Supercats v Maximus Fang / Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of ZOMBIES

It’s great to see these two popular fiction series going from strength to strength:

Supercats v Maximus Fang
Gwyneth Rees, illustrated by Becka Moor
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is the second of Gwyneth Rees’ Supercats series that will delight animal lovers, especially those who enjoy tales with a bit of a zesty bite. They’ll certainly get that with Tagg, a recent recruit to a team of crime-fighting supercats. (think feline MI6). Tagg’s personal superpower is camouflage, a tremendously useful skill for any secret agent.

In this story Tagg and another member of the team, Sugarfoot have their first mission. They need to infiltrate the dastardly Killer Cats crew that includes just back in town, Gory Gus, and thwart his plans to break his partner in crime Maximus Fang out of prison.

The prison break has to be stopped but are the newbie supercats up to the task?

Assuredly they’ll need to employ both their superpowers and all their feline wits or else they’ll end being fish-sliced in the paws of the Hit Cats. Moreover, Gory’s superpower is telekinesis and Maximus’s power is weather control. ‘Think tsunamis! Think tornadoes and hurricanes!’ Hmm!

Can Tagg and Sugarfoot succeed in their mission? Perhaps with the help of ‘the Weapon’ …

There’s plenty of tension, especially when having persuaded the Killer Cats to let them join their crew, Tagg and Sugarfoot discover what that entails …

Add plenty of fun to the mix, with additional lashings thanks to Becka Moor’s illustrations, and what you have is a highly satisfying moggy adventure.

Sam Wu is NOT afraid of ZOMBIES
Katie and Kevin Tsang, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Egmont

Sam Wu is still trying to prove he’s not afraid of anything in this his fifth fear conquering challenge. He’s already succeeded in becoming unafraid where ghosts, sharks, the dark and spiders are concerned – well almost!

So what about zombies? Surely such thoughts won’t send frissons of fear running through the lad will they? Err, maybe not, except … supposing his arch nemesis Ralph Zinkerman the Third, lets it be known that there are zombie werewolves living in his basement.

Is this really something Sam wants to tackle, especially when Ralph has just told tales on him in class? But, Sam has loyalties to Ralph’s sister Regina so maybe he should summon up all his courage, accept the invitation to visit the Zinkerman residence and (along with some friends) see what is going on in that basement of theirs, despite strict orders from Mr and Mrs Z that said basement with its locked door was ‘strictly off limits’.

Could this perhaps be Sam’s scariest fear-confrontation yet?

Splendidly funny through and through with a great finale, and terrific Nathan Reed illustrations scattered throughout that highlight the hilarious situations, this series just keeps on getting better.

Little Bird Lost

Alesha enjoying reading the story    for herself

Little Bird Lost
Patricia Hegarty, illustrated by Sebastiaan Van Doninck
Stripes Books

Many possible interpretations spring to mind on reading Patricia Hegarty’s tale of Little Bird and the kind hearted Deer that comes to his aid when he hears a plaintive “Chick-kee!” coming from a pile of leaves and discovers a small injured bird that has crash landed on the forest floor.

Little Bird has become separated from his flock, and having consulted his forest friends, Deer undertakes to ‘follow the sun’ towards the warmer place they think the flock is heading to.

Thus begins an adventurous, sometimes hazardous journey

that takes them through the forest and through the seasons

to spring.

By then much has happened: Little Bird’s wing has healed, a strong friendship has been formed between the two travellers and with spring – a time of hope – other things too are evolving …

Now though, it’s time to bid farewell to a very special friend, safe in the knowledge that a friendship such as that is forever …

Poignant and immersive, this is the latest in Stripes Publishing’s full-colour fiction series– especially aptly with this story, for those readers just flying solo. How powerful it is to discover a book that you can almost read unaided and that’s what happened with one such reader, Alesha.
As much as the story, she loved Sebastiaan Van Doninck’s splendidly expressive illustrations and stopped several times to comment on how both they and the narrative made her feel. Spring was her favourite section: “I was excited when Little Bird found he could fly; it made me so happy.

All the Dear Little Animals

All the Dear Little Animals
Ulf Nilsson (trans. Julia Marshall) and Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press

Told without a vestige of sentimentality is All the Dear Little Animals, a story from Swedish author Ulf Nilsson and illustrator Eva Eriksson. The first person narrative voice is that of one of the participant founders of an unlikely and short-lived enterprise.

It all begins when Esther, another of the founders, discovers a dead bumblebee. Having nothing better to do, she decides to dig a grave for it. Her companion – the narrator – offers to compose an appropriate death poem and they bury the bee in a secret clearing in the woods.

