Sunday, 23 November 2014

Extra reviews - Issue 58 Winter 2014

Picture Books for young children


Those Magnificent Sheep in their Flying Machine

Written by Peter Bently

Illustrated by David Roberts

Andersen   £11.99

ISBN: 978-1849396349

This is delightfully silly book; a rhyming account of what happens when a flock of sheep hi-jack an old-fashioned bi-plane. There’s lots of alliteration and repetition which adds to the fun. The story moves at a very fast pace as the sheep in the yellow bi-plane circuit the globe, calling in at France, Spain, Egypt, Tibet, India and the USA in a spiffing adventure. Useful for the classroom as the story links to the history and geography syllabi and topics like ‘Transport’. The colourful illustrations perfectly match the text, conveying not only the pace, excitement and silliness, but also the varied landscape together with the personalities and emotions of the runaway sheep and the mystified chaps on the ground. It’s a very funny tour de force.

Julia Jarman

Where Are You Banana?

Written by Sofie Laguna

Illustrated by Craig Smith

Allen &Unwin   £9.99

ISBN: 978-1743361627

This story sensitively evokes the all-consuming panic and anguish experienced when a family pet goes missing. Told in the first person by Banana’s young master who has now started school, Banana is a dachshund-resembling dog who is very much a part of the family, going everywhere the family goes and chewing Mum’s shoes, Dad’s work helmet and the twins’ toys when circumstances mean there’s no option but to leave him behind. Unfortunately, he’s banned from Aunt Cecelia’s for chasing Penelope, the big red hen, and it’s when he is left in the garden with a new bone, that he digs his way out, disappears and the frantic search begins. This is a heart-warming story, beautifully illustrated, to which all dog owners can relate!

Gill Roberts

First Steps in reading for young children


Superfrog and the Big Stink

Written & illustrated by Michael Foreman

Anderson (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1783440306

In inimitable, painterly style Michael Foreman tells the tale of Frank, the superfrog, not only in words but in the symbolic use of his water colour palette: from fresh green colour-washed fields and the blue lily-fringed river, where Frank, the superfrog, sits quietly reading, through the murky smokiness of an industrial, decaying landscape that needs Frank’s attention, to the opulent interior hues of the city’s tallest building and finally the consoling splendour of a rainbow. Frank is supercharged and can travel great distances, literally under his own steam: his fuel is his own body gas. Reminiscent of the Pied Piper in his colourful clothes and his ability to summon children to follow his lead, Frank’s mission is to rid the town of its invasive pollution and to expose the way in which local maladministration has brought this situation about. There’s much to talk about here in terms of caring for our world and much to amuse young readers as Frank propels himself, at will, by discharging gas from his remarkable bum.

Catriona Nicholson


The Dawn Chorus

Written and illustrated by Suzanne Barton

Bloomsbury   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1408839218

Peep wakes one morning to the sound of beautiful singing. He discovers that the music is coming from the birds in the ‘Dawn Chorus’ and he wants to be able to sing with them. They agree to audition him the next morning, but he oversleeps and misses it. Determined not to oversleep the next time, he stays awake all night only to find he’s too tired to sing. Sadly, he realises that he doesn’t fit in with the Dawn Chorus until a new friend tells him the reason and shows him the right time for him to sing. A delightful story about fitting in and finding your own place in the world. Gentle illustrations capture the feel of the story perfectly and use the space on the page very cleverly. This new author/illustrator is definitely one to watch.

Annie Everall


 Football Star

Written by Mina Javaherbin

Illustrated by Renato Alarc√£o

Walker   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1406357219

Written by an Iranian author and illustrated by a Brazilian artist, this highly topical picture book follows the fortunes of a scratch football team made up of youngsters living in poverty near the sea in Brazil. Paulo hopes to be a professional football star so that his mother will not have to work long hours. He takes care of his younger sister, Maria, as she teaches him to read and he, in return, teaches her football tactics. Everyone smiles as Paulo assembles his team after a hard day out fishing and finally allows Maria to share in the game too. Lavish water-colour illustrations quickly and effectively establish the atmosphere of a small town where no-one is rich but life is still lived to the full.

Nicholas Tucker

Titles for the young child just beginning to Read Alone

The Frankenstein Teacher

Written by Tony Bradman

Illustrated by Peter Kavanagh

Corgi (eB)   £4.99

ISBN: 9780552568999

The Doctor, in his science lab, creates a living creature - Mr Frankenstein - who loves children and desperately wants to become a teacher. When he qualifies he goes to his first school to teach 3F, but his reception is unexpected. The children are stunned at this new, huge, ugly and very scary teacher and soon Mr Frankenstein decides to leave because no-one likes him. Circumstances change and before the end of the story Mr Frankenstein is happily back in the classroom. The illustrations are excellent, there is a good use of rhyming words and onomatopoeia and the story is funny. “Colour First Readers are perfect for beginner readers and all the text has been checked and approved by a reading specialist. It is the ideal size, length and level for children beginning to read.”, so says the publisher!

