The Gingerbread Man/ Let’s Play, Daddy Bear!/ Manju’s Magic Muddle / Fizzy and the Party / A Hundred and One Daffodils

These are new additions to the Bloomsbury Education Young Readers series (one per band Turquoise, Purple, Gold, White, Lime) which aims to help children towards becoming independent readers. Thanks to the publishers for sending them for review:

The Gingerbread Man
Kandace Chimbiri, illustrated by Richy Sánchez Ayala
Let’s Play, Daddy Bear!
Dawn McNiff, illustrated by Andy Rowland
Manju’s Magic Muddle
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Verónica Montoya
Fizzy and the Party
Sarah Crossan, illustrated by Nicola Colton
A Hundred and One Daffodils
Malachy Doyle, illustrated by Denise Hughes

In The Gingerbread Man, Kandace Chimbiri gives her lively telling a Caribbean flavour with this wonderfully aromatic character being chased by its old lady baker, an old man, a clutch of chickens, a horse, and a scary looking dog to the river’s edge. There however, it’s a monkey that beguiles the little fellow into accepting a lift across the water and ever closer to his mouth, but will the runaway end up being consumed?
Look closely at Richy Sánchez Ayala’s illustration showing what the baker of the runaway is holding.

Let’s Play, Daddy Bear! is a warm-hearted story with equally warm illustrations of a young bear that spends weekends at her father’s home where they play fun games like Monster Chase and Daddy-is-a-Big-Climbing Frame. But on this particular weekend Daddy Bear is so busy using his computer that his daughter becomes thoroughly bored with waiting for him to finish his work; and her ‘take notice of me’ tactics only serve to slow him down even more. Will he ever get to the end of his keyboard tap tapping and go outside to play with Little Bear?

There’s more boredom in Chitra’s second story featuring this little girl, Manju’s Magic Muddle. Again her protagonist again makes use of that lamp in her Grandmother’s wardrobe. Now when she summons the genie she learns that he is suffering from a terrible cold that’s having an adverse effect on his ability to grant people’s wishes correctly. Moggy, Cumin is against calling on said genie at the outset and although less than impressed at what he hears in this story feels sorry for the genie and his plight. Especially when it’s revealed that any more errors and the genie will be forever struck off the Genie Register. Can the two of them help sort things out when another call comes in on the Genie-O-Summoner? The genie is in no fit state to go it alone … With its theme of kindness, this is such a fun story with amusing genie mishearing outcomes to entertain youngsters along the way.

Slightly longer is Fizzy and the Party: Fizzy is certainly an apt name for the protagonist herein for she simply fizzes with energy even or perhaps especially at bedtime, which is when Mrs Crumbleboom is having her party.Despite Mum’s words to the contrary, young Fizzy dons her glitzy fairy gear and against Mum’s better judgement heads next door to her neighbour’s garden. Will she be allowed to stay and participate in the fun though? A good many young readers will recognise the bedtime delaying of persuasive Fizzy who provides not only a great rationale for being allowed to attend but continues to sway the situation her way throughout the story.

There are no humans in Malachi Doyle’s A Hundred and One Daffodils; rather it’s an enchanting story of Dusty the fox cub and her search for the appropriate number of daffodil flowers that will enable her and her friends that help her hunt, to enjoy a celebratory party for the first day of spring, just like Dad fox did year after year until he was a grown-up fox. Friendship and determination are key in this one.

All in all these short lively chapter books, with their carefully chosen words by popular authors, and attractive illustrations at every page turn, are certainly going to help a great many children on their way to solo reading. For adults guiding children on their reading journey, there’s a ‘Tips for Grown Ups’ inside the front cover and a ‘Fun Time’ for children at the end.

The Battle for Roar / A Super Weird! Mystery: My pencil case is a time machine

Two recent fiction books from Farshore kindly sent for review

The Battle for Roar
Jenny McLachlan, illustrated by Ben Mantle

The superb Land of Roar fantasy series comes to a gripping conclusion in this utterly enchanting adventure that sees twins Rose and Arthur travelling to a group of islands far beyond everything they know: beyond The End.

There’s a storm, a shipwreck, you’ll meet fanged fairies, a possible dragon egg, there are secrets aplenty and prepare to be surprised, shocked even.

