Barry Loser Total Winner! / Dennis & Gnasher Attack of the Evil Veg

Barry Loser Total Winner!
Jim Smith
Farshore

In this latest of the graphic novel series starring Jim Smith’s ‘keel’ character, Barry Loser is full of the joys of spring as he walks to school in the first episode at least. Therein too are all kinds of Barryish shenanigans concerning his ‘ex-best friends’ Bunky and Nancy’s joint party, resulting in Barry declaring loud and clear that he’ll never speak to either again. There are also a fair few arachnids of the biting kind involved.

The next episode sees Barry with a new bestie, Snozzy, behaving even more weirdly than ever. It involves a dog poo incident, a damaged facial feature and further sniggersome scenes.

Episode three takes us to the supermarket along with Barry and Bunky and Nancy to make it less boring. It’s certainly anything but that on account of some walkie talkies and a sudden epidemic of yawning. 

I’ll say no more on that topic and move swiftly on to the Granny’s handbag episode at the start of which Barry receives from said grandparent, a new and terrible toy – one that kind of comes and goes. 

In the final incident (or several) Barry oversteps the mark when it comes to the ‘twiddler’ leaf-blowing game; is asked to try mindfulness in class, which is not an overwhelming success at the time, there’s a temporarily distraught Dad, not forgetting the odd surprise. And, it’s interesting to see the new character in the shape of French Fries.

Masses of mayhem and mischief, cringe making moments, and lots of the rolling about kind of laughs are assured when individuals embark on this tenth anniversary offering. Perhaps they’ll even discover that Barry isn’t always such a loser.

Dennis & Gnasher Attack of the Evil Veg
I.P. Daley, Craig Graham, Mike Stirling, illustrated by Nigel Parkinson
Farshore

Dennis’ pals have been bitten by the gardening bug and are now spending pretty much all their time at Beanotown’s allotments. Then comes an announcement from the town’s mayor: The Great Beanotown Grow Off and there’s to be a large money prize – a very large one – for the grower of the biggest, tastiest vegetable. No prizes though for guessing who has his eyes set on that: the problem is Dennis knows absolutely nothing about cultivating veggies. 

Dennis however, is not the only one intent on bagging the prize but he’s so desperate so to do that he visits Professor Von Screwtop who tells him of his own failed experiments when trying to make super-growth serums. “One day I’ll look into it again. Until that day, those three failed experiments will sit safely on that shelf by the door.”

No sooner has he uttered this than Dennis is out the door with them, endeavouring to make them work. They don’t, or rather he thinks they don’t until he returns to the allotments at night and sees a giant, evil veg (strictly speaking a fruit) destroying the place. The trouble is almost nobody believes his story and now Dennis is accused of being the culprit. Determined to prove his innocence, he embarks on a mission to do so. 

With a little assistance from Minnie and Gnasher, they’re determined to root out the army of mutant veggies before they take over the entire town.

Fast-moving silliness, full of jokes, with guest appearances from several Beano characters including Calamity James that will satisfy the comic lovers as well as lovers of chapter books of the zany kind. Don’t miss the fun facts, extra veggie jokes and further daftness at the end of the story.

Coming Up For Air / Sisters of the Mist

Coming Up For Air
Lou Abercrombie
Little Tiger

When Coco has to move to the seaside town of Piscary where her mum grew up, she’s eager to make friends and learn more about the family her mum has kept from her. What she doesn’t expect is the resentment shown by the community and her mum’s secrets are certainly deep-rooted.

Staying with her reputedly brilliant biologist Uncle Henry who is struggling with ME, Coco is an aspiring film-maker and an excellent swimmer with as she discovers, a talent for freediving.

Within Piscary are factions: the residents born and bred in the town (Fishes), those who have bought property to live in (Cuckoos), and the ‘Zombies’ who come to spend the summer enjoying what the town offers. As Coco explores the rift between her mum, her family and her hometown, making an occasional friend along the way, she becomes more and more determined to bring the town together.

But then disaster strikes when she and ace swimmer/diver Leo and new friend Shiv investigate a cave that involves diving deep and swimming along a tunnel. Will it be a case of tragic history repeating itself or can Coco finally see herself as part of a proper family?

Lou Abercrombie’s powerful, gripping coming of age story is told from the viewpoint of Coco who intersperses her narrative with filmic directions, adding an unusual element to the book.

