Saturday, 12 November 2016

Picture Books for young children

It was so quiet I could hear a pin drop
Written and illustrated by Andy Goodman
Princeton Architectural Press £9.99
ISBN: 978-1616894801

On the first page we see the silhouette of a child on a swing in a tree and as she swings she listens to the sounds of the world around her. Each double-page spread thereafter shows us, with clear, simple illustrations and muted colours, the things that she can hear. We start off with small sounds like bees humming and kites fluttering, but the sounds get louder, and the few words of text get bigger, as we move through the book. Who can tell where her imagination takes over from what she can actually hear? The illustrations are deceptive in their simplicity and there is gentle humour throughout. In everyday life we are constantly surrounded by sounds and this attractive book encourages the reader to take a moment to stop and really listen.
Jan Lennon

Draw It! Colour It! Creatures
Macmillan £10.00
ISBN: 978-1447290704

A fantastic collaboration of over forty top children's book illustrators including our current Children's Laureate, Chris Riddell. Each illustrator has designed at least one double-page spread, using their own style, to be coloured in, or added to by the child, giving them the opportunity to let their own imagination and creativity fly free. Some of the illustrators, such as Sarah McIntyre, choose to give instructions on how to draw something. But others leave it completely to the child to choose what to draw - on Poly Bernatene's empty plate, for example, or in Birgitta Sif’s skilfully drawn and rather fetching pair of shoes. This is a marvellous drawing activity book for children of all ages and abilities, which gives children the chance to create their own characters or to use their own level of visual literacy to interpret the clues given by the illustrators. A wonderful book.
Nicole Jordan

First Steps in reading for young children

Bilal’s Brilliant Bee
Written by Michael Rosen
Illustrated by Tony Ross
Andersen £5.99
ISBN: 978-1783443956

Bilal is very good at anything that involves the use of his wonderful imagination, but when it comes to answering factual questions his memory lets him down. He dreads the weekly test in school as he always does badly and the other pupils laugh at him. Help arrives in the form of a bee called Bumble, who appears in his bedroom one night, and it seems that suddenly all his worries are over. Bumble has no imagination, but is very good at answering questions and so, with the bee’s help, Bilal sails through the school tests. Bilal’s granny is so impressed with his newly-discovered knowledge that she encourages him to appear on a TV quiz show where she hopes he will win all the prizes. As you would expect from the brilliant Michael Rosen this story is great fun. There are lots of laughs as Bilal and Bumble quiz their way towards the final question and it almost goes without saying that Tony Ross’s brilliantly comic illustrations make us laugh even more. This is a real treat for new readers - particularly those who find tests difficult.
Jan Lennon

Titles for the young child just beginning to Read Alone

Tortoise vs Hare: The Rematch
Written by Preston Rutt
Illustrated by Ben Redlich
Bravo £6.99
ISBN: 978-1857338140

This is such a fabulous book. It is written almost like a TV sports programme - the contestants are introduced, their training programmes are revealed, they are interviewed before the race and the live race is broadcast. It is brilliant! The participants are Hare, a lean, mean running machine, and Tortoise - well, he’s a tortoise. No competition, you may think? The text moves at a very fast pace, just as a race commentary would. Different sized fonts show the rising excitement, or even hysteria, of the commentator, Jonny Fox. The very bright and very busy illustrations are wonderful. Children will love this book. The whole presentation is funny and fast from beginning to end. Hopefully, children will want to read the original Aesop fable, either before or after, to see what happened in the original race - this is a rematch after all.
Patricia Thompson

Titles for the Confident Reader in Primary School

Fridays with the Wizards
Written by Jessica Day George
Bloomsbury £5.99
ISBN: 978-1408858417

