Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Extra reviews for Issue 59

Picture Books for young children


Mungo Monkey Goes to School

Written and illustrated by Lydia Monk

Egmont   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1405269094

Crammed with lift-up flaps, this slight, but cheerful, picture book follows the hero of the title plus his friends on their journey to school. The classroom project today is to find out about bugs, otherwise known, at least in the country, as insects. Some vigorous sketching follows until it is time to play and finally return home. Illustrations throughout are bright and friendly and the minimal accompanying story is particularly suitable for infants at the very early stages of understanding.

Nicholas Tucker


The Zebra Who Ran Too Fast

Written and illustrated by Jenni Desmond

Walker   £11.99

 ISBN: 978-1406347500

Zebra loves his two best friends, Elephant and Bird. They enjoy laughing and playing games together, but, one day, the other two get cross because Zebra is too bouncy and too fast. They say he makes them dizzy. Zebra is heartbroken even though a new friend, Giraffe, is kind to him.  Can he find a way to patch things up with Elephant and Bird?  Expressive illustrations with a gentle humour of their own make this simple story about coping with the stresses within a friendship group an excellent choice for younger readers.

Marianne Adey

Rex Wrecks It

Written and illustrated by Ben Clanton

Candlewick   £10.99

ISBN 978-1406358230

Three little toy friends like to build things out of bricks, but their friend, Rex the dinosaur, just likes knocking them down. Everyone is sad, including Rex, who is sorry, but a bright idea from Gizmo, the robot, means they all find out that working (and wrecking) together is much more fun. This lovely warm message of friendship and togetherness in the face of a familiar problem will be of great encouragement to boisterous toddlers and help them begin to understand their world. A great book for sharing with lots of scope for young readers to expend energy and noise as they join in the repeated text. Dynamic and bold illustrations have plenty of colour and movement, and the clear facial expressions will help young readers understand how the toys feel at different points in the story. Highly recommended.

Lucy Russell

First Steps in reading for young children


On the day you were born

Written by Margaret Wild

Illustrated by Ron Brooks

Allen & Unwin   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1741147544

A father recounts to his child what happened when they went outside together for the very first time on the day the baby was born. We do not see the father or the child, but the images of that first day are portrayed in glorious, full colour illustrations and text that is written in soft, gentle prose, conveying the awe and quiet moments of shared joy that accompany the birth of a much-wanted child.

Yvonne Coppard

The Not-So-Perfect Penguin

Written and illustrated by Steve Smallman

QED   £4.99

ISBN: 978-1781711347

The Not-So-Perfect Penguin is an engaging way for parents to introduce children to the impact of different types of behaviour. Percy is a fun-loving penguin. His peers are all serious and sensible, whereas Percy likes to have fun: sliding on his tummy rather than waddling along like the others, jumping and splashing rather than swimming peacefully. The other penguins are constantly moaning and telling him off, but, when Percy disappears one day, the group realise how much they miss him. Children will love Steve Smallman’s gorgeous illustrations of the cute penguins in the latest book in the ‘Storytime’ series. As with the other books in this collection, the colourful full-page illustrations and heart-warming story are subtly combined with a more serious message: here, being aware of the consequences of your actions, as sometimes what you think is just fun can cause upset and worry for others. The final page of the book contains suggested questions for parents to use to generate discussion with their children about behaviour. This is a gentle, but fun story with an important message sensitively told.

Jane Hall

The Greedy Rainbow

Written by Susan Chandler

Illustrated by Sanja Rescek

QED   £10.99

ISBN: 978-1781715765

The natural world is full of glorious colours and they are there for everyone to enjoy. In this charming story for very young book lovers a tiny rainbow gobbles up all the colour from the forest and as it grows bigger and bigger the forest gets greyer and greyer. Eventually all the colour has gone from the rainforest leaving the animals and plants completely grey and very sad. Once the rainbow realises that it has been selfish, that the forest is no longer beautiful and that it has made everyone unhappy it starts to cry and the colours pour back into the forest. But, amusingly, things aren’t quite as they were before. Lots of books for small children are about colour, but this beautifully illustrated story also highlights the importance and pleasure of sharing. The book includes a page of suggested discussion points for teachers and parents, just in case a teacher or a parent finds it tricky to talk about the book and its theme.       