Sisters of the Mist
Marlyn Spaaij
Flying Eye Books

Frygea Forest is ancient and mysterious; trolls lurk and mischievous changelings scuttle around. It’s also the place on the edge of which three sisters go every summer to stay with their grandmother on her farm.

Kyra and Janna have been eagerly anticipating another chance to climb trees, toast marshmallows and play some silly games in the woods with their big sister Margot who will be starting senior school after the holidays. Things are different this year however. Margot is less enthusiastic about spending all her time with her siblings. But when she’s lured into the midst of the swampy woods by the phantom-like beings in the mist – the Fog Furies – a worried Kyra is determined to help her

and that means facing the frightful Hellhound. What’s actually happening is that on account of the mysterious forces, Margot is being transformed into a young adolescent.

Marlyn Spaaij’s cleverly conceived, dramatically illustrated graphic novel combines swirlingly strange fantasy elements with Margot’s coming of age and starting her periods, both these being aided by the Furies and her understanding grandmother. It’s a good one to give girls especially those around ten before those changes of growing up start to happen, especially as it shows that facing up to scary changes doesn’t have to mean leaving behind the power of the imagination.

Investigators: Off the Hook / Investigators: Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S

Investigators: Off the Hook
Investigators: Ants in Our P.A.N.T.S

John Patrick Green
Macmillan Children’s Books

More crime busting, pun filled sprees for Investigators Mango and Brash. As Off the Hook opens Mango and Brash are debating the tricky question:should you or should you not let your partner die for the cause of the greater good, or save your partner first and foremost. Little do they know however that Mango is going to have to face what he calls that ‘no-win scenario’ for real in their next mission – a mission in which they are to test the latest camouflage V.E.S.T technology. while tracking down and seizing Crackerdile et al. Crackerdile has enlisted into his evil T.A.I.L.Blazers the combined Hookline and Slinker – now a snake-armed man.

He and his new recruits – the only two of what he hopes will grow into a large criminal team – rob a bank and then head to a Chicken and Waffle restaurant so that he can be turned into a waffle – the largest size possible.

Can our agents possibly work out exactly what is going on, capture the arch villain and most important, both emerge intact from what seems to be their most difficult mission to date?

As always Green’s plot abounds with clever humour and madcappery, contains a layer of intertextuality for adult audiences and a motley cast of lesser characters; plus the book ends with a hook to lead you into the ‘Ants’ story. Don’t miss the detail in these illustrations -it’s terrific. (Colour added in Off the Hook by Aaron Polk.)

Taking up where the previous book left off, it’s been decided by HQ that rather than wait for crimes to occur, as soon as they ‘get wind of an evil-doer’s scheme an Anti-Crime-Unit will go undercover as fellow evil-doers and follow the straightforward P.A.N.T.S procedure. Easy-peasy – errr … Maybe not quite so with one of our star team temporarily out of action. Meanwhile those all-purpose V.E.S.T.s have been deemed not really ready for purpose and so it’s back to the assignment-specific kind for this mission.

We soon find Cilantro wrestling with herself: should she turn evil or not? But then she notices someone seemingly up to no good in the old opera house and realises it’s a heroine, not a villain she wants to be. Cilantro reports her findings to our Investigators and it’s a case of putting those new P.A.N.T.S. procedures into action forthwith.

With a decided lack of information regarding Crackerdile, and Brash’s mind to be sorted out, the do-gooding duo have an awful lot of work to do if they’re to prevent the city being taken over by giant ants. Then there’s the question of a certain agent facing up to his fears 

– a Miss Tick or maybe Mrs Tick, but certainly not a mystical thing.Time perhaps to allow Cilantro out in the field and for the Aunty Crime Unit to step forth and put their knitting skills and their ‘purls of wisdom’ to work.

With the usual super-abundance of groan-worthy puns and the reappearance of some characters from previous books, this is yet another high octane (and high-tech) drama, this time with added colour by Wes Dzioba. Established fans will gobble it up but if you’ve not read any of this series, you are missing out on a great deal of fun.

Mason Mooney: Doppelgänger Detective

Mason Mooney: Doppelgänger Detective
Seaerra Miller
Flying Eye Books

Mason Mooney is back in a sequel to Mason Mooney: Paranormal Investigator! It’s now Halloween time and in Grimbrook that is especially significant for it’s when the paranormal world and the ‘normal’ one are at their very closest. Halloween is also Mason’s busiest day in the entire year; however with Mason now friends with Iris, the two have different priorities, Iris being interested in the ‘silly’ aspects of the occasion while Mason needs to concentrate on investigating.

