Classic Inspirations: Once There Was a Bear / The Little Prince

Once There Was a Bear
Jane Riordan, illustrated by Mark Burgess
Farshore

To celebrate the 95th anniversary of A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner, having previously written two standalone Pooh books, Jane Riordan has created a prequel collection of ten stories, again in the style of Milne. It takes readers back to where it all began, when Pooh was bought in Harrods as a gift for baby Christopher Robin. Using a similar style to that of E.H. Shepard, Mark Burgess illustrates each episode with panache depicting Pooh and his friends Eeyore, Rabbit, Piglet, Kanga, Roo, Owl and Tigger.
The original Pooh books have an enduring appeal for those who met them first as children; however this one has a charm of its own with many of the adventures taking place outside of Hundred Acre Wood. I loved the museum outing wherein dinosaur skeletons with their ‘bothersome long words’ for names prove unusual ladders for a bear to climb upon.

This is definitely worth getting hold of if, like this reviewer, you’re a fan of Pooh et al.

The Little Prince
Louise Greig and Sara Massini
Farshore

Award-winning author and poet Louise Greig has adapted Antoine de Saint- Exupéry’s classic as a picture book for a younger audience than the original novella: it’s illustrated by Sara Massini who has also won many awards. The result is a thing of beauty, mysterious and poetic both verbally and visually.

I’m not sure whether the stranded pilot’s encounter with a little prince who visits neighbouring planets will appeal to children; its enigmatic nature will certainly provoke much thought and lots of questions for, as the author says, ‘What is hidden is beautiful.’ That in itself is well worth exploring.

The Girl Who Talked To Trees

The Girl Who Talked to Trees
Natasha Farrant, illustrated by Lydia Corry
Zephyr

Olive is eleven, so shy that she is overwhelmed when she has to talk to people but is comfortable talking to trees especially her old oak in the meadow. Said oak tree is four hundred years old and in great danger from Olive’s father, Sir Sydney. He has resolved to build a new summerhouse in the meadow so that he can impress friends when they visit. When Olive learns of this, so distressed is she that she finds the courage to speak out in defence of her precious friend oak. Surprised by his daughter he gives her until teatime to think of something more impressive than his proposed summerhouse and if she can, he promises not to cut down the oak. With that he departs for the day leaving Olive with just seven hours to come up with something. Full of determination, she dashes outside to think and falls asleep beneath her oak tree.

Thus, fuelled by arboreal magic, begins a truly wonderful adventure wherein Olive listens to a series of enchanting interlinked stories told by seven different trees from various parts of the world (one for each hour she has) every one at a particular stage in its development. She finds herself scaling ivy to the topmost branches of an oak and helping a prince; then she hears in turn tales told by a linden tree, an alder, a London plane, a wild apple, a tulip tree and finally a grudge-bearing box tree. She hears of such things as mermaids, a storyteller who shows a duchess something unexpected, sisters escaping from unwanted marriages

and more, each imbued with the stuff of fairy tales as well as crucial messages about conservation and especially, the vital role of trees to our planet.

Between each is a superbly illustrated double spread giving information about the next tree to regale Olive and readers with its story. Both these and the colour illustrations throughout the narrative are the gorgeous work of Lydia Corry, helping to make Natasha Farrant’s stories within a story, a book that will delight lovers of the natural world, fairy tales and captivating literature. If you want to know whether Olive succeeds in saving her oak, you’ll need to get a copy so I suggest you buy to keep and buy to give.

(The botanist in me noticed that the Linden is misnamed as Talia, not Tilia and several of the trees given both genus and species names have capital letters at the beginning of both eg Liriodendron Tulipifera rather than Liriodendron tulipifra – a shame in such a super book).

Wishyouwas

Wishyouwas
Alexandra Page, illustrated by Penny Neville-Lee
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

The author sets her splendid debut story in 1952 smoggy London where, in the run-up to Christmas, we meet young Penny Black. Penny is staying with her postmaster Uncle Frank above his post office because her airmail pilot mother is stuck in France due to the smog, and may not make it back in time for Christmas.

Writing to her mum one night, Penny is feeling especially lonely when she discovers a tiny creature stuck in a rat trap. However she quickly learns that this is no rat; ” I is a Sorter Second Class” the furry thing announces, going on to introduce himself as Wishyouwas and explaining that his role, along with his friends, is to collect lost mail and get it to the rightful recipients. Thus begins a wonderful adventure, for Wishyouwas takes Penny to the subterranean world of the Sorters and Deliverers whose very existence is threatened on account of Stanley Scrawl, the thoroughly unpleasant Royal Mail rat catcher.

Dear Penny, as Wishyouwas calls her, is determined to protect her new friend and the Sorters and Deliverers;

but will she be able to keep them safe and thus save Christmas, with that sinister Scrawl and his greyhound Ripper (both brilliantly described) on the prowl?

With its warmth, friendship and potential perils, who wouldn’t be enthralled by this magical seasonal adventure, made all the more so by Penny Neville-Lee’s super illustrations? I couldn’t put it down.

The Christmas Carrolls

The Christmas Carrolls
Mel Taylor-Bessent, illustrated by Selom Sunu
Farshore

Nine year old Holly, daughter of Christmas crazy parents Nick and Snow Carroll has been home schooled until a house suddenly becomes available on Sleigh Ride Avenue. Thrilled to bits her parents decide to move the family there and she is enrolled at the local primary school.

However, when Holly goes to Lockerton Primary with the Backpack of Cheer her dad’s given her and first day Christmas cards (in hot September!), for her year five classmates she realises not everyone shares her enthusiasm for spreading seasonal cheer; and, there are all those school rules and regulations to contend with too. She desperately wants a friend.


Then she hears some of the things that have been said about her: ‘from another planet’, ‘weird’, ‘eccentric’ or was it ‘electric’, ‘that I didn’t know how to dress myself’. How much worse can things get?

Seemingly Holly is on a downward spiral. However, the new unChristmassy approach she tries doesn’t feel right either: her cheerometer rating plummets to zero and she tells her parents, “Nobody wants us here … Nobody wants to celebrate Christmas all year round … And I don’t think I want to either.”

But, could her burgeoning friendship with Archer (which has also taken a turn for the worse) help her out and restore that feel good factor, and not only for herself? Perhaps – for when she learns of some children who really need help, Holly decides that nothing is impossible when it comes to spreading good cheer.

Now I’m somebody who is anything but filled with festive delight when I see the Christmas lights put up and turned on early in November, so initially I wasn’t sure about Holly and her family. However, Mel Taylor-Bessent’s debut story, for all its seasonal trappings, is about so much more that Christmas. For Holly it’s a steep learning journey and one whereon she discovers the importance of real friendship, that not everyone lives in the same way, as well as that her mum hasn’t always had it good.
What emerges loud and clear from this wonderfully warm, humorous tale is that the essentials of Christmas are hope, inclusion and community; and these should be for every day of the year rather than being restricted to just a short time. The author has created some smashing characters (illustrated by Selom Sunu) that certainly will linger in the minds of readers and listeners. This would make a terrific KS2 class read aloud.

Lo and Behold! Mouse & Mole

Lo and Behold! Mouse & Mole
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew
Graffeg

Brimming over with seasonal warmth and the spirit of friendship is author Joyce and artist James ‘ visit to the wonderful world of Mouse, Mole and their other animal friends.

The first of the three stories finds the two opening the curtains to discover a blanket of snow covering the ground outside. The prefect day for making a ‘snowsomething’ and so eager to enjoy the outdoors are they, that they eat their breakfast porridge on the doorstep. Then it’s time for some games before meeting up with Rabbit, Rat, Hedgehog and Owl for a spot of sledging.

‘Snowsomething’ building is next and they have to wait until it’s dressed before deciding what sort of something it actually is. A Snowmole it turns out to be and then Mole decides to have his supper beside it to keep it company. He even beds down beside the Snowmole and eventually falls fast asleep. How come when he wakes up, Mole is in his own bed inside their cosy home? However Mole is still concerned about Snowmole being lonely but good old Mouse has done something to make sure that isn’t so.

It’s not long before December comes around and Mouse announces that it’s time to start using the advent calendar

until, as the second episode is called, lo and behold, it’s Christmas. Despite having said that, Mole decides that the big day is a really long way away that year. Meanwhile, as they have lots of preparations to make, the friends are so busy that Christmas Eve soon arrives.

So, what is the very important thing that Mole thinks they’ve forgotten to do as they get ready for bed on 24th; or rather, several important things seemingly? Then what is the bump in the night referred to in the title of the final episode?

I suggest snuggling up with a hot chocolate and sharing this with your little ones in the run up to your own Christmas. What wonderful Christmas cards some of James’ watercolour illustrations would make.

How Winston Delivered Christmas / How Winston Came Home For Christmas

Thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for sending these wonderful Alex T. Smith seasonal Winston books for review

How Winston Delivered Christmas


If you missed this terrific tale in hardback two or three years back then mouse Winston’s first adventure told in 24½ chapters is now in paperback with black and white illustrations. It tells what happens when said mouse, rummaging around for food comes upon a letter, a letter to Father Christmas eight year old Oliver thought he’d posted in a post box.

Now being a literate mouse, Winston realises that in order for it to reach its destination, there’s just one thing to do: although he has absolutely no idea of the way, to the North Pole, he must take the letter to Santa. His journey is far from easy but he eventually makes it and receives an unexpected surprise as the story ends. It’s a surprise that will remind readers that that in real-life there are people who need understanding, shelter and food at Christmas.

Designed to be read throughout advent this seasonal tale is jam-packed with festive delights and leaves the door open for another Winston festive adventure …

How Winston Came Home For Christmas

A year has passed since Winston’s first adventure and now the mouse and his human friend, Oliver, are back in a new seasonal story that begins five days before Christmas as Oliver is reading aloud to the little rodent, but having reached a cliffhanger the story is set aside and Oliver goes off to sleep. 

Not so Winston though. Beset by strange feelings and foggy memories he becomes certain that someone of great importance to him is lost. Now being a determined little creature, having left a note for Oliver promising to return for Christmas, Winston embarks on a mission – a Very Curious Mystery – to find the singing figure from his memories – a search that involves travelling first to Paris. Now how on earth (or in an appropriate sized envelope) can he do that?

There he is met with much kindness but doesn’t find the character he seeks so on he goes to Germany. There too he encounters helpful characters – human and animal – but the search must go on and now Winston takes to the air courtesy of kindly owl Hilda. 

By this stage of the story readers know the identity of the character Winston seeks but I won’t reveal that; merely bid them a safe journey and allow the travellers to continue towards nordic lands, Winston with the words of that lullaby running through his head; but what is it’s language? 

More importantly will he ever find its singer and be able to return to Oliver as promised?

Once again, readers and listeners will be swept away by the wonderfully warm tale Alex T. Smith has spun. It’s full of drama, friendship and that good-will spirit of the festive season. The full colour illustrations are suffused with humour and between each chapter is a seasonal activity, be that baking, crafting or otherwise creating, that all family members can share in.

With its star scattered cover, this is another 24½ chapters of sheer delight to make somebody’s Christmas special this year.

The Runaways of Haddington Hall

The Runaways of Haddington Hall
Vivian French
Walker Books

Poor Minnie O’Sullivan, she means well but seems to be beset by accidents and the result is at the behest of the Reverend Obadiah Marpike, that she is sent away to a supposedly charitable institution, Haddington Hall, a home for wayward girls. 

This in itself is terrible for it means she has to leave her poor hard-working washerwoman mother to cope with all the labours and her little brother Bobby all by herself. But she quickly discovers that it’s a truly ghastly place, founded and run by a stony-hearted woman, Mrs Haddington, aided and abetted by housekeeper Mrs Krick, and parlour maid Nellie, who immediately take a dislike to the girl for her attempts to stand up for herself.

Happily though she has two allies in Edith Lavingley, daughter of Lady Lavingley, and Ernst an errand boy; as well as Grobbler the dog. But can Minnie discover the truth about the person calling himself the Reverend Obadiah Marpike and most importantly, will she ever be able to return to her mother and brother?

With echoes of Dickensian England, Vivian French provides child readers with an insight into what it was like to be poor and live in Victorian times, when conditions for children were to say the least, precarious. Her characterisation is superb and her twisting turning plot serves up several surprises.

Whether read aloud to older primary classes, or enjoyed as a solo read, this is a gripping tale of friendship, loyalty and young people striving for what is right.

