Friday, 15 March 2013

New Reviews - March 2013

Titles for Younger Children

A Little Princess Story: I Didn’t Do It!

Written and Illustrated by Tony Ross

Andersen Press   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1849394642

All is not well at the castle. Someone has muddied the floors, stolen the chocolate cake, trampled the radishes and sunk the Admiral’s toy boats. Guess who everyone thinks is to blame? No matter how many times the Little Princess tries to explain that ‘I didn’t do it’, no-one believes her. Finally, the real culprit unmasks himself, and the Little Princess gets a share of the naughty spoils. Children will clearly identify, rather strongly, with the injustice of being accused of something you haven’t done by ill-informed grown-ups, and they will love the big reveal at the end when we discover that the real villain is, of course, the Little Princess’ equally naughty brother. Of course, it’s the brother who’s really to blame! A great book for your own mischievous pre-schoolers!

Stella Maden

Little Mouse's Big Secret

Written and illustrated by Éric Battut

Sterling   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1402794445 ISBN: 978-1402794445

Little Mouse peeps though a hole in the jacket of this beautifully understated picture book. Its plain, red cover and unpretentious typeface, prepare us for what on the surface seems like a simple tale. A greedy mouse finds an apple and decides to keep it secret from his friends by burying it in the ground. But, the selfish mouse has overlooked one thing: if you plant seeds in the ground, they grow into great big trees, and, trees produce fruit. Little Mouse’s secret is out and he eventually realises it is more satisfying to share with friends than store things up for himself. Battut’s miniature watercolours of tiny animals, finely observed, will captivate readers, and his carefully selected words will resonate with young and old. A timeless tale with a universal message: sharing is better than hoarding.

Richard Monte

Mr Zinger’s Hat

Written by Cary Fagan

Illustrated by Dusan Petričić

Tundra Books   £12.99

ISBN: 978-1770492530

Do stories grow out of hats?  And can a bouncing ball help the process?  Balls and hats seemed to be involved when Leo sat on a bench with old Mr. Zinger.  Leo really liked the story they made up.  Later, he finds he can share another story with his new friend, Sophie and the magic begins again.  This Canadian import is a pleasure from beginning to end. 

Marianne Adey

The Princess and the Peas

Written by Caryl Hart

Illustrated by Sarah Warburton

Nosy Crow   £10.99 

ISBN: 978-0857631077

Lily-Rose refuses to eat peas, even when her dad disguises them in a multitude of ingenious ways, and so her doctor diagnoses that she must be a princess. She leaves her home in the woods and goes to live with the king and queen, who understand that princesses should never be made to eat peas. However, life at the palace turns out to be less fun than Lily-Rose had expected. There are far too many lessons in waving and shaking hands and the food is awful, so she goes back to her dad in their home in the wood and learns to like peas. There is so much to like in this book. The modern reinvention of the well-loved fairytale is told in the form of rhyming couplets, which flow beautifully with rhymes that are never too contrived. The illustrations are large and colourful with plenty of intriguing detail for young book lovers to seek out.

Jan Lennon

Elmer, Rose and Super El

Written and illustrated by David McKee

Andersen   £10.99

ISBN:  978-1849394505

The herd of pink elephants are celebrating the 100th birthday of their oldest elephant, aptly named Old, at their special clearing near the cliff top.  However, all their stomping and stamping causes an earthquake and poor Old is left stranded on a pillar of rock. In fact, it’s the pink elephants and certainly Super El who are responsible for the action in this story, although Elmer can be relied upon for his characteristic optimism and words of wisdom. Another Elmer classic!

Gill Roberts

The Three Pigs

Written and illustrated by David Wiesner

Andersen   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1849394055

Note these pigs are not little, and that is the first of several variations on the traditional tale.  The pigs fly away on a paper aeroplane and have lots of adventures. They run into a nursery rhyme and they find a dragon in danger.  They rescue the dragon and return home, but, there’s the Big Bad Wolf waiting. However, he comes to a traditional, satisfying end. Children will love the way it veers away from the traditional plot line and be delighted when they see the book deconstructed and torn apart to be re-made as a paper aeroplane. The visuals are amazing with a lot of white space waiting to be filled by the reader’s imagination.