However because Iris and her fellow middle school council members have pulled out all the stops for the Grimbrook Middle School’s celebratory dance and costume competition Mason feels he has to join in. Soon comes the discovery of a weird magic mirror located in the school’s bathroom and immediately team Mason and Iris are on the case.

Furthermore, out of the blue Iris has received a mysterious invitation from a substitute teacher and then things start getting ever stranger.

During the costume judging there are even more bizarre happenings, largely on account of a magic ring.
Prepare yourself for a lot more mystery and magical happenings, as Mason and Iris stand between Grimbrook and the dastardly doppelgängers from the mirror dimension. There’s even, in the middle of a shower of frogs, a lip-smacking kiss; 

and why is Mason suddenly standing in the midst of everything without his trousers?

Can he possibly reopen that portal and lure the doppelgängers back into their world, and save Grimbrook? And what about his heart?

This nail-biting adventure ends on a cliff-hanger, so to discover the answers, readers are going to have to wait for the next book.

Fox & Rabbit Celebrate

Fox & Rabbit Celebrate
Beth Ferry and Gergely Dudás
Amulet Books

This graphic novel style series is terrific fun and it’s reached the third book. The focus for the five interconnected stories is celebration and there’s so much to love about them, not least being the alliterative story titles.

First Fix, Fuss & Flies takes place just before Sparrow’s birthday and begins with Fox announcing confusingly for his pal Rabbit that he’s decided to change the middle letter of his name to i and henceforward he’s to be called Fix not Fox or even better Fix-it Fox. Well maybe for that day only; but before it ends there are a number of jobs that need fixing and other animals wanting to be part of i day. So, Fred becomes Frid, and Rabbit gets dubbed Ribbit.

All ends happily with the work done but I do wonder what Tortoise might have been called had he not rocked up right at the day’s end in time for dinner, asking his usual ‘What’d I miss?’

In Party, Pizza & Plans Rabbit and Fox resolve to make Sparrow’s birthday (the next day) ‘super-trooper special’, the best ever and that entails making him the biggest, yummiest pizza in the world. As they have no idea how to make such a thing, they’ll need help, but from whom? Where will all the ingredients come from and how will they go about cooking so huge a thing?

Make way for a new and fiery character in the third story, the addressing of whom requires speaking another language – or perhaps not.

Said new character also appears in Birthdays, Best Days & Best Friends, where he’s introduced, performs a key task, becomes part of the team and a great time is had by all; but guess who almost misses the entire thing.

Wonder, Wish & Wow involves memories of the celebration, a lot of guessing and a considerable amount of hard work; but is it all worth the effort? Does Sparrow’s birthday wish come true?
Love the ending, love the new character and of course, I totally love Tortoise.

Dudás’ brightly coloured, splendidly expressive illustrations together with Beth Ferry’s terrific text, almost entirely in speech bubbles, make this perfect for those just moving to chapter books.

The Adventures of Team Pom: Squid Happens / Dino Knights: Panterra in Peril

The Adventures of Team Pom: Squid Happens
Isabel Roxas
Flying Eye Books

Meet Team Pom: there’s Agnes a keen pigeon keeper, Roberta, generator of ideas and Ruby, oceanography enthusiast, the team’s boss. Very different in most ways and far from athletic in any way, the three have a shared love of snacks and a desire to win this year’s Synchronised Swimming Championships.

During the course of their training they discover a friendly, rather lonely and definitely hungry squid named Cyd.

The creature makes a great addition to their team but there’s a problem. Hot on the trail are a pair of dapper rats sporting bowler hats that are trying to hunt down the tentacled creature for their nefarious boss who wants its ink.

Sink or swim it surely is in Isabel Roxas’s slapstick, action-packed graphic novel. With some fun puns, and wordplay aplenty, along with other jokey inclusions, this madcap romp with its New York setting and terrific trio of friends will surely go down especially well with those readers who like lots of surprises.

Dino Knights: Panterra in Peril
Jeff Norton, illustrated by Jeff Crosby
Scallywag Press

In this story readers are transported to Medieval times but there’s a difference: dinosaurs still roam the earth.

