sailing ship that is carrying gold bullion; it all adds to the mystery.
This is a classic tale of good versus evil, with a heroine who when we first meet her, seems like a very unlikely candidate for the nemesis of the cruel villain. It is a book that is very hard to put down—the end of every chapter leaves the reader desperate to read on. It is the perfect book for a young teenager who likes there mysteries set in what appears to be a normal everyday setting as opposed to a fantasy land.
Patricia Thompson

The Opposite of Amber Written by Gillian Philip
Bloomsbury £6.99

This is a strong story written on strong themes, and carries an explicit warning that it not suitable for younger readers. It is written as a first-person narration by Ruby. She is fifteen years old and lives with her older sister, Jinn. Their mother was knocked down and killed by a car while she was drunk. Now it’s just the two of them in a council house in a bleak, impoverished seaside town in Scotland. Ruby has always been the awkward one, reluctant to speak and uncomfortable with other people. She is struggling with her guilt about her part in a school-friend’s suicide attempt which has left him seriously disabled. Jinn has always been a kind of mother to Ruby, and she brings a sparkle to the life of everyone who knows her. She is a golden-haired golden girl, well loved and popular. That is, until she takes up with local bad boy Nathan Baird. Gradually the sparkle goes out of her as she tries save him from his drug addiction and life of crime. With heart-breaking clarity Ruby chronicles her sister’s abandonment of their home and her attempts to protect Ruby from the company she’s keeping and the choices she is making. But in a small town nothing is secret for long, and Ruby finds out about Jinn’s stealing and her work as a prostitute. Intertwined with the sister’s story is an account of a series of female murders, mostly of prostitutes. As the book progresses, the identity of the fifth murdered girl becomes all too clear. Though this book has its dark and painful moments, it is also a celebration of sisterly love and resilience. The sisters never stop caring about each other, and Jinn’s sparkle is never quite extinguished. She loves not wisely, but too well, and is loved in return. Her death is tragic, but not banal. Ruby emerges as tough, resourceful, fierce and still capable of love. She confronts her past and then sets her face to the future, determined to survive and thrive. This book is exceedingly well written, managing to avoid both sentimentality and easy stereotyping. It offers a challenging and compelling read for young (and old) adults.

Stella Madden

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Summer 2011 reviews: see magazine for more

When Baby Lost Bunny Written by Julia Jarman
Illustrated by Adrian Reynolds
Orchard £10.99

A family walk in the park — Mum, Dad, big brother, baby and Mr D the dog — plus baby’s brown bunny. Baby loses his bunny but no-one notices. In his efforts to talk and tell everyone about bunny, baby attracts a whole procession of animals who think that he is talking to each one of them. Fortunately, big brother eventually realises the problem and goes back to find the missing toy.
The cover is very inviting and offers lots of things to talk about, even before the book itself has been opened. Inside, the illustrations are big, bold, colourful and humorous. The limited text is clear, very rhythmic with plenty of good rhymes and some opportunities to predict what the rhyme might be when the end of the sentence is on the next page.
Pat Thomson

How Big is the Lion? Created by William Accorsi
Workman £11.99

This book works on two levels; it is basically a measuring book — a wooden ruler is supplied — but it also has bright clear illustrations and humorous rhyming text.
As an introduction to measurement, it goes straight to the heart of the matter. It uses standard measures and introduces the language of measurement such as larger, taller, wider, and begins to introduce the idea of problem solving ... Will this mouse of x cm fit into this hole of y cm? The ideas and activities are presented in a way that is very attractive and tempting to young children. It also has the potential to be a springboard for all sorts of other measuring and problem solving activities.
Pat Thomson

Whose Hat? Written by Fiona Munro
Illustrated by Jo Garden
Ladybird £5.99

Babies will try to turn chunky pages - they soon learn how books work - and this little one with sturdy, giant flaps will reward their effort. Bright shiny pictures and a fun rhyming text will appeal and, as they get a little older, they will be able to guess the friendly characters over the page.
Pat Thomson

Calling All Animals Written and illustrated by Matthew Porter
SimplyRead £5.99

A very distinctive board book with large-eyed, appealing images. As each page is turned a different animal is revealed - some in realistic shades, other familiar creatures in unexpected colours. Entertaining and playful it leads to some great guessing games. The book also introduces collective nouns for all the animals featured, guaranteed to cause giggles and much laughter with a paddling of ducks, a flamboyance of flamingos and an army of caterpillars!
Pat Thomson

Oh Boris! Written by Carrie Lewis
Illustrated by Tim Warns
Oxford University Press £5.99

A new animal in the class — a bear! Everyone has their own idea of what he would be like but no-one was prepared for Boris. Shy, and desperate to make friends, he was also huge and very scary! He was so big that he broke his chair when he sat on it and he was so scary that when he smiled it had quite the wrong effect — his teeth and claws were long and very sharp and his voice was incredibly loud. In fact, Boris had a very, very unhappy first day at school. However, on the way home Boris’ scariness was put to good use. Suddenly, he was a hero and his second day at school was perfect.
The illustrations are lively, fun and very expressive. The text itself is clear and well laid out so that the words and illustrations support each other and tempt nervous readers to have a go at joining in. There is a wonderful richness to the vocabulary which adds to the enjoyment of the story. The reader is enabled to empathise with both Boris and the other animals, so it is a bit of an emotional roller-coaster ride, but happily there is a very satisfactory ending.
Pat Thompson

Beautiful Oops!Created by Barney Saltzberg Workman £8.95
With a bright, humorous cover, this book is very appealing - tempting the reader to look inside to find brightly coloured attractive pages with lots of flaps to lift and pictures to look at and talk about. Promoting lots of discussion about mistakes and the creations that arise from them, this would be a perfect stimulus for any creative activity that could be shared between adult and child.

Picture Books

Ella Bella and Swan Lake Written and illustrated by James Mayhew
Orchard £10.99
James Mayhew’s Katie books are a brilliant introduction for children to the world of fine art, and here he’s turned his attention to the world of ballet. Taking the fable of Swan Lake as its basis, the book draws the reader in through the frame story Ella Bella, a little girl who is learning ballet. Ella Bella becomes our guide to Swan Lake as she steps through the portal of a musical box into the unfolding drama. We witness the trickery of the wicked sorcerer as he substitutes his own transformed daughter Odile, the black swan, for the Prince’s beloved white swan Odette. However, Odette and the Prince are allowed a happy ending in this version as true love triumphs over deception. The book, which is beautifully illustrated by the author, also gives information about the ballet’s history and how it is performed today.
Stella Madden

Jack's Fantastic Voyage Written and illustrated by Michael Foreman
Andersen (R) £5.99

Jack stays with his grandfather in an old house by the sea. The house is made of wood and looks a bit like a beached boat. Inside it is full of the most wonderful carvings and paintings - birds and fishes, scenes of wild seas and shipwrecks. These are his grandfather's memories of travels at sea. But has the old man really sailed the oceans and walked upon tropical islands? Jack's friends think that his grandad is crazy and they tease him when he says he believes the 'mad pictures' are of real places. But one stormy night when Jack is listening to another tall tale, he suddenly finds himself steering the ship out towards the misty lighthouse and through a sea of ice. Perhaps the old man isn't so mad after all. A great story to tell young boys before bed, with plenty of evocative watercolours to add to the atmosphere.
Richard Monte