Fourth in the Castle Glower series. Princess Celie and her family are back safely from the Glorious Arkower and the problems which had beset them are, at last, over. They are now protected by two dozen beautiful, magical griffins, for which they have to care. All should be well, but the evil magician, Arkwright, architect of all their previous wars, has escaped the dungeons and is hiding somewhere within the castle. Celie is on high alert, determined to search all the secret passageways, behind every tapestry and beneath every trapdoor. As if that is not enough to deal with, her engaged sister, Lilah, and Prince Lulath are mooning sloppily over each other and Celie is feeling more than a bit cross and left out, as wedding preparations loom large in the castle. A lively, fast moving tale full of interesting characters and delightful magical creatures. You may be sure that it will end happily, but you will also be swept along finding out how. A pacy, positive read for confident young readers.
Tina Massey

Titles for readers Moving On from Primary to High School

Written by Shamini Flint
Allen & Unwin £5.99
ISBN: 978-1743366455

This story is narrated by Maya, a ten-year-old Indian girl. She lives in Malaysia with her Indian mother and white father. The marriage is unhappy and Maya paints a convincing picture of personal and racial tensions both at home and at school – we have a sense of the difficulties of being both mixed race and part of a minority community. The story is set in 1986 against the background of the World Cup tournament, but the main focus is a very convincing family story with a young girl trying to follow her passion for football. Maya gradually recruits her school friends to create a football team, and eventually they are able to play in a local tournament. But while football is going well, Maya’s family is falling apart. Dad decides to leave them and return to England. The story takes Maya to England too, and a final unsuccessful attempt to persuade her father back home. There are no particularly happy endings here, but strong characters, excellent pace and balance, and Maya’s sense of optimism and determination pervades the book and makes it a very positive read.
Liz Dubber

Never Evers
Written by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison
Chicken House £6.99
ISBN: 978-1910002360

The co-authors hilariously capture the emotional intensity of a school skiing trip, as an all boys’ school and an all girls’ school collide on and off the slopes in a series of misunderstanding and thwarted attempts at love. Shamed by her return to her old school after having been kicked out of ballet school, Mouse finds herself lying to new friends and hated by her old ones. Jack and his mates have made a promise to get their first kiss before the end of their trip, but nothing can prepare Jack for being the doppelgänger of a French teen popstar filming a video near their ski resort. With the unhelpful advice of their friends, Mouse and Jack find their path full of unexpected twists. Like a professional snowboarder, the writing balances a cracking pace and humour, whilst keeping innocent romance burning and, at the same time, deals effectively with a large cast of true-to-life characters. Bound to be a hit.
Benjamin Scott

Titles for Young Teenage Readers

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl
Written by Melissa Keil
Stripes £6.99
ISBN: 978-1847156839

The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl is a tale of comic books, apple strudel, love and the end of the world. Seventeen-year-old Alba loves her life in her quiet home town of Eden Valley. She has her whole life in front of her, hopefully pursuing a career in writing comic books, and she has her friends and family around her. But then an internet physic predicts the end of the world, announcing that the only place to survive the apocalypse is Eden Valley. As the town is besieged by those wanting to escape Armageddon, Alba realises she needs to start making decisions about her future - assuming she still has one. This is an original and quirky coming-of-age story. Alba is a likable and fun heroine, refreshingly happy and confident, at a time when many YA books are filled with doubt-filled girls, making her a good role model for teens. The possible end-of-the-world plot is interspersed with pop culture references and embarrassing parents, making it a fun read. It also has common teen worries such as leaving college and making your way in the world, along with burgeoning relationships. An enjoyable, romantic, doomsday comedy.
Jane Hall

Eden Summer
Written by Liz Flanagan
David Fickling £10.99
ISBN: 978-1910989074

Jess has had a traumatic year, but one September morning, just as the pain is receding and a kind of happiness is returning, she gets another shock. Eden, her best friend, goes missing. Has she run away or has she been kidnapped? Is she even still alive? The police are talking to people and searching the area, but Jess knows she cannot leave it to others to find out what has happened to her friend and she spends the day revisiting their favourite places in the West Yorkshire countryside. As she searches she relives the events of the summer and, as the hours pass, we start to understand that Eden had pain of her own. There is real tension as the hours pass and Jess’s frustration, at not being able to help her friend, grows. Teenage years are the time when we feel things, even trivial things, most deeply, but the events in Eden’s and Jess’ lives are far from trivial and they each need to find a way of accepting the painful past and moving forward. Their friendship has never been more important. A stunning debut novel.
Jan Lennon