As the adventure opens young Henry Fairchild is a stable boy but he doesn’t tend horses; rather it’s his job to look after the dinos of Brecklan with which he has a special bond.

When he learns of a vicious T-Rex on the rampage in the forest, he rides to the rescue of his guardian Lord Harding (ruler of Brecklan) and his Lady Anwyn. The result of his selfless act of bravery, Henry is invited to join the brave Knights of Panterra, aka the Dino Knights.

To prevent an invasion of Brecklan by the Swamp states eager to get their hands on the berries grown only there, a tournament is set to take place in just two days.

Dino Knight training begins and one of the first things Henry learns is ‘to expect the unexpected’. Lord Harding urges the knights to work as a team as they work through their training classes.

As the tournament gets underway, Henry finds his attention suddenly focussed skywards and he sees two Pterosaurs swooping down. One grabs Lord Harding by his tunic; the other snatches up Lady Anwyn and thus begins Henry and his fellow Dino Knights’ mission to rescue his guardians. Nothing though is quite what it seems in this fast-paced adventure that assuredly tests Henry’s bravery to the limit.

With plenty of action and high drama, gentle humour and lots of dialogue, this fast-paced tale of derring do will please newly independent readers, many of whom will eagerly anticipate Henry’s next adventure. Helping to break up the text are Jeff Crosby’s detailed illustrations that add to the impact of the tale.

The Lost Child of Chernobyl

The Lost Child of Chernobyl
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

With their highly visual format, graphic novels are a highly effective medium when it comes to presenting complicated ideas and issues to young readers, especially those who may struggle with long texts, and Helen Bates has already shown herself adept at so doing with Me and Mrs Moon and Peter in Peril.

Now she does it again: through this book, inspired by the events of 26th April 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear explosion that caused horrendous environmental damage globally, we experience the disaster close up, and then in this fictional account, see its aftermath through the eyes of two women, Klara and Anna.

After the explosion, animals run wild causing a road accident from which a child flees into the surrounding forest. Villagers around the fire station notice strange things happening and as the radioactive cloud spreads, they’re told to evacuate their homes but the two women refuse to leave.

Nine years later a wild child appears at their door. This little girl has been living with the wolves in the forbidden zone; the women take her in and care for her,

knowing that eventually they will have to give her up to the authorities and perhaps find some of her family. Is that even possible after such a long time?

Powerfully affecting and highly relevant to the present and future dilemmas facing us all, with its themes of survival and healing, this is definitely a book to introduce to older KS2 readers and beyond, either as part of a modern history topic and how it informs future actions, or as part of an exploration of the environmental issues impacting upon our planet.

Investigators Take the Plunge

Investigators Take the Plunge
John Patrick Green
Macmillan Children’s Books

Top agents and crime busting alligator duo Mango and Brash have a new mission involving a rocket containing stolen code that can turn any machine into a combitron (a device able to stick any two things together). They are able to stop the rocket from causing total destruction in the city; but by inadvertently pressing the wrong button, they transmit the code and it falls into the wrong hands – those of a robot. YIKES! – a robot they most definitely have to track down.

There’s another problem though: also hunting for this bot is their arch enemy Crackerdile, ex SUIT agent and presently in a fragile, easily dissolvable state. This creature intends using the combitron to merge himself with something that would make him a while lot stronger and thus better placed to get revenge on the Investigators.

Then another wrong move while down in the sewers results in a flooded city and demotion for Mango and Brash who are replaced by the B-team (badgers).

Meanwhile some weird combinations have occurred:, a scientist now has banana hands and a plumber and an anaconda have combined. However, the A-team aren’t ready to give up that easily. Who will crack this increasingly crazy case: Team A or Team B or might a spot of collaboration work? …

Delivered in zany, graphic novel style, this is assuredly another fast moving instalment of mayhem and madness that’s brimming over with ridiculous names, puns and other rib-tickling wordplay. Moreover, it ends with an indication of more to come and that’s sure to be welcomed by fans.

Saving the Planet – The International Yeti Collective: Shadowspring / Astronuts Mission Two: The Water Planet

The International Yeti Collective: Shadowspring
Paul Mason, illustrated by Katy Riddell
Little Tiger

The Yeti Collective is a worldwide organisation with each of its strands having responsibility for an element of conservation while simultaneously aiming to avoid human detection.