When Martha’s Away Written and illustrated by Bruce Ingman
Walker £5.99
This is the book that reveals just what cats get up to when their owners are away. Those pet owners who think their pet curls up and snoozes o the window sill waiting their return are sorely mistaken, as Martha discovers. Lionel has a busy life - he enjoys listening to the radio, painting and reading the newspaper to be up-to-date with current affairs. He entertains his neighbours, phones his cousin and generally has a very full day. The highlight is his afternoon piano concert but you must read he book to find out more.
Bruce Ingman’s bold and colourful illustrations, with the clever use of colour and shape which indicate character and mood rather than detail it, are full of atmosphere. The language too is understated and apt and convey’s Lionel’s delight in duping all cat owners who should be warned of a surprise.
Louise Stothard

George and the Ghost Written by Cariona Hoy
Illustrated by CassiaThomas
Hodder £5.99

George and Ghost have been friends for a long time but suddenly George doesn’t believe in Ghost any more — he isn’t real! Ghost asks him to prove it, and by a series of ‘experiments’ George proves that because Ghost has no weight, takes up no space and cannot be seen, he is NOT real! So Ghost departs — suitcase in hand, leaving them both very sad! However, he does not give up without a struggle and soon returns with some good ideas to prove that just because things cannot be weighed, don’t take up any space or cannot be seen, does not mean that they do not exist. The story is a wonderful mix of humour and pathos and gives a lovely possibility for children and adults to talk about what is real and not real and what is important about friendship.
Pat Thomson

When Martha’s Away by Bruce Ingman
Walker £5.99
978 1 4063 2960 5

This is THE book that reveals just what cats get up to when their owners are away. Those cat lovers who think their pets curl up and snooze on the window sill waiting for their return are sorely mistaken, as Martha discovers. Lionel has a busy life – he enjoys listening to the radio, painting and reads the newspaper to be up to date with current affairs. He entertains his neighbours, phones his cousin and generally has a very full day. The high-light is his afternoon piano concert but you must read this book to find out more.
Bruce Ingman’s bold and colourful illustrations with the clever use of colour and shape which indicate character and mood rather than detail it, are full of atmosphere. The language too is understated and apt and conveys Lionel’s delight in duping all cat owners who should be warned of a surprise!
Louise Stothard

Mischief in the forest – a yarn yarn by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan
PMPress £10.99

This is an American picture book about Grandma Johnson who spends her days happily knitting for her grandchildren in her house in the forest. But ‘sometimes she felt just a little bit lonely’ with no neighbours nearby.
When Grandma returns from a visit to see her grandchildren in the city, she finds her yarn (knitting wool) store has been raided, and the yarn hung in strands all over the forest. Venturing into the forest to find out who has done this, she discovers the creatures who are her neighbours – bears, rabbits, racoons, birds etc. She gets to know them and opens up her house to them. Later her grandchildren visit and are inspired to look for their own wild neighbours when they return to the city. And so this book promotes an environmental message about the diversity of nature that is just outside our doors, wherever we may live.
The story reads well and was enjoyed by the two year old I shared it with, although the spellings, language and animals are all American. The illustrations are bold, clear and colourful, and support the story well, yet the book lacks that magical element which makes the best picture books unforgettable.
Liz Dubber

Reading Alone

Mr Gum and the Secret Hideout Written by Andy Stanton
Illustrated by David Tazzyman
Egmont £5.99
Warning! Health hazard! Don’t read this book when eating! What is that horrible smell? It’s them, those old Blisters Mr Gum and Billy Williams the Third shovelling entrails, turkey necks and horses’ legs into a furnace in their Brilliant Secret Hideout. “It’s got everythin’’! Rats! Cockroaches! Pipes what drip slime everywhere!” muses Mr Gum, reclining on a grubby sofa, until he is startled by a joyous cry and up pops Surprising Ben! And there’s Polly, Friday O’Leary and other funky inhabitants of Lemonic Bibber too, and has the Spirit of the Rainbow just passed this way? But enoughs! Clouds are falling on heads and action is called for so Polly and Frides set up the Department of Clouds and Yogurts to investigate. Meanwhile, Old Granny is taking her usual sip of sherry from her six-mile long straw, Crazy Barry Fungus thinks he’s a chaffinch and who is Nimpy Windowmarsh, I hear you cry! All you naughties out there, go and get this book AT ONCE as this is the daftest
Valerie Bierman

The Pasta Detectives Written by Andreas Steinhofel
Illustrated by Steve Wells
Chicken House £5.99
Charming, funny and exciting, this book’s hero is Rico - a child proddity meaning he thinks an awful lot but needs a lot of time to figure things out!. He is a lonely child, so when he meets Oscar, himself a child prodigy, and also very lonely, they become instant friends. At the time they meet their hometown is being terrorised by Mr 2000 who kidnaps children for a ransom. When Oscar disappears Rico, fearing the worst, sets out to find him. With genuine characters, especially Rico with his vivid imagination and simple, yet wise, world-view, beautifully complemented by gifted Oscar who is sadly terrified of almost everything, the tension builds. Written in the first person by Rico, the reader experiences the world through his eyes and empathises with his frustrated thoughts on modern language. Sensitively handled the story of Mr 2000, and possible abduction, avoids becoming unsettling as the reader is encouraged to spot the clues slightly ahead of Rico, thus urging him along on his investigations.
Jane Hall

Take Me Home. Tales of Battersea Dogs Written by Melissa Wareha
RedFox £5.99
978 1 849 41392 3
Melissa was always desperate to work with dogs and her first job was as kennel cleaner at Battersea Dogs’ Home. Despite getting most things wrong at first (including sitting on the head vet’s dog at interview) a combination of (often smelly) hard work, boundless enthusiasm and dogged persistence helps her win through.
Unusually unsentimental, she learns how to handle different breeds, personalities and illnesses in the dogs she encounters, many of their problems caused by neglect, cruelty or, surprisingly, spoiling by their owners. She tells amusing and at times pathetic stories of particular dogs and their lives, showing how retraining and firm but caring handling can make life much happier for both families and their pets.
When a favourite Labrador had been lovingly cleaned, groomed and trained to meet the Queen, a doggy diarrea meant a frantic clean – up and a substitute dog to be produced even as HM waited. The resulting Monarch – dog meeting (ED- P72) shows the spruced – up stray mongrel , eyes closed, snuggling adoringly into the Queen’s leg as if he were her own. A most unusual, funny, honest book which makes plain the problems and rewards of working with animals and, at times, their owners to help both have happy, rewarding lives. Super photographs and fact – files, too.
Tina Massey

Magicalamity Written by Kate Saunders
Scholastic £6.99
Tom wakes to find his parents gone and an odd old woman rummaging in his kitchen who claims to be Lorna Mustard, his fairy godmother. If that isn’t mad enough, he’s told that he’s a demi-sprite; half human, half fairy. His father is a wanted fairy on the run and they must flee, too, when Lorna can get her magic wings to work…
Local taxi driver and, it turns out, genie, Abdul offers the help of his magic carpet as they set off to find his other two, even odder fairy godmothers. Flighty Iris Moth runs a public school for ladylike thieves and Dahlia Peaseblossom inventively recycles her rich ex husbands as personal slaves, both to their own considerable advantage.
Dad, now a bat, and Mum, a sun – dried tomato, can’t help much. Tom needs to enter the fairy realm to save his father from a murder charge, though he knows his enemies, the powerful Falconer family, are waiting for him to do just that in order to accuse and eliminate him.
Inventive, funny, fast- moving and highly readable, this is a surprisingly realistic fantasy exploring very current themes of corrupt government and the nature of resistance movements.
Tina Massey

