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