Ingrid Fox

Super-Saver Mouse

Written by Sandi Toksvig

Illustrated by George Hollingworth

Corgi   £4.99

ISBN: 978-0552568944

This fun book is part of a new series of books ideal for new readers – Colour First Readers. At the moment there are twenty books to choose from, all written by familiar and well-loved children’s authors such as Sandi Toksvig, Jacqueline Wilson and Paul Stewart. Each book is an entertaining tale which will keep young readers entertained, thus encouraging a love of reading. For instance Super-Saver Mouse tells the exciting story of Boris, a very brave young mouse, who has to stop a tube-train after his friend has an accident on the track. As well as being a thrilling read, this book will help children learn both how anyone can be a friend, regardless of how different they are, and, how the littlest person can make a big difference. All the books have big bold illustrations on each page to help support developing readers; either by giving visual prompts for difficult words, or by encouraging conversation with sharing adults about what is happening. At the back of each book is an invaluable guide for adults on how to best support their young reader, along with activities for children so that they gain further enjoyment from the book.

Jane Hall

Titles for the Confident Reader in Primary School

Charlie Merrick’s Misfits in Fouls, Friends and Football

Written and illustrated by Dave Cousins

OUP (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0192736598

This book was written to coincide with the 2014 Football World Cup and will appeal to all football-mad young people. It is full of amusing illustrations, comic strips, football trivia, match reports, true facts and funny doodles. Charlie loves football and when he isn’t playing the game he is doodling kits and game formations. This is his first season as captain of North Star Galaxy Under 12s and he discovers there is an opportunity for youth teams to play in exhibition matches at the World Cup Tournament. Charlie wants to enter his team but there is a problem – all the best players have left to join another team. However, Charlie is determined and the story evolves in the lead up to the warm-up match at the World Cup. Will North Star Galaxy make it to the Under 12s tournament?

Ingrid Fox

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures

Written by Kate DiCamillo    

Illustrated by K.G. Campbell

Walker   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1406345186

Winner of the 2014 Newbery Medal, this is a characteristically quirky book from an acclaimed writer. The opening pages, in black and white graphic novel format, focus on the spectacular features of the Ulysses super-suction vacuum cleaner that is given to middle-aged poetry-loving Tootie Tickham by her loving husband. So powerful is the cleaner that when Tootie is persuaded to take it outside into her backyard an unfortunate visiting squirrel is sucked into its depths. Next door lives Flora Belle Buckman who, from her bedroom, sees the tragedy unfolding. Inspired by the deeds of her comic book hero, she rushes to the aid of the stunned squirrel. Needless to stay the creature is rescued, given the name of Ulysses and, born anew, assumes superhero powers and strength of comic book magnitude. Those heightened superhero moments when Ulysses writes poetry, flies and performs in unbelievable ways are signified by the use of the graphic format. But the author is not only concerned with writing a funny novel: the growth of love and loyalty between Flora and Ulysses is a touching thread woven into the narrative and Kate DiCamillo skilfully unsettles the novel’s comic dimension by gently exposing fragile human relationships that need attention.

Catriona Nicholson

Titles for readers Moving On from Primary to High School


The Forbidden Library

Written by Django Wexler

Doubleday (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-0857532879

Alice lives alone with her father and late one night hears him having an argument with a fairy - a horrible beast with warts and needle-like teeth. It is threatening her father, insisting he accepts a mysterious offer, or else. Very shortly after this, Alice’s father is lost at sea and she is sent to live with a mysterious uncle, Geryon, of whom she has never heard. Her life becomes even stranger when she discovers a huge library owned by Geryon, which she is not supposed to enter. Once she starts exploring she discovers the magic within the library’s books which suck her into their internal worlds, helping her to unravel the story behind the mysterious fairy and the disappearance of her father. A refreshing plunge into the world of fairy and magic that successfully immerses the reader alongside Alice in fighting dark forces and evil characters. A thoroughly entertaining novel. I really enjoyed the plot structure and the character development. Django Wexler has succeeded in creating a highly likeable heroine in a magical world that will continue to reward its readers for many years to come. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Annie Everall


The Boy in the Porch

Written by Sharon Creech

Andersen (eB)   £9.99

ISBN: 978-1849397728

Once again Sharon Creech has created a wonderfully whimsical story about ordinary people whose lives are touched by the extraordinary. A young couple wake one day to find a strange boy curled up on the chair on the front porch. A simple note says his name is Jacob and asks them to look after him. He seems happy to be with them but doesn’t speak – simply taps messages. Their lives are transformed as they care for the boy who makes himself at home at the farm befriending the animals, painting bright pictures and learning to play the guitar. The simplicity of this story adds to the moving portrayal of what makes a family and how unconditional love binds people together. The young couple are concerned to do what is best for Jacob and try to find his family, but when he is eventually claimed they are bereft. A friend suggests that as they created such a happy family with Jacob they should continue to foster children and over the years a succession of youngsters cross their porch and enrich their lives in many ways. Jacob had taught them well and years later they are rewarded.