Jiggy’s Magic Balls Written by Michael Lawrence
Orchard £5.99

Jiggy McCue’s parents buy him an unusual birthday present Genetic Investigations in Time, a way of tracing ancestors via DNA. Jiggy is less than impressed, even when presented with evidence of his fifteenth century self, a peasant boy working for nothing for Sir Bozo de Beurk, a hapless knight. Although his toil goes unappreciated, he nevertheless tries to protect his master from the evil Merlin, Sir Bozo’s mortal enemy. Fast moving and funny, Jiggy has to use his wits to get the better of his ungrateful master and the double-crossing Merlin, whilst also uncovering the hilarious truth behind the myth of King Arthur.
Jane Hall

Reading with Confidence

Saxby Smart’s Detective Handbook Written by Simon Cheshire
PiccadillyPress £6.99
978-18481 0860
This is a neat and accessible handbook about detectives and the solving of crimes. It starts with a summary of notable true crime stories including tales of smugglers, highwaymen, Jack the Ripper, Bonnie and Clyde, and The Great Train Robbery, among others. This is followed by a summary history of detection in the UK and USA, with an introduction to forensics. The book then covers crime fiction, analysing what makes a good detective story, and providing an overview of famous fictional detectives. Finally there is a ‘do it yourself’ section on how to be a brilliant detective, with exercises and tips on how to investigate a crime, how to weigh up evidence, and how to avoid well known con tricks. At the end is a graphical display showing bookshelves of recommended reading.
This is a great little book that is easy to dip in to and fun to read. It can be used as a reference guide to notorious crimes from history, as well as a stimulus to explore crime fiction. It is written in a light style, but is honest in showing the results of violence and in no way condones crime.
Liz Dubber

Philippa Fisher and the Stone Fairy’s Promise
Written by Liz Kessler
Illustrated by Katei May
Published by Orion £9.99

Mix together a mystery, magic and fairies, friendship, loyalty and a quest and you have all the ingredients of this enjoyable story. Philippa and her parents are spending New Year at the house they rented In the Summer, which means that Philippa can meet up again with her new best friend Robyn. The girls are delighted to be together after their Summer adventures and soon realise that the holiday is not going to be quiet and boring.
Philippa soon has strange encounters with a mouse with blue eyes and a strange old lady and is startled to discover that in fact it is her Fairy God-Sister Daisy, trying to warn her that something dreadful may happen to her Mother unless Philippa and Robyn can prevent it. Thankfully the girls are able to keep her safe but Daisy is in dreadful trouble. Fairies are not allowed meddle in human affairs unless authorised.
As Philippa tries to help her Fairy God-Sister and ends up ATC (Above The Clouds) whilst Daisy is stuck on earth, everything gets very complicated and they learn that there is a far more serious problem to be solved. Robyn is enlisted to help and the three girls are tasked to prevent the closure of the portals between the two worlds and rescue the Stone Fairy who has disappeared. The girls’ loyalty and friendship is tested sorely but together they are able to save the day.
This is a lively tale with snapshot ink illustrations which embellish the various scrapes the girls get themselves into on their quest. This is the third in the Philippa Fisher series.
Louise Stothard

Call To War Written by Adam Blade
OrchardBooks £5.99
The good people of Avantia are under threat from annihilation as Lord Derthsin’s armies swarm the land. The evil lord wants the mask of death and once he has it he will be unstoppable. Now he is close, he possesses two of the pieces and knows where the next is. However, all is not lost. Three brave chosen ones ride three of the five beasts of Avantia against Derthsin’s evil and they search for the third piece of the mask so that Derthsin will not possess it. Each chapter title is accompanied by a fantastic illustration that gives a sneaky peak into the chapter to come. This third book in The Chronicles of Avantia series, which precededs The Beast Quest series, tells the story of Avantia before Tom fought to free the beasts. A younger audience (sevens to elevens) would be swept away by this magnificent novel and would be there, battling and riding beasts along the way, to save Avantia.
Owen Roberts


Buried Thunder Written by Tim Bowler
Oxford University Press £12.99

Maya, the central character in this story, spends a lot of time breathing hard, listening carefully, observing shadows, seeing yellow eyes staring at her, and being frightened by scratching noises. There is a fair amount of scratching to begin with, followed by growling and scrabbling and some creaking and shuffling sounds. In addition Maya has to sort out her relationships with a large cast of bizarre characters.
There is Briony, a brusque, unpredictable girl, guardian of Mo, a big bumbling boy who keeps disappearing. Zep is a wild, heavily tattoed shaven-headed youth who spends a lot of time running naked through the forest, taunting Maya with erotic references to his body before hiding himself in carvings sculpted in the tree trunks. We also meet Milly, Roxy and Jake who work in the kitchen of The Rowan Tree hotel (recently bought by Maya’s parents). In addition there is a heavy police presence; two doctors - one of whom seems to have psychiatric training; several foxes, some alive, some decapitated, and, here and there, supine bodies poisoned, perhaps with a concoction of wild berries. Oh, and Crystal who pops up just in time to help unravel the complicated plot.
At no point did I feel threatened or anxious about this hocus-pocus but the story will appeal to those readers who are looking for secret compartments, loose floorboards and ghostly emanations.
Jack Ousbey

Velvet Written by Mary Hooper
Bloomsbury £9.99
Mary Hooper’s latest book ’Velvet’ is an exciting, romantic, historical novel set in the murky world of Victorian spiritualism. It had me hooked from the very first chapter ‘In which Velvet Faints, and gains a New Position in the Laundry’.
We are transported to London at the turn of the century to experience life with a young working girl, our heroine Velvet, who struggles to survive the back-breaking regime of a Victorian steam laundry. When Velvet accidentally damages an expensive garment in her care, rather than ending up on the streets, she has an unexpected change of fortune when she is asked to go and work for one of her customers, the glamorous clairvoyant Madam Savoya. The reader will worry about the engagingly naïve and trusting Velvet, who does not (to begin with) see the deception and dishonesty that is central to the shadowy world of the medium she works for When she does eventually begin to realize the truth she finds herself in terrible danger.
There is enough historical research here to be interesting and give a good sense of time and place, but not too much to slow down the plot. ‘Velvet’ has a good pace, is immensely readable and has a very satisfying conclusion.
Gill MacDonald

Finding Sky Written by Joss Stirling
Oxford University Press £6.99
Sky and Zed are both savants, though Sky does not know her own powers when they meet. They are destined to fall in love, but their lives are in danger. In this weird mash of fantasy, teen romance and Jack Higgins-style adventure, Sky must discover who she is and what dark secrets lurk in her past while, at the same time, allying her powers with those of Jed and his family to fight the evil criminal gang who are using an unknown savant to betray them. There is genuine suspense and poignancy in the mix.
Yvonne Coppard

Heartless Dark Written by JP Buxton
Hodder £ 5.99
Tog is High King of Britain, but he rules over a fragmented and tribal country. What power he had is fading and mostly it’s his own fault. When Jenna, his queen, is kidnapped, Tog leave his kingdom to find her again. As a parallel to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Tog embarks on a long river journey through the wildly exciting and strange landscape of dark ages Britain – where Roman and even more ancient beliefs still linger - to learn about himself as well as his foe, the mysterious Kurtz-like Dragon. Only then does he learn that Dragon is lusting after the secret power of the ancient symbols tattooed on Jenna’s skin. In spite of the cover, both boys and girls will equally enjoy this well-crafted expedition to the ancient lands first visited in I Am The Blade.
Benjamin Scott