Jan Lennon

Titles for the young child just beginning to Read Alone


The Selkie Girl

Retold by Janis Mackay

Illustrated by Ruchi Mhasane

Kelpies   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1782501305

A beautiful retelling of a traditional Scottish tale for a young audience. Fergus lives with his father, a poor fisherman. and spends his lonely days beachcombing. One day he finds a wonderful treasure - a seal skin. Fergus does not realise he has taken a Selkie girl’s skin, without which she cannot return to the sea and to her mother. Once she reveals herself, they become firm friends, playing and catching fish. Fergus longs for her to remain with him, but the Selkie girl must return to the sea. A poignant parting ensues, but the Selkie girl continues to watch over Fergus from the sea, and increases the catch of fish, improving the fortunes and happiness of the whole village. Stunning watercolour illustrations fill the pages, echoing the tenderness of the story, and drawing the reader into the beautiful Scottish coastal landscape. Every word of the text has been carefully chosen: Janis Mackay works as a storyteller as well as an author and her talent is clear. A superb book.

Lucy Russell

Titles for the Confident Reader in Primary School


Maisie Hitchins: The Case of the Secret Tunnel

Written by Holly Webb

Illustrated by Marion Lindsay

Stripes (eB)   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1847154361

Holly Webb's Victorian detective series is perfect for those younger readers who are starting to build their reading confidence. In this fifth mystery in the series, Maisie and her dog Eddie are on the case of the suspicious lodger who has just moved into her Gran's house. Something is just not right about Mr Grange, as he says that he works for a biscuit factory but when Maisie questions him about his favourite biscuit, his answer shows that he must be lying! Not only that but there are other strange occurrences involving missing laundry from washing lines, stolen paintings and very odd behaviour in the London Underground. Can Maisie find the link between these crimes and solve the mystery herself or will she end up in too deep when she realises there are serious criminals at work? Maisie is an endearing, confident character and the lovely illustrations work beautifully well with the plot, helping the reader to notice the clues along the way.

Nicole Jordan


Willy’s Stories

Written & illustrated by Anthony Browne

Walker   £12.99

ISBN: 978-1406351613

Thirty years after the publication of Willy the Wimp Anthony Browne pays tribute to the writers and illustrators who have inspired his own work over the years by enabling his iconic hero to enter the fictional worlds of ten classic stories and play a role. The compelling shine of the book jacket draws the reader through marbled end papers and into Willy’s frontispiece smile. He holds a book, bearing the title Willy’s Stories, the cover of which replicates the familiar fair-isle pattern of his jersey. This motif is used to highlight the initial letter of each verso text page. That sense of pattern that characterises Anthony Browne’s work amply fulfils reader expectations in this book. Each adventure begins with Willy going ‘through the door’ into his story world. Each places Willy in some kind of confrontation or challenge before inviting young readers to play the game of ‘What happens next?’. Each of the illustrated recto plates has some visual reference to books whether they form the trunk of a Crusoe tree, fly as gulls, become a Kansas home or construct Rapunzel’s tower. Every Anthony Browne hallmark is here: anthropomorphic woodlands, Magritte skies, gloriously incongruous transformations. A triumph of a Willy-celebration!

Catriona Nicholson

Titles for readers Moving On from Primary to High School


The Vanishing of Billy Buckle

Written by Sally Gardner

Illustrated by David Roberts

Orion (eB)   £5.99

ISBN: 978-1444003741

Another fabulous story about the Fairy Detective Agency, who appeared in the books Operation Bunny and Three Pickled Herrings. The Giant, Billy Buckle has disappeared. He went away for the weekend, leaving his six year old daughter, Primrose, in the safe-keeping of the Agency. However, Billy did not reappear and Emily and Co were not only concerned about him, but were also anxious because Primrose was growing very fast indeed, so much so that she was threatening to shoot through the roof. The search for Billy leads the team to the seaside and involves them in the theft of a diamond, a murder and a talent show! The pace is fast and furious and the plot quite complex, making for gripping reading. There is never a dull moment - the next crisis is just around the corner!

Patricia Thompson


 Nightmares! 368

Written by Jason Segel and Kirsten Miller

Doubleday (eB)   £9.99

ISBN: 978-085753555

Nightmares! The debut novel from actor Jason Segel, of The Muppet Movie, and Kirsten Miller is actually a dream to read. Charlie Laird’s widowed father has recently remarried and Charlie hates his new stepmother. Not only because he resents her trying to take his Mum’s place, but because they have moved into her house - a huge purple mansion at the edge of town. Since moving there Charlie has had nightmares, and now the nightmares are beginning to invade his waking life too. It is up to Charlie to stop them before they take over forever. Nightmares! is an impressive start to a proposed trilogy, although it does read as a stand-alone novel too. The nightmares in the book may be familiar to young readers - fear of the dark and worries about exams. At times, the story is quite scary, especially President Fear and his goblin followers. The scares are balanced though by some lighter moments with other Netherworld characters, such as gorgons and clowns, who believe that they are there “to help children face their fears” and that once they have achieved this, the nightmares will retire to Dreamworld. This exciting fantasy adventure is ideal for confident readers.