Julia Jarman

Olivia and the Fairy Princesses

Written and illustrated by Ian Falconer

Simon and Schuster (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-0857078872

Olivia wants to be original.  She doesn’t want to be like all the other piglets, who are obsessed with being fairy princesses at every party and dance recital.  She can’t see why the princesses always have to be pink and are never from other countries with interesting costumes.  Her mother just wants her to go to sleep.  It seems that Olivia will never be able to settle on a future career but eventually there is a resolution which in her indomitable style is feisty, and fun for the reader. Ian Falconer does not draw conventionally appealing characters but the distinctive line drawings and restrained use of colour fit perfectly with Olivia’s unique character and her mother’s no nonsense approach.  Like many contemporary picture books there is as much, if not more, here for the parent as for the child, however, even children meeting Olivia for the first time will be taken by her spirit and individuality.  And all little girls need to know that there is more to life than being a fairy princess.

Annalise Taylor

The Princess of 8th Street

Written and illustrated by Linas Alsenas

Abrams   £10.99

ISBN: 978-0810989726

Clearly drawn pictures set with small blocks of text tell this illustrated story of a lonely princess living in a contemporary American town.  The princess is, of course, a regular small girl, but one who finds the rough and tumble of the playground hard to cope with.  In this story, our princess confronts her fears of playing with the other children and makes a friend.

This book works well as a read –aloud for individual children or for groups.  There’s plenty of scope for talking around the story. Why is this girl is a princess, and why is she afraid of the other children?  Who is the naughty Toad, and what does it take to make a friend? There’s a great opportunity here to widen children’s thinking about friendship and loneliness.

Liz Dubber

Belle and Boo and the Goodnight Kiss

Written and illustrated by Mandy Sutcliffe

Orchard books   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1408316108

Belle and Boo, her rabbit, are getting ready for bedtime after a busy day. As Belle and Boo go through their usual bedtime routine, Boo decides to rebel as he creates noise and plays hide and seek, until Belle finds him tucked up in her bed having forgotten his goodnight kiss. Belle soon puts that right and everyone can settle down for the night. This is an old-fashioned, delightful look at traditional bedtime activities, told with economy and simplicity and balanced by delightful illustrations. Parents will delight with children at the antics of Boo the rabbit, as he thinks up the usual excuses for not getting ready for bed. The illustrations are drawn clearly, using soft block colours against a creamy yellow background which brings a warm glow to every page.  The text is simple, warm and gentle, and ideal for inducing that sleepy bedtime feeling for children who are lucky enough to have this among their bedtime stories.

Liz Dubber

Mammoth Pie

Written by Jeanne Willis

Illustrated by Tony Ross

Andersen Press   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1842707579

When Og the caveman sees a hairy mammoth at the top of the hill, his mouth starts to water. It’s a long time since he has enjoyed meat, so he resolves to catch the mammoth and make a pie. Recognising that this is quite a difficult task, Og ropes in help from a series of caveman friends, each of whom contributes something to the hunt.  But, catching a mammoth is harder than you think, especially when the whole mammoth herd decides to charge! This is yet another amusing story from this wonderful duo.  The text works well as it appears on the page like free verse, not exactly rhyming, but set out to encourage a rhythmic approach, with some happy rhyming sections. There are lovely opportunities for playing with the words and with the cavemen’s names. As always, the illustrations are full of humour and can be used to talk about the technology available to early cave dwellers!

Liz Dubber

Zoe and Beans: Hello Oscar

Written and illustrated by Chloe and Mick Inkpen

Macmillan   £10.99

ISBN: 978-0230763685

Zoe and her best-friend, Beans, are back for another quirky adventure. The discovery of a guinea pig in the back garden heralds the arrival of a menagerie of pets ranging from another guinea pig, a rabbit and a tortoise to a chameleon, parrot and duck! Where are all the pets coming from? A friendly face in a hole under the garden fence brings the answer. This lively and well-paced book with witty text and illustrations that sparkle with energy and good humour reinforces the benefits of inquisitiveness. Zoe is an independent and bright child, willing to rush to “Google” in order to feed the chameleon – very delightful but also very modern.