Titles for More Mature readers

The Girl in the Blue Coat
Written by Monica Hesse
Macmillan £7.99
ISBN: 978-1447295013

Set in war-torn, Nazis-occupied Amsterdam in 1943, this is an incredibly powerful story about a young Jewish girl who goes missing from a secret room in a house where she has been hiding. Hanneke spends her days secretly finding and delivering black market goods to customers who are more than willing to pay for them. By doing this she is making a small act of rebellion against a regime that has overtaken her country and which was responsible for the death of the boy she loved. When she is initially asked to find the missing girl, she is reluctant to do so. However, she finds herself drawn into Mirjam’s story, becoming active, not only in the search for her, but in the bigger picture of the rescue of Jewish children from the journey to the concentration camps. She begins working with the resistance and finding courage that she never knew she had within her. The plot twists and turns, building the tension in the narrative and allowing the characters, particularly Hanneke, to develop and grow through their experiences. The historical detail is extremely accurate, and the section on Historical Accuracy included at the back of the book that highlights the real context of the story is extremely useful. Beautifully written, it is an unforgettable, coming-of-age story of bravery, grief and love in the most difficult, heart-wrenching times and demonstrates the lengths that some people will go to in order to help others.
Annie Everall

Information Titles

Tutankhamun’s Tomb
Written by Jen Green
QED £14.99
ISBN: 978-1784933821

This is an absolutely wonderful book. Not only does it describe the discovery of the tomb, but it has pages devoted to Egyptian life in general, particularly their burial customs. Each double-page spread explains the significance of the beautiful items found in the tomb, why they are there and how they relate to the Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife. Each page includes an extract of Howard Carter's diary from when he first arrived in Egypt in 1891 until 1931 when the tomb had been cleared and all the items moved to Cairo Museum. It is a beautifully presented book and, using pop-ups and pull-tabs, represents an interactive journey through the tomb. On a practical level, on each page, there are several small blocks of text, interspersed with drawings. There is also a contents and an index page. This is a lovely book, not only for a child who already has an interest in the subject, but also for one who knows very little about Tutankhamun. (7+)
Patricia Thompson

Children’s Animals Atlas
Written by Barbara Taylor
Illustrated by Katrin Wiehle
QED £9.99
ISBN: 978-1784932916

Subtitled An interactive and fun way to explore the animal world - and that is exactly what it is. The world is divided into thirteen regions, rather than the usual continents, and each region is marked with country borders and the main geographical features. Pictures of the animals that live in that region are added and the pages are colourful and appealing. The fun and interactive parts of book are contained in a pocket attached to the inside of the front cover and there we find a poster, a huge number of animal stickers, postcards and a spotters’ guide that includes a quiz and even more amazing animal facts. This is a great introduction to maps and atlases and it offers an entertaining way to start learning about wildlife habitats, but it also has great potential for use in a learning environment as the suggested activities could be expanded to be used with more than one child. (5+)
Jan Lennon