The team of two becomes three when Puttie, Esther’s little brother gets involved. He finds the whole procedure of the next burial – that of a mouse – extremely sad, but soon overcomes his greatest concerns and thus Funerals Ltd. is up and running. Esther digs, the narrator pens poems and Puttie cries.

A suitcase containing a shovel, various sized boxes and other funeral accoutrements (including ‘’ice-cream sticks for small crosses/ Big sticks for big crosses) is packed and the three spend the day providing a service for the pets and domestic animals of family and friends.

By the time darkness falls, all manner of creatures including finally a blackbird

have been duly interred before he children decide to call it a day.

‘Another blackbird sang a beautiful song. I got a frog in my throat when I read. Esther cried. We all felt very reverent. Sadness lay like a black quilt over the clearing. And Puttie went to sleep.’

That’s not quite all though, for after the closing verse of the narrator’s poem comes an absolutely wonderful throw away finale: ‘The next day we found something else to do. Something completely different.’

Both playful and sad, with a touch of whimsy, the combination of text and illustration is just right for those starting out as solo readers, as well as for sharing. More importantly though, the book offers a way to talk about death with young children from any faith tradition or none, that should help them transcend feelings of sadness.

Although written from a child with a Christian world view’s perspective of death, if shared in an education setting, the book could open up a whole topic on religious rituals.

Too Small Tola

Too Small Tola
Akinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu
Walker Books

Small in stature young Tola may be but she’s one determined little girl – a mighty force to be reckoned with. Tola lives with her older, very clever sister Moji, her fleet of foot brother Dapo and her very bossy Grandmummy in a flat in Lagos. There are three stories in this, the first of a new series and we meet not only these family members, but in addition encounter many other residents of the city.

The first episode sees Tola accompanying Grandmummy on a trip to the market. During their journey they find themselves taking on shopping for friends and neighbours in addition to their own, and Tola helps Grandmummy ensure the market vendors don’t cheat her.

In Small but Mighty Tola and Moji cope with no electricity and no water. They go to the nearby pump where Tola and some of the local ladies demonstrate woman power to the stroppy Ododi Brothers.

Easter and Eid are both fast approaching in the final story. It’s a busy time especially for tailor Mr Abdul as everybody wants to celebrate with new clothes. But then the tailor is knocked off his bicycle while out and about collecting measurements; his leg is broken, but not his sewing machine. Can Tola, with her excellent measuring skills, come to his aid so that all his customers are satisfied.

As well as giving an insight into city life in Lagos, Nigeria, these stories are bursting with love for family and friends, warmth and affection for the local community. With delightful illustrations (love the cover art) by Onyinye Iwu on every spread, this is a smashing chapter book for newly confident readers.

Stories on My Street / Eric and the Green-Eyed God

It’s great to see the return of some old favourites given new looks.

Stories on My Street
Shirley Hughes
Walker Books

This brings together four stories featuring the children and their families, who are all residents of Trotter Street. The tales were originally published with Shirley’s coloured illustrations, herein replaced with black and white ones.

In the first, New Wheels for Carlos, friends Billy and Carlos love to race their old bikes down the hill in the park but both of them are outgrowing their old slow machines. With birthdays fast approaching each would truly love a new bike; will it be a ‘Happy Birthday’ for both boys? …

A heart-warming tale of friendship, longings and surprise.

The Patterson family are the focus of The Big Concrete Lorry. It’s a tight fit with four humans and a dog at number 26, their little home. So, after a family conference it’s decided that they should have an extension. The cost won’t be excessive as Dad, (with help from willing neighbours) will build it himself.

All goes to plan until CRRURK! CRRUCK! CRRUCK! the arrival of a lorry bearing the name JIFFY READY-MIX CONCRETE CO on the side and it’s a day early …

Thereafter a massive effort on the part of the community is called for.

This smashing story with its wonderful illustrations put me in mind of the time years back, when my partner and I were installing an Amtico floor that had to be put on top of a self-levelling screed in our kitchen and the antics that ensued to prevent it setting too quickly.

In Angel Mae and the New Baby, Mae’s mother is expecting a baby, something about which Mae has mixed feelings especially as she is to play the role of the Angel ‘Gave-You’ in her class nativity play very soon. But when Mae wakes up on the day of the play, there’s no sign of either her mum or dad; instead Grandma is in the kitchen cooking breakfast.