To say it’s action-packed is something of an understatement; it’s humorous in parts, pretty scary in others, a wonderful demonstration of the redemptive power of teamwork and a veritable ode to the power of the imagination.

Altogether an absolutely perfect ending to a brilliant trilogy. I gobbled it up in a single sitting, along with a few marshmallows (not magical ones) and a mug of hot chocolate.

A Super Weird! Mystery: My pencil case is a time machine
Jim Smith

Having coped with the Danger at Donut Diner and the Attack of the Haunted Lunch Box, Yoshi and his friends Melvin Pebble and Rhubarb Plonsky have another mystery to solve. If he can manage to tear himself away from his phone that is, for like most youngsters, Yoshi has of late, let his phone take up much of his time, particularly uploading his videos onto Donut Tube.

Enter Yoshi’s dad bringing a shoebox containing the ‘smelly eraser collection’ from his own childhood (we’ve all had them) and thus begin some seriously surreal happenings necessitating some serious sleuthing from the three young detectives.

But that’s getting a bit ahead of things so let’s go back to where the three are in HQ aka Brenda the Hut and Yoshi finds an ordinary non-smelly eraser on one of the shelves therein, names it Brenda too and adds it to other smelly erasers now in his pencil case. Then at Rhubarb’s behest he pulls out a dinosaur-shaped one for her to sniff. Uh-oh! Time slip alert!

Seems the pals have just whiffed themselves back to the age of the dinosaurs and that T-Rex doesn’t look too friendly.

All is not lost though for they’ve still got the rest of the smelly erasers. Perhaps one of those can get them back to their own time but then what? …

Well that would be telling, and I’ll leave Jim Smith’s young narrator to do that in his own inimitable way and merely say that what follows is seriously silly and huge fun especially with daft cartoon style drawings adorning every spread adding to the overall wackiness.

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.

Dark Peak / Lightning Strike

These are two additions to Oxford University Press Rollercoasters series published in association with Barrington Stoke designed to build confidence and foster a love of reading in the over 11s less inclined to pick up a book.

Dark Peak
Marcus Sedgwick

Award winning author Marcus Sedgwick has created a gripping amalgam of mystery and mythology (Sir Gawain and the Green Knight particularly) in this first person narrative.

A geography field trip one hot summer includes a visit to Lud’s Church. The pupils are instructed to meet back at a certain time and when that time arrives, everyone is there except Stephen and Stephanie.

Nobody gives credence to Miss Weston’s eight year old daughter who says she saw them being taken away by ‘the little white girl’.

Two of the class members including the narrator Porter are sent off to make a phone call and by the time they return to the group, Stephanie has mysteriously reappeared.

But why the delay in searching for Stephen, a quiet slightly strange individual? And next day back in school, why is nobody mentioning the boy? What has happened to him and will he ever be found?

An utterly enthralling, chilling unputdownable tale that examines notions of consciousness and time, as well as what friendship means.

Lightning Strike
Tanya Landman

With the constant danger of being struck by the dreaded phossy jaw disease like many other people working in the match factory, Eliza the fourteen year old narrator of the story is justifiably angry. Especially since every one of her family works all hours and still they struggle to pay their rent and never have enough to eat. Moreover, with the boss of the factory seldom putting in an appearance, denying the existence of the disease ever affecting his workers, and an unsympathetic foreman, it’s small wonder she’s inclined to rant and rage.

Then one Sunday something happens that changes young Eliza’s life for ever. In the park she hears a ‘posh’ woman making a speech about fairness, social justice and the rights of workers. Thus, much to her parents’ horror, begins her journey as an activist. Now though Eliza has somewhere to channel her anger and her energy.

Although Tanya Landman’s Eliza is a fictional character, her story set in London’s East End in the summer of 1888 is based on fact; and a gripping one it is. Readers will empathise with Eliza, her sister and the other young match factory workers and perhaps be inspired to find out more about the Match Girls’ Strike. That, or become activists for a 21st century cause they believe in: such is the power of this strikingly good story.

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.

Kids Fight Climate Change / So you want to be an Owl / My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Rainforest

There are 3 recent Walker Books publications about various aspects of the environment – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review:

Kids Fight Climate Change
Martin Dorey, illustrated by Tim Wesson

Following on from Kids Fight Plastic, from the same team comes a second book containing sixty six ways in which children can become two minute superheroes.