Books For Giving That Keep On Giving

William Bee’s Wonderful World of Things That Go!
Pavilion Books

This book brings together three of William Bee’s much-loved titles – Trucks, Trains and Boats and Planes, and Tractors and Farm Machines, in one bumper volume. I’ve already reviewed each of them on this blog so I won’t repeat myself; rather I’ll suggest that if you have a young child with an interest in things mechanical (or perhaps even yummy sounding breakfast cereals such as those sold down on William’s farm), then unless they already own the individual books, a copy of this totally immersive publication narrated in William Bee’s chatty style with his detailed, gently humorous illustrations, would make a smashing present.

Pippi Longstocking
Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Lauren Child
Oxford Children’s Books

This large format, beautifully produced new edition of a classic has been brought up-to-date with terrific contemporary illustrations from Lauren Child and a new translation by Susan Beard.

We follow Pippi Longstocking on her amazing adventures as she moves, sans parents, into Villa Villekulla with a horse, a monkey, and a big suitcase of gold coins. Despite well-meaning adult villagers’ attempts to guide Pippi, she’d far rather be a wild spirit. She meets Tommy and Annika who very soon become her best friends. These new friends join her on her amusing escapades – leading the police a merry dance, going to school – briefly, joining the circus taking on a strong man and wowing the crowd, dancing a polka with thieves and celebrating her birthday.

Young readers and listeners will delight in their encounters with this intrepid, sometimes outrageous heroine while older ones and adults will rekindle their love of her with this bumper book that would make a super Christmas present.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Lewis Carroll & Grahame Baker-Smith
Templar Books

It’s always interesting to see new visual interpretations of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale and although for me none can outdo those of Tenniel, assuredly Grahame Baker-Smith’s distinctive illustrations, breathe a different kind of life into Carroll’s story.

Every chapter has full page, richly coloured detailed spreads as well as several smaller pictures executed either in blues or sepia. 

One I lingered long over was the double page colour spread of the Mad Tea-Party and an amazing spread it assuredly is. There’s a large iced cake, the upper surface of which is crammed full of liquorice all sorts and what look to be those flying saucer sweets that contain sherbet. I couldn’t help but laugh at the sight of an egg cup containing an egg and peeking through the crack in its shell is the face of a chick. It’s details such as those that the new generation of readers who go down the rabbit hole , as well as those familiar with the story taking the descent again, will remember.

With illustrations full of mystery and magic and a superb design, this is a terrific gift book.

The Provensen Book of Fairy Tales
edited & illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen
NYR Children’s Collection

This anthology contains a dozen ‘literary’ fairytales selected by the husband and wife team to illustrate with their own whimsical touches.

Among those included are Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale, Oscar Wilde’s literary The Happy Prince, The Three Wishes told by Barbara Leonie Picard, Arthur Rackham’s classic version of Beauty and the Beast, Elinor Mordaunt’s The Prince and the Goose Girl, a reworking of Grimm’s Goose Girl, Parker Fillmore’s retelling of the Finnish story The Forest Bride, and a tale new to me, A.A. Milne’s Prince Rabbit. With an unexpected final twist, this is an amusing story of a childless king who is urged to name an heir. To that end the king arranges a series of contests for would-be heirs who meet certain criteria; one of which is a rabbit.

I found it fascinating to have such a variety of storytellers side by side in one volume, with the Provensens’ humorous, sometimes dark illustrations and I suspect this is a book that will appeal more to book collectors and older readers with a particular interest in fairy tales, than to child readers.

Genie and Teeny: Wishful Thinking

Genie and Teeny: Wishful Thinking
Steve Lenton
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Before this second story starts properly it’s necessary to get Grant and Teeny to wake from their slumbers. But where are they? Fortunately they’re discovered before it’s time for Tilly to set off for school which is handy because it’s Friday July 9th – and that means Bring Your Pet To School Day; so long as Grant can get Teeny back to his normal size in time, that and stop himself getting hyper-excited on the way to school.

En route though, they encounter Billy Krump the school bully and have a narrow escape. But then once inside school said bully looms large again when the headteacher asks if anybody has come without a pet and guess whose hand goes up.

That is when the trouble begins but the real trouble starts when Billy Krump grabs Tilly’s rucksack, takes out the teapot and makes a dash to the boys’ loos. Therein Grant (who is still endeavouring to improve his wish-granting skills) accidentally grants the boy three wishes.
Then, Alaka-blam-a-bumwhistle! chaos ensues …

Will it ever end and even better will Billy Krump find a new friend?

Full of jokes, puns and just plain daftness, this sequel is huge fun and possibly even better than Genie and Teeny Make a Wish. It will have youngsters in fits throughout not to mention any teachers who share it with a class. The illustrations are a hoot and Steve has even included a ‘How to draw Teeny the dog’ finale.

Roll on book three say I.

The Queen in the Cave

The Queen in the Cave
Júlia Sardà
Walker Studio

This story begins when Franca, one of three sisters gets a strange feeling. It’s on account of her previous night’s dream about a marvellous queen who lives in a dark, dark cave deep in the forest beyond the garden fence, so she tells her sisters Carmela and Tomasina.

Franca persuades her sisters to join her in an investigation whereby she hopes to discover the veracity of her dream and thus rid herself of the feeling that now besets her.

Thus begins an adventure that takes the three ‘where no-one has ever gone before’. As the three walk, the forest surroundings take on a troubling stillness but fearless Franca urges them onwards and suddenly the ground begins to shudder. Strange sights are revealed and even stranger encounters take place

some of which are very frightening. Gradually though Carmela and Tomasina’s fears turn to thrills and they press forwards as it grows darker and darker.

Then suddenly they find themselves all too close to a thoroughly nasty neighbour: time to run until they reach … the entrance of the cave from Franca’s dream.

But what of that queen? Is she within and will she reveal herself?

Prepare to be enthralled by this powerfully atmospheric book: readers will feel occasional frissons of fear along with the sisters, as the layers of meaning are gradually unearthed and the queen’s kingdom is revealed. Spellbinding indeed: the richly coloured illustrations have a quirkiness and are full of weird and wonderful details, patterns and textures.

Dulcinea in the Forbidden Forest

Dulcinea in the Forbidden Forest
Ole Könnecke (translated by Shelley Tanaka)
Gecko Press

Dulcinea lives happily with her father in a house on the edge of a large forest. They have a cow for milk, chickens for eggs, and grow much of their own food. Assuredly this is the stuff of fairytales;:all the more so when we read slightly further on that in the forest is a castle, wherein dwells a witch; a singing witch who sometimes roams in the forest. I guess she has no worries about being attacked by the monsters said to lurk in the moat surrounding her residence.

Now on the day of Dulcinea’s birthday, the girl’s chosen breakfast is blueberry pancakes; but oh woe! neither father nor daughter has remembered to buy blueberries at the market. Off goes her father but not as the girl thinks, to the market; rather he enters the forest where the desired berries grow in abundance.


Therein however, an encounter with the witch results in him being turned into a tree.

Now generally speaking, young Dulcinea is an obedient child, but fuelled by determination, the desire to celebrate her birthday with the specified pancakes (and one assumes, a love for her father), accompanied by her ever-present goose, she too enters the forest to look for her pa. There she (as will readers) instantly recognises him on account of his moustache, cap and basket.

Then it’s down to her wits to save her father,

herself and her birthday. Each of these she does with aplomb, in best fairy tale fashion.

Brilliantly comedic, both verbally (‘the witch always found young children exhausting’ … ‘besides nothing bad could happen to you on your birthday, could it?’) and visually -superb linework with minimal colour – and the contrast between the expressions of child and witch. In combination, these elements make this a neo-fairytale that will delight both solo readers and readers aloud.

Roxy & Jones: The Curse of the Gingerbread witch

Roxy & Jones: The Curse of the Gingerbread Witch
Angela Woolfe
Walker Books

We’re back in that wonderful world where witches and magic are real, and fairy stories are part of modern history, for another fairytale potpourri featuring Roxy Humperdink and (Cinderella) Jones. I challenge readers to find out how many traditional fairytale elements are found between the covers of this one.

Now Roxy has seen a sign concerning the return for a record launch, of her older half-brother, musician and leader of the band H-Bomb and the Missiles; and she hasn’t set eyes on him for five years.
She also receives the strangest seemingly senseless letter from someone signing it PM but she knows nobody with those initials: a coded message perhaps? 

And so it is, from Jones of course, asking her to meet in a swanky department store wherein she’s currently residing. (It’s also the very same place where Hans Humperdinck’s record launch is to take place.) Thus begins another mission for the two, a search for the Missing, and Jones already has a clue.

Almost the next thing Roxy knows is that she (plus Mirror) is at a party in a nightclub, something at age thirteen she’s never done before; and then she discovers that Gretel is also there. Before you can say ‘awesome magic’ the two girls are whizzing up a giant beanstalk (we know which story that belongs in); but what in the world of fairy-tales is The Law of Sevens? And what is Magiscience?

It turns out that the children who followed the Pied Piper into the mountain some thirty years back are the Missing they seek, now trapped deep in a hidden mountain, completely forgotten thanks to enchantments. 

This madcap adventure also takes the girls into the evil Deadwoods with the possibility that the deadly Gingerbread Witch still lurks somewhere deep therein. Her cottage is certainly there.

With frissons of fear throughout, and humour too, Angela Woolfe’s gripping thriller of a tale will hold readers in its enchantment till the final page, and leave them asking for more.

Wulfie Saves the Planet

Wulfie Saves the Planet
Lindsay J Sedgwick, illustrated by Rosa Devine
Little Island

You can never be sure what might happen next when you have a best friend like Wulfie with those super powers of his. That’s how it is for Libby who in this third book has a rather challenging school project that requires thinking up some new fun ways to make people care about the environment. Moreover she has only three days to think of something amazing.

However what Libby lacks in ideas (she doesn’t have many but is desperate to make her stepmother Veronika proud and beat her annoying ‘sibling’ Rex) is in complete contrast to Wulfie. He is positively bursting with ways to save the planet – he could be a superhero no less and to that end the purple wulfen decides getting much bigger might be useful, along with adopting the name Wonderwulf, donning a red cape and wearing socks – on his ears – as well as adding one of Veronika’s sleep masks, or maybe not.

Later on, Libby is just settling down to tea, when something on the local news catches her eye, something that gets her heart all a-flutter. Surely it couldn’t be – or could it? Then come sightings of a purple bearded masked superhero …

Libby and her friend Nazim are hot on the trail.

Shall we say, the best laid plans of mice and men… or rather those of wulfen and girl – don’t work out exactly right. Time for Wulfie to employ that nose-tickling, sneeze-inducing feather he keeps behind his ear …

But is it too late for Libby to complete her winning school project and protect not only the planet but her very best purple eco-friend?

Let’s just cross our fingers and say, ‘WonderWulf: For All. For Ever’.

A madcap romp with Rosa Devine’s funny black and white illustrations that will make primary children giggle throughout, and at the same time remind them of the vital importance of doing all they can to protect our precious planet

Charlie & Mouse Lost and Found / Ghoulia and the Doomed Manor

Charlie & Mouse Lost and Found
Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes
Chronicle Books

With four separate, interconnected stories amusingly illustrated by Emily Hughes, this is the fifth book in a series featuring two young siblings, that is just right for children just moving into chapter books.
In the first story it’s Mouse’s blanket that is lost and he’s feeling sad about it. Charlie offers to help him look in ‘all the somewhere’s” -all day if necessary. They search the house but Blanket isn’t there, nor is it in the garden, nor the playground. Blanket is nowhere, Mouse concludes but then Charlie from ‘Somewhere’ produces the lost object – hurrah!
While engaged in doing Errands with mum, the brothers discovery of a lost something they’ve always wanted, makes their day – and many more to come …

Story three sees the something recently found being called Silly and said Silly has now become a much loved part of their family although possibly not by their moggy, Kittenhead. A walk will give the feline some welcome respite but the outcome of the walk is less welcome when the children return home to discover they need to bid farewell to Silly.

In the final story, Boop, the siblings still sad at the departure of Silly, agree with their Dad that she was “a lot of dog” but the prospect of ice cream cheers them up somewhat. Then while consuming same, the boys see something considerably smaller that might just work as a replacement for Silly.

Silly but sweet, playful family tales, these are as delightful as ever.