The tension mounts as the show proceeds with Mae hoping against hope that at least one of her parents will arrive to see her debut performance …

Warmth and humour as only Shirley can do it, abound in this third tale.

The Snow Lady is what Sam and her friend Barney create one chilly day. It bears a close resemblance to their grumpy neighbour, Mrs Dean, Barney decides, and makes a pebble name ‘Mrs Mean’ at her feet.

Mrs Dean is away to spend Christmas with her son, but she arrives back unexpectedly late on Christmas Eve. Conscience-struck, Sam is concerned that come the morning Mrs Dean will see what she and Barney have done and feel hurt.

Of course, like the others, this gently humorous story has a happy ending and is equally deftly illustrated in Shirley’s exquisite style.

Eric and the Green-Eyed God
Barbara Mitchelhill, illustrated by Tony Ross
Andersen Press

Eric’s mum is soon to marry but there’s a snag; she’s marrying his teacher known as ‘the Bodge’. That in itself is pretty awful but even worse is that his globetrotting Auntie Rose has sent a wedding present sparkling with emeralds and it’s said to be imbued with magical properties that might result in more than one new addition to his family.

Eric and his friend Wez don’t know the meaning of the words his aunt has used in relation to the gift but their pain in the neck classmate Annie certainly does and she insists such objects work.

Eric and Wez simply have to locate this present among all the others and stow it away somewhere where it can’t work before Mum has a chance to open it on her big day.

Locating it is relatively easy but hiding it away is another matter especially since Eric and his fellow pupils are engaged in the ‘Loving the Earth’ project the mayor has set up. Moreover Eric has failed to clear up the mess made when he and Wez were opening all the presents and now his mum thinks there’s been a break in and the police are involved.

Things just keeping on getting worse: how can Eric get himself out of this increasingly troublesome situation?

Barbara Mitchelhill’s mix of zany humour, magic and emotions will result in giggles aplenty from young readers of this episode in the series especially since the inimitable Tony Ross has supplied plenty of wacky new illustrations.

Snow Foal

Snow Foal
Susanna Bailey
Egmont

It used to be said that Philippa Pearce was the queen of short sentences; now newcomer Susanna Bailey is a serious contender for that title. Her debut story Snow Foal is absolutely beautifully written, with lots of poignant moments and deeply affecting.

During a very cold winter, eleven year old Abbie is sent to stay with a foster-care family in a remote farm on Exmoor. She’s hurting badly inside, angry and mistrusts the people around her especially Sunni, another foster child of Ruth and Sam. What’s more she’s convinced that her stay at the farm is to be a very short one, despite what her social worker and others tell her.

Then one day Abbie rescues a little wild foal that has become separated from its mother too; now it seems that in him she has found a kindred spirit.

Their friendship grows and Abbie becomes increasingly determined to reunite the foal with his mother, putting herself into all kinds of danger so to do.

Ultimately though despite disappointments for Abbie, this story is one of love, healing, hope and friendship: a tale where although you’re eager to discover what happens, you’re forced to slow down and savour the writing of such passages as this: ‘But she couldn’t go now. She felt paper-thin; as transparent as a wind- blown leaf. Everyone would be able to see right inside her.’

This book would make a superb Christmas present; I suggest reading it snuggled under a cosy blanket.

Shakespeare For Every Day of the Year

Shakespeare For Every Day of the Year
edited by Allie Esiri
Macmillan

As with Esiri’s A Poem for Every Day of the Year, and A Poem for Every Night of the Year, this weighty, beautifully produced book is, despite its title, one to get lost in; I certainly did. Having said that it could equally be used daily, or as a book to dip in and out of whenever the reader felt like it. Shakespeare after all, had a wonderful way of creating a whole story in a single sonnet or a few brief couplets.

Covering the sonnets, extracts from the 37 plays and sections of longer poems, all of which are given an introductory paragraph relevant to the particular time of year. For instance, one of my favourite sonnets (116) for November 28th tells of the episcopal register at Worcester containing a note of the bard’s marriage in 1582. As a result not only do we get Shakespeare’s words – the familiar and well-loved, alongside the lesser known – but also insights into his life and times: the light and the dark no less.

Many of us will have learned chunks of Shakespeare by heart often at school, and I found myself going to the Index of Works and looking up first lines and turning to those first; some with voices like that of Judi Dench sounding in my ear.

No matter how you read it or where, school classroom, home or with a group gathered elsewhere, this is an enormously exciting, enriching compilation (love the endpapers) that one hopes will make Shakespeare accessible to a very wide audience.

What an awesome present Shakespeare Every Day of the Year would make at any time.