Jane Hall

Mutant City

Written by Steve Feasey

Bloomsbury (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1408843031

Mutant City, the first of a thrilling new adventure series, is ideal for young fans of the X-Men. It begins with the destruction of a secret experimental facility, and the covert escape of its five residents - children created with super-powers. Jump forward thirteen years and the world is divided between the privileged ‘pure’ and the abused ‘mutants’. The existence of the mutant children has been discovered by President Melk – their creator, and the battle begins between those who want to keep the children safe, and those who want to use their powers for their own benefit. This action packed tale moves along at a swift pace, but never at the expense of the plot or character development. Although aimed at a young teen audience, the premise is quite dark: mutant children created to be used and disposed of by the rich and powerful. The chapters focus on different characters so the reader gradually gets to know each one a little more. Rush and Brick are the main focus of this book and their relationship is strong and loyal. No doubt other characters will be developed more in future books. President Melk is pure evil. A thrilling read.

Jane Hall

Titles for Young Teenage Readers


Opal Plumstead

Written by Jacqueline Wilson

Illustrated by Nick Sharratt

Doubleday (eB)   £12 .99

ISBN: 978-0857531094

There are always legions of fans waiting avidly for the next Jacqueline Wilson novel and here comes number 100! We are taken back to 1913. Women are starting to demand the right to vote, trade unions are gaining power in the work place and World War One is not far away. Initially, Opal is not aware of any of this. She is busy coming top in everything at school and hoping to go on to university, but these dreams are shattered when her father is jailed for embezzlement and she has to leave school and start work at the sweet factory. Here she learns, among many other things, that bullying is not confined to the schoolyard and that the class system still holds firm.  Opal’s family find it a struggle to make ends meet and retain their standard of living, but Opal is an intelligent and spirited young lady who is determined to make the best of the situation. Jacqueline Wilson uses her usual deceptively light touch to tackle some weighty topics and make them accessible to her young teen readers.

Jan Lennon

The Piper

Written by Danny Weston

Andersen (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1783440511

In this wonderfully dramatic story supernatural forces are at work on Romney March. At the beginning of World War II Peter and Daisy are evacuated from Dagenham to a remote farmhouse inhabited by an elderly gentleman, his invalid daughter and their devoted housekeeper. The marshland around the house is treacherous as paths are difficult to follow so the children are told not to go out alone. Each night they hear music that Daisy feels compelled to follow, but inexplicably their new guardians claim not to hear it. On a rare trip away from the house Peter hears the story of the piper and his thirst for revenge. He realises that his sister is in great danger and there is very little time to prevent yet another tragedy happening on the marsh. Danny Weston’s debut novel is an exciting and atmospheric tale with ghostly dancers and mysterious music interwoven with real locations and historical events. There is also an ancient curse and a cast of strangely remote adult characters living in an eerie isolated house, so this has all the ingredients of an enjoyably scary read.

Jan Lennon


Skulduggery Pleasant: Armageddon Outta Here

Written by Derek Landy

HarperCollins (eB)   £14.99

ISBN: 978-0007559534

Armageddon Outta Here (even Derek Landy admits he can’t believe they let him use this title) is not for those new to the world of Skulduggery Pleasant, but is a must read for those legions of fans eagerly awaiting the final book in the series. It is a collection of short stories previously available from websites, bonuses previously in earlier titles, the World Book Day novella The End of the World, some new short stories, plus a sneak peak at that final book The Dying of the Light. The book opens with a story set in1861 in South Dakota and follows The Dead Men pursuing a character that fans will know well. This warns the reader that this is no ordinary Skulduggery book. It leaps across the years telling tales of adventures between the novels, but a useful timeline helps place the tales in context. My personal favourite is Get thee Behind Me, Bubba Moon, a ghost story that would not be out of place in a Stephen King collection. My advice, if you are a fan don’t miss this book, if not get this book and the first Skulduggery Pleasant book and join in the fun.