Flip Written by Martyn Bedford.
Walker £7.99
This is not the first time that a fictional character has woken up in someone else’s body (Freaky Friday, The Switch) but unlike those predecessors Martyn Bedford doesn’t play the situation for laughs. Rather he has created a tense page turner that keeps the reader wondering what will happen next. Alex may to all appearances have become Phillip, or Flip to his friends, inhabiting the stranger’s life as well as body, but he never accepts the change. Throughout the book he struggles, first to discover the truth about his transformation and then to decide how to act. He continues to be troubled by the question of what defines him – the way he looks, his talents, his thoughts or ultimately his soul – if such a thing exists. His unbelievable predicament causes Alex to feel isolated, forced to make difficult decisions based on what he needs to do rather than what is expected of him. However Bedford has managed to present the situation in such a way that the reader not only believes but roots for Alex till the very end. Overall the book manages to be both fast paced and thought provoking – much like Alex and Flip.
Annalise Taylor

The Cabinet of Curiosities Written by Paul Dowswell
Bloomsbury £6.99
Emperor Rudolph II Habsburg, leader of the Holy Roman Empire between 1576-1612, was well known for the collection of curiosities he had housed in a specially built wing of Prague Castle. The collection included clocks, astrolabes, gemstones, stuffed animals, paintings, swords, books, minerals... anything which the eccentric ruler could get his hands on in a bid to understand the ever expanding world in all its complexities. It is this hobby which provides the inspiration for Paul Dowswell's latest historical novel. Invited to work for his uncle Anselmus Declercq, the emperor's physician, young Lukas soon finds himself drawn into a world of intrigue. The new-found 'freethinking' philosophy of the court, is at odds with the Catholic traditions of parts of the empire - most notably Spain. It is not long before the young man uncovers a dangerous plot designed to get rid of the emperor. Even his uncle's reputation is at risk. Engaging and well researched, this book paints a vivid picture of the period between the Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution.
Richard Monte

Lunatics and Luck Written by Marcus Sedgewick
Illustrated by Peter Williamson
Orion £5.99
The third book in the wonderfully entertaining Raven Mysteries series set in Castle Otherhand – home of the ‘slightly’ weird Otherhand family. Valevine, in a break from creating his fantastic but ultimately useless contraptions and experiments declares that his children – gorgeous gothic Solstice and nice but dim Cudweed – need some education in their lives. By an amazing coincidence the very next day a travelling ‘educationalist’, Mr Brandish, knocks at the castle door and offers his services. But with his arrival the castle staff begin to fall victim to a series of unfortunate events and Fellah, the pet monkey, is acting distinctly odd. What is the secret that the teacher is trying to hide? Why is he so hairy and what does he keep in that huge wooden trunk? Solstice and Cudweed – ably assisted by their feathered friend Edgar (who tells the story) – strive to get to the bottom of the mystery. Marcus Sedgwick’s relaxed humourous style coupled with Peter Williamson’s wonderful pictures creates a quirky feeling redolent of The Addams Family meets Professor Branestawm. Brilliant fun!
Heather Blackham

Teen Reads
Siren Written by Tricia Rayburn
Faber £6.99
978-057126006 5
Seventeen year old Vanessa has always trailed in the wake of her daredevil sister Justine. Then Justine is found dead at the bottom of nearby cliffs and her boyfriend Caleb goes missing. Her shocked family tries to carry on as normal, remaining in the city while Vanessa returns to their Maine summer cottage to try to make sense of her sister’s death
There’s a strong sense of the American Atlantic seaboard, the attractive surfer lifestyle and the people who collect about the Winter Harbour Café. There Vanessa works, trying to uncover the mystery at the heart of the novel. She and Simon, Caleb’s brother are very convincing characters whose tentative relationship begins to meld, despite the families’ tragedies. Both need to know what happened to cause the death of a sister and disappearance of a brother. There’s also a strong undertow of menace. Violent local storms are unleashed as more and more men are washed up drowned, at the base of the cliffs, each wearing a ghastly grin. What secret are the silver-eyed girls of the café family hiding?
A summer-reading relationship story turns into a fantasy- horror, with sequels to come. Oddly compelling and vividly memorable reading for thirteen up
Tina Massey

Out for Blood Written by Alexandra Harvey
Bloomsbury £6.99
978-1408807064 Buffy meets Twilight in this dark and gutsy fantasy. Hunter Wild is a teenage girl majoring in vampire slaying at the Helios Ra Academy. Quinn Drake is a dishy bloodsucker from one of the most established vampire families. Luckily the Drakes are the good vampires but there are plenty of bad ones like the mindless, feral Hel-Blar. Hunter and Quinn are forbidden fruit to one other and, as might be expected, develop a mutual attraction.
Their blossoming friendship takes place against a dark conspiracy. Vampires are becoming more hostile while students at the Academy succumb to a mysterious illness. Events force Hunter and Quinn together and before long they are a perfect fighting team. Can they stop the bad guys and overcome the obstacles to true love?
Out for Blood is an easy-to-read, pacy thriller. The large cast of characters are sympathetic and convincing. The prose is tight and scattered with enough contemporary references to make today’s teens feel right at home. Plenty of stake-wielding, high-kicking, fang-flashing action, alongside the love interest, that will appeal to fans of the supernatural romance genre. This is book three in the Drake Chronicles and more are on the way!
Ian Douglas

Bruised Written by Siobhán Parkinson
Hodder £5.99

Jonathan, the “hero” of this book is 14 years old and has reluctantly taken upon himself the responsibility for the care of his 8 year old sister Julie and of his drunken and irresponsible mother, who has been left in sole charge of the children since the departure of their father. In fact his mother needs more care than Julie! For example, Jonathan has had to find ingenious, yet devious, ways to remind his mother that is today that she needs to collect her dole money so that they can all eat and be warm—unless she drinks it way first!
After a particular incident when Julie is badly injured by Mum, Jonathan and Julie decide to run away. It sounds very simple to them and they think there will be no problem in going across Ireland to find their absent father.
Of course it isn’t that easy and before long the Garda are on their trail. However it isn’t because Mum has reported them missing... To say more would reveal the incredible twist at the end of the story! This, not always cheerful, story is very difficult to put down. The reader is drawn into the resolution of Jonathan’s problem and needs to know how it will be resolved.
Yvonne Coppard

Entangled Written by Cat Clarke
Quercus £6.99

Grace is a 17 year old sixth-former with a lot of problems. When she appears to wake up in a totally white room, with no recollection of how she got there, she (and we), suspect she has been kidnapped. Ethan, her cool and handsome jailer, supplies paper and pens and through her writing we witness Grace’s confused life, her father’s suicide and her own self-harming.
Slowly Grace emerges as a mixed up teenager, falling in and out of love, showing frequent flashes of anger and frustration, and mismanaging a poor relationship with her widowed mother. Eventually we understand Grace’s situation, but there’s no easy resolution despite the hint of a positive future.
This is an emotionally challenging read. The friendships are intense and passionate. There is frank discussion of sex, a pregnancy and abortion, and some strong swearing. The story is compelling as we struggle to understand Grace’s captivity, yet the constant bickering of the reported dialogue is draining and occasionally irritating. This is a book for older teenagers - its subject matter, language, and the emotional stamina required by the reader make it less suitable for younger readers.
Liz Dubber

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

We are all born free

Now Frances Lincoln have produced a mini edition of this fine picture book celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Illustrated by children's illustrators from across the world including Chris Riddell, Jackie Morris, John Burningham, Peter Sis, Frane Lessac, Satoshi Kitamura and Jane Ray. The wording of the Declaration has been reduced to the clearest, simplest interpretation by Amnesty International and underlines the importance of the act making it clear to the youngest child and reinforcing the message to adults. £5,99 isbn 9781847801517
Enid Stephenson