Shadowspring (underground water upon which all wildlife and the humans depend) is under the protection of the Greybeards (the British group) but now somebody or something is interfering with the water levels and things are looking bad for the inhabitants of Tadpole’s community.

Tadpole (she of unripe character), daughter of the sett’s leader, Shipshape (she in perfect order), is next in line to become the Greybeards’ leader, a role for which she feels anything but fit.

Despite the precedent for avoiding humans contact, like her grandfather before her, Tadpole meets a human; his name is Henry, a boy just adapting to boarding school life.

Now, on account of the danger the Greybeards are facing, Tadpole and Henry (aka Hen-ree) must work together: an extremely dangerous undertaking ensues.

It’s a delight to enter and share in this world with its highly pertinent environmental messages, that’s populated by wonderful characters such as the two main ones in this story.

I missed the first book in the series, but I intend getting hold of it forthwith; I’m sure it too will be a superb read.

Astronuts Mission Two: The Water Planet
Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg
Chronicle Books

AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug, the four NNASA agents, return having previously failed to find the perfect Goldilocks Planet, with a new mission, to find a planet fit for human habitation.

Having splash-landed on Water Planet, they discover it is awash with clams, a power-hungry, sub-aquatic force led by their president, P.T.Clam . Said creature is absolutely gushing with praise about his home planet and more than a little keen to swap his planet of residence for Earth. the polluted waters of which he claims to filter. Now why might he be so eager for that exchange?

It appears that he’s willing to do a special deal on the quiet with AlphaWolf (the mission’s leader) but another clam, Susan B. Clamthony tells a rather different story

and it’s one that the Astronuts really need to hear. It sounds as though not all the residents of Water Planet are as dastardly as their leader.

Packing the adventure with punny humour, hilarious interchanges and with a bounteous brio, Jon Scieszka, via his Earth narrator, cleverly knits together environmental information and facts about climate change. Combined with Steven Weinberg’s equally zany collage illustrations, every one of which is as immersive as the watery environment of the story’s setting, (love the spread on how they were created) this is a terrific second instalment.

More please! I hear youngsters, (especially fans of graphic novels) cry. (And this reviewer.)

Mason Mooney Paranormal Investigator

Mason Mooney Paranormal Investigator
Seaerra Miller
Flying Eye Books

Aspiring paranormal investigator, Mason Mooney resident of the terrifying town of Grimbrook is determined to discover the cause of legendary freaky phenomena affecting the neighbourhood.

It all begins when he receives a letter from Iris a recent purchaser of Tanglewood Mansion telling of strange goings on in the old house and the threat of a curse written on her sister’s mirror.

Off he sets with his investigator’s gear on the allegedly fateful morning of 1st October; but his first impression of Iris is far from favourable and her big sister seems thoroughly unpleasant.

Luckily Mason is well prepared but things quickly ramp up a notch with the appearance of a new message.

Mason decides to hold a séance and is soon confronted by …

Then who should turn up but Mason’s worst nightmare, the cocky Trent Reilly and his Paranormal Society whose team Mason had failed to become part of.

The fact that Mason carries his heart around in a jar,

three cursed spirits to contend with and that deadline to beat, who will prove to have the real talent? Perhaps Iris herself with a single selfless action might just be able to break the heinous curse and save her sister?

But what of that involving Mason’s heart? A loophole maybe? But that’s for another time, for where one story closes, another one opens …

This graphic novel with its underlying theme of sibling jealousy, the combination of weird characters, lurid art, and an accursed setting, make for a decidedly spooky read,

The Inkberg Enigma

The Inkberg Enigma
Jonathan King
Gecko Press

Meet Miro and Zia, residents of the small fishing town, Aurora, nestled in the shadow of a mysterious castle.

Miro is an avid reader; school acquaintance Zia takes her camera everywhere. A chance encounter between the two characters sets them off on an adventure with Miro reluctant at first to get involved.

Zia’s response to Miro’s comments about Jules Verne and the term adventure, ‘What do you think this is? This is an adventure. This is how you have adventures. You find cool things and you do them … You don’t just READ books about them!’ still don’t persuade him yet somehow Miro finds himself sucked into attempting to unravel a mystery that involves historic corruption, some extremely shady characters currently running the town, not least the somewhat sinister mayor, and some decidedly weird sea creatures.

Something very odd is going on but what?