There are sixteen major missions focussed on helping to save the planet and in particular on climate change, starting with powerful facts about global warming and the hugely harmful effects it’s having on ecosystems both large and small. 

Many people will have heard about the terrible effects of the Canadian heatwave that has killed hundreds of people in the west of the country. There have also been huge numbers of wildfires putting both humans and wild life in danger in Australia especially. The latter as well as the other effects of climate change are presented around a world map early in this little book.

Then comes the first of the main missions, how to count your carbon footprint, that includes a bitesize ‘2 minute mission’ to compare inside and outside temperatures on a sunny day, as well as finding one small action you could do tomorrow to reduce your carbon footprint.

With the added interest of collecting points along the way youngsters must complete such challenges as using ‘an extra blanket on your bed instead of turning up the radiator’,

making a bee hotel in your garden or a reusable face mask from an old cotton T-shirt or persuading parents to let you use an airer or washing line for drying the wash rather than an electric drier.

This is a smashing, highly readable little book with lots of funky illustrations from Tim Wesson. It gives young eco-warriors plenty of information, incentive and inspiration to be active in their homes/gardens, schools and local community. Very much a book of our time and young followers of Greta Thunberg (I know a fair few of those) will love it. An empowering read likely to produce lots of young activists.

So you want to be an Owl
Jane Porter and Maddie Frost

Author Jane Porter places Professor Olaf Owl in the classroom to deliver a sequence of nine lessons and an initial assessment should readers (despite being a fair bit larger than the featured creatures.) want to consider the possibility of becoming an owl alongside the trainees.

There’s a strict code to live by: ‘Be alert! Be watchful! Be silent!’ Then come the questions that start each lesson: Can you fly? Can you merge into the background environment? What about seeing in the dark. What’s your hearing like? and so on before giving her assessment to each class member and whoo hoo! they’ve all gained a certificate.

Skillfully engaging readers by the aforementioned questions and others about hunting and feeding, 

hooting, tree dwelling and chick rearing, Jane Porter imparts key facts to young readers with gentle, playful humour while Maddie Frost’s inviting and endearing illustrations further enhance that humour and the scientific information.

My RSPB Sticker Activity Book: Rainforest
Stephanie Fizer Coleman

With scenes of several rainforest locations in different parts of the world, youngsters can encounter some of the fauna and flora of these steamy habitats as they search for hidden animals, help a chimpanzee find her way to her friend, match up pairs of gorgeously patterned South American butterflies, add colours to some birds of paradise and to Amazon rainforest snakes. They can also use the 100 or more stickers to further adorn the various spreads and learn some amazing facts along the way.

The Way to Impossible Island

The Way to Impossible Island
Sophie Kirtley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is a sequel to The Wild Way Home and features some of the same characters, in particular Dara who is now twelve years old and has been waiting for what feels like forever for the BIG heart operation he hopes will change his life. 

In the meantime he has to put up with the challenges and frustrations of living life in the slow lane, feeling ill frequently and not being able to do things he so wants to, those things his parents say are ‘not a good idea’. In particular rowing out to Lathrin Island in search of the legendary Golden Hare. 

When he learns that the op. promised for this summer has been postponed, good idea or not, Dara decides that it’s his life and that he’ll row out to the island. So off he sneaks.

What follows is a wondrous, totally enthralling, life-affirming tale of adventure and the fight for survival wherein two worlds collide for, hiding in the boat shed Dara meets a girl clad in animal skins. Can this Mothgirl really be from the Stone Age. She has a wolf, ByMySide, and like Dara (she’s of a similar age) faces challenges – an ailing father, a missing brother and expectations to become a person she most definitely doesn’t want to be.

Despite coming from different eras, the two understand one another and form a strong bond enabling them to confront tremendous dangers together.

Truly a tale of exceeding your own expectations, finding yourself and owning who you are. What and who is normal (‘nor-mill’ as Mothgirl calls it) are two of the questions Sophie Kirtley weaves into her narrative

Immensely powerful, indeed unputdownable: I just HAD to read the entire book in a sitting. It was so good to see that by the end both Dara and Mothgirl are ready to face the future and able to love themselves as they are.
I just can’t recommend this enough – utterly brilliant.