Friday, 11 March 2011

Review Roundup March 2011

A Bit Lost Written and illustrated by Chris Haughton,
Walker £11.99
Little Owl falls from the nest in this stylish picture book. Luckily a pink squirrel and a blue frog are on hand to help him on his quest to find Mummy.
The terror of getting lost! Any small child can identify with this predicament. Indeed, Little Owl represents the frightened infant in all of us and his short, simple story will engage readers of all ages. The minimal text lends itself to reading aloud and would make an enjoyable bedtime story.
The strength is in the illustrations. The pictures are clear and uncluttered. The colour scheme of gold, blue and orange creates a strangely foreign air. The characters are realised with eye-catching simplicity. Little Owl tugs at the hearts strings. Squirrel and Frog are almost modern art by design. As for Blue Bear, filling a page all by himself in the middle of the book, you’ll want to take him home.Little Owl’s tumble itself is depicted with clever sleight of hand, using a half page cut. However this is the only gimmick in the book. Which is a relief, because this story doesn’t need any.
Ian Douglas

Well Done, Dougal Written and illustrated by Benedict Blathwaite
Red Fox £5.99
ISBN: 978-1849410403_
This shows Dougal the yellow digger working hard beside the harbour with his gang of workmen. A group of children nearby go out to sea on a fishing boat but get marooned on a sandbank at low tide. The men hitch a rope to Dougal, who pulls their boat free and the children return safely to shore.
A simple short story with bold illustrations and numerous details for young children to enjoy. There’s plenty for adults to point out and share, which take the reading far beyond the immediate story. There are opportunities to name and count the seashells, seagulls and all sorts of other details in the pictures. Two undersea pictures provide a further chance for discussion, although some young children may find the sudden change of perspective quite difficult to understand.
Liz Dubber

Grub in Love Written by Abi Burlingham
Illustrated by Sarah Warburton
Piccadilly £5.99
The course of true love never did run smooth, at least not for Grub, the hero of this lovely book. There are new neighbours for Ruby and Tilly but neither is happy. Ruby doesn’t like boys and so is very unhappy about Billy. Grub does not like Tilly, Billy’s dog … at least not at the beginning of the story! Life is simple for humans - they can talk to each other but for dogs it is more difficult when their owners do not even let them play together. Fortunately for Grub and Tilly, it all ends happily
The book scores well in all areas; the cover is attractive and enticing, the illutratrations are clear and humorous and there is lots of rhythm and repetition. It is a book that can be enjoyed by adults and children sharing or by developing independent readers.
Patricia Thompson

Rabbit Pie Written by Penny Ives
Illustrated by Gerald Rose
Child’s Play £5.99
On first looking at this book, I did hesitate a moment, wondering if my first thoughts about the front and back covers could really be true! Title? Rabbit Pie, an illustration of lots of rabbits which usually go into a rabbit pie and a synopsis which reads, making a rabbit pie can be tiring, especially if the ingredients won’t sit still! However, open the book and read on and a different and delightful scenario emerges! The text is written as a recipe but with completely different outcomes to a conventional rabbit pie. It is a lovely story of bedtime in the rabbit household, using simple words and comprehensive illustrations. It offers lots of opportunities for observation and discussion between adults and children
Patricia Thompson

Goodnight Tiptoe Written and Illustrated by Polly Dunbar
The latest in Polly Dunbar’s Tilly and Friends series, Goodnight Tiptoe is a bedtime story. Everyone in the little yellow house is ready to sleep, everyone except Tiptoe. As Tilly gets on with the bedtime routines, putting Pru the chicken’s rollers in, brushing Doodle the crocodile’s teeth, Tiptoe just cannot settle down, not even after a bedtime story and lullaby. But in the end it is Tiptoe that comforts Tilly as they snuggle down together.This is a cosy book. The characters are beautifully drawn, with gentle lines and colours that create a warm atmosphere that parents of toddlers will be drawn to. The simple text moves the story along with plenty of dialogue. And if even Tiptoe can eventually settle for the night, perhaps anyone can.
Annalise Taylor

IRIS AND ISAAC Written and illustrated by Catherine Rayner Little Tiger Press £10.99
Two polar bears have a squabble and walk off in opposite directions. Iris sees a flock of Eiders fly by, but there is no one to share this wonderful sight with. Isaac watches two Arctic foxes playing in the snow. What a pity Iris isn’t there to see them. Can the two patch up their differences? A young audience will appreciate the large, expressive illustrations that tell a gentle but powerful story.
Marianne Adey

Wasim One-Star Written by Chris Ashley
Illustrated by Kate Pankhurst
Francis Lincoln (R) £5.99
ISBN 978-847801081
These Wasim books were published in 1997, first came out in paperback in 2007 and it’s understandable why they’re reprinted. They’re great for newly confident readers and totally relevant to children in schools today.Wasim (One-Star) is mortified to be sent from the poolside during a school swimming session and not be able to earn his certificate. It’s so true that children don’t always listen and it’s also true that adults sometimes misjudge. However, all ends well and Wasim is ‘one’ very real ‘star’.
The fact that often these days, some children have a first language other than English, can have serious consequences when their understanding of a situation cannot be assured and should not be assumed.Wasim is a Muslim, but this is never the main storyline though Ramadan is part of the storyline in Wasim’s Challenge. Central to the Wasim books generally, is suspense, action, a sense of injustice that needs addressing and Chris Ashley’s obvious vast experience of managing groups of children who are completely individual and not always understood. Great books in an accessible format.
Gill Roberts

Ella Bella Ballerina and Cinderella Written and illustrated by James Mayhew
Orchard Books £5.99
ISBN 978-1846162992
Ella Bella hurries to Ballet Class only to discover she’s a ballet shoe short. Reassuringly, the wonderful Madame Rosa bids her “Don’t worry darling”, tells her she reminds her of Cinderella, they dance to the Cinderella Ballet music from the special magical music box and Madame Rosa tells Cinderella’s story. Ella Bella is so totally entranced, she lives and dances the Cinderella experience herself, true to Prokofiev’s interpretation of the original story by Charles Perrault. And the inspiring Madame Rosa comments that ‘Ella’ Bella even shares her name.
This book is beautifully created and is educational in the best possible way. You’re left wanting to source the music for yourself and read through the book again. Magic!
Gill Roberts

Cows in Action ‘The Moo-lympic Games Written and illustrated by Steve Cole
Red Fox £4.99
This is a ridiculously funny book based on a ridiculously funny concept. The CIA - Cows in Action - travel through time fighting the evil FBI - Fed-up-Bull-Institute. They want to pervert history for their own evil ends. In this pacey adventure they are in Ancient Greece where ultra-tough ter-moo-nators are threatening not just to take over the games but the whole world, replacing humans with wicked ox-athletes. Confused? I was, but it all works out in this meticulously plotted, wittily written, joke-laden romp through time. There are plenty of black-and-white cartoon style pictures to entertain and aid understanding. It’s perfect stuff for lads who may well learn a thing or two about Ancient Greece too.
Julia Jarman

Skulduggery Pleasant Mortal Coil Written by Derek Landy
HarperCollins £12.99
2010 has been a wonderful year for Skulduggery Pleasant fans, with two books being published. The fifth book in the series, Mortal Coil, is bigger, better, funnier and most definitely darker than ever. Valkyrie is struggling to come to terms with her dark secret which she keeps to herself, fearing that her friends would feel compromised if they found out. Meanwhile, the Remnants are on the loose, so for most of the book you are kept guessing as to who really are the good guys. There are fight scenes galore, written with such skill and enthusiasm that you feel breathless just reading them. The familiar wisecracking banter between Skulduggery and Valkyrie and just about everyone else is also present. Add to that the budding romance between Valkyrie and Fletcher and there is literally something for everyone. Landy has the knack of making the unbelievable totally believable and once again proves that he is not afraid to say goodbye to familiar faces, making his books so thrilling. As fans know each book ends with a cliff hanger; this one is no exception and maybe the most frightening one of all. A must read for everyone! Roll on September 2011.
Jane Hall

