The Runaways

The Runaways
Ulf Stark, illustrated by Kitty Crowther
Gecko Press

As a result of a fall, Gottfried Junior’s much loved, curmudgeonly grandfather is in hospital with a broken leg. His son hates visiting him but in his grandson Grandpa has a kindred spirit.

Pretending to be at football training Gottfried Junior visits Grandpa and suggests running away.

The following week having told his parents he has a football camp requiring an overnight stay, Gottfried, armed with meatballs his mother has made, persuades Adam aka Ronny to help with transport and thus begins operation breakout.

The destination is Grandpa’s island home where he’d lived with Grandma till she died. It takes Grandpa two hours to walk up the hill to the front door but it’s worth every laborious step

and once there the old man dons his old clothes, resumes his place at the table and savours some of grandma’s last ever jar of lingonberry jam. (The remainder has to last the rest of his life and part of Grandma “is still in it.”).

The next morning it’s time to leave but first Grandpa needs to do one or two things. Finally they do though, young Gottfried with his head full of questions about what his parents, especially his dad, will say when they discover his deception as well as others about whether or not Grandpa can keep his promise about no longer swearing in preparation for a possible meeting with Grandma in another life.

Eventually, acceptance and peace come for all, Grandpa, his son, and the young narrator Gottfried; and the end is powerfully affecting.

With occasional touches of musicality, Ulf Stark’s gently humorous story is told, for the most part, in a straightforward manner that adds to its impact while Kitty Crowther’s colour pencil illustrations have their own power that perfectly complements the honesty of the first person narration.

Some Recent Young Fiction

Sophie’s Further Adventures
Dick King-Smith, illustrated by Hannah Shaw
Walker Books

This is a new edition containing three books in one, so it’s a bumper bundle of stories about the adorable, animal-mad little Sophie. I remember children in my early days of teaching avidly lapping up the stories when she first appeared on the scene back as an uncompromising four-year old who discovered a snail that led to her passion for all things animal.

In these three adventures she visits the farm, learns to ride, and pays a visit to great Aunt Al in the Scottish Highlands.

I asked the opinion of precocious reader, 6 year old Emmanuelle, who quickly became absorbed in the book. She commented that she particularly loved reading about Sophie riding Bumblebee the pony and later drew a picture of her doing so. She also said it made her want to try horse riding herself.

Seemingly the determined Sophie, still has the capacity to delight especially with Hannah Shaw’s illustrations that give the stories a fresh, present day feel.

Here Comes Lolo
Hooray for Lolo

Niki Daly
Otter-Barry Books

These books are part of a mini series for new solo readers starring young Lolo, a sparky young character who lives with her Mama and Gogo (gran) in South Africa.

Both titles have four stories each being just the right length to consume in a single sitting.

In the first book Lolo wins a longed-for gold star for reading, loses it, then gives it away; acquires a much-wanted, rather large hat; finds a lost engagement ring in the street;

and reports a lost dog and in so-doing assists in the arrest of a thief.

Along the way, helped by Niki’s delightful line drawings, we discover much about Lolo’s family life, her school life, her friendships and interests.

In Hooray for Lolo, the friendship with best pal Lulu is threatened when Lolo thinks she hasn’t been invited to her birthday party; she becomes a member of the library and chooses her first picture book which subsequently goes missing; wakes up one day with tummy ache and ends up having an operation, and finally, discovers that baby-sitting Bongi is exhausting work.

Sparkly stories all, with lots of gentle humour that will win Lolo lots of friends among young readers who are sure to enjoy making the acquaintance of this enormously engaging girl.

Princess of Pets: The Lost Puppy
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller
Nosy Crow

When Princess Bea discovers a puppy in the fountain of the palace grounds, she knows that she’ll have to find it somewhere else to live for it’s against her father’s rules to have pets in their home. But with frantic preparations for the evening’s banquet under way, not to mention the deportment lessons she’s supposed to be having, keeping a lively puppy hidden at Ruby Palace in the meantime is a huge challenge.

Then there’s the matter of the threat to the café belonging to her best friend Keira’s parents, that, so she discovers over dinner, her father’s guests, are planning to demolish to make way for the mansion they intend to build. Bea is determined to thwart that plan.

Can she achieve both goals? Possibly, with her kind heart and strong resolve, together with help from her best pal and perhaps some special spring rolls from the café.

Fans of the Princess series will likely devour this addition to the series at a single sitting.

Agent Weasel and the Fiendish Fox Gang / Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: The Great Raspberry Mix-Up

Agent Weasel and the Fiendish Fox Gang
Nick East
Hodder Children’s Books

This is the first of a proposed series of adventures starring super-spy Agent Weasel, resident of Flaky-Bark Cottage in United Woodlands.