Also huge fun for new solo readers, though with a rather more spooky feel is

Ghoulia and the Doomed Manor
Barbara Cantini
Amulet Books

The story starts with Auntie Departed, resident of Crumbling Manor, receiving a phone call from her sister Auntie Witch inviting her and Ghoulia et al from their abode, to spend their summer holiday at Fancy Manor where she resides with Cousin Dilbert on the shore of Lake Mystery. With mounting excitement, bags are packed and three days later driven by albino greyhound Tragedy, off they go.
They settle in well on arrival;

however they then discover a problem: on account of the run-down state of the Fancy Manor, the town council, thinking the property uninhabited, plan to auction it off, unless that is a living heir comes forward. Panic immediately breaks out but Dilbert comes up with a plan in the form of a Back-to-Life potion.
Then it’s down to Ghoulia and Dilbert to collect the required ingredients and once they have, to brew the potion, making it sufficiently powerful to ensure it lasts long enough for Auntie Witch to convince the town planner, not only of her identity but also that her house is fit for human habitation.

No pressure then!

Mock-scary comedic fun, appropriately weirdly populated, this 4th Ghoulia tale works both as a read aloud and a solo read that will delight monster-loving youngsters. Don’t miss the final ‘extra-special fun’ pages.

Billie Swift Takes Flight

Billie Swift Takes Flight
Iszi Lawrence
Bloomsbury Education

This story is set in 1942 and yes World War 2 is a period fairly often used in children’s fiction. but this is something altogether different.

Twelve-year old Billie Swift would much rather spend time in the company of her mum’s chickens than with other humans. She finds school boring, though she’s bright and a quick learner with an avid interest in planes.

One day when out cycling with her favourite chicken Susan, Billie suddenly sees a Spitfire crash in a field. Knowing better than to go close up and investigate in case of fire, she dashes home thinking to herself, “That is the second time you’ve murdered someone” and she’s not proud of herself. However she remains concerned about the fate of the pilot as well as her brother’s bike (which she needs to retrieve); but when she returns to the site, there’s no sign of the plane.

Before long she’s managed – not entirely honestly – to become a member of the ATA cadets, meeting lots of pilots – men and women – who against the odds, fly planes from factories to the front lines; and she too learns to fly. At the airfield she meets all kinds of people including the person she thinks was piloting the ‘crashed’ spitfire whom she begins to suspect is a Nazi spy.

On a mission to find out the truth and to clear her friend Nancy’s name,(accused of smuggling)) Billie finds herself in increasing danger and towards the end of the story there are some very frightening moments that left me with my heart in my mouth.

Truly inspiring, full of the spirit of the time and with so many real life people who were the inspiration for Iszi Lawrence’s characters, this is a book that brilliantly evokes a part of history where relatively little of the fictional focus has been on women. It helps to bring their contribution to the notice of today’s readers, many of whom won’t be much younger than Billie herself.

Definitely a book I recommend for anyone learning about WW2 at school, either as a class read aloud or a solo read; and for home reading by children who love an exciting tale.

Fairy Tales Gone Bad: Frankenstiltskin

Fairy Tales Gone Bad: Frankenstiltskin
Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Freya Hartas
Walker Books

Delectably dark, this is the second classic fairy tale to which, with his rhyming magical touch, poet Joseph Coelho gives a new spin.

Here we meet young animal lover and stuffer of animal skins, taxidermist Bryony, and a King – King of all Mythica who, thanks to her father’s boasting of her supreme skills, carries Bryony away to his palace where he wants her to bring creatures back to life. The first is a wolf brought to her room by one Yeltsin Thorogood who announces himself as the Tongue of the King.

This is the first of three tasks – impossible ones – that the King issues to Bryony. There then appears through a door within a door, a hairy child-sized creature smiling mischievously and offering to help her. However his assistance doesn’t come without cost.

Not then, nor for the next two tasks, the first involving a polar bear,

the second of which is more unthinkable than ever; and guessing the creature’s name is the price demanded for this.

In the meantime though Bryony will achieve much as queen of a realm where animals and humans live side by side harmoniously; but then back comes the little creature, come to collect his happiness …

Totally brilliant, Joseph has seamlessly stitched together this tale with its two elements, Frankenstein and gold-spinning Rumpelstiltskin: I especially love that no matter what, Bryony stands up for what she believes, forcing the King to produce a vegan menu, as well as calling him a monster at one point. Superb too, at every turn of the page, are Freya Hartas’ black and white illustrations.

Lovers of fairytales, fractured and otherwise, will adore this book.

Theodora Hendrix and the Curious Case of the Cursed Beetle

Theodora Hendrix and the Curious Case of the Cursed Beetle
Jordan Kopy, illustrated by Chris Jevons
Walker Books

Ten year old Theodora Hendrix the only human resident of the Monstrous League of Monsters )MLM) mansion returns in a second funny adventure that is surely bound to lead her into deadly danger. At present Theodora loves her life with her fiendish family and is pretty certain she can cope with anything; but can she handle an Egyptian-themed adventure. She thinks so until that is, she encounters the nasty Inspector Shelley and her even nastier pet rat. 

(Mary) Shelley and Ratsputin have come to spy on the Monstrous League of Monsters, and are hell bent on shutting them down for an alleged breaching of the MLM charter – punishable by banishment to one of the darkest, dankest prisons in Transylvania or being sent to live with humans, perhaps.

Having demanded that the temperature of their room doesn’t go above four degrees Celsius, the foul pair prowl through the mansion, examining everything for evidence of rule-breaking. To have any hope of success, and prevent Inspector Shelley from becoming the new head of the London MLM, Theodora must enlist the help of her loyal friend and classmate Dexter Adebola (who has also had some difficulties with school). They have to stop her finding the Mummy’s true name and thus gaining control of her mind and that means tracking all her movements. Then Theodora makes a discovery of her own in The Ancient Curse Breaking Room: a cursed scarab beetle. 

This she must destroy urgently and without attracting the inspector’s attention.

Then comes news that the school has been chosen to host upcoming Halloween celebrations; can they get rid of the inspector by then? With the friendship between Dexter and Theodora strengthening in this story, they form an unlikely alliance with trouble-making, bullying Billy; this they do in what they term S.R.R.T. (Stop Rumple’s Reign of Terror) – Rumple being the ghastly, fun-hating headteacher of Appleton Primary who does her utmost to make the children’s lives a misery.

What do Theodora’s torat cards have to say about all this? Will good triumph over evil? That’s the question throughout.

With their superb characterisation and quirky amalgam of horror and humour, team Jordan Kopy and Chris Jevons have another winner here.

Midnight Magic: Mirror Mischief / Skeleton Keys: The Wild Imaginings of Stanley Strange

These two books both from Little Tiger imprint Stripes Publishing are ideal for reading in these dark evenings – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

Midnight Magic: Mirror Mischief
Michelle Harrison and Elissa Elwick

The second rhyming story starring Trixie and Midnight, her black moggy born at the stroke of midnight with a nose for trouble, along with Trixie’s Dad and her Nan. Once again the lovable kitten brings a sparkle of mischievous magical mayhem to a tale that is pitch perfect for youngsters at that stage between picture books and assured independent reading.

It all begins with a tampering with time by the moggy to allow more minutes together before Trixie has to leave for school. Time during which both Trixie and Midnight look in the mirror with surprising results that start a concatenation of chaos all through the house, as left to her own devices, Midnight unleashes double the trouble when a breakage occurs.

Is there any chance that Nan, just off to her yoga class – so she thinks – can step in and curtail the pandemonium,

perhaps even putting paid to that reflection’s rioting and placing it back where it ought to be?
Sparkling with excitement and humour, made even more so by Elissa Elwick’s wonderfully expressive illustrations of the drama, this tale is irresistible.

Skeleton Keys: The Wild Imaginings of Stanley Strange
Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson

The spooky narrator Skeleton Keys – he of the door-opening ‘fantabulant fingers’ is ready to regale readers with the fifth of his darkly comic ‘tall-but-true’ tales. This one features young unimaginary Lucky and when we first encounter him, he’s decidedly chilly and wandering alone on a hillside looking for his friend Stanley who has unaccountably disappeared. So desperate is Lucky that he’s even resorting to asking sheep if they’ve seen his pal, the actual human that imagined him.

Soon though, Skeleton Keys and his partner in problem-solving, Daisy discover Lucky and they’re determined to reunite the small creature with his human imaginer. The hunt is on but where can the vanished Stanley be?

Lucky mentions The Door to Nowhere as a place Stanley wanted too see and that sparks something in the mind of Skeleton Keys. Their search takes them first to said door and thence into the Kingdom – a hidden world for unimaginaries, the first rule of the place being ‘no human allowed’. So what in Kingdom’s name is Stanley doing thinking of entering. And what about Daisy? Nevertheless, SK is determined and in they go.

It’s a totally weird place full of unimaginaries brought there by SK himself – ‘a haven he calls it, ‘ a sort of retirement home for unimaginary friends.’ They scour the streets encountering trolls and other weird things before visiting Lady Byrd, in the hope she can help. Hmm. Maybe but maybe not.

The next encounter is with a dreadful dinosaur but once that’s been ‘disappeared’ there are robots on the rampage. YIKES! When is this all going to end – hopefully before the whole place becomes nothing but heaps of rubble. Surely we must all be dreaming – or maybe just somebody is …

Brilliantly imagined by author and illustrator, this is perfect reading for the longer evenings that are now upon us; yes it’s bursting with wild happenings but at the heart of the tale lies friendship, and finding your place.

The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes: The Super Spy / Sky

These are both additions to popular, established series: thanks to the publishers for sending them for review:

The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes: The Super Spy
Brenda Gurr
New Frontier Publishing

With cooking programmes on TV as popular as ever, I’m sure there are many young aspiring Zinnia Jakes, aka Zoe who will relish this the third in the series about baking and the challenges it presents to nine-year-old Zoe, her best friend Addie, her Aunt Jam a musician, and Coco the seemingly magical cat that appears at specific times, some of which are exceedingly inconvenient.

In this story we find Zoe coping with the annoying shenanigans of the moggy especially when it invades lessons, the forthcoming school sleepover for Year 4 and the challenge of making a fabulous spy-themed Cake for the Parents’ Association party this coming weekend.

On receiving the cake request sent as usual to Zinnia Jakes, Zoe’s mind immediately goes into over-drive; but how will she manage delivering a cake in secret without revealing the identity of Zinna Jakes, especially as Aunt Jam will be otherwise engaged? Perhaps her dad might help as he’s going to be at home on the night of the sleepover, so he tells Zoe.

First though Zoe has to decide on a design for the cake and with suggestions from Jam, Addie, not to mention Coco, she finally settles on a combination of their ideas.

However, things begin to go downhill when she received news from her dad -he’s been delayed; and then she overhears one of the organiser’s mention of spy traps – supposed to be part of the fun but not of course for Zinnia. Is her identity after all, destined to be discovered?

Full of surprises, this tale of teamwork and friendship, determination and resilience will go down especially well with younger readers of chapter books; it would also make a good, short read-aloud for KS1 classes. Don’t miss the recipe for a ‘hidden secret cake’ at the end of the story.

Sky
Holly Webb, illustrated by Jo Anne Davies
Little Tiger

This is the latest in the author’s Winter Animal series that have a time slip and a creature linking the two periods.

When Lara and her parents arrive in the Scottish Highlands to spend the Christmas holidays with her grandparents, she’s surprised when Grandad tells her of a snowy owl he’s seen. Then both Lara and Grandad spot her again and despite the snow that’s fallen overnight, Lara insists on going out the next day in the hope of seeing the bird again; and see Sky as she names the white bird, she does. It leads her all the way to the Big House before disappearing but Lara notices that the Christmas tree in its window has real candles burning brightly.

The following morning, Lara is drawn back to the house and as she approaches, there at the edge of the driveway, she comes upon a sobbing girl in a long white dress lying on the snowy ground.

A girl from another era who says her name is Amelia and is surprised that Lara is dressed in, as she calls her trousers and jacket, ‘boys’ clothes’. Lara in turn is amazed at Amelia’s ‘old-fashioned, fancy clothes’ especially her underwear that she sees when Amelia takes her into her bedroom in the big house. Now Lara is convinced that, thanks to that magical owl, she’s gone back in time.

With lots of lovely black-and-white illustrations by Jo Anne Davies, this is a gorgeous wintry tale that primary readers, especially animal lovers will adore, either around Christmas, or really, at any time.

Count

Count
Melvin Burgess, illustrated by Chris Mould
Andersen Press

This is award winning author Melvin Burgess’s first book for younger readers and what a hoot of a story it is.

Meet Brandon an inveterate boaster: strongest in his class, super at soccer, tops in every subject in class, in fact, according to him, he’s the best at everything. It’s only his younger sister who believes his claims, and his teacher, while approving of his having a wonderful imagination, points out that continuing with such wild pretences will result in people not accepting a word he says.

Then to go one (actually many many) better than his best pal Waris, Brandon announces that he can count to – wait for it – TEN MILLION!