I’d tell you I love you, but then I’d have to kill you. Written by Sally Carter
Orchard Books £5.99
ISBN: 978-1408309513
Gallagher Academy is known as a posh school for rich heiresses; but it’s really a school for geniuses, and a training ground for spies! Fifteen-year-old Cameron (Cammie) Morgan has a particular reason to study hard – her mother is the headmistress and her father has recently been killed on an assignment.
In this fourth Gallagher Academy adventure, Cammie and her friends are sent out beyond the school gates on a practical covert operations challenge. While she’s out Cammie meets and falls for a local boy. She can’t reveal the secret of her school, and life gets complicated as she tries to balance her love life with the serious demands of her schooling.
This is a fast paced adventure story, told with more than a hint of humour. The girls are forever using their wits and intelligence to manoeuvre their way through the challenges the school sets for them. The plot twists and turns with a lightness of touch and short chapters keep the whole story on the move. Cliff-hangers are used with skill to keep the reader interested. This is a great portrayal of relationships and loyalties between school friends, and makes an entertaining read likely to be enjoyed by younger teenagers.
Liz Dubber

Trash Written by Andy Mulligan
Published by David Fickling Books £10.99
Trash is a thrilling read for young teens, set in a highly unusual location. Raphael is 14-years-old, living in the slum that scrapes its living from the town rubbish dump. Every day he dreams of finding something valuable that will take his family and friends away from squalor and poverty. Then one day he finds a bag containing money, a letter and a key and his life changes forever. In Raphael, Garda and Rat, Andy Mulligan has created three extraordinary boys, all based in part on children he met while teaching in India and the Philippines. They are engaging, being at once clever, imaginative and rather devious in their bid to uncover the truth. The boys take turns at narrating their adventures, each with a distinctive, individual voice. Trash is written with real passion for the location and empathy for the characters, and the vivid descriptions make them both feel very real to the reader. The book contains plenty of suspense and there is excitement on every page, with just enough social comment to prompt children to think about the lives of others, without being heavy handed. A thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking book.

The Secret Garden Written by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Illustrated by Robert Ingpen
Templar £14.99
It is one hundred years since the publication of The Secret Garden, and Templar Publishing has celebrated this anniversary by issuing a new edition full of evocative illustrations by award winning artist Robert Ingpen. The images are suggestive rather than photographic, leaving plenty of space for a child’s imagination to fill in the gaps. Botanical studies head each chapter, building a sense of the plants that the children nurture in the garden beyond the wall.
Burnett’s story is as powerful as ever – the tale of two bruised, objectionable children and their journey to wholeness through the healing power of nature. Mary, an orphan living with her invalid cousin Colin, slowly learns about kindness through people who love nature; Ben the gardener and Dickon, not much older than herself but an animal charmer. She pulls Colin into this world and together they and the garden grow. Burnett was a master of the emotional finale, one can almost hear the music surging in the background, but the characters have come so far that they deserve the happy ending.
This is a truly beautiful book from cover to cover – a delight to share and pass on within a family.
Annalise Taylor

Foxly’s Feast Written and illustrated by Owen Davey
Templar £10.99
This wordless picture-book is a masterpiece! The stylised drawings are in muted colours of ochre and green, but Foxley the fox and his friend, the robin, are always clearly drawn, although maybe not to everyone’s taste. It’s clear from the start that Foxley is thinking about his dinner. As he goes around the farm he meets all sorts of animals and birds and food is constantly on his mind. Knowing adults and children will suspect his intentions and, near the end, Foxley appears ready to pounce. Everyone fears the worst. A surprise, after turning the page, shows Foxley to be a much more thoughtful diner than ever suspected. A great book for stimulating conversations and learning to expect the unexpected!
Liz Dubber

Jeremiah Jellyfish Flies High! Written and illustrated by John Fardell
Andersen Press £10.99
Though Jeremiah is very good at drifting with the currents in a huge shoal, he is not your average stay-in-the shoal jellyfish. He feels the need to see the world and have an adventure. He bravely drifts out of his safe and dreamy life and finds more excitement than he could have ever imagined when he exchanges roles with the director-in-chief of a rocket plane company. As with all the best picture books, the text and illustrations work perfectly together and provide details, contrasts and layers of meaning to entertain and engage both adults and children. Inventive, witty and delightful.
Gill MacDonald

Brontorina Written by James Howe
Illustrated by Randy Cecil
Templar £5.99
This is a wonderful picture book affirming that we should all follow our dreams. Brontorina wants to dance – but as the dance teacher, Madame Lucille, points out - she is dinosaur and rather bigger than the other ballerinas. But this is no obstacle to Brontorina who, as she says, is a ballerina in her heart. When Madame Lucille and her students try to resolve the problems posed by Brontorina they learn that the answer is a matter of looking at them in the right way.
The story of Brontorina and her friends is delightful and the illustrations of this extra large ballerina, quite endearing. The colours are limited and muted but the soft shapes portray the characters very successfully.
Louise Stothard

Miki and the Moon Blossom Written and illustrated by Stephen Mackey
Hodder £10.99
Miki lives in a land of snow and ice with her friends Penguin and Polar Bear. One day a spiky seed blows past, and Polar Bear sticks it in the ground to hold up the washing line. Overnight the seed grows into a giant flower that lifts Miki’s house into the air. From the top of the moon blossom, the friends are taken on a windy adventure before being brought home. This gentle, charming story is illustrated with pretty, slightly smudgy pictures that create a unique, dreamy quality making it an ideal bedtime read.
Stella Maden

The Bear’s Picnic Written by John Yeoman
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Andersen Press £5.99
ISBN 978 1849390040
The pig, the squirrel, the hedgehog and the hen have been invited to join the bear on his water picnic, for which he has specially made a raft. All seems perfect. However, frog’s “May we join you?” is met with a rather direct “We’d very much like to share our picnic with you...if only you would stop going awrk, awrk.” The frog refrains from replying but when their help is requested and desperately needed, the awrk, awrk is no issue whatsoever! Finally, when they are all safe and well-fed and the frogs launch into song this time the animals were so happy that they all joined in.
All about tolerance and good manners, this lovely story was written and illustrated with the humour and skill typical of the brilliant John Yeoman and Quentin Blake.
Gill Roberts

When Night Didn’t Come Written and illustrated by Poly Bernatene Meadowside £10.99
Bernatene has produced a magnificent book without words that will fire the imagination of most children. While it may mean working harder to formulate a story, the stunning illustrations are full of life and offer every opportunity to develop tales that twist hither and thither with each viewing. It opens with pictures of a world that is full of gorgeous clockwork and gadgets. Day ends and night should surely follow. but when the moon doesn’t appear after the sun, it is up to a group of children to fix the problem. This truly delightful book enables the whole family to become involved with the book
Jayne Howarth