Nick’s writing is wonderfully silly as he plunges his often inept Agent Weasel, WI6, super-spy of high renown, into all kinds of scarifying scenarios in his efforts to foil the nefarious Fiendish Fox Gang who, so rumour has it are creating absolute havoc with such dastardly deeds as nicking nuts from squirrels and shaving sleeping badgers’ bottoms.

It certainly seems as if Agent Weasel has his work cut out, though thankfully his team-mates – Doorkins, Steadfast, Mole and Muriel Moth are also at work in the woods.

But before you can say ‘catastrophe’ Weasel and his pal Doorkins find themselves taken captive and face to face with the notorious FFG leader Vixen von Fluff …

and what’s this she’s saying about sabotaging the eagerly anticipated Autumn Big Bash?

Can our super agent extraordinaire succeed in extricating himself from a potentially very sticky situation and if so could he possibly pull off what looks like the impossible feat of derailing Madame Vixen’s plan and saving the show?

Chortles galore guaranteed whether it’s read alone or read aloud; with a liberal scattering of Nick’s own hilarious illustrations, this is comedic craziness through and through. More please!

There’s competition chicanery too in:

Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: The Great Raspberry Mix-Up
Harriet Whitehorn, illustrated by Alex G. Griffiths
Oxford University Press

Young Freddie Bonbon is Belville town’s star baker. He works alongside his manager and best friend Amira who greets him one autumnal morning with the news that she’s been busy doing the maths to see if they can afford to replace their old and far too small cooker but unfortunately they just cannot afford to. Unless perhaps Freddie manages to win the advertised Belville Baking Competition with its £500 prize. He certainly has a fantastic design in mind for his cake.

In a swankier part of town is Macaroon’s Patisserie, run by the curmudgeonly Bernard Macaroon. He’s not at all like Freddie who is willing to offer advice to anyone, even those he knows will be rival contestants in the baking competition. Bernard shall we say, lacks imagination and flair when it comes to baking but his determination that he, not his young rival will win the prize means he’ll go to any lengths so to do.

As competition day draws nearer strange things start happening. First there’s the incident when Freddie out on his delivery round almost runs over Bernard’s beloved cat.

Then comes the disappearance of the remains of the raspberry pink food colouring he’ll need for his competition cake and when he goes out to buy some more, all the shops have mysteriously sold out and the only place he can find any is …

What luck, thinks Freddie but is it?

The day of the event arrives and Freddie is well prepared; but no sooner have the competitors been told to begin than things start going wrong for him.

Is it the end of his chances: or could it be that the kindnesses he’s shown to his fellow competitors might make a difference?

Like Freddie’s cake baking, there’s plenty to spice up Harriet Whitehorn’s story of cooking, community and camaraderie. Young readers will appreciate the way the story is broken up into short chapters that include lists and a generous sprinkling of Alex Griffiths’ quirky illustrations. There’s even a recipe for Freddie’s Raspberry Cupcakes at the end of the book. Mmm! Tasty.

Wigglesbottom Primary: The Classroom Cat

Wigglesbottom Primary: The Classroom Cat
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Becka Moor
Nosy Crow

This contains three more stories set at Wigglesbottom Primary.

In the first the appearance one Monday morning in 2R’s classroom of a very large stripy cat causes their teacher Miss Riley to jump almost right out of her skin in surprise at the sight of the creature sitting on her keyboard.

But is the cat actually trying to communicate something to the children and if so what on earth does the message WURGLERSSSHHHH that emerges from the printer mean?

Then the creature starts perambulating along the bookshelves and paying particular attention to a cookbook. It isn’t long before Evie MckIntosh is telling the others that the intruder is warning them about the fish soon to be served up for school lunch and Irfan is 99% certain the message is that the fish is dangerous.

Maybe the children don’t want to consume it but what about a certain feline? And was the fish dangerous or not? You’ll need to read the end of the story and make up your own mind.

The second story centres upon the vexed question of whether or not eating a crisp that you’d dropped in a puddle could give you a serious disease – Puddle-pox – for instance, said by Y6 children to be like the plague but even worse.

Imaginary Margaret as the third story is called, is supposedly Joel Jack’s imaginary friend who accompanies the class on a school trip to the museum. He says she’s 100% real and the one responsible for crisps being scattered all over the museum floor, not to mention the loo roll that comes hurtling over the cubicle wall at Jayden King; and even worse, the handprints on the newly painted Viking boat.

Becka Moor’s engaging, wonderfully expressive illustrations are the ideal complement for Pamela Butchart’s super-silly stories that are just right for newly independent readers to giggle their way through.

King Dave Royalty for Beginners

King Dave: Royalty for Beginners
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press

In the third book featuring Dave the dragon along with his trusty sidekick, steed Albrecht, said dragon knight, cum wizard, cum, the on the way to being qualified hero, receives an urgent summons to the castle from the King.

On arrival he learns that this majesty is about to depart for a very important Annual Conference for royals and he needs a trustworthy kingdom-sitter to stand in during his absence.

Handing Dave his copy of Royalty for Beginners, the King leaps into his coach and is on his way.