Off he goes and to his surprise, once he starts counting he finds himself totally besotted with numbers, pretty much to the exclusion of everything else.

Even being sent to the headteacher, Miss Hexx who he flatly refuses to obey when she tells him to stop counting. A special staff meeting is called but oddly quite a few of the teachers actually find Brandon’s counting ‘rather beautiful’ or similar. The teacher part of me fell about to read Mr Wyke’s comment: “This is a school. You’re supposed to learn how to do things – you’re not supposed to actually start doing them yourself until you’re grown up.”

Calculations are made and the boy discovers that to reach his goal will take a whole year, so what about Christmas, which would involve his entire family?

Will this love affair between Brandon and numbers ever stop? Assuredly it’s having an effect on everyone at school and the boy’s fame is spreading far and wide.

Nobody quite knows what will happen next …

Brilliantly anarchic and pricelessly funny – made even more so by Chris Mould’s comical black-and-white illustrations, I envisage countless children reading this in a single sitting eager to know how the story ends; all I’ll say is that they’re in for a surprise. It would also make a smashing class read aloud, so long as KS2 teachers aren’t worried about putting ideas into the heads of their charges.

More for primary age readers please Melvin.

The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden
retold by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Margarita Kukhtina
Nosy Crow

If you’re looking for a beautifully designed gift edition of this Frances Hodgson Burnett classic, look no further than award-winning author Geraldine McCaughrean’s retelling with its gorgeous art work by Margarita Kukhtina.

I loved the story as a child and have continued to do so since; I’m sure this version will create a new generation of readers equally fond of the tale of Indian born Mary Lennox who is orphaned and sent to live with her uncle in England, to be brought up in Misselthwaite Manor, a disquietingly gloomy building.
There she meets housekeeper Mrs Medlock

and the kindly servant, Martha. There is a huge culture shock for the spoiled girl who’s more than a little angry at the situation she now finds herself in. She’s lonely too though, until she discovers a walled garden that has been kept secret for years.

In that garden, she meets Ben Weatherstaff, an elderly gardener and his friend Mr Robin. Later she unearths the key and with it unlocks the wonder that lies beyond the garden walls.

First though she finds the gentle Dickon who talks to animals and birds and the sickly Colin: through them she also discovers that making friends like these two can be every bit as life-enhancing as a magical garden.

With Geraldine McCaughrean’s supreme story-telling skill and totally captivating illustrations as rich as the text, this tale of light and darkness is destined to be the go-to way to introduce the story to children of today.

Tales from the Ocean

Tales from the Ocean
Chae Strathie, illustrated by Erin Brown
Little Tiger

With Erin Brown’s colour illustrations on every spread, this is a collection of twenty original short stories about sea creatures large and small by Chae Strathie.

The oceans are teeming with life whether it be in the tropical waters of the coral reefs, the coastal waters and shallows, tropical and temperate waters or those of the Arctic and polar regions, the four locations in which the author sets these tales.

First we meet a rather impatient young Giant Clam. He’s in a hurry to find a place to settle and grow his shell. Will he listen to the advice of others that have made far from perfect choices?
In the shallows, Hermit Crab too, needs a new home on account of a shell, but hers has become too tight; now she’s on the hunt for one that ‘feels just right’ and in so doing she helps two other crabs find something that’s ‘a better fit’.

Out in the warmer waters Ocean Sunfish is suffering from a bout of itchiness on account of not finding a cleaner wrasse to nibble off the irritating parasites tickling her skin.

Resigned to having to put up with the discomfort, she sets off jelly hunting and by late afternoon although her appetite is sated, her itchiness is worse. Another sunfish makes a suggestion but this fails to rid her of the wretched irritants. Maybe the seagull can help …

In the immense whiteness that is the Antarctic, living in a colony of Adelie penguins is Small Penguin. Despite his size compared with the Emperor penguins that live close by, Small Penguin has big ideas about himself and is more than ready to take up the challenge of one of the Emperors: ‘first penguin to catch a silverfish is the best’. Which penguin will be the victor?

It’s impossible to choose a favourite tale: that will depend on listeners and readers. Each one ends with a verse from the marine protagonist and with the author’s infusion of gentle humour and lots of incidental learning built in, as well as Erin Brown’s gorgeous illustrations this is ideal for sharing with younger children or for older ones to read independently. (The book concludes with two finals spreads with paragraphs of additional details about each of the twenty creatures featured.)

Earth Friends: Pet Protection / Magnificent Mabel and the Very Important Witch

Both books are additions to popular Nosy Crow series – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Earth Friends: Pet Protection
Holly Webb

This is the fourth story about four friends who try to make the world a better place.

Emily longs for a pet of her own but her home doesn’t have sufficient room. Having explored various possibilities with her friends Poppy, Maya and Izzy, she decides to offer her services helping at the Appleby Animal Rescue centre nearby. With her Mum’s permission and approval of the person in charge, it’s agreed that Emily will help out at weekends. But then she learns that owing to lack of finance, the centre is under threat. Emily resolves not to let that happen and straightway starts thinking of ways to raise funds, starting with a tenth birthday party for the centre: no pressure there. First of all they need to find a suitable venue and that in itself is a tricky task.

Then there’s the question of Emily’s new dog walking business, certainly one way to get some cash but what will her Mum say about that?

However Emily is one determined girl and when her mind is set on a good cause, she’s not easily deterred. Can she and her friends ensure that the animals don’t finish up homeless? It’s certainly a challenge … Be prepared for a few surprises in this one.

With an additional focus on girls’ friendships, this is a heartwarming, inspiring story that will appeal especially to readers who want to make a difference.

Magnificent Mabel and the Very Important Witch
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians

I’m a big fan of Mabel Chase aka Magnificent Mabel who returns in three new funny as ever episodes. The first is set at Halloween, a time Mabel loves almost as much as Christmas especially with the opportunities it offers for free sweets. Others in the locality are similarly hit by Halloween fever. But then it seems that an urgent family matter might prevent her from trick or treating, unless that is, Great Aunt Bridget can be persuaded to participate in the festivities.

Next, Mabel’s school has a worry box in the playground. Sure that she’s seen aliens in the vicinity, Mabel posts a note about her concern at the possibility of an alien attack on the school. Having convinced herself that they’re homesick, she enlists the help of her understanding headteacher and the two of them build something to help said aliens go back from whence they came. But that’s only part of the story: the best is yet to come.

In the final episode Mabel has a monster living under her bed but despite that, Mabel’s parents continue to ignore her earnest pleas for that much-wanted ‘up-high’ bunk bed. So she decides to use her initiative and monster blocking skills: will those get Mabel what she wants? …

A chucklesome book with spirited black and white illustrations by Julia Christians that contribute to the drama which follows Mabel no matter where she goes. Share with foundation stage listeners, while slightly older children just flying solo could try reading it themselves.

Hattie + Olaf

Hattie + Olaf
Frida Nilsson, illustrated by Stina Wirsén
Gecko Press

Hattie is now in her second year at school and since her very first day has been best friends with Linda. They’re both chatterboxes but whereas Hattie, like almost all the girls in her class, is totally horse mad, Linda thinks the whole horse fever stupid.

Told in the present tense, we discover that although Hattie wants a horse more than anything else in the entire world, what her father gets her is far less expensive, though it does have hooves and he brings it in a horse trailer: it’s a mangy old donkey named Olaf. That’s what happens when you wish on a ‘tired old longhorn beetle instead of a ladybird’ thinks Hattie.

Does Hattie rush into school and tell her classmates about the creature: no way! Instead she invents a tale about a new neighbour, owner of three white horses that she’s allowed to ride whenever she wants. Inevitably, she’s eventually found out and Hattie is ridiculed by her fellow horse enthusiasts. Moreover she has a punch up with Alfie getting her into BIG trouble,

and also falls out with Linda.

The days pass and by the time the Christmas holiday draws near, Hattie is anticipating a break without Olaf. But where has he gone and will he ever come back?

Splendidly funny, this quirky story showing how young Hattie navigates school and relationships, discovering what loyalty means, as well as those things that are of real importance, is a delight through and through; made all the more so by the scattering throughout of Stina Wirsén’s black and white illustrations.

It works equally well as a read aloud for those around Hattie’s age or, for slightly older, confident readers who will be amused by the protagonist’s innocent intensity.

Jasper & Scruff: The Great Cat Cake-Off / Stink and the Hairy Scary Spider

Jasper & Scruff: The Great Cat Cake-Off
Nicola Colton
Little Tiger

In case you’ve not met the two protagonists, cat Jasper loves cooking fancy food and dining in fancy restaurants. Puppy Scruff is fond of eating with a particular penchant for salted caramel. The two run their own cafe, its speciality being the Cheese Monsieur with customers coming from near and far to sample this delicacy.

One day though, there’s a distinct lack of visitors and on investigation they discover across the way a new establishment – The Sophisticafé – is opening up with Lady Catterly as head chef. Eager to learn what the signature dish is to be, Jasper and Scruff head over and try to enter the cafe doors, only to be rebuffed without the necessary invitation.

Back they go to their own diner to find that things are in a chaotic state but even worse, the recipe page for their signature dish has been removed from the book. Looks as though it’s the work of the Sophisticats AGAIN!

Time to find out exactly what is going on … Things don’t go quite to plan however but they do encounter famous food writer, Gaspard le Skunk sampling the fare. Now he’s the one to impress, decide Scruff and Jasper but that will entail some menu amendments.

Again things don’t quite go to plan as those dastardly Sophisticats have got wind of the critic’s visit. Sabotage is their way of doing things …

but who will win this battle?

Another tasty offering in this series, and with one or more of Nicola’s humorous illustrations on every spread, it’s ideal for those readers just starting to fly solo.

Stink and the Hairy Scary Spider
Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books

Stink is Judy Moody’s little brother and now he’s battling with his arachnophobia, a fear of spiders having troubled him for quite a while.

Having fashioned an origami frog, he takes his creation to the backyard to test its hopping. The creature hops right out of sight but when Stink looks in the long grass there’s no sign of his frog. Instead he sees a ‘pink thingy’ or rather several and they’re attached to large hairy legs which in turn are attached to a larger hairy body and that is attached to a massive head of the hirsute kind. A head with a plethora of eyes, what’s more. YIKES! Readers will have no doubt what this thing is.

A fearful Stink dashes indoors to seek help in locating his frog from the one person he knows is actually quite fond of spiders, his sister Judy. A deal is struck but Judy goes beyond that and sets about trying to cure little brother of his phobia.

This is a fun, scientific episode in which Megan McDonald’s characters exhibit their delightful optimism and it’s brought out in Peter Reynolds’ amusing illustrations; love the spidery chapter headings. There are even instructions to make an origami jumping frog after the story.

A relatively easy read: early chapter book readers will thoroughly enjoy this spin on facing your fears.

Polly Pecorino: The Girl Who Rescues Animals

Polly Pecorino: The Girl Who Rescues Animals
Emma Chichester Clark
Walker Books

Absolutely full of charm, this is the debut novel of wonderful picture books creator Emma Chichester Clark and it stars Polly Pecorino, a seemingly ordinary schoolgirl but with a difference: Polly is an inveterate animal rescuer.

Notably, she is able to talk to animals and understand them though she doesn’t know from where this ability came, nor does she make it known outside her own family. They live (along with Crow, a wild creature Polly had rescued) in the small town of Abbeville overlooking Silent Water Lake beyond which in Wild Bear Woods lived actual wild bears.

These are feared by everyone living nearby including Polly. All of this gives something of a fairytale feeling. Danger lurks close by only kept at bay by a high protective wall surrounding the town. A story has it that an entire family got lost and were gobbled up by the bears, one by one.

Within the town walls on the opposite side to Wild Bear Woods is the somewhat neglected Happy Days Zoo and Polly spends much of her time there after school and during holidays helping her Uncle Stan care for the animals and doing what she can to keep them fed and happy.

In contrast the zoo’s unscrupulous owners, the Snells, care nothing for the animals but will do anything, anything at all, to make money and the more of it the better … They’ll even resort to stealing a tiny bear cub from the woods – that will surely make them a nice packet with a huge surge in ticket sales.

No matter their action will put the entire town in danger from the other bears in the form of the cub’s wild family that will come for him.

Polly realises that if she doesn’t act that is exactly what will happen. Yes, she’s brave but is she brave enough to go against the Snells, follow her heart and take little Booboo back to Wild Bear Woods?

Surely there has to be a way and if anyone can do it, that person is Polly with her ability to see things from the perspective of the animals.