Louise Stothard

The Chronicles of Narmo

Written by Caitlin Moran

Corgi (R) (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0552570664

There are plenty of teenager readers who want to be writers (good for them!) and this is the book to show them how it is done. These young readers are unlikely to be followers of Caitlin Moran’s column in The Times, but they are sure to love this laugh-out-loud debut novel that she wrote when she was just fifteen years old. The highly entertaining story is based on the author’s own family life at the time and it follows the chaotic Narmo family of Wolverhampton through one whole year, when, among other things, the parents decide to home-educate their children, go on holiday to Scotland, and attend a family wedding. The closely observed episodes of family life are interspersed with delightful little scenes of pure fantasy, for example, a conversation between two gargoyles on the outside of a church. Caitlin Moran was obviously a brilliant writer from the day she was born and she has the eye to spot the humour in everyday situations.

Jan Lennon


Pigeon Summer

Written by Ann Turnbull

Walker (R) (eB)   £5.99

ISBN:  978-1406352498

First published in 1992, this is a welcome reprint of the first in this trilogy about a Shropshire mining family in the 1930s. Despite the poverty and struggle of her family’s life, Mary takes on the mantel of racing her father’s pigeons when he has to leave home to look for work. Mary’s ability to focus on the pigeons, and the possibility of winning a major race, lifts her above the anxieties of daily life. Family relationships are portrayed with a realistic combination of affection and frustration, and readers will be drawn into Mary’s world with sympathy and understanding, as well as a whiff of excitement as the race draws near. Warm, sensitive and unsentimental, this book will be enjoyed for its sense of a time and place, different from today’s, and for the direct straightforwardness of Mary’s character as she acts, not to change her life, but to live it to the full. Further titles in the trilogy take up the stories of different characters in the community and are also currently available: No Friend of Mine and Room for a Stranger.

Lucy Russell

Titles for Young Teenage Readers


Running Girl

Written by Simon Mason

David Fickling (eB)   £12.99

ISBN: 978-0857560582

Every so often there is an anti-hero who you can’t help but secretly love or admire and Simon Mason’s new character, Garvie Smith, certainly fits the bill. He is intelligent, attractive and very capable, but bored and cannot see the point of getting good grades. His teachers despair and his mother warns him about drinking too much and smoking ‘that stuff’ with his friends, threatening to take him back to Barbados. Whilst Garvie declares that nothing ever happens, D.I. Singh is investigating the murder of Garvie’s ex-girlfriend, Amy, the running girl of the title. Garvie becomes intrigued by the mystery surrounding Amy’s death and is impatient when the police ask what he considers to be the wrong questions and make incorrect assumptions. This exciting and intriguing mystery story has many unexpected twists and turns. It is fascinating to follow the deductions of a clever mind as clues and inconsistencies eventually lead to the truth. The characters are interesting and credible, but, best of all, Simon Mason has created a new hero and I hope Garvie Smith will soon return with a new mystery to solve.

Louise Stothard

Life after Theft

Written by Aprilynne Pike

HarperCollins (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0007515974

This hilarious story of a teenage boy finding his way at a new school and in a new neighbourhood, has an unusual twist. Jeff and his family have come into some money and moved to wealthy California. On his very first day at school Jeff almost falls over the most gorgeous girl lying in the hallway. The most disturbing aspect of this unexpected sight is that he is the only one who can see her. Kimberlee is a ghost, but is delighted that Jeff can see her and confesses to having been a kleptomaniac. She can only move on once everything she has stolen is returned. As Jeff reluctantly gets involved in this ambitious plan he discovers that there is more to Kimberlee’s past than she is letting on. Also, he discovers that returning stolen goods is far more difficult than he thought. Add to that the ever constant presence of an annoying ghost at your shoulder and you have all the ingredients of a farcical adventure. But, there is a deeper layer too, as the truth behind Kim’s death is revealed and Jeff realises that wealth doesn’t necessarily bring happiness. An entertaining and thought provoking read.