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

New Reviews - May 2016

Picture Books for young children

Don’t Pick Your Nose, Pinocchio!
Written by Steve Smallman
Illustrated by Neil Price
QED   £9.99
ISBN: 978-1784931223
This book is one of a series which takes well-known stories and gives them a health and hygiene twist. Pinocchio is a naughty wooden puppet who just can’t stop picking his nose. This has disastrous consequences one day when his finger is stuffed up a nostril and he lies to his father, Geppeto, who has asked him if he is picking his ‘snout’. Pinocchio’s arm shoots off across the room leaving his poor old father to patch it up. When Mr Cricket unwittingly jumps on to the puppet’s finger and finds himself thrust up the wooden ‘hooter’, it all becomes a bit too much. Mr Cricket convinces him to ‘kick’ the nasty habit and the good fairy turns Pinocchio into a real boy, and they, as everyone knows, never pick their noses! The story is completely nonsensical, but great fun, and bound to get a few laughs from any naughty nose-pickers. Other titles in the series include Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Wash your Hair and Stinky Jack and the Beanstalk.
Richard Monte

School Bus Saves the Day
Written by Peter Bently
Illustrated by Louise Conway
QED   £9.99
ISBN: 978-1784930264
The school bus arrives to take a class of hedgehog children, and their teacher Mr Hodges, to the city to see the sights and the carnival.  Bright and bold illustrations show us the big yellow bus and the class of hedgehogs enjoying the trip, and having a great view of the carnival parade from the bus windows.  But the carnival king and queen are stranded as their float has broken down. The school bus comes to the rescue much to everyone’s delight. At the end we get a clear illustration of the bus, labelled with all its accessories, followed by a few pictures of other kinds of buses. This is a great story for reading aloud and sharing. The pictures are bold enough to be used in a group situation, and the story is a good length – short enough for a quick bedtime story, but also with plenty of scope for embellishment and discussion when time allows.  Full colour pages alternate with smaller coloured illustrations within a generous wide border, and the text is well placed for readability, even on the full colour pages.  Part of the Busy Wheels series, this is an ideal read aloud for young children, and for bus fans!
Liz Dubber

The Prince and the Porker
Written by Peter Bently
Illustrated by David Roberts
Andersen   £11.99
ISBN: 978-1783441082
Pignatius is passing the palace when he spots ten fresh buns cooling on a tray, and decides to eat one. However, before he realises, he has eaten all ten and then decides to sneak into the palace to see if there are any more. When the cook chases him he hides in a bedroom and dresses up in the clothes he finds there. When he gets spotted, to his amazement, they think he is the prince, as he looks just like him. He decides to make the most of this. When the real prince turns up, Pignatius thinks the games is up, but the Prince can see there are great advantages to having someone who can stand in for him at times – like when Aunt Alice comes to visit each week. Peter Bently’s witty and lively rhyme combine with David Roberts’ hilarious illustrations to create a veritable feast of a story. The endpapers, featuring soldiers standing proudly at the beginning and then all of a tumble at the end of the book, also add to the humour of the book, and the richness of the language makes this ideal for reading aloud.
Annie Everall

First Steps in reading for young children

Chu’s First Day at School
Written by Neil Gaiman
Illustrated by Adam Rex
Bloomsbury   £6.99
ISBN: 978-1408847046
Children have all kinds of anxieties on their first day at school. Chu is worried that the other pupils won’t like him. Of course, it all turns out fine for him and he goes home very happily. This is a lovely, funny book that highlights, and deals with, children’s anxieties about their first day school. Chu, the panda, feels all the things that children often feel. The text is clear well laid out and the illustrations are colourful, clear and wonderfully expressive. This is an excellent book for sharing and discussing, especially with children who are about to start school.
Patricia Thompson

Titles for the young child just beginning to Read Alone

Lucy’s Magic Snow Globe
Written by Anne Booth
Illustrated by Sophy Williams
OUP   £4.99
ISBN: 978-0 192743312
Lucy is really looking forward to having her grandmother stay with the family over Christmas, but now extra guests are coming, and Lucy isn’t sure she likes the idea. However, all thoughts of tiresome extra visitors fly out of the window when Lucy finds an injured baby rabbit on the edge of a nearby football field.  Gran, who runs an animal sanctuary, confirms that the rabbit needs time to recover from his injuries and regain his strength, and Lucy is sure she can care for him. The arrival of the visitors, plus a little Christmas magic from Lucy’s snow globe, brings Lucy’s adventure to a satisfying conclusion.  Thoughtful readers will understand, as Lucy finally does, that unexpected developments can often be for the best.
Marianne Adey