Matters become increasingly tense as the dramatic events build … BooBoo simply must be returned to his parents …

Emma’s storytelling is brilliant – you really feel you’re scrambling through the tangles of creepers and brambles with Polly, damp air penetrating your skin, . Equally brilliant is her characterisation, especially of the girl; together, they give this book a real classic feel, helping to make it utterly grippingly unputdownable. In your haste to find out what happens though, make sure you slow down to enjoy the plethora of fantastic black and white illustrations.

Rainbow Grey

Rainbow Grey
Laura Ellen Anderson
Farshore

Having hugely enjoyed Laura’s Amelia Fang series I couldn’t wait to get hold of her new story. and it certainly lived up to my expectations.

It’s set in the brilliantly imagined magical sky world of Weatherlands in the city of Celestia and features ten-year old Ray Grey. who lives with her family – mum Cloudia, Dad Haze and cloud-cat, Nim.

All the other Weatherlings have at their fingertips, amazing magical weather power – be it sun ( I love the glowing sunflower in the sky image giving light to Earth), 

snow or rain, cloud or wind; not so Ray who like her mother, has no weather magic of any kind, though she longs for such magic to appear suddenly one morning so she’s more like her friends Droplet Dewbells and Snowden Everfreeze.

Rumour has it though that until they were all wiped out by the worst tornado in history, there were also Weatherlings who had Rainbow magic, – although most people don’t believe this . 

When Ray attends her first festival for the Eclipse with her friends, it’s the start of an unlikely adventure triggered by a tatty old book. Adventure is something else Ray longs for, wanting to be like her hero, the famous, beautiful Earth Explorer La Blaze Delight whom she meets at the festival.

Young Ray is one determined character and so is prepared to be a rule breaker (hurrah!) leaving Celestia without a grown-up and setting off for earth on a ‘daring quest’ in search of treasures.

It’s a trip that changes her life: a transformation takes place making her not Ray Grey but Rainbow Grey. Now all that’s left to do is to gain control of her powers and save the earth from a mysterious, powerful destructive enemy. 

Can she succeed? Perhaps, with the help of her best pals (and Nim) – surely that isn’t asking too much …

Laura’s storytelling weaves a spell around you from the outset; it’s totally gripping throughout with tension building as the end draws nigh, full of splendid humorous detail (the pigeon named Coo La La, for example) with sprinklings of silliness such as that highly explosive farting cloud cat, and the eat them quick before they erupt, rumblebuns.

This book has all you can ask for and more: teamwork, friendship, an environmental message, being something of an outsider, there’s even a mention of reading problems ( Ray talks of letters being jumbled on the page and later, reading from coloured paper is mentioned). Magicalicious – bring on the next adventure please!

Willow Wildthing and the Magic Spell

Willow Wildthing and the Magic Spell
Gill Lewis, illustrated by Rebecca Bagley
Oxford Children’s Books

It’s great to see another adventure of Willow and her friends. Now they’re on a mission to save the Wilderness from the clutches of a dastardly property developer, one Lord Smog aka the money wizard, who it seems will stop at nothing to get his way. That means he intends to fell all the trees to make way for his housing development.

What Willow needs is to ‘out-spell’ him and there’s somebody the Wild Things know who can surely help them. Off they go to see their witch friend though even she isn’t very hopeful, initially at least. But after some discussion on the possibilities of what a spell might do they set about creating one – a spell written from the heart. That’s part one of the plan.

The second is to make their adults remember what it was like to be wild.

Can they do it? Anything is worth a try to save the wild green space wherein nature and magic meet, that they love so much.

At first I thought perhaps ash dieback might be the reason for the trees being marked and it was a relief to find it wasn’t so: even a powerful enchantment of the Willow kind wouldn’t work against that.

I really loved that Willow, her little brother Freddie, Bear, Fox, Mouse, Hare and Raven co-create the spell.

I’m sure Willow’s multitude of established fans will relish this smashing story spell-bindingly created by Gill Lewis and Rebecca Bagley; and the determined girl will doubtless add significantly to her fanbase too.

How to be a Human / Museum Kittens: The Treasure Map

Two recent fiction titles from Little Tiger – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

How to be a Human
Karen McCombie

When their home town is hit by unprecedented wild weather storms causing schools to close it seems something is badly wrong. Little Ty thinks he’s seen aliens in the sky and much to sister Kiki’s horror has even appeared on the news saying the freak weather was caused by strange beings in their spaceships. How will she face the embarrassment of such nonsensical talk when Riverside Academy reopens? Especially the taunts of Lola and the Popular Crew of which she wants to be part.

Someone else not thrilled with the school reopening is previously homeschooled newbie Wes, also in Y7 and an outsider (though the bullies have their eyes on him).

Then there is Star Boy, presently marooned on Earth about which he’s been taught some things relating to its inhabitants, as well as having taught himself some of its languages.

Both finding every day painful, Kiki and Wes start spending time together and soon realise they have things in common: they’re really struggling to settle in to the new school, they both have parents who have separated and then comes music.

Having observed their behaviour together, Star Boy decides he can learn much about human behaviour by watching and filming the duo so that once he returns to his own planet, the Master will consider him a ‘scientific hero’.

Then Wes and Kiki discover Star Boy. They start to learn things about one another but also about themselves and who they are; they learn what being human really means, about the importance of trust and of friendship. They also discover that sometimes what you really want is right there before you and that it’s possible to heal sadness.
With terrific characters Karen McCombie infuses her insightful story with warmth and gentle humour. She really seems to stand behind the heads of eleven/twelve year olds and their salient concerns.

Thoroughly recommended for those around the age of Kiki and Wes in particular.

for younger readers is

Museum Kittens: The Treasure Map
Holly Webb, illustrated by Sarah Lodge

The fourth tale of the kittens that get playful once all the visitors have left the museum begins up on the roof when Tasha declares that the cloud she’s seen in the sky is a dragon. Boris then decides it’s actually a ship which puts him in adventurous mood as he leads his fellow kittens off to see an actual ship, The Silver Lion, a four-hundred-year-old galleon in dry dock at the back of the museum.

No sooner have they gone aboard than they hear rats voices singing about treasure and they appear to have a map.

When Boris informs them that The Silver Lion was a pirate ship that once belonged to a pirate queen, his excitement rubs off on the other kittens. Grandpa Ivan gives them his blessings to follow the rats; they have to get hold of that map one way or another. But those rats are pretty tricky creatures … and is there really a treasure map, let alone any treasure?

Those familiar with the kittens and their escapades, illustrated by Sarah Lodge, will eagerly grab this; other new solo readers could start here and then likely will want to read what went before.

Seven Sisters

Seven Sisters
Ayisha Malik and Erika Meza
Little Tiger

Lola, Esher, Ayla, Zoha, Zayna, Amelia and Saffah all live in the Forest of Tremendous Trees. Each of them lives in a tree and despite being sisters, they’re very different characters with very different interests. Zayna is a writer, Lola is an artist, Saffah is the musical one, shy Ayla has a technological mind, Amelia loves gymnastics, Zoha particularly enjoys the natural world and Esher is an inventor. Despite being so different, they get along well largely because they have their own spaces wherein to hone their talents.

Suddenly one day they sense change is afoot and lo and behold a large tree appears before them and continues growing becoming the most beautiful in the entire forest.

That night the girls retire to their beds each thinking of the house they could build in the new tree.

Inevitably next morning they all make their way to the tree where each of them puts forward a case for ownership.

Arguments ensue and things get chaotic until they decide the only way to solve the issue is to hold a competition with their beloved aunt as judge.

Despite her reservations the competition is scheduled for the following day but none of them had expected the storm that blows up just as they arrive. Time to take refuge … together.

Could this perhaps be the best learning opportunity that nature could offer the seven sisters?

Read solo or read aloud: there are lessons aplenty in this engaging story that celebrates individual differences, creativity and the joys of community. Having recently enjoyed Ayisha’s adult novel This Green and Pleasant Land I was pleasantly surprised to learn that she also writes for children. Erika Mesa’s mixed media illustrations are wonderfully expressive, full of life and really bring out the girls differing personalities.

Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth / Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Frightmare

Sona Sharma: Looking After Planet Earth
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Jen Khatun
Walker Books

It’s great to have young Sona Sharma and her extended family back in another story. Now Sona is alarmed when she hears how much humans are doing to damage Planet Earth as her class talk about global warming, plastic pollution, deforestation and more and after the lessons she and her classmates all sign a pledge to do their bit to look after Planet Earth. Sona resolves to enlist the help of all her family members too, although once home she finds Paati (grandmother) is very preoccupied with perfecting her kolam designs in preparation for an upcoming competition.

Nonetheless, on Saturday Soma sets to work on her caring for the planet plan but her over-zealous electricity saving soon has other family members just a tad irritated, not to mention the disappearance of baby sister Minmini’s nappies.

Time for a family Panchayat as Sona’s grandfather calls it, to look at Sona’s list of changes to be made. There are some compromises but everyone seems satisfied with the outcome of the discussion and Sona goes to school clutching a plan she’s happy about on Monday morning.

That evening however, things happen that make her anything but happy and as a result some high drama ensues. The day ends well though but a new day brings another challenge for Sona when she resolves to get the use of chemicals, plastic and glitter banned in the kolam competition. 

Will she succeed? It might just require a miracle …

I’m an even bigger fan of Sona after this story: she’s certainly a force to be reckoned with. Her enthusiasm and determination are admirable even if they do get her into some tricky situations. I love too the way Chitra has woven into her narrative an explanation from the Ramayana of why the Indian palm squirrel has three stripes.

Jen Khatun’s line drawings are a delight; it’s great to have one, (often containing fine detail) on every spread.

Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Frightmare
Kris Humphrey, illustrated by Pete Williamson
Oxford Children’s Books

Leo’s role as apprentice to the Guardian, Henrik, is to protect the village from any monsters that lurk in the encircling forest while keeping his job secret. Even if receiving a summons from Henrik means curtailing his enjoyment of the Spring Festival being celebrated as this story opens.

It’s as well he’s just demonstrated his target hitting prowess at the festival; he’s certainly going to need it in this assignment; but is the truth about his job in danger of being revealed when his close friend Jacob decides to help?

There’s only one thing to do according to The Guardian: Leo must urgently obtain a hair from one of the ghostly Frightmare’s tails before the end of the night. Not a problem then, except that these monsters haunt the higher mountain passes protecting their territory by breathing deadly blue fire from their nostrils.

Can Leo succeed? Perhaps with map in hand and the assistance of his Leatherwing friend, Starla. 

However as he soon discovers, these Frightmares have an unexpected power that will make his task even more difficult: that and the fog. But as Leo tells himself, ‘failure just wasn’t an option’ …

Established fans of the series will eagerly join Leo in this new, splendidly written and illustrated adventure that’s packed with thrills, action and atmosphere. Newcomers will quickly find themselves sucked into the intriguing story too and also enjoy the map and concluding illustrated fact files.

Nikhil and Jay Save the Day / Nikhil and Jay The Birthday Star

Nikhil and Jay Save the Day
Nikhil and Jay The Birthday Star

Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Soofiya
Otter-Barry Books

The main focus of these two delightful books of short stories is preschooler, Jay and his elder bother Nikhil. Jay finds it frustrating when he cannot do all that his brother can – climbing the apple tree in their garden and lifting up Nana’s heavy bag, for instance. However, when it comes to blowing out his birthday candles and cutting the cake, he’s ready to accept a bit of brotherly assistance, both of which enable him to adopt a ‘we do’ attitude. That story is in the first book. 

There are also episodes telling of a visit to Grandpa and Nana’s home without the green story dragon that Grandpa bought for Jay; then comes the weekly pancake making day when Amma makes the dosa that the boys love so much. Again patience is needed on behalf of Jay whose eyes might prove to be bigger than his tummy. (At the back, Chitra has included a recipe for those, and chutney especially for those who fancy trying to make their own, ‘ the Chennai Granny way’).

The final story tells what happens when the boys make their regular Saturday visit to the library and discover it’s closed ‘forever’ 

– or is it? Perhaps not when the local community gets involved in a protest.

In The Star Birthday, there’s huge excitement in the household as Granny and Grandad from Chennai come to stay. 

One of the first things they do is take the boys to the nearby Indian market to buy fruit and vegetables. Seemingly they ate the mangoes in similar fashion to the way my partner does (although he doesn’t sit in the bath) but he does suck the contents through the peel having made a hole in the top.

After Granny and Grandpa have stayed a week, it’s only one more before it’s time to celebrate Nikhil’s birthday. So why does Granny insist they celebrate on that particular Saturday, calling it a ‘Chennai birthday’ and not on the following week?