Goodbye, Mr Muffin Written by Ufl Nilsson
Illustrated by Anna- Clara Tidholm
Hawthorn Press £9.99
Mr Muffin is a seven-year-old guinea pig; tired and not very well. He always checks his letter box for an almond or piece of cucumber, but one day finds a letter from his young owner: I am so sad because daddy says that when guinea pigs get old they may suddenly die… Mr Muffin anxiously chews the letter to shreds then reflects on his happy life, when he was young, strong and father to six children. Alone with his tummy ache, he remembers all the happiness in his life; his home, wife, children, food and many cuddles. Two more letters in his box wonder what is next for him. Then he dies. A final letter explores what’s next in an unexpectedly honest and kind way. Muffin’s funeral ceremony and burial are sensitively handled and this book would help any child who has lost, or is in danger of losing, a pet.
Tina Massey

Katie and the Water Lily Pond Written and illustrated by James Mayhew
Orchard £10.99
Katie visits the art gallery with her Gran and finds out that there is a competition to see who can paint the best Monet-style picture. When Gran sits down to rest Katie goes off on her own and discovers she can step through the frames of the Monet pictures in the exhibition and converse with the characters as she wanders round ‘backstage’.
James Mayhew’s books, each one based on a famous artist, are much loved by many children and parents, and this one is particularly attractive with Katie entering five of Monet’s most famous paintings and selecting a viewpoint from which she can start her competition entry. Mayhew’s own delight in the masterpieces shines out on each page, with glorious, rippling, shining bursts of colour almost certain to engage and please young readers.
Jack Ousbey

That’s Mine! Written by Jennifer Northway
Frances Lincoln £11.99
Many young children may recognise this family; a demanding baby sister, an older brother who feels pushed out but who is still expected to share everything with her, sharing not only his toys but Mum’s time too. Here is a scenario that could be played out in many households. William’s sister, Emma, seems to have taken over William’s life. He is determined, however, that she will not have Spotty Cat—his all-time favourite toy! However, when Emma is poorly, it is only William and Spotty Cat who can comfort her!
Sharing with younger siblings is a hard lesson to learn and this book presents and resolves the difficulties in a very sympathetic way. The reader shares William’s problems, just as he shares them with his friend David, who also has a demanding younger sibling.
Patricia Thompson

Witches at War! The Wickedest Witch Written by Martin Howard
Illustrated by Colin Stimpson
Pavilion Children’s Books £7.99
The Wickedest Witch is a delightful book, mixing fun and excitement for children, whilst slipping in jokes for parents e.g. a beetle named Ringo. After years of reading about magic, Sam (not Samantha!) sets out to become apprentice to Esmelia Sniff, a particularly unpleasant witch. Esmelia is celebrating the death of the Most Superior High and Wicked Witch and decides to enter the contest to become her successor, using Sam to do this, before eating her! However, Sam soon learns a few tricks of her own. The story has a great mixture of characters: young hero Sam, the gruesome witches, and a mysterious ghost who helps Sam to become a witch herself. The story is fun-filled as Esmelia tries unsuccessfully to get her peers to support her, whilst the thrilling contest to find the new Superior Witch has them all demonstrating devilishly evil and nasty skills, with hints at Sam’s past and future. Author Martin Howard clearly enjoyed dreaming up the characters’ names with such gems as Diabolica Nightshade and contest judge Sulphurus Cowl. Superb illustrations, including traditional witches - warts and all! - complement the story perfectly.
Jane Hall

Billionaire Boy Written by David Walliams.
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
HarperCollins £12.99
David Walliams may not appear to be a natural children’s author but he is a very good writer whose wicked sense of humour shines through the pages.
His debut children’s novel, The Boy in the Dress, was a super read quickly followed by Mr Stink, another comical gem. Billionaire Boy centres on Joe Spud’s dad, who is now a billionaire after building up his Bumfresh toilet roll empire. But it doesn’t matter how much money he has, how many gadgets, gifts or cars, overweight Joe just wants a friend. He thinks leaving his private school and going to the local comp, where he can keep his identity secret, is the way to do it. The ploy works – for a while - and then everything starts to go wrong. The story is typically over the top. There are puns, slapstick humour and the kind of scatological humour that older primary school children fall over themselves to read.But there is a strong story, too, with some subtle moral points about what is important in life. The illustrations by the inimitable Quentin Blake bring life and more than a dash of elan, too.
Jayne Howarth

pace Crime Conspiracy Written By Gareth P. Jones
Bloomsbury £5.99
Hapless orphan Stanley is snatched from a mundane existence living with his selfish brother. Snatched by an alien policeman that is, as he is wanted for assassinating the galactic President. It’s the murder of the millennium. Worse, the prosecution have an airtight case, right down to his DNA on the gun and his face in the news footage. So begins a riotous comic caper, with Stanley on the run and out to prove his innocence. All manner of weird creatures join in the chase, including a talking mushroom, parrot-headed space-pirates, journobots and furry cops. Then there are the Rottlebloods, the outer space equivalent of cockroaches and ten times as yucky.
The pace is fast and furious, with a flowing narrative perfectly pitched for its young audience. The humour comes in bucket-loads, there’s a hint of romance, and each character is well defined and engaging. Best of all, the author keeps not one, but half-a-dozen surprises to the end.

Ian Douglas

Witch Baby and Me On Stage Written and illustrated by Debi Gliori
Random House £4.99
This is a laugh-out-loud book with both text and pen-and-ink pictures equally zany.
Debi Gliori is irrepressible and this mad romp continues the story about Lily MacRae and her wonderfully normal family - except for baby sister Daisy who is a Witch. Only Lily and her best friend, Vivaldi, know about Daisy’s ability to make mischief and they spend much of their time on the look out but are unable to prevent her from shrinking the whole class, or turning her brother into a pig, or bringing the school ceiling down. After much hilarity, many near calamities and a great deal of affectionate concern about Daisy’s toilet training, Lily and her friends manage to save the day. A fantastic package to enjoy.
Louise Stothard

Ranger’s Apprentice: The Siege of Macindaw Written by John Flanagan
Random House £5.99
John Flanagan has set this story about Will Treaty on a bleak shoreland where Gundar Hardstriker and his crew have been shipwrecked. He realises that Castle Macindaw , an important gateway to the North, has been taken by Keren, the renegade Knight who has captured and imprisoned his friend Alyss. Readers are soon absorbed in this pacey, well-crafted adventure story as Will, with a band of loyal warriors and good fighting men, break into the seemingly impregnable castle. Courage and cunning combine with battle skills in this exciting read for both boys and girls.
Louise Stothard

Space Crime Conspiracy Written by Gareth P. Jones
Bloomsbury £5.99
Gareth P Jones is an inventive and imaginative storyteller. He first started writing for children in 2007 with The Dragon Detective Agency series for younger readers, and then in 2009 he wrote The Thornthwaite Inheritance, a black comedy about 13 year old twins who spend their time trying to kill each other. His new book, Space Crime Conspiracy is completely different again. Stanley, an ordinary boy who leads a pretty uneventful life in present day East London, is more than a bit surprised when he is whisked away into space and imprisoned in an intergalactic prison for the crime of the century - the murder of President Vorluner.
Space Crime Conspiracy is a crazy, funny, fast-paced space adventure peopled by a weird and wonderful cast including bird-headed space pirates, bounty hunters with beards on their foreheads and best of all, a talking mushroom called Spore. Great fun.
Gill MacDonald