Driven by a powerful narrative, exciting, humorous and scary in parts, this plot twisting page-turner is skilfully delivered in graphic novel style by Jonathan King who has a background in filmmaking; indeed it would make a smashing film.

What’s not to love, especially since, for one of the characters, books play a vital role in the story. KS2 readers and beyond, especially those with a preference for visual story-telling will simply gobble it up.

InvestiGators


InvestiGators

John Patrick Green
Macmillan Children’s Books

Here’s a zany graphic novel- the first of a series – that features alligator pals Mango and Brash and as the story opens they’ve just received an undercover assignment as agents for SUIT (Special Undercover Investigation Team).

World-famous Chef Mustachio has gone missing just as he’s about to reveal his latest culinary offering and Mango and Brash must go undercover at Batter Down bakery to discover what’s happened to him.

No problem then. Just a bit of diving down into toilets and moving through city sewers, an explosion at the Science Factory thanks to the delivery of a gigantic birthday cake from Batter Down,

disappearing ovens and a crocodile that has fallen into a vat of radioactive cracker dough and come back to life.

Green has conjured up a cast of assorted humans and reptiles, and weaves together a multitude of threads in his rapidly moving plot that’s full of groan-worthy jokes, puns and other word play.

Like this reviewer you might find your head spinning by the time you reach the end of this frenetic, fizzily funny  story. (It’s not though as we discover, the end of Mango and Brash, they are destined to return in at least two more mysteries.)

Green provides two final spreads showing how to draw the InvestiGators and a couple of others from the crazy cast.

Narwhal’s Otter Friend

Narwhal’s Otter Friend
Ben Clanton
Egmont

This is the fourth graphic novel style Narwhal and Jelly book and it’s as brilliant as ever.

It begins with an encounter between best pals Narwhal and Jelly, and newbie Otter. Narwhal declares self-professed ocean explorer, Otty, “Otterly awesome!” Ever-sceptical Jelly on the other hand, is less enthusiastic and disinclined to believe some of his stories.

His enthusiasm wanes further when Narwhal invites Otty to accompany him on an adventure. “Really? Does this mean we’re friends?” Otty asks. “Pretty much!” comes the response.

Guess who is jealous and feels left out. So much so that he decides to seek out a new friend; not very successfully
and eventually he befriends a rock, he names Rocky.
They play ‘oodles of awesome games’ that Rocky excels in ‘Go Fish . . . Marco Polo . . . Staring Contests’ as Jelly informs Narwhal and Otter when the latter finally hunt them down.

You’ve probably surmised that it was never Narwhal and Otter’s intention to sideline Jelly and he’s over the moon – or rather, the rainbow – to be invited to join them on the ‘awesomest adventure ever’. ‘Seas the day’ guys!’

As always Ben Clanton’s illustrations are terrific – whimsical, witty, wonderfully expressive. His text has its measure of splendidly groanworthy puns and there’s the usual sprinkling of animal facts as well as another Super Waffle and Strawberry Sidekick offering, from Jelly and Rocky on this occasion.

Plunge in and relish the three tales and more in this friendship tester; it’s a laugh-out-loud winner once again.

Runaway

Runaway
Cordell Barker adapted by Sarah Howden
Firefly Books

This book, in graphic novel format is an adaption by children’s book author Sarah Howden, of Cordell Barker’s 2009 animated film of the same name.

It begins with a cow strolling on a railway track along which a passenger train is speeding. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

The engineer, or Captain as he likes to be called, is distracted by a fuzzy object that has been found by the Fireman and belongs to the Lady. Keen to impress her, the engineer shuts the fireman up and fusses over the dog only to receive a bite on his finger.

The train continues dashing along the tracks now out of control. The fireman is concerned – where is the Captain? But nobody else is bothered. The fuel gauge is dangerously low: the passengers provide alternatives to coal; the train climbs

and slows …

Tension builds and builds; the Captain reappears

and saves the day – or does he?

What you get out of this allegorical tale depends considerably on what you bring to it and with re-readings new understanding emerges. Assuredly though it’s full of action and wry humour, and at least it appears there might be one happy ending.

That though, won’t save everyone – for that, collective love is required and as Auden said in September 1,1939, ultimately ‘ We must love one another or die.’