Dirty Bertie Tricks and Kicks / Mermaids Rock :The Emerald Maze

Here are two recent Little Tiger fiction titles for primary readers – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review

Dirty Bertie: Tricks and Kicks
Alan MacDonald illustrated by David Roberts

This bumper volume brings together three books Mascot!, Spider! and Ouch! in the Dirty Bertie series so you can expect a wealth of comic chaos for your money.

First comes Mascot! wherein there are actually three self-contained stories featuring the boy that trouble seems to seek out. For starters having entered a ‘be junior match day mascot ‘ competition, Bertie proves to be the very best mascot for Pudsley Rovers soccer club despite sporting a lion costume (against strict instructions) and scoring a goal (accidentally).
Next is Swot Camp – the Bright Sparks camp that Bertie is sent to – ‘school for swots’ he calls it, doing his upmost to be sent home in disgrace. The third tale sees Bertie manage to get himself in the team for the inter-schools Junior Science Challenge and with his incredible robot, the fierce Bootosaurus,

surprisingly wins the contest, only to shock and somewhat displease, she who was the inspiration for his design.
All of that only takes in the first book.

Next is Spider! where it’s a case of is it or is it not a tarantula – enough said! An oversized, very late Christmas present – a sweater knitted by Gran is the star of the show next, followed by Bertie getting involved in a spot of metal detecting.

In the third book Bertie’s over enthusiastic hammering lands a trip to A&E; then his swimming lesson is a hugely embarrassing experience thanks in no small part to some borrowed and very saggy Speedos and finally, there’s the Inter-Schools Quiz in which guess who participates, much against his will.

Illustrated with David Roberts’ distinctive, wonderfully quirky drawings, with his clear love of life in the mischievous lane, Bertie is the naughty boy everyone loves to be vicariously.

Mermaids Rock:The Emerald Maze
Linda Chapman, illustrated by Mirelle Ortega

This is the fifth story featuring Marina Silverfin and her fellow Save the Sea Creatures gang members.

Now mysteriously, the magic whirlpool is malfunctioning and there’s a ban on using it. Nevertheless, Marina can’t resist swimming very close to it, so close that her seahorse, Sami, ends up accidentally getting flipped straight in. Without stopping to think, Marina dives in after Sami but having found him, she discovers that she’s not the only one in the dark depths she doesn’t recognise. Her friend Naya suggests it might be one of the underground rivers she’s read about.

Deciding to continue exploring, the river, caves and pools they make some amazing discoveries but then suddenly the whirlpool disappears leaving them stuck, stranded in a cave with no way out. Is it to be a case of cat-astrophe or can the friends muster all their skills, save the day and get themselves safely back home?

With Michelle Ortega’s black and white illustrations, this is another exciting, engaging tale for young mermaid enthusiasts and lovers of the natural world. (The book concludes with some information about cenotes and the associated animals.)

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.

Do Not Mess with the Mermaids

Do Not Mess with the Mermaids
Michelle Robinson, illustrated by Sharon Davey
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

There are rather a lot of ‘Do Nots’ in this the second tale set in Wondermere as readers will quickly discover if they peruse the contents page. There’s also a plethora of dragons (complete with poo), grumpy unicorns and as you might expect, mermaids.

Most particularly there’s young Princess Grace – ace rule breaker – which immediately endeared her to me. She’s already proved herself plucky and determined as a knight, Troll-o-Tournament champ. and undoubtedly the equal of any boy, earning herself the title Sir Grace.

Now Wondermere is to host a very important visitor, the Mermaid Queen of the Outer Ocean. For Grace and her sister that means frilly dresses being on your best behaviour and it goes without saying, No Rule Breaking (or even bending).

But before the arrival of Queen Jeen, while taking a quick swim in the moat, Grace discovers a purple dragon egg and she can’t resist ‘rescuing’ it. Before long she and her sister find themselves dragon sitting baby Dennis.

Something that proves no easy task especially when there’s the distinct possibility that the very lively little one might disturb the royal guests … MEEP!

Bursting with fun and laugh-out-loud moments, and smashing illustrations by Sharon Davey, this is a totally charming romp, strongly recommended for those with a soft spot for rule subverters (this reviewer included) and lovers of a bit of magical mischief and mayhem.

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.