The Stolen City Written by Tom Eglinton
Piccadilly £6.99
This absorbing sequel to the excellent ‘The Spellbound Hotel’ opens in London, where Bethany ‘s parents are staying with her cat- loving aunt while they look for work. Cats seem to trail Bethany, particularly a malevolent black one, always there when she is almost hit by a taxi or crushed to death… Her leprechaun friend Quinn, who helped defeat the demon at the Spellbound Hotel, is being tried for major crimes in the spirit world. When Bethany tries to help she, too, is accused, then imprisoned as his accomplice. The leprechauns and spirits help her escape but she must battle the clever, immensely powerful demon determined on revenge in this fast- moving, unpredictable narrative which takes broad swipes at pyramid selling and the power of advertising along the way. Triumphant , Bethany must decide whether to stay in the spirit world as its most powerful demon slayer or return to her rather tediously normal parents. It’s a mark of the power of the writing that you feel wrenched as she returns to them, losing the love, fun and warmth of the leprechaun world. Original, unpredictable, with stylish description displacing you to another world. Highly recommended.
Tina Massey

The Search for Wondla Written and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
Simon & Schuster £10.99
Any book by Tony DiTerlizzi promises the reader a treat and this is no exception. Eva Nine is twelve-years-old, living underground on the planet of Orbona with only her robot Muthr for company. Her dearest wish is to go above ground and find ‘Wondla’ the place shown on the one treasured picture which she carries everywhere. When dramatic circumstances force Eva above ground, far from meeting other friendly humans, she is instead hunted by an evil mercenary who wants her for a valuable prize. This book is a fantastical story with DiTerlizzi’s trademark imaginative creatures. As well as foes, Eva meets more amiable and colourful characters such as Rovender, a large blue creature with backward bending knees! Gorgeous monochrome illustrations throughout truly bring the story and outlandish creatures to life. Readers with a webcam can even experience an interactive map. The story moves along swiftly, full of excitement and extraordinary adventures, keeping the reader on tenterhooks. Eva begins as a vulnerable girl, but by the end she has learnt valuable lessons about her world and herself too.
Jane Hall

Killer Strangelets Written by CT Furlong
Inside Pocket Publishing £5.99
Killer Strangelets, the first in the new “Arctic 6” series, is an action packed techno-thriller. The adventure begins with the kidnapping of Iago’s father, when he is mistaken for his twin brother, a scientist at CERN in Switzerland. The kidnapper is a rogue scientist who plans to use the Hadron Collider to create a black hole. Iago and his cousins immediately set off for Switzerland to rescue his father and save the world. The pace never slows in this teen thriller, which will have the reader on the edge of their seat. The story is narrated by 15-year-old Iago with short chapters, each one focusing on a different part of the action thus keeping the tension and the reader eager to read ‘just one more’. All the characters are quick-witted and brave, each having a vital role in order for their rescue plan to work. Science and technology are used liberally and to good effect, not only to save the day, but also as a clever way for each character to tell what is happening to them via phone calls to Iago. Author CT Furlong has hit on an ingenious way to interest children in the scientific issues of today.
Jane Hall

City Of Thieves Written by Ellen Renner
Orchard Books £5.99
Tobias comes to Gibbet Square in time to see his father hang, which is immediately horrific and gripping so we really need to understand why a son could be so glad. This is an exhausting and complicated story. The strong characters have human weaknesses who are immediately at the mercy of the action, as well as in control of it.
The Petch family is a notorious family of thieves. There are many branches of the family, including the Sorrells, who ensure that little escapes them. But Windlass clan is equally, if not more, elusive and clever and it’s never certain which force will have the stronger hold over Tobias, who struggles between all the different family factions. And then there’s his love and loyalty to his mother, and concern for friend and contemporary Queen Charlie as well as an affection for the Queen Dowager and Moleglass. Completely compelling with much action and poignancy, not to mention the amazingly interwoven plot. This is a truly great read.
Gill Roberts

Shade Written by Jeri Smith-Ready
Simon and Schuster £6.99
Aura is sixteen, and she can see ghosts everywhere. So can all the children who have been born in the last sixteen years. It’s a result of The Shift, a mysterious event that cannot be explained, nor can the course of events flowing from it be predicted. It is a terrifying world where ghosts, unable to move on, emerge in the darkness to haunt the places they once inhabited, plaguing terrified children with questions that cannot be answered. Aura’s first real boyfriend, Logan, dies suddenly and in circumstances for which she blames herself. For a while, making contact with his ghost is a blessing rather than a curse. But as Aura’s life moves on in ways that Logan cannot share, things take a more sinister turn for both of them.
The story is not without its flaws. It is a bit disappointing to have questions about this new world dismissed by a character simply saying that no-one knows how it all works. Also, although the story has to be happening at least sixteen years in the future, the language and lifestyle of the characters could be easily transplanted into our present day: nothing seems to have moved on in music, technology, transport or even fashion. Nonetheless, the writing draws you in and the final scenes, where Logan faces incarceration by the shadowy forces of the Government ghost-busters who believe him to be a threat, are genuinely gripping.
Yvonne Coppard

Zelah Green Written by Vanessa Curtis
Egmont £5.99
Zelah is a girl with obsessive compulsive disorder. Everything has to be done in order, the right way or she has to start again. Washing hands takes an age because of the rituals involved; she has to jump on the stairs; her teeth have to be cleaned by the time a certain track on her CD has finished. These are all part of her every day life. It’s all part of her war on germs. She is constantly on germ alert. But her OCD is leaving her uncaring stepmother exhausted. And when Zelah’s father leaves, the stepmother cannot take anymore and packs off Zelah to a hospital, where she can be treated for the disorder. When Zelah arrives all she can see is dirt and germs. Then she meets anorexic Alice, Caro who was admitted for cutting hersel. There’s Sol - he might just be her saving grace. It’s a collection of people who do not conform to the norms of polite society. Curtis deals with these undoubtedly serious subjects with sympathy, but there is also a great deal of humour. The characters are all very likeable and rally when they have to support each other to deal with their problems. There is a feeling of hope that permeates the story and Curtis writes so engagingly and entertainingly that you cannot help but warm to Zelah and her friends. A must-read for every teen who thinks no one understands them.
Jayne Howarth

Edge of Nowhere Written by John Smelcer
Andersen £5.99
This author was born in Alaska and is one of the last speakers of the regional dialect unique to Chenega Bay. His stories concentrate on the tough life facing native hunters and trappers, up against the elements and also having to contend with daily threats to their fragile ecology. This one tells how sixteen-year-old Seth, washed overboard from his father’s fishing boat during a storm, manages to survive on deserted islands with only his dog, happily also named Tucker, for company. Seeing off killer whales, black bears and an inability to make fire, Seth is finally spotted and rescued just as winter is setting in, which would have meant his certain death. Written in prose as lean and muscular as Seth himself eventually becomes having started out near enough obese, this is an excellent read.
Nicholas Tucker

Fallen Written by Lauren Kate
Corgi £6.99
Luce is in deep trouble, locked away in a secure school after a violent crime she doesn’t remember committing. She is instantly drawn to fellow student, Daniel, but why is he so uneasy in her presence? And why is Luce convinced they have met before?
It’s an edgy tale that hovers at the threshold of many of the hot trends in current teen fiction: star-crossed lovers, shifts of time and place, a mystery to solve, a slice of the supernatural with hints of vampires AND angels, plenty of violence and a smidgeon of smouldering sexual desire. All this and the promise of more to come, with the inevitable sequel advertised on the back pages and a lingering feeling that the story, with its dark and brooding images and high-action set pieces, would make a good special-effects movie.
Is this book a cynical commercial exercise, designed to hit all the right marketing buttons for the teenage market? Or is it a story that has spilled out of a writer’s creative imagination and just happens to capture the mood of its time? Perhaps it doesn’t matter, if the characters compel us to care about them and the tale is well-told. And for the most part, this is a compelling and absorbing story.
Yvonne Coppard