Then all four grandparents and the boys plan a visit to the park but first they have to make sure they have the right things to carry the food in – definitely no plastic; and the boys conclude that it’s the best picnic ever.

In the final story the boys prepare to bid farewell to their Chennai grandparents but there’s talk of them paying a visit to Chennai at Christmas. Perhaps this might be the topic of the next book – I hope so. 

It’s lovely to see these books for newly independent readers (or for reading aloud) starring a British Asian family. Chitra draws on her own South Indian background and the stories are illustrated with gently humorous line drawings by Soofia on every page.

Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door / Mirabelle’s Bad Day

Aziza’s Secret Fairy Door
Lola Morayo, illustrated by Cory Reid
Macmillan Children’s Books

This is the first of a sparkly new series starring Aziza who is fanatical about all things fairy; she’s even named after a type of fairy creature from West African folklore.

On the day this tale unfolds, Aziza is celebrating her birthday and is especially excited by the mysterious parcel containing a fairy door with DIY instructions, that arrives from she knows not where.

The intrigue increases when having found a place to stand it (she’s a flat dweller so it’s not easy), Aziza lying in bed that evening hears a knocking sound seemingly coming from the other side of the decorated door. When she touches its knob, the door opens and she finds herself transported to Shimmerton where she soon makes friends with Princess Peri and nose-twitching shapeshifter Tiko. 

Just the characters she needs to help her take on the Gigglers aka Kendra, Noon and Felly who take possession of the doorknob thus leaving Aziza trapped in Shimmerton without her only means of returning home. This threesome need to learn a few lessons, not least about taking things that don’t belong to them without asking and about kindness and fairness.

With the help of her new friends, will Aziza manage to make it back to her family?

By creative duo Tólá Okogwu and Jasmine Richards writing under the pen name Lola Morayo this is a thoroughly engaging magical story about perseverance and earning respect among other things, that’s just right for new solo readers. In their fantasy setting, they introduce readers to a diverse host of fascinating characters not least a curmudgeonly anthropomorphic clock and a talking unicorn shopkeeper. 

Cory Reid’s black and white illustrations have an appropriate quirkiness about them and are a perfect complement for the text.

I’m sure the delightful Aziza will have youngsters eagerly awaiting her next adventure beyond that Secret Fairy Door.

More magic in

Mirabelle Has a Bad Day
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford Children’s Books

We all have days when everything seems to go wrong and so it is with half fairy, half witch Mirabelle. She’s actually set herself up for one the previous evening by not putting away her spell ingredients before going to bed, as well as forgetting to bring her broomstick in from outside. 

The day in the title begins when she sees the state of her hair on waking and then at breakfast time learns that her brother has finished the rose petal fairy flakes leaving her no option but to have some of the batwing porridge her mum’s made instead. And as for her broomstick …

From then on things get even worse: she arrives at school late and sopping wet, her best friend is absent and she can’t join in the playground games on account of her over large borrowed attire.

Later, at home even bigger disasters are waiting to happen, in part due to the transformation potion Mirabelle made in class, a portion of which she was allowed to bottle up and take home; 

that and the fact that her infuriating brother has gobbled every single one of the remaining chocolate biscuits and is playing with her pet dragon.

Will Mirabelle end up going to bed in a foul mood or will things get better before she closes her eyes?

This enchanting book with its dramatic illustrations ends with some magical Mirabelle extras including a recipe for witchy cakes.

Established fans will likely gobble this (not the cakes) in a single sitting and Mirabelle is sure to gain some new followers too.

Edie and the Box of Flits

Edie and the Box of Flits
Kate Wilkinson, illustrated by Joe Berger
Piccadilly Press

Eleven year old Edie Winter, a rather lonely girl, helps her dad with his job at London Underground’s lost property office where strange items often turn up. However, travelling to the office one day during half term she’s certainly not expecting to find a mysterious wooden box: a box that’s home to a family of tiny winged beings – The Flits.

It’s only people under thirteen who can see these magical little creatures, and Impy, Speckle and Nid need Edie’s help. Help that takes the form of food supplies including chocolate spread, raisins, digestive biscuits, rice crispies sunflower seeds and sugar sprinkles, somebody to look after them, but their brother, Jot, has run off looking in the Underground tunnels for Flum and other missing Flits, and Edie’s assistance is required to find him.

All manner of strange things are happening though, not least, sightings of strange sharp-eyed birds; there are complaints from passengers about missing jewellery or other small, expensive items after a journey.
Utterly intrigued by the tiny creatures Edie immerses herself in the Flits’ world, even hiding them in her school bag and they’re all determined to find the missing beings. But the Flits Edie is caring for are not easy to control; she has a tricky task to prevent them being discovered by the watchful magpin birds – a sinister lot – as well as the far from friendly Vera Creech, receptionist at the Lost Property Office who looks after a crow and is interested in the wooden box.

Kate Wilkinson has constructed the Flits’ small world brilliantly and it’s impossible not to be enthralled by her magical story of friendship, family and focussing on life’s little things. Joe Berger’s black and white illustrations are a delight be they whole page scenes, small or very small close ups.

A terrific class read aloud for older KS2 listeners as well as for individuals who like books with a touch of enchantment or a classic feel. I can’t wait for the next one in the series.

The House on the Edge / A Monster Ate My Packed Lunch

These are two smashing books recently published by Nosy Crow – thanks for sending them for review

The House on the Edge
Alex Cotter

Faith’s dad has disappeared. What has happened to him and why has he left the family – mum (who’s now staying in bed all day), Faith the narrator, and her younger brother Noah – in an old house (the Lookout) perched atop a crumbling cliff?

When a crack appears on the cliffside Faith watches it growing larger day by day. She’s also trying her utmost to hold things together and that entails looking after her mum and staying out of trouble at school. Then, when Noah’s teacher asks to speak to their mother as she’s concerned about the boy, Faith fears things are about to come unravelled. She’s increasingly worried too about the boy’s talk of a sea ghost in the cellar searching for lost treasure; and to make things worse her Uncle keeps nosing around in the house.

Worse still is when Noah disappears causing Faith to have second thoughts about the possibility of ghosts. Is there any chance at all she can find her brother and bring her father back before all she cares about crashes into the sea down below.

Wonderfully written, with Faith’s gripping first person narrative encompassing feelings of exasperation and love, ordinary commonplace things, alarm and panic, with some humour too, this is a smashing book about families and what binds them together as well as an exciting mystery. Altogether a cracking debut for author Alex Cotter.

A Monster Ate My Packed Lunch
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Thomas Flintham

Giggles guaranteed in this latest deliciously daft adventure from team Butchart and Flintham.

Now Izzy, her classmates and teachers are off on an activities school trip to Big Lake. The to-do list includes a nature walk, raft-building, a ropes course and a tug of war, but Gary Petrie is much more excited about the fact that the lodges they’re staying in have slippers and robes.

The lake itself is deep, dark and a tad scary, not least because Ranger Tam starts talking about the presence of a hundred year old monster therein – and he’s not joking!

Investigations are the order of the day among the children – or maybe that should be the order of the night. By all accounts said monster is hungry and on the lookout for food, food like their packed lunches – sandwiches and crisps in particular. Perhaps it even eats teachers?

Full of splendidly silly scenarios vividly imagined by Pamela Butchart with her brilliant knack of presenting things from the child’s perspective and their propensity to get carried away, along with a wealth of appropriately wacky illustrations by Thomas Flintham, this is perfect for solo readers who like a longish, highly illustrated story with plenty of melodrama.

Let’s pay a visit to Noisy Village

The Children of Noisy Village
Happy Times in Noisy Village
Nothing But Fun in Noisy Village

Astrid Lindgren, illustrated by Mini Grey
Oxford Children’s Books


I was intrigued to learn of this series written many decades ago and now newly illustrated by Mini Grey who brings the village and its inhabitants to life for a new generation of readers. I seem to recall the first book from childhood but didn’t realise there were others.

The stories are narrated by one of the young characters, soon to be eight, Lisa and the first book introduces us to the village that comprises three farms side-by-side, set in the middle of the countryside. The village got its name on account of the six children who are exceedingly noisy: There’s Lisa and her two brothers Bosse and Lasse, from Middle Farmhouse, Ollie lives in South farmhouse and the third, North Farm is home to two sisters Anna and Britta. We share their adventures told in brief chapters, including Lisa’s birthday celebrations; being caught barefoot in a hail and thunderstorm resulting in frozen feet, a visit to an old lady named Kristin and a kitten a-piece for each of the three farmhouses.

The children’s Happy Times include Lasse skating close to a hole in the frozen lake and ending up falling backwards right in though happily not being ‘drownded’; a search for a water spirit and hunting for treasure.

By the third book Lisa is nine and the children are still having Nothing But Fun. Fun such s taking a lamb to school (that’s Lisa’s idea); the extraction of Ollie’s tooth; and the capture of a supposed prehistoric ox, and an adventure involving crayfish and the possibility of trolls.

The books are full of high-spirited fun, fuelled sometimes by some rather ridiculous ideas on behalf of one or other of the children, and just right for either solo reading or story sharing sessions.

44 Tiny Chefs

44 Tiny Chefs
Sylvia Bishop and Ashley King
Little Tiger

Nobody can be more surprised than Betsy Bow-Linnet when her Great-Aunt Agatha turns up announcing, “I’ve bought you a bakery,”. Well perhaps Bertram, but that’s because Betsy and Grandad have been selling her father’s delicious cakes to raise money to buy dad a special present for his birthday and as her aunt says, ‘selling cakes from a street-corner stall, like an uncouth ragamuffin.”

The woman can certainly get things done when she wants and now she has. With instructions to choose a name she departs and leaves the others to follow her instructions. The establishment becomes THE Half-Moon Bakery, Dad decides he wants the opening ceremony to be held on his birthday just three days away and Betsy realises it’s going to entail a great deal of work.

That’s just the start of things though for at the party, one Alexander Papparell, Royal Taster of Fine Foods for Her Majesty the Queen, mightily impressed by what he’s sampled, asks Bertram to provide the cakes for a Royal Gala that very Sunday – only two days notice. Also attending is Chief Health and Safety Inspector, Vernon Brick.

‘Not-a-panic’ sets in with the arrival of the requirements list. Is it time for Betsy to reveal something about mouse assistance to her dad, and then to press him to allow her to call upon the help of the little creatures? If he agrees, is it a risk worth taking? …

The Bow-Linnets are a delight and this is another super, action-packed story with some especially tasty ingredients, not least the chocolate cakes – well maybe not every single one of them; then there’s the fantastic support the rest of the family show to Bernard when it’s his big chance, and as always, Ashley King’s two-colour illustrations are terrific fun.

Bug Belly: Froggy Rescue

Bug Belly:Froggy Rescue
Paul Morton
Five Quills

Uncle Bug Belly is back, along with the three little froglets Splish (the eldest), Splash (the middle one) and Splosh, the littlest that has a habit of getting into trouble.

One morning quite suddenly something shiny and spherical drops from the sky and lands in Bottom Pond. Discussion ensues as to what the thing is, with Splosh grabbing it, insisting that it’s a shooting star and begging his uncle to let him to keep it. But almost immediately down swoops one of those large feathered creatures with a particular penchant for all things shiny: it grabs the shiny object with Splosh attached and makes off back to its nest in Whispering Woods.

Time for one of Bug Belly’s ‘super-duper plans’. So utterly amazing is said “most brilliant ever rescue plan” that it actually comes in three parts. With backpacks allocated, it’s off to execute part one and that takes up pretty much till nightfall. After a delicious supper the three bed down for some shut-eye unaware that they’re being watched.

Next morning it’s not long before the three become two, but happily Splish has only got lost in the fog, manages to find the others and off they go again until …

Evidently part 2 of Bug Belly’s plan must now be executed (though having explained it to Splish and Splash, he’s the only one that seems to have any faith in it.) But will it work and thus enable them to put the final part of the plan into action?

It’s totally daft, daring and DANGEROUS … albeit with a thoroughly satisfying finale for the froggy four. They learn one or two useful things along the way, too.

With Paul’s hilarious illustrations throughout and lots of bite-size chapters, this is a terrific book for those readers just flying solo, as well as a super read aloud story with lots of opportunities for adult dramatisation.

Magnificent! / In Her Element

These are two of the titles in the Pop Up Projects CIC 10 Stories To Make a Difference collection, each one inspired by the theme of difference.

Magnificent!
Laura Dockrill and Ria Dastidar

At the start of Laura’s poem, Magnificent! the chief protagonist is trying to cover up individuality, acting like others and trying like mad to blend in – a familiar scenario I suggest. In graphic detail Roa Dastidar shows the trials and tribulations this causes, covering up one’s true feelings and trying to fit in. Social inadequacy, as we see in the playground scenes certainly brings no comfort: overthinking and overcompensating are unrewarding.