Trevor Hall


Buffalo Soldier

Written by Tanya Landman

Walker (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1406314595

This book, of very wide ranging themes, basically tells the story of a young female slave, liberated by the American Civil War, who pretends to be a boy and joins the army. This may seem an unlikely scenario, but it is actually based on a true story. Alongside this basic plot, the book explores in some depth, the treatment of freed slaves, the pursuit of the Native American population and the management of the problems that they allegedly create. It also exposes in some detail the role of the Army, the Government, and the corrupt Indian agents in the treatment of the various tribal groups. It does not make for comfortable reading, but, it is brilliantly written! The text is a narrative by Charlotte/Charley and the book is impossible to put down. The reader can sense her feelings of fear for herself, her growing pity for the Native Americans, and her pleasure and affection for her horse and the other members of her troop, who are all black and freed slaves. There is also a sense of her growing belief that nothing will ever change and that the freedom that all slaves dream about is just a word meaning absolutely nothing. I would very strongly recommend this book.

Patricia Thompson

The Convent

Written by Maureen McCarthy

Allen & Unwin   £11.99

ISBN: 978-1743361184

The huge Abbotsford Convent community, where a closed order of nuns runs a school, an orphanage and one of the now notorious Magdalene Laundries, touched the lives of four generations of women in the same family. Sadie has her young daughter, Ellen, taken from her when, without any warning or court involvement, she is declared to be an unfit mother. Ellen grows up in the convent and eventually marries and has a daughter of her own, Cecilia. While Cecilia willingly enters the order as a nun, she leaves the order and gives birth to an illegitimate daughter, whom she gives up for adoption. Peach, the last link in the family chain, has a student job at the cafĂ© – in the now-converted Convent building. The nuns have long gone but the memories remain. The stories of the four young women play out and intertwine in an absorbing, convincing portrayal of the journey each of them must make as she struggles to escape from her past. It is a poignant read, all the more so for being based on Maureen McCarthy’s own family history.

Yvonne Coppard


Killing Sound

Written by Paul Southern

Chicken House (eB)   £7.99

ISBN: 978-1909489080

This is the story of Jodie, who at the age of three years witnessed the terrible scene of her parents’ murder. She has suppressed the memory for years, but now something has awoken the past. In this horrifying story of the paranormal, Jodie and her friends confront a terrifying enemy, unleashing monstrous forces with disastrous consequences. The story unfolds slowly as Jodie first finds, and then tries to experiment with, her scientist father’s old equipment. He was in the process of testing his theories to explain the paranormal with ultrasound, working in the bowels of the London underground. But his work was cut short by a ghastly explosion and double murder. This is an exciting story, with a strong plot, as we can believe in Jodie and her motivation for seeking the truth. As the plot becomes increasingly violent we begin to suspect that Jodie may, unwittingly, be part of the problem. The final episode is disturbing and leaves a familiar question to be answered – should teenage horror novels steer towards a happy or at least hopeful ending, or not? Not recommended for the faint-hearted!

Liz Dubber

Titles for More Mature readers

Out of Control

Written by Sarah Alderson

Simon & Schuster (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1471115752

Liva, who has recently moved to New York to start a new life, is with the police giving a statement for a crime she has witnessed. Whilst there, she meets Jay, who has been arrested for car theft. Armed men break into the police station killing as they go, but, together, Jay and Liva manage to escape. Liva gradually comes to realise that she is the target and not just a witness. This book is exciting, fast paced and a real page-turner. The tension is palpable and the chase through the streets and subways of New York is like watching a film. There are unexpected twists to the story and a teenage romance which all adds to its appeal.

Ingrid Fox


Written by Malinda Lo

Hodder (eB)   £6.99

ISBN: 978-1444917949

Malinda Lo skilfully intertwines sci-fi and romance in this, her new teen novel. Across North America flocks of birds are flying into planes, killing thousands in the resultant crashes. Fearing terrorism, the US government cancels all flights. Reese and David are stranded in Arizona following a debating competition, and on their drive home to San Francisco a bird crashes into their windscreen causing their car to flip over. When they awake twenty-seven days later in a military hospital, no one will tell them where they are or what has happened to them. All the two know is that they are subtly different from before the crash. Adaptation is perfect for fans of The X-Files. Lo has gathered all the key features to enthral young teens in a love triangle between Reese, David and the mysterious Amber, thrilling conspiracy theories and aliens. The main characters are well depicted in shy Reese, wary of romance due to her parents’ failed marriage, and geeky best friend Julian, thrilled by Reese’s extra-terrestrial adventures. While waiting for the sequel, Inheritance, fans can enjoy the accompanying eBook novella Natural Selection.

Jane Hall