The Cartoons that Came to Life / We Made a Movie

The Cartoons that Came to Life
Tom Ellen, illustrated by Phil Corbett
Chicken House

Having recently moved to a new town, Finn Morris (who dreams of becoming a famous cartoonist), finds comfort in creating his own comic strips featuring his favourite characters Arley and Tapper. But when school bully Barney Divney tosses Finn’s sketchbook into a wet hedge spoiling the ARLEY & TAPPER strips FInn loses not only his cartoons but his ideas and self confidence to continue drawing.

Until that is next morning, when he awakes to discover there in his bedroom staring right at him are his two cartoon creations come to life. Surely it must be a dream.

But no, and he certainly mustn’t let his parents discover them for as Finn tells them, “It’s just that people around here aren’t used to seeing cartoons walking around. Especially ones with massive noses and fox ears and floppy tails.” 

Chaos ensues rapidly …

and thus begins a desperate race against time, aided and abetted by his classmate Isha Kapesa to get the characters back to their own Toon World. That entails defeating the heinous Professor Fart-Munch and getting to the bottom of what is going on with Yorky who Finn says is the coolest cartoonist ever.

Utterly zany and huge fun, this is the first of an action-packed comic series, an adventure that in a relaxed manner, deals with the incapacitating effects of children’s anxiety while also celebrating friendship, loyalty and individuality. 

Who wouldn’t find themselves rooting for Finn Morris to find his lost muse? Youngsters will love the combination of Tom Ellen’s telling and Phil Corbett’s wacky illustrations.

We Made a Movie
Charlotte Lo
Nosy Crow

It’s a year since narrator Luna’s family won an island and life, is more or less on an even keel: her dad’s whittling keeps him busy (despite much of it resembling poo) and her mum’s yoga retreats have plenty of takers.

Now property developers are threatening their existence and Luna is determined to put a stop to their plans. No ‘Las Vegas of Scotland’ for her. Opinions are divided among the townsfolk and even in Luna’s family, with her sister Margot and her Dad in support of the proposals.

Luna’s plan is to make a movie showcasing the unique nature of the locality but with everybody trying to get their voices heard, the path of movie making is anything but smooth and disasters ensue. Luna however is passionate about her beliefs, truly wanting to make the area a better place for all – she won’t allow property developers to intimidate her – though she hates being at odds with her sister.

Readers will definitely be rooting for such a girl? But will she succeed in winning the case against the developers?

With serious themes of family loyalties, the importance of local community, conservation and sustainability, the chaos, craziness and confusion aplenty mean that the book is funny and never feels heavy. It’s not easy to achieve this mix but Charlotte Lo does it with panache. If you’re looking for a staycation destination this summer, then where better to spend some time.

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.

Antigua De Fortune of the High Seas

Antigua de Fortune of the High Seas
Anna Rainbow and Oli Hyatt, illustrated by Paola Escobar
Chicken House

A riveting read is this piratical adventure. It took me a while to get drawn in, but once caught in its tentacles, there was no getting out until the final page.

Antigua de Fortune (preferred name Tiggy) is high-born, has to wear pretty frocks and attend balls and dance with the ghastly Salvador, but her dreams are of adventure on the high seas. Despite Tiggy knowing that the high seas are not the place she should go, she’s drawn by thoughts of mermaids and pirates. In contrast her best friend, Marina, suspected daughter of a selkie, would love to be in Tiggy’s position.

Now with the approach of the Blood Moon, the age-old mystery of the Pirate King is once more in people’s minds. Has the wicked curse-wielding, boy stealer truly gone or does he lurk somewhere ready to strike and ruin the celebrations.

When the Bloodmoon celebrations are under way, the Pirate King strikes again, kidnapping all the boys including Tiggy’s younger brother. Tiggy decides it’s time now for her to seize her destiny, take to the ocean and along with Marina and a band of ex-pirates attempt to rescue the boys; something that must be achieved before the end of the Bloodmoon eclipse.

For sure this has a twisting, turning plot; forTiggy it’s a voyage of self discovery as well as a salt-tinged mystery to solve, teamwork and friendship being crucial to the success of the mission.

From two debuting authors of primary fiction, this is a cracking book.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Secret Lives of Dragons

Secret Lives of Dragons
Prof Zoya Agnis and Alexander Utkin
Flying Eye Books

Long, long ago deep in the mountains there was a flourishing dragon kingdom. So says Prof Zoya Agnis, international expert and life-long studier of Drackenosophy, aka Sangma Francis, the author of this book.