Later though, we see a difference – ‘a flip of the coin today’ – it’s time to toss aside boring, cheating sameness and start celebrating differences, no matter what they might be. Quirks are part of what makes us who we are, we’re all different – be that where we come from, how we communicate or how we look.

So long as we remember to reach out to others, especially those who might be struggling, our world can be one of joy where uniqueness rocks.
A smashing book to share and discuss, especially as part of a PSED session.

In Her Element
Jamila Gavin and Jacinta Read

That Jamila Gavin is a superb crafter of tales is evident from the very start of this moving sharing of events in young Sophie’s life, In Her Element. Sophie has cerebral palsy, communicates through her beautiful expressive eyes and a screen, and has a carer, Martin with whom she has a special bond. She loves to be taken swimming , has a special connection with the ocean and dreams of swimming with whales: “Water is my element” she tells Martin, imagining herself as an aquatic creature. Indeed the watery world acts as a metaphor for all the thoughts Sophie cannot give voice to.

Now there’s to be a change in her life: Sophie’s parents tell her that a special residential school they’d previously visited has offered her a place to start the next term. Tears stream down her face as she informs Martin what’s to happen, although she remains calm showing no anger. He in turn is hugely reassuring, reminding her of her ambitions and the importance of becoming as independent as possible.

Almost inevitably, life at school is challenging, especially as Sophie has to share a room with the far from welcoming Amber, an ace swimmer who has been severely injured and now wants nothing to do with the sport or water. So she says, but then one night, Sophie’s actions cause Amber to show what her element truly is. Jacinta Read’s final two watercolour illustrations portray this brilliantly.

What a powerful story with such an uplifting ending. Jamila Gavin paints a picture of an enormously positive main character whose imagination is a key part of her life.

If the rest of the series is as good as these two I’d strongly recommend primary schools get all ten.

Magnificent Mabel and the Magic Caterpillar/ Pizazz vs Perfecto

Magnificent Mabel and the Magic Caterpillar
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians
Nosy Crow

Just right for those starting out on chapter books or for reading aloud, this is the fourth in the Magnificent Mabel series and again there are three episodes.

In the first (my favourite) Mabel embarks on a jungle foray and also gets an unexpected lesson in metamorphosis when it’s finally her turn to take care of class caterpillar Steve over the weekend. Of course, she emerges from the events with her characteristic magnificence.

Story two involves know-all Max Roberts, friend of Mabel’s big sister Meg who comes around on Fridays after school so they can do their homework together. It also involves Mabel’s secret friend Marcella who helps her in times of need; oh yes and there’s also a rather large eraser …

In the third story Mabel decides she needs to wear glasses and keep them in a clickety case like her classmate Sophie Simpson. After all she can’t see America from her bedroom window and in Mabel’s own words ‘At school maths is all muddy.” Is it time to visit the optician?

Gigglesome delight all the way through, made even more fun by Julia Christians’ illustrations on almost every spread.

Equally unstoppable and for slightly older readers is eyeball roller extraordinaire, Pizazz, who returns in a third adventure:

Pizazz vs Perfecto
Sophy Henn
Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

Life for the reluctant superhero continues to present its challenges, the latest being in the form of Perfecto who happens to be a whole year younger than Pizazz and about to cause a worldwide sweet shortage so it seems.

There’s also the question of the school talent show: perhaps our young superhero and friends Ivy, Molly and Ed should join forces and form a band. Bring on The Cheese Squares … 

Then of course, their actual music making skills will take a bit of perfecting. But what is the motive for participation in this supposedly non-competition: is it to have fun or is it being perfect and defeating Perfecto. It’s a matter that causes huge dissent among the band members.

What do those Aunties, especially the helpful one, plus Gramps and Grandma have to say about things?

The crux of the whole matter is whether Pizazz can possibly pull off her plan of out-perfecting Perfecto … or is there an even better final outcome? Maybe, but unless you get hold your own copy of this hugely enjoyable sizzler of a book, you’ll never know; and that certainly would be far from perfect.

Agents of the Wild : Operation Sandwhiskers

Agents of the Wild: Operation Sandwhiskers
Jennifer Bell and Alice Lickens
Walker Books

Agnes (aka Agent Gamble) is watering her window boxes when a flamingo crashes into her geraniums , is briefly trapped and then tumbles through her bedroom window. The dehydrated creature is en route to SPEARS with an urgent message for Commander Phil.

Almost immediately, as part of SPEARS’ fight against the illegal trading of wild animals, with baby animals going missing across Africa, Agnes is off to meet up with her partner Attie, currently in Egypt, intent on what she’s told could be her most dangerous mission to date; to investigate the disappearance of some hydrax pups from their burrow.

Almost as soon as Agnes and Attie are reunited, they’re dashing across the Sahara Desert in a silver bullet buggy towards the burrow’s location. There’s trouble in store though when they find themselves at the mercy of a wicked animal poacher, trapped in an ancient Egyptian tomb. Then it’s up to tenacious Agnes to summon all her courage, use her wealth of wildlife knowledge plus the occasional animal-tai move to try and save both agents and the stolen animals.

Like the previous books in the series, this has a superbly written, action-packed narrative with plenty of witty dialogue and some terrific characters, including two that henceforward will be a special part of Agnes’ life. Plus there’s an absolute wealth of animal facts seamlessly woven into the story, part and parcel of which on almost every spread, are Alice Lickens’ splendid quirky illustrations.

The last few pages contain Agnes’ field notes and observations, a rallying cry for readers from Commander Phil concerning illegal wildlife trading, information about the animals threatened and more.

An absolutely smashing solo read or KS2 class share.

Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: The Sticky Cake Race /Kitty and the Kidnap Trap / Mickey and the Trouble with Moles

These are recent additions to three deservedly popular young fiction series published by Oxford Children’s Books

Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: The Sticky Cake Race
Harriet Whitehorn, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths

In this latest tasty offering starring sweet-natured Freddie Bonbon, Belville’s best baker, summer is drawing to an end and the town’s inhabitants are busy preparing for an important community event, the Belville Rally.
Contestants have been considering their costumes and preparing their cycles making them race worthy, including Freddie himself who is participating along with his assistant Sophie and his bakery manager Amira who are going to ride what they call a tridem. Freddie is also going to make the cake to be awarded for the best costume.

There’s one person however with eyes on winning the first prize, who will stop at nothing to sabotage things for team Freddie and that’s rival baker Bernard Macaroon.

My mouth was watering at the mere mention of all the yummy cakes and pastries mentioned during this story; but who is the eventual race winner? Suffice it to say there is one very surprising outcome of the whole event, as well as a thoroughly delicious finale and fun illustrations by Alex G. Griffiths throughout.

Kitty and the Kidnap Trap
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Lovlie

Superhero in training and still perfecting her powers, Kitty is always on the lookout for ways to help others so she’s more than happy to have the opportunity to look after her friend’s pet hamster Marvin over the weekend.
That night after her first visit to the creature, Kitty feels uneasy and so she decides to don her superhero gear and with Pumpkin alongside, to go back to check Marvin is okay. When she gets there though, the cage is empty. Disaster!

Before you can say ‘rats’ Kitty is hot on the trail. Can she track down Marvin and more importantly, rescue him and return him to the safety of his warm cage before Emily returns?

Young solo readers familiar with the series will lap this latest story up and perhaps if they’ve not read all Kitty’s previous adventures will seek out some of those too. Like this one, they’re all full of Jenny Lovie’s splendid glowing illustrations.

Mickey and the Trouble with Moles
Anne Miller, illustrated by Becka Moor

Ace code cracker Mickey is now a full member of COBRA the secret organisation of animal spies and one night there comes a knocking at her window. It’s Rupert Rat, Head of Animals at COBRA, come to inform her that her help is needed urgently on account of a bank break in perpetrated by the moles that have been extremely busy tunnelling.

Once inside the bank, the COBRA members discover things are getting somewhat chaotic with moles running hither and thither. What on earth (or under it) can they want, surely not money. Then one mole accidentally triggers the security alarm and as smoke spreads everywhere, Rupert decides to follow the escaping moles and gather information, promising to report back in the morning, while the rest of team COBRA head back to HQ. All except Mickey who goes back home before her parents discover her absence.

Next morning Mickey heads back to HQ for the briefing only to learn that there’s some concern as Rupert still hasn’t shown up. Then comes a strange message delivered by a bird. Could it be that Rupert is in need of help.
Now seems the time for the girl to use some of her particular skills – the ability to read newspapers – for instance.

With codes to crack aplenty, traps laid for COBRA members, tension between the underground animals and overground animals and the reappearance of a nefarious character, the countdown is on to find Rupert and get to the bottom of the Impossible Vault mystery.

A fun adventure full of exciting twists and turns with Becka Moore’s illustrations adding to the enjoyment.

Genie and Teeny Make a Wish

Genie and Teeny Make a Wish
Steve Lenton
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Steve Lenton has already earned a great reputation as an illustrator and now makes his first foray into early chapter books.

What a cracking little book he’s created in this first story of Grant a rather inept genie, and Teeny, a lost puppy. Teeny happens upon the teapot that’s become Grant’s place of residence since Queen Mizelda kicked him out of Genie World, lamp and all, on account of a birthday cake mishap.

Now on Earth, Grant wants to find a way to get back into the queen’s good books, but after his first night in his new terrestrial abode, he finds himself setting out on a ‘Teeny-owner finding mission’.

However as the two wander through the town, they are unexpectedly kidnapped (along with the teapot) by one Lavinia Lavender, a thoroughly nasty old woman with a penchant for purple and a cunning plan.

This female has her sights set on winning The Big Dancing Dog Show. Could this be a case of be careful what you wish for when Grant and his magic wishy-word are involved?

Perhaps the little genie can save the day one way or another …

With Steve’s smashing illustrations at every page turn

and his chatty narrative style with its reader-involving elements, what more can a young solo reader (or a class of eager listeners) ask? Maybe just the step-by-step ‘How to draw Grant the Genie’ tutorial at the back of the book.
Bring on the second instalment.

Panda At The Door / An Escape in Time

Panda At The Door
Sarah Horne
Chicken House

Pudding Panda is Edinburgh Zoo’s Star Attraction. She’s been happy with making the zoo visitors smile at her antics but now longs for a family of her own. Then she learns from keeper Gerald that she’s to be sent to China.
Maybe the answer is emulate her heroine Mary Poppins and become a nanny. Gerald thinks not, but then fails to lock Pudding’s cage …

Over on the other side of the city meanwhile, Callum is having a bad time: he’s being bullied; his parents are arguing – again – and performer Dad’s gone awol (something to do with bacon), plus, his little sister Tabby is intensely annoying. It’s Cal’s ninth birthday and all he receives is a measly certificate of adoption for a panda with instructions on how to email if there are any questions. Yes, he certainly has questions, the most pressing being, ‘when will I be happy again?’ Shortly after hitting SEND he falls asleep.

Next morning, DING DONG! who, or rather what, should be standing at the door? Not his missing father but a large panda offering to help. Mum’s reaction is to faint on the spot, but what better way to revive her than a timely spoonful of sugar?

Then the zoo puts out a message offering a huge reward for the safe return of a panda; everyone in the house, and even worse bully Mike Spiker, passing outside, hear the radio announcement. 

Now it’s not only Pudding in deep trouble, especially as Mike Spiker passes on the news to his dad. It’s up to Cal and his family to look after Pudding and keep her safe from the dastardly Spikers; but they also need to find Dad.

With mission ‘Going on a Dad Hunt’ successfully completed, can Pudding save the day? If she and Dad team up perhaps panda-monium can become a wonderfully clever panda-mime.

Dad’s punning predilection not withstanding, this is a thoroughly engaging story. Developed from an original idea from Vikki Anderson through the Big Idea Competition, the thought-provoking book was written and illustrated by Sarah Horne. The characterisation is great and the Mary Poppins quotes add to the fun.

An Escape in Time
Sally Nicholls, illustrated by Rachael Dean
Nosy Crow

By means of the mirror in their aunt’s hallway, brother and sister Alex and Ruby find themselves in a different historical period and in each story, have a task to perform before they can return to the present.

This their third time-slip adventure in this smashing series sees them plunged back to the Georgian era 1794/5, the time of the French Revolution and faced with having to help a far from happy French Countess escape the guillotine and find a safe home in Georgian England. 