Be prepared for more medieval mayhem to ensue pretty much as soon as Dave dons the crown.

He starts with inspecting knights, waving – the royal wave naturally; paperwork – plenty (even if he doesn’t know what it all means,) and opening places: all in a day’s work even if somewhat weird.

So far so good but then the following day a visit from some ambassadors is on the agenda and Dave decides a party is just the thing to impress the important dignatories.
And so it does – eventually – and so much so that they decide to stay on a bit longer. Uh-oh!

From that point things begin to unravel starting with a special event …

It’s as well Albrecht doesn’t take his eye off the ball, despite being banished from the kingdom, for there’s a dastardly plot afoot.

Elys Dolan delivers another full on fairy tale farce full of the sort of silliness that will keep young readers turning the pages as they laugh their way through from beginning to end, spluttering over both text and the plethora of illustrations.

The Naughtiest Unicorn at Sports Day

The Naughtiest Unicorn at Sports Day
Pip Bird, illustrated by David O’Connell
Egmont

Hurrah! Dave the unicorn is back for another appearance as most imperfect unicorn on the planet.

When Mira’s teacher announces that the following day is to be Unicorn School Sports Day, Mira’s abiding thought is her sister’s comment that Dave is the naughtiest, rubbishest unicorn in the world. It most certainly looks as though Mira’s team – the Sloths – will have their work cut out if they’re to be the victorious ones  and get to go on that mystery quest. Things don’t look at all promising when Dave’s response to Mira’s question about the possibility of their team winning is to deposit an enormous pile of poo on the hall floor.

A massive challenge this is surely going to be even for super-enthusiastic Mira: how on earth is she to fire up her anything but excited Unicorn Best Friend Forever? It doesn’t appear that Team Sloth will be winning the MASSIVE gold glittery trophy any time soon: even more so when there are some very strange occurrences during the “fun” events.

Could it be that someone or something is trying to sabotage their chances even before the start of the Seriously Sporty Events?

Even more determined than ever, Mira prepares for the first jumping event but will she be able to convince her UBFF to kick up his hooves and jump?

With its cast of cracking characters, this second Unicorn School adventure is absolutely bubbling with wonderfully funny moments, many made all the funnier by David O’Connell’s liberally scattered drawings, Pip Bird’s second Unicorn School is guaranteed to enthuse the countless unicorn-obsessed readers out there. More please, I hear them cry.

Emmanuelle (6) is lapping up the story

Eco Rangers: Pelican in Peril & Eco Rangers: Microbat Mayhem

Eco Rangers: Pelican in Peril
Eco Rangers: Microbat Mayhem

Candice Lemon-Scott, illustrated by Aśka
New Frontier Publishing

Seaside dwellers, best friends, Ebony and Jay have a passion for wildlife welfare.

In the first story, the two come upon a half-buried oil drum on the beach; then more alarmingly deposits of thick black sludge and an injured pelican covered in the stuff.

Ebony names the bird Poseidon and together they take it to the wildlife hospital at the conservation centre. There they learn that the black sludge on the pelican is in fact oil.

In addition to assisting with the recovery of Poseidon, the children are anxious to find out what caused the oil leak. Excited to have been called ‘real Eco Rangers’ by the vet at the hospital and fired by Doctor Bat’s comment about the possibility of the oil having come from the cruise ship that has become an all too frequent visitor to the town’s harbour, the children are determined to discover the source of the oil contaminating the waters.

It’s when they turn detective that things really start to hot up, especially when they incur the wrath of the cruise ship manager.

Wildlife lover, Candice Lemon-Scott’s story moves along at a rapid pace sweeping readers along in its action and the children’s enthusiasm and curiosity.

So too does the second story that begins with the friends making use of the Super World Theme Park passes given to them by the docs. as a thank you for their sterling work in the first book.

Needless to say being Ebony, the girl ignores a ‘Do Not Enter’ sign they come upon and the two discover a pair of tiny baby bats in the rubble surrounding a disused ride. Having rescued the little creatures, the Eco Rangers take them to the conservation centre to Doctor Bat and Doctor Tan.

Later on, convinced that there is an entire bat colony in the condemned Wild Jungle ride, the two children head back to the theme park where they discover that indeed there is are more than one hundred bats in the ride’s cave. Thus begins operation ‘save the bat colony’.

Things are not straightforward though. When Ebony and Jay are at the hardware store buying nails to complete the bat boxes they’re building, they see Ms Pitts, manager of the theme park with a security guard. The conversation they overhear sets alarm bells start ringing. It sounds as though Miss Pitts isn’t to be trusted over her promise of a three week hold-off before the old ride is demolished and with it the entire bat colony.

As the deadline draws ever closer, it’s up to the Eco Rangers to get the bats to safety. No pressure then!

With the huge focus on caring for our precious environment, these stories may well help fuel more youngsters to get actively involved in wildlife causes.