Dragons have apparently existed on this earth for ‘as long as human memory’ and probably a lot longer but what has happened to the creatures that once guarded priceless treasures and sent their voices forth on the wind? Are there any still around and if so how would anybody know if they were to encounter one? Let alone know what to do under such circumstances.

This manual offers the answers along with a host of fascinating information about such topics as how dragons evolved; what are the key anatomical features common to all six of the dragon families; how they breathe fire and what makes it change colour; how do the creatures fly and what are the stages in a dragon’s life-cycle? All this is discussed in the first of four parts, each being dramatically illustrated by Alexander Utkin.

The second part explores the six main dragon families (or species) from the most secretive sort to the rarest; there’s even an aquatic family, pretty terrifying and some have a multitude of heads.

The prof. claims to have had recent sightings of four different kinds.

Part three charts dragon history and introduces some of the most famous dragons of myths and legends from various parts of the world; we also meet some celebrated dragon slayers of yore, pay a visit to a lair and see a hoard of treasure. Maybe you’re interested in languages, if so, there are a few riddles and half a dozen easy dragon phrases.

Finally, and particularly if the first three sections have whetted your appetite, the final part takes us to the World School of Dragons to learn what is entailed in becoming a drackenosophist. (You can guess who heads up that establishment.)

Of course the entire thing is a work of fiction but enormous fun, so cleverly written and show-stoppingly illustrated throughout.

Exploding Beetles & Inflatable Fish

Exploding Beetles & Inflatable Fish
Tracey Turner and Andrew Wightman
Macmillan Children’s Books

Sam, narrator of this funky STEM information book is totally obsessed with all that’s weird and wonderful about members of the animal kingdom. (There is mention of the occasional plant too.) He keeps four pets – stick insects of the Indian variety named Twiggy and Wiggy, a goldfish named Bob (deemed boring by Sam’s elder brother) and a hamster, Letty. Readers learn a fair bit about these creatures along the way including the fact that stick insects often eat the old skin they’ve shed and as a defence mechanism, they might exude from their joints a foul-smelling liquid or spray attackers with a nasty chemical substance. Best not to attack a stick insect then.
I should say at this point that throughout the book Sam has drawn or rather claims to have done (actually Andrew Wightman is the illustrator) all kinds of funky creatures eating, pooing and just generally going about their lives.
On the poo topic, did you know that a fair number of animals including woodlice eat their own? (they never ever wee though) Or that wombats have cube-shaped poo – how on earth do they manage excreting that without discomfort?

I’m pretty sure your reaction to the revelation that bombardier beetles can explode like toxic water pistols will be similar to mine – best to steer clear of their bums.

Much of this fascinating information is related during a hunt for Twiggy. Sam discovers that the little creature has gone awol from his vivarium when he goes to spray water inside.

Happily she is eventually found (hiding in plain sight) but not before Sam has shared a considerable number of amazing factual snippets with readers.

Terrific fun and gently educational too.

Protest!

Protest!
Alice & Emily Haworth-Booth
Pavilion Books

Did you know that people have been protesting since the time of Pharaoh Ramses 111, ruler of Egypt when the first workers’ strike took place in 1170 BCE? That’s something I learned from the first section of this book by sisters Alice and Emily that looks at the global history of protest from then (the hard-working pyramid workers were demanding more food) until now with Greta Thunberg and school children’s strikes for the climate.

It’s good to know that from early on (195 BCE) women were protesters. The women of Rome marched for the right to dress the way they wanted – and they won!

Thereafter come the peasants’ revolt, and in the 1640s the Levellers and the Diggers about whom I knew nothing before reading about them herein. Included too are the Native American Ghost Dance (1890s); the Protest Ploughs of the Maoris towards the end of the 19th century, the Salt March and of course, the Abolitionist movement, the Suffragettes (UK) and many other women’s movements in various parts of the world.

Two movements I was personally interested in and strongly supported, the Anti-Apartheid Movement and the anti-nuclear movement are covered,

as are the Stonewall Riots, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Arab Spring and bang up to date, Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion.

The authors also talk about some of the creative means of protesting: singing, tree-hugging, theatre and other performing art and even using toys as protesters.