Titles for the Confident Reader in Primary School

Prince Frog Face
Written by Kaye Umansky
Illustrated by Ben Whitehouse
Barrington Stoke   £5.99
ISBN: 978-1781124437
In this hilarious retelling of the well-known frog prince story, arrogant and totally selfish Prince Valentine is auditioning for a girlfriend but he is not having very much luck. None of the candidates meet his ultra-high standards. Mrs Sagacity, an old woman who has wandered into the palace gardens, tries to offer some advice on how to behave around young ladies, but, he will not listen. He is quite rude to her and consequently gets changed into an arrogant and selfish frog at the bottom of a well. The laughs continue as he tries to get out of the well and back home. And, in this story, it is not a kiss that returns our hero to his normal princely state. Kaye Umansky’s wicked sense of humour, Ben Whitehouse’s illustrations and the tried and tested Barrington Stoke format make a winning combination. There are also other similar retellings of well-known stories in the series.
Jan Lennon

The Truffle Mouse
Written by Holly Webb
Illustrated by Hannah Whitty
Scholastic   £5.99
ISBN: 978-1407144863
Alice’s Mum and Dad are separated and live in different houses. She is feeling anxious about Dad’s girlfriend, Tara, and Tara’s daughter, Tilly, who are moving in. Will Tilly take her place? Meanwhile at Mum’s house, she is finally allowed to choose a hamster, but once at the pet shop, her eye is caught by a chocolate coloured mouse, that soon comes home with Alice and Mum. Mum is not keen on mice, which makes Alice worried about how Truffle will be when she is away at school and at Dad’s - especially as her mother has a cat. So, Alice hatches a plan to take Truffle with her.  The reading level of this short novel means that children can get a sense of independence and achievement as they work their way through the chapters. It is good to have a story for a younger age group which considers how children feel about living between two homes and the challenges that can bring. Framing these themes in an adventure with a new pet means that this book never becomes bogged down in ‘issues’, but rather moves along at a good pace. We follow Alice to a happy ending, showing how families can rearrange themselves in a way that can include everyone, even little brown mice.
Annalise Taylor

Alice-Miranda Shines Bright
Written by Jacqueline Harvey
Red Fox   £6.99
ISBN: 978-1849418614
Anyone who hasn’t already met the diminutive delights of Alice-Miranda is in for a treat. The tiny boarding-school girl is faced with the mysterious and sudden disappearance of Reginald Parker, a man in his third year of a coma and to whom Alice-Miranda had been reading. While searching for him on her horse, she and Millie discover gold. They promise to keep it secret in order to prevent a gold-rush destroying the countryside, but nothing stops the Mayor from finding out and making his own plans. In this reprint, multiple threads twist and turn to keep the reader guessing until the very end, knowing, somehow, Alice-Miranda will make sure everything turns out for the best. Almost too-good to be true, Alice-Miranda’s warmth and thoughtful approach to life is pure escapist fun, perfect after a long, tiring day at school, or to share before bed.
Benjamin Scott

Titles for readers Moving On from Primary to High School

Look into my Eyes
Written by Lauren Child
HarperCollins   £6.99
ISBN: 978-0007334070
This is a reprint of the first title in the popular series featuring Ruby Redfort, an American teenager who is brilliant at cracking codes.  Spectrum, a top secret intelligence agency, recruit Ruby to be a desk agent but she is not to tell anyone.  Ruby finds it hard to keep the secret from her best friend, Clancy, who is becoming suspicious of the family's new butler, who is really Ruby's new bodyguard.  Meanwhile, there is a plot to steal a valuable Buddha from a local bank and Ruby and Clancy strive to crack the thieves' code. There are many different layers in this book and young people will enjoy cracking the codes along with Ruby, whilst feeling the tension as danger threatens Ruby's life.
Ingrid Fox