Louise Stothard

 Bet Your Life

Written by Jane Casey

Corgi (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-0552566049

Jess Tennant first appeared in the book How to Fall when she arrived in Port Sentinel and immediately became involved in a quest to find out why her cousin died. In this second book Jess finds herself, reluctantly, investigating a violent incident when Seb Dawson is taken to hospital fighting for his life, apparently the victim of a hit-and-run accident. However, Jess isn’t convinced. She soon discovers that Seb may not be the clean-cut, nice guy that everyone thinks he is and that there are some very nasty games being played by the teenage population in her new home town. But this is more than just a dark and intriguing thriller, as Jess has her own personal problems to deal with. The events of last summer have made it hard for her to make friends and her fledgling romance with Will is being discouraged by Will’s policeman father. He has his own reasons for not wanting Jess in his son’s life or in his investigations. The teenage characters, even the unpleasant ones, are realistic and convincing and the plot twists and turns as it moves towards its dramatic conclusion.

Jan Lennon


Written by Antony Lishak

Acorn (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1909122680

Antony Lishak’s compelling novel about the plight of Polish Jews after Hitler’s bombing of Warsaw, follows the story of two boys, Stefan and Marcus, as they come to terms with the abhorrent changes that Nazism brings to the country. Stefan, a privileged Pole, son of the director of the Warsaw Zoo, is Marcus’s best friend and there is nothing extraordinary in that, until the Nazi’s arrive and being friends with a Jew is strictly forbidden. This is a subject which has been well documented and a plethora of books like Gleiztman’s Once, Then, Now and After have dealt with similar issues for children. Antony Lishak’s account is unusual as it is set around Warsaw Zoo and in particular its depiction of Jan Zabinski, Poland’s  ‘Oscar Schindler’, whose bravery and courage in finding ways of outwitting the Nazis saved hundreds of Polish Jews by sheltering them in empty animal cages. The author spent eight years writing and researching this book. The gripping storyline, and occasional touches of black humour, leave a harrowing impression of one of humanity’s darkest periods of history.

Richard Monte

The Children of the New Forest

Written by Frederick Marrayat

Hesperus (R) (eB)   £8.99

ISBN: 978-1843914877

A very handsomely presented edition of a book first published in 1847, when far fewer titles were available for children and this was a staple of juvenile fiction. Will this story of four orphaned children learning to fend for themselves in the New Forest during the political chaos of the English Civil War still appeal to current young readers? There will certainly be some who will enjoy its quiet, old-fashioned charms, for there are many pleasures to be found following the travails of the Beverley children whose Cavalier father has been killed in battle and whose home has been burnt to the ground by Roundheads. The account of their education in a simple life of hunting and farming is fascinating and the twists and turns of the plot as they try to survive the turmoil of war are gripping. True, there are some long-winded passages and the phraseology is occasionally a little archaic, but a story of children overcoming odds is always enthralling. On top of all this, there is a quality that young readers may relish, since it is often missing in contemporary fiction - a feeling of comfort and reassurance and steadfastness. 

Nigel Hinton

Titles for More Mature readers

Take Back the Skies

Written by Lucy Saxon

Bloomsbury (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1408847657

The totalitarian world this story describes – a society of privileged government officials oppressing a population with lies about external threats from warring neighbours – is reminiscent of 1984. However Lucy Saxon spices it up with the additional nastiness of appalling experiments on children to produce a mechanical master race. The nemesis of this vile regime is Catherine Hunter, the daughter of one of the leaders of the government, whose father plans to marry her to someone she dislikes. Escaping from his clutches, disguised as a boy, she teams up with some smugglers on a skyship and learns that everything she has been taught by the regime is a lie. She launches a revolution. The action is fast and furious, Catherine is an appealing heroine and her relationship with a boy on board the skyship provides comedy, growing romance and tragedy. It’s a winning formula!

Nigel Hinton



Written by Non Pratt

Walker (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1406347692

Hannah is fifteen, and enjoying experimenting with sex. Fletch is her boyfriend, loud and funny, yet probably not for keeps. Tyrone is Marcy’s boyfriend, exuding sexual attraction. Aaron is new to the school and has a secret to hide. When Hannah falls pregnant, the identity of the father is a mystery. Meanwhile, Aaron decides to take on the huge responsibility of claiming fatherhood and supporting Hannah. Using frank colloquial language, this novel depicts a group of teenagers coping with the realities of growing up, puberty and developing sexual experience. The diary format, related by Hannah and Aaron in turn, involves the reader closely in their lives and we see their dilemmas and concerns from their viewpoints. Apart from an understanding granny, the adults fade into the background and offer very little practical help, and so it is the teenagers themselves who have to deal with their own problems. This is a heady mix of sexuality and promiscuousness, crude jokes, foul language and teenage banter, but older teenagers will appreciate a book which tells life as it sometimes is.

Liz Dubber