But there’s a whole lot more that needs sorting out too in what proves to be a pretty chaotic situation that’s full of danger (not least for Ruby), romance (among the hymn books), heroics, the odd misunderstanding, not to mention some exceedingly uncomfortable Georgian underwear sans knickers though, if you’re female; oh! and plenty of stewed cucumbers!

As is characteristic of these Sally Nicholls stories, readers will enjoy plenty of humour, a pacy plot, a cast of highly colourful characters and a wealth of historical information along the way; not forgetting Rachael Dean’s smashing black and white illustrations.

Both books are great for KS2 either for solo reading or class read aloud.

Mouse & Mole: The Secret of Happiness

Mouse and Mole: The Secret of Happiness
Joyce Dunbar and James Mayhew
Graffeg

What better to start the latest in this charming series of stories about the friendship between two endearing woodland animals than with A Good Read. There’s a slight problem though, for Mouse’s constant giggles and Mole’s failure to get himself comfortable, not to mention having an attack of hiccups

followed by an itch is, let’s say, not conducive to getting lost in a book. Can the two find a solution and finally give their reading matter their undivided attention?

This Way and That sees Mole donning his walking boots and setting out for a walk. But what is intended as a happy-go-lucky stroll in the spring air turns into an exceedingly irritating series of errands for Mouse that send him hither and thither

until eventually, Mole has his very own point to make as he sallies forth YET AGAIN!

In the third and final tale, Mole tries desperately to remember the contents of his previous night’s dream wherein he knew The Secret of Happiness. This elusive thing that sort of ‘bubbled up, … sort of billowed, … sort of bloomed from somewhere deep inside me’ has Mole searching around all day until his friends arrive for tea. Can they perhaps assist him in finding the answer to the puzzle? …

As always, the gentle humour in Joyce Dunbar’s thought-provoking story telling is given a delightfully nostalgic feel thanks to James Mayhew’s charmingly elegant illustrations. Whether as bedtime reading for little ones or read solo by older children, these are small literary gems.

A Sliver of Moon and A Shard of Truth / Skeleton Keys: The Night of the Nobody

A Sliver of Moon and A Shard of Truth
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Uma Krishnaswamy
Walker Books

Four linked short stories with an Indian setting feature Prince Veera and his best friend Suku. The two are invited by Raja Apoorva to spend the summer at Peetalpur where in addition to attending the festival they might have some challenges to meet and problems to solve, particularly as their uncle enjoys puzzles. Who pulled the king’s beard and moustache as he was taking his morning stroll, for instance.

There’s a trip to the seaside, a dispute over the ownership of a fig tree, a mystery of a blind sadhu – or is he? – to get to the bottom of, and finally, the strange case of the travelling astronomer and a gardener who needs some help. All that in just two weeks …

Just right for newly independent readers, these tales with themes of problem solving and fairness, combine Indian culture, folklore and storytelling, and are seasoned throughout with traditional style illustrations that break up the narrative.

Skeleton Keys: The Night of the Nobody
Guy Bass, illustrated by Pete Williamson
Little Tiger

The comic Skeleton Keys adventure series has reached its fourth tall telling and sees wildly imaginative young Flynn Twist and his baby sister Nellie living with Gran in the village of Matching Trousers. As the story opens Flynn is expressing concern about a little boy he’s just seen standing opposite, looking decidedly ’unwell’.

Over dinner Flynn admits to telling his sister a pre-bedtime tale called ‘Sir Flynnian versus the Horrible Darkness’, intending to send her off to sleep but instead she’s making a to-do upstairs. When he goes to investigate he’s faced with a shadowy shape that whispers “No-body”. But that is just the start of freakish happenings.

Soon there’s a knock at the door and who should it be but Skeleton Keys. Flynn is surprised to find that he and Gran have met before. Suddenly a strange girl appears, whom Skeleton Keys introduces as Daisy, his ‘partner-in-problem solving’. When Flynn tells them of his terrifying encounter with ‘The Nobody’, Skeleton Keys thinks it could well be a shapeless Unimaginary searching for physical form, but Gran quickly sends him packing.

Next morning Gran sends Flynn to deliver a letter to Old Mr Nash at The Windmill and as he sets out Flynn notices the boy over the road entering Gran’s house. Why would that be? And what has happened to Mr Nash?
Could there be a connection between the Horrible Darkness in the story Flynn told Nellie and the Nobody? Can Flynn possibly become that brave hero of his imagination, save Skeleton Keys and free the village from the dire danger of the Nobody? Maybe, with the help of Fur …

Crumcrinkles! The whole thing just goes to show the power of a wild imagination, no matter if it belongs to a tiny infant.

Oh my goodness – what a fun mix of terrific characters, wit and frissons of fear, as well as a large number of farts – freakish and otherwise – indeed there’s a throng of flatulent figures – an entire village population of 343 zombie-like nobodies, to be more precise, not forgetting Pete Williamson’s atmospheric black and white illustrations.

ABC of Opera: The Academy of Barmy Composers Classical

ABC of Opera: The Academy of Barmy Composers: Classical
Mark Llewelyn Evans and Karl Davies
Graffeg

This is the second in the exciting series that presents opera and its composers to youngsters. It’s written by Mark Llewelyn Davies, professional opera singer and founder/creative director of ABC of Opera Productions, a touring company that travels the UK introducing children to the wonders of the opera through music and storytelling.

Now Megan and Jack are on a school trip to London’s Natural History Museum when all of a sudden they find themselves separated from their classmates and heading to the museum vaults. It’s there that Jack accidentally disturbs their old friend, the time-travelling, multilingual Trunk. Trunk tells them he’s on a mission concerning some Haydn manuscripts and before you can say ‘classical’ they’re whisked up and away, and back in time, first stop the Academy to return those manuscripts to the man who introduces himself as “Herr Hectic Haydn”.

From there an adventure unfolds in Salzburg, Vienna and Paris, in the classical period of opera (1750-1820).
There are encounters with Mozart (aka Windy Wolfie), Beethoven and Tortellini Rossini and they all find themselves playing a part in Rossini’s La Cenerentola (an operatic Cinderella story)

as well as confronting the evil Queen of the Night. But will Jack and Megan end up losing their heads? YIKES! There’s only one person who might be able to save them and get them back to their own time …

With its “Any Body Can’ message and Karl Davies’ zany illustrations, this book is madcap fun and highly informative: what better way to learn some music history, a host of musical terms, details of the lives of several famous composers and even why sign language is important.

Llama on a Mission / Waiting for Murder

Llama on a Mission
Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Allen Fatimaharan
Farshore

This is the second story featuring ten-year old Yasmin and her magical toy llama guardian Levi, and it’s every bit as daftly funny as the first.

Having found her voice with Levi’s help and a new friend, Ezra, she’s ready for year 6.

With her sights set on joining the art club, Yasmin is more than a tad perturbed when her teacher Miss Zainab informs her that she’s been selected to join the science team The Funsen Burners and participate in an inter-school competition. Just when what she really wants is to spend time getting Levi restored to his normal toy state. That, and get on with the new comic, LOUDMOUTH, she’s trying to create for another competition.

The very last thing she wants is for Levi to be sent all the way back to Peru but the way he starts behaving while engaged on his mission under the watchful eye of Mama Llama could result in just that. Then what? Yasmin just can’t let it happen. With Ezra’s assistance, perhaps there’s something that can be done; meanwhile she needs to learn the difference between talking and communicating.

Is it a case of mission accomplished? The only way too find out is to get hold of a copy of this tale of high drama and a whole lot of trouble. Allen Fatimaharan has done a terrific job with the illustrations, adding to the fun of the book.

For older readers is:

Waiting for Murder
Fleur Hitchcock
Nosy Crow

Daniel and his archaeologist mum are spending the summer in the country and a sweltering one it is. While his mum is engaged on her dig, (searching for the grave of Edith the Fair, King Harold’s wife) Dan too is observing and he also makes a discovery – a car with what looks like a body in the reservoir.

Next morning however, the body is no longer there, but Dan notices new scratches on the car. Seemingly, something strange is going on, something that needs investigating. Moreover somebody in the village is absolutely determined to stop Dan and his new friend, Florence from discovering the truth.

The climax of this terrific story more or less coincides with the weather finally breaking and pretty soon torrents of muddy water threaten to sweep everyone and everything away.

With an abundance of thrills and some surprises, this is a totally gripping, nail-biting, page-turner with a surprise finale. Crime drama for youngsters doesn’t come much better than this.

The Smidgens

The Smidgens
David O’Connell, illustrated by Seb Burnett
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

The Smidgens is a 21st century take on The Borrowers, albeit much funnier. Smidgens are about the same size as Mary Norton’s little characters and build their homes in a similar way to Pod, Arrietty and co. using bits and pieces discarded by humans. In other ways they are pretty much like humans – just diminutive versions that take food and other things they require from the Big Folk.

The Smidgens have four rules they live by: 1) – Stay hidden and observe, 2) – Don’t do anything flipping stupid, 3) – be ready to run, and run fast, 4) – If in doubt, make it up!

Their home is the House and the Sprout family think they are all that’s left of a community of Smidgens that once lived in the maze of tunnels beneath the human town.

Goblin, Gafferty, Mum, Dad and baby Sprout

One day Gafferty and younger brother Gobkin are on the way home from a mission having obtained a delicious chip for dinner when Gafferty is chased, falls through a tunnel to a forgotten area of the Tangle and finds a book of maps of hidden tribes of her people.

Determined to find others like her, Gafferty embarks on a quest to discover lost tribes; however she isn’t the only one looking.

One Claudia Slymark and her spooky sidekicks are also after Smidgens; Claudia being under the impression that they know the whereabouts of a magical mirror and she’ll stop at nothing to get hold of it. The chase is on …

There is SO much to love about this terrific adventure story. David snares the reader’s attention from the outset and keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout; along with the tension, there’s humour and charm, wonderful characterisation, and such clever disguises. Add to all that Seb Burnett’s deliciously quirky illustrations and what you have is a totally captivating book for primary readers, either as a class read aloud or for solo reading.

Bring on the second story.

Pages & Co: Tilly and the Map of Stories / You Won’t Believe This

These are two immersive reads from Harper Collins Children’s Books – thanks for sending them for review

Pages & Co: Tilly and the Map of Stories
Anna James, illustrated by Paola Escobar

”I can’t quite remember the title, … Or the author … but I know that it has a blue cover”. Those words spoken by the man at the front desk of Pages & Co. on the opening page of this third book in Anna James’ wonderful series, sent me straight back to times when years ago during school holidays and on Saturdays I worked in a bookshop and often heard similar.

Tilly and her Grandad are puzzled by the customer’s words especially when Tilly says it’s happened previously; but for Tilly and her family a lot of things are changing, in particular, bookwandering (whereby children are able to enter the world of the book they’re reading) is no longer permitted; but why have the Underwood twins banned it?

Tilly is determined to find out although it means defying her Grandad, leaving the safety of the bookshop and jetting off along with best friend, Oskar, to the USA, destination The Library of Congress. There she hopes to find the long-lost Archivists – an institution that Tilly hopes will put things right once more.

It’s a search that sees them meeting several new characters including American bookwanderers and bookshop owners Orlando and Jorge, Horatio and his nephew Milo, visiting a flaming library, riding on a train named the Sesquipedalian and teaming up with a famous playwright from the 16th century.

Even though this cracking book brings the trilogy to a close, it’s not crucial to be familiar with the previous two adventures, it works as a stand alone novel that’s a veritable tribute to the power of stories, to reading and to the importance of the imagination. Paola Escobar’s occasional black and white illustrations …

help draw readers right inside Anna James amazing story world.

Completely different but equally wonderful in its own way is:

You Won’t Believe This
Adam Baron, illustrated by Benji Davies

Every bit as moving and funny, this captivating story is a sequel to Boy Underwater with Cymbeline Igloo as narrator in another story of family and friendship and events at school, interwoven with threads relating to loss, cultural identity and refugees.

We learn of the strange and terrible things at school happening to Cymbeline’s favourite teacher, Mrs Martin that the boy is determined to get to the bottom of, along with helping his friend Veronique find out why her beloved grandma Nanai is suddenly refusing to eat and making herself extremely ill by so doing.

With Cymbeline being the kind-hearted boy that he is, these two issues are taking up much of his time, time that could be a key factor if he is to prevent Nanai from starving herself to death.

It’s a story that truly tugs at the heartstrings especially when events of the past are revealed, but never does it feel heavy, such is Adam Baron’s lightness of touch as a storyteller.

With occasional strategically placed black and white illustrations by Benji Davies, this is an immersive book for individuals; it would make a smashing read aloud book to share with upper KS2 classes.