Benjamin Scott

The Yoga Ogre

Written by Peter Bently

Illustrated by Simon Rickerty

Simon and Shuster   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1847389039

This picture book with blocks of primary colours and bold shapes has a rhyming text which many children enjoy.  Ogden the Ogre is very worried because his pyjamas have grown far too short and tight.  The people of the town suggest he takes up a sport to get fit and this is the beginning of their troubles.  For, of course, an Ogre is rather large and heavy and playing basketball was not a good idea.  Ogden doesn’t know his own strength and the ball bounces off the church and the steeple.  Football is just as dangerous as he flattens cars and lamp-posts and hockey and golf prove to be equally disastrous.  As a last resort, the people suggest yoga, which was perhaps their biggest mistake. This wonderfully amusing story of a very large and friendly ogre and the long suffering townsfolk is a delight and will be enjoyed time and time again.

Louise Stothard

Titles for Younger Readers

More Seriously Silly Stories!

Written by Laurence Anholt

Illustrated by Arthur Robins

Orchard (eB)   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1408324189

Three newly recast traditional tales here; Daft Jack and the Bean Stack, Shampoozel and Eco Wolf and the Three Pigs. Mix Monty Python with pure slapstick and you’re somewhere near the style of these decidedly daft tales. Daft Jack and his mother lived under a cow. The cow must go, as his mother is sick of milk, milk, milk, until they win a competition and a juggernaut full of baked beans arrives. Jack stacks the beans and climbing them, finds an angry, hungry giant who actually loves beans and may even want to meet his widowed Mum. In Shampoozel a hairdresser named Dan Druff sings naughty hair songs. Dan Druff and Tam O’Tei solve their hairy problems, and Prince Garie Baldie rescues baby Shampoozel ridiculously from her tower, regaining hair in the process. Eco Wolf and the Three Pigs involves engagingly hippy eco-warriors pitted against sinister black suited pigs. Defeated in their plans to demolish homes and made to restore the valley, the tale celebrates natural resources and wind energy. Ridiculously good fun!

Tina Massey


Atticus Claw Breaks the Law

Written by Jennifer Gray

Faber & Faber (eB)   £5.99

ISBN: 978-0571284498

What else would you expect a cat burglar to be other than a cat? Which is exactly what Atticus Grammaticus Cattypus Claw is – a cat! Although quite happy with his life of crime, Atticus accepts a commission from an unpleasant gang of magpies, to relieve all the citizens of a small seaside town of all their jewellery. However, his cover means that he has to live with the family of the policeman who, ultimately, and successfully, investigates Atticus’ crimes. Our cat burglar becomes very fond of his adopted family and decides that perhaps a life of crime is no longer for him. The latter part of the story is concerned with his efforts to put right all his misdeeds. This is a lovely book, with classic villains in the shape of magpies and, of course, the villain turned hero, Atticus. Despite his crimes he is a very appealing character, full of charm and a brilliant pet. The climax is fast-moving and exciting, with a very satisfactory ending.

Pat Thompson


 Titles for Older Readers

Osbert the Avenger

Written by Christopher William Hill

Orchard Books   £9.99

ISBN: 978-1408326350

Welcome to Schwartzgarten, a sinister city ruled over by The Institute, a private school that selects only the brightest children from the city as its pupils and has a fearsome reputation for the cruelty of its educational methods. The first of a series of adventures, Tales from Schwartzgarten, set in this unsettling fictional world, this book is a darkly humorous, twisty-turny read. Osbert Brinkhoff seems an unlikely candidate for heroism, but after he is expelled from the Institute and his family financially ruined by the Institute’s Principal, he sets out to avenge himself on his persecutors. Osbert uses his intelligence and resourcefulness to engineer a series of satisfyingly fiendish deaths for the Institute’s teaching staff. Professor Ingelbrod starves to death after being tied to his bed with violin strings, while greedy Dr Zilbergeld meets a sticky end at the strudel factory. Osbert seems to have developed quite a taste for revenge, and the closing picture of him stalking his former love, Isabella Myops, gives us the disturbing sense that Osbert might well have launched himself into a life-long career in avenging. I look forward to meeting him again in Schwartzgarten soon.