Me and Mrs Moon

Me and Mrs Moon
Helen Bate
Otter-Barry Books

In her familiar graphic novel style, Helen Bate tells a powerful story of how two children, narrator Maisie and her friend Dylan, set about helping their beloved friend and neighbour Granny Moon as she shows signs that all is not well.
Granny Moon has looked after the children during holidays for years filling their days – rain or shine – with fun and adventure.

One day though, things start going wrong.
First Granny Moon is talking about a sister Julia she doesn’t have and later the film about aliens she takes the children to scares Dylan and they have to leave.

As Christmas approaches, things get worse. At the school concert Granny causes disruptions and other children start making fun of her.

Time passes but there are further problems. Granny Moon convinces herself that a little girl is trapped in her radiator and then Dylan’s dad notices her unusual behaviour and is doubtful about whether she should still be allowed to look after his son.

Eventually Maisie’s mum decides to phone Granny’s daughter, Angela in Australia.

Maisie and Dylan then worry about the fate of Granny Moon and her beloved dog, Jack; will Angela decide to put her in a care home? Worse, the friends return home late from school after a café visit with Granny Moon to find a fire engine outside and fire-fighters waiting for them. Thankfully though, there’s no serious damage.

Next day Angela arrives and is extremely troubled by what she finds. She decides there’s only one thing to do. Granny Moon’s house is put on the market and happily it’s not a care home that she’s going to but Australia to live with Angela and her family.

Three days later, fond farewells are exchanged and Angela and Granny depart. A certain animal isn’t accompanying them though, he has a new home – next door with Maisie who now has a companion to share memories about her erstwhile owner with whenever she needs.

The final page lists organisations that offer help for people with dementia, their families and carers.

Love and devotion radiate from the pages of this intensely moving story (based on actual events); but it doesn’t gloss over the enormous challenges those caring for someone with dementia are likely to face. Rather, it offers young readers an opportunity to better understand something of the condition and perhaps be better prepared should they encounter someone living with it.

This is a book that deserves to be in every school and should be read in all families. Particularly, as I was reminded by a charity worker from The Alzheimer’s Society who stopped me as I left Waitrose recently that while I might not know anybody with Alzheimer’s, over a quarter of the population knows someone who has this form of dementia alone.

Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea / Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt

Narwhal Unicorn of the Sea
Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt

Ben Clanton
Egmont

In Unicorn of the Sea. Ben Clanton introduces readers to Narwhal, a self-aggrandising creature.

In the first of three sub-aquatic adventures, while cruising in ‘new waters’ Narwhal encounters a jellyfish and despite doubting each other’s realness, the two interrogate one another, forge a friendship and eat waffles together.

The second tale sees the two involved in forming their very own ‘podtastic’ pod of awesomeness that includes other ocean buddies – shark, turtle, blowfish, octopus and of course – though he’s very nearly left out – Jelly, each of which receives a tusk tooth in honour of the occasion.

My favourite of the three stories is the book’s final one wherein Narwhal introduces Jelly to his ‘favourite book in the whole wide water and probably the rest of the universe too!’ It’s a book without any words or pictures and Clanton provides two blank pages for maximum effect here. Narwhal tells his pal that ‘it’s an imagination book … you’ve got to pretend.’ Brilliant! And so thinks Jelly too for having tried it out, he wants to borrow it right away.

With its splendid dialogue, this is irresistible, sub-aquatic bonkersness of the first order delivered in graphic novel style for young readers. There’s even a silly narwhal song so sing and clap along to.
This twosome is up there with Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad, and Mo Willems’ Gerald and Piggy.

In Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt, Narwhal swathes himself in superhero-ness assuming a secret identity and appointing a sidekick (Jelly Jolt) but despite this, he seems to lack the necessary superpowers, so he thinks. Nonetheless fuelled by waffles – the friends’ ‘super weakness’ – he sets about helping a star(fish) to become a cosmic being. This involves cannon blasting and wishing (I won’t say which, if either, works).

There’s also a comic – no prizes for guessing it’s a waffle-themed one, created by none other than Narwhal and Jelly themselves.

And then in the final tale here, Narwhal finally does discover his very own superpower; it’s a super-important one too, discovered by an act of altruism towards crab.

Once again the whole thing – super sea creature facts and all – is super-brilliant and full of heart. I just love how it effortlessly demonstrates the importance of friendship, of encouragement and that all of us – if we look hard enough –possess a world-improving superpower. With laughs aplenty and the most adorable illustrations, this book is an unmissable gem, not only for young readers, but adults too.