Titles for Young Teenage Readers

The Mad Apprentice
Written by Django Wexler
Corgi   £6.99
ISBN: 978-0552568685
In this stunning sequel to The Forbidden Library, Alice, is still learning her craft. Set magical and dangerous tasks by her ancient and powerful Reader, she must use all her wits, and test her courage to the limits, to defeat the increasingly aggressive and unpredictable monsters she encounters, so absorbing to herself the powers of the creatures she masters. Alice is commanded, along with other Readers’ apprentices, to bring back, dead or alive, the rogue apprentice, Jacob, who has, unthinkably, murdered his Reader master. This unenviable task involves Alice, the natural leader of the group, in a horrendous, rolling sequence of battles against nightmarish monsters within a black, boundless labyrinth which constantly changes its configuration. As the terrifying battles rage on, Alice must protect and manage her apprentice group, using every ounce of her will and intellect to summon up creatures and situations to defeat her enemies and so get closer to discovering what caused her father’s death. Heart-stopping, vivid, complex, intelligent and questioning, this novel would make a brilliant film. Young teenage readers will welcome the occasional quiet, reflective stretches in order to unclench their stomach muscles and exhale!
Tina Massey

Titles for More Mature readers

Demon Road
Written by Derek Landy
HarperCollins   £14.99
ISBN: 978-0008140816
This 512 page novel, the first in a new trilogy, has a cover which will immediately draw the reader in. It is packed with terrifying action, witty dialogue, undead serial killers, vampires, killer cars and demons. Amber is sixteen years old, a normal American teenager, albeit with weird parents, until the day she is attacked by two youths outside the diner. Her parents and their friends reveal themselves to be what they really are and Amber is forced to go on the run - away from the very people she thought loved and cared for her. The opening sentence of the book sets the scene, " Twelve hours before Amber Lamont's parents tried to kill her..." The book is fast and scary but will be enjoyed by all teenagers and fans of Derek Landy.  This is real horror story, a head under the duvet storyline, with the sequel out next year.
Ingrid Fox

Information Titles

How Many Greeks Can You Fit Inside a Horse?
Written by Chris Mitchell
John Blake   £5.99
ISBN: 978-1784186548
A talking T-Rex, Dr Dino, might not be the obvious choice to explore “bizarre stories of ridiculous gods”, but this disbelieving dinosaur narrator does cleverly present a funny and engaging collection of international myths and legends. The legends are told within the context of their national identity, from the legend of St. George for the English to how the Maori explained the birth of New Zealand. Some tales are quite gruesome, like the skinless horse-man of Orkney, while others are fascinating, like why the Aztecs believed they were helping the gods with their human sacrifices. This superb and short overview of a wide range of cultural beliefs and stories will kick start the imagination of young readers. Part of the Dr Dino’s Learnatorium series that includes more scientific topics, such as Do Astronauts Wee in Space?
Benjamin Scott

Will’s Words
Written by Jane Sutcliffe
Illustrated by John Shelley
ISBN: 978-1580896382
This lavishly illustrated information picture book provides a distinctive and entertaining approach to introducing Shakespeare to a young audience.  Each double page spread is deployed to both conjure up the atmosphere of London theatre -going in Shakespeare’s time as well as examining well known words and phrases whose origin can be discovered in his plays. The left hand side of each page cleverly incorporates the expressions into the description of an aspect of life at the Globe theatre, while the right hand side contains scrolls which explain the terms and locates them in the plays. Amongst the varied colourful phrases included are, “Eaten out of house and home”, “Wild-goose chase” and “cold-blooded”. However it is the intricate and wonderfully observed illustrations that set this book apart. Readers of all ages will delight in the various depictions of theatre goers at the Globe and the birds-eye view of London. A lovely title to have on your shelves.
Elaine Chant