Stella Maden


 Call Down Thunder

Written by Daniel Finn

Macmillan (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-0230738003

The story begins in a small fishing village in a poor country, probably in Central or South America. Reve and his sister Mi were abandoned by their mother five years earlier, and their father murdered.  Reve spends his time fishing, helping at his uncle’s cantina, and watching out for his big sister.  Mi is a girl apart, living in an abandoned car on the edge of the village. She suffers from epilepsy, and is developing a reputation as a visionary. Meanwhile, the local drug baron is seeking revenge for a tip-off that interrupted his latest exploit. The tension mounts and the children face a series of terrifying experiences. Reve is a strong character within a strong and convincing story. We witness drug running, extortion, and gangland violence through his young eyes, and believe every minute. Realistic dialogue and short, but telling, descriptions characterise this very readable novel. There is a varied array of well drawn characters and the author always has the drama under control.  Thoroughly recommended for confident pre-teen readers.

Liz Dubber


Written by Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Chris Riddell

Bloomsbury (R) (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-1408818610

Coraline has moved to a new flat inside an old house just before school is to start.  Her preoccupied parents hardly notice when she disappears through a blocked-off door and enters a menacing, parallel world.  At first her ‘other’ mother and father seemed kind, almost too kind.  The more Coraline explores her new house; full of rats, spiders and lost children, the more she knows that she must use all her ingenuity and courage to escape.  This modern fairy tale, with its remarkable illustrations, is a compelling read. Now, reprinted to mark its 10th anniversary, with new illustrations by Chris Riddell.

Marianne Adey



The Apothecary

Written by Maile Meloy

Andersen (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1849395069

Dealing with a little-visited era in children’s literature, the book touches on the McCarthy trials when the House Committee on Un-American Activities encouraged people to denounce Communists and Communist sympathisers. As free-thinking liberals in the film industry, Janie Scott’s parents come under suspicion, and this triggers the family’s move from sunny L.A. to drab and dreary London. The comparisons between the warm, multi-coloured, appliance-filled world of California and the pinched, drab, impoverished world of Britain in the early 1950s are painfully drawn, though what post-war London has got going for it is the presence of magic and magic-workers. Befriended by Benjamin Burrows, the son of the local apothecary, Janie quickly finds herself embroiled in an escapade involving an ancient book of spells and magical potions, spies and nuclear weapons. This Cold War tale brings to life the era with its paranoia, sense of shifting politics, and the idea of supernatural new weapons and defences. At heart this is an old-fashioned adventure story, but the setting places magic in the satisfyingly unusual context of the newly arrived atomic era and gives the old-fashioned an interesting fresh twist. 

Stella Maden


Written by David Massey

Chicken House   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1908435170

Set in Afghanistan, this novel shows what many people would imagine is a true representation of life for the British soldiers in the war zone, with the patrols, the road-side bombs, the heat, the not knowing who is friend and who is enemy. For newly arrived army medic, Elinor, it is a shock for which all her training had not truly prepared her. The appearance, and the apparent shooting, of a young Afghan girl that occurs on her very first patrol lead Elinor down a strange and dangerous path, where secret special American forces are pursuing their own agenda. The book is a real mixture of the shocking and the frustrating, with the very occasional touch of humour. The reader never knows, nor can even begin to guess, what might happen next. Once started, it is impossible to put this book down.

Pat Thompson

Another Life

Written by Keren David

Frances Lincoln (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1847802866

This final sequel to When I was Joe and Almost True is equally compelling.  It begins with Ty’s cousin, Archie, maintaining his silence when the headmaster tries to investigate how drugs got into school, for to protest that he’s innocent would spoil his chances of being expelled!  So, once he’s successfully home in London he’s set on never again being sent away to school.  However, Ty suddenly finds himself in a Young Offenders Institution and the whole family is shaken. Gran’s death is doubly distressing as it appears possibly premature through the stress of events, which in turn adds to Ty’s emotional turmoil.  Then, Archie’s physical resemblance to his cousin becomes an added complication when he tries to unravel what really happened and who it is pursuing Ty.  He is soon deeply embroiled in the world of London’s gangland where feuds are long-standing, identities are confused, trusting is precarious and consequences are potentially life-threatening.  This is a seriously gripping story and the reader is left wanting still more!

                                                                                                                                               Gill Roberts