An uplifting, inspiring and timely look at how protesting has changed our society and the world we share. Emily provides the illustrations, and she and Alice co-authored the text. It’s a call to action for sure.

Twitch

Twitch
M.G.Leonard
Walker Books

Oh my goodness this is a totally immersive, brilliantly written, unputdownable story with a fascinating main character, Twitch.

Twelve year old Twitch is a passionate bird watcher, keeper of pigeons and pet chickens, and at certain times of the year, has swallows nesting in his bedroom. He’s kind-hearted but happy in his own company and bullied at school.

As the story starts, the summer holidays are about to begin and Twitch anticipates spending lots of time in Aves Wood where he’s constructed a hide.

Things don’t quite go as planned though for when he arrives at his hide he finds police everywhere. A potentially dangerous robber is on the run with the possibility that the missing millions from the bank haul are buried in the locality.

Can Twitch put his bird watching skills to use in tracking down the convict and even find the money?

Perhaps, with the help of some of the unexpected friends he makes, not least of whom is Jack, one of those who has bullied Twitch but actually has a kinder side that he sometimes keeps hidden. The way their friendship develops is superbly done but there are a host of other interesting characters too, several of whom aren’t what they appear.

Indeed, the entire story is full of surprises; and what a wealth of ornithological information is embedded in the plot, thanks largely to Twitch’s knowledge and passion.There’s plenty of suspense too: as the tale twists and turns; it’s hard to tell who is to be trusted and there’s a terrific finale, which one hopes indicates that we’re going to be hearing more of the newly formed club, The Twitchers.

Earth Friends: River Rescue / Unicorn Academy: Lyra and Misty

These are titles from two of Nosy Crow’s popular series – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

Earth Friends: River Rescue
Holly Webb

This is book two in a series about four friends who are endeavouring to make the world a better place for everyone. As it opens Izzy is celebrating her fund-raising success with proceeds being send to a fair-trade clothing co-operative foundation in Bangladesh but she still lacks confidence when it comes to friendship issues.

So when Poppy invites her to stay the night, Izzy is thrilled. Poppy has a dog, Billy and it’s taking him for a walk beside the river that gives rise to Izzy’s next campaign. Both girls are horrified at the amount of rubbish that has been thrown into the water but it’s when Billy chases a water rat and ends up in the river almost drowning on account of a paw getting caught in the wheel of a submerged bike, that Izzy decides on a new project – operation River Rescue.

Now it’s just a matter of getting enough people on board to help raise money and do the actual clean-up.

A lovely story of a local environmental project, with a terrific ending, rather a lot of mud and some surprises along the way.

Unicorn Academy: Lyra and Misty
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman

At the start of a new term Lyra is mega-excited to have joined Unicorn Academy and thrilled to have been paired with Misty. She can’t wait for some amazing adventures like those her cousin has mentioned and it’s not long before she and some others in her dorm discover a mystery that needs to be solved, starting when Lyra finds a portion of what she suggests might be part of an old treasure map.

Why when shown the find does visiting speaker Dr Briar appear interested, then say it’s merely some random scribblings?

With her mind on the riddle on the back of the map, Lyra’s concentration during lessons next day is somewhat lacking, but later she tells her friends she’s solved the clue and that afternoon they head off towards Echo Caves hoping to find the rest of the map.

What though is making Misty reluctant to be part of their adventure? In that case will she ever find her special magic and will she and Lyra ever bond? And what of the rest of the map? …

As always friendship is at the heart of this 17th story in the magical school that young solo readers starting out on chapter books love to visit and in so doing realise that its pupils face many of the same issues as they do. As always Lucy Truman’s black and white illustrations add to the atmosphere.

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.

Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep

Little Door Books is venturing into early-reader chapter books: this is the first. Thanks to the publisher for sending it for review.

Uncle Pete and the Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep
David C. Flanagan, illustrated by Will Hughes
Little Door Books

It’s almost impossible to imagine – a boy who has never ever slept a single wink in his entire life and that lack of sleep has no adverse consequences on his ability to embrace every day with energy and enthusiasm. Think what it must be like to be the parents of such a child.

It’s no wonder those of young Harry are at their wits end having tried every possible ploy and consulted countless doctors to get the boy to fall asleep – night after night after night for years and years and … Indeed the entire town is exhausted.

Thank goodness then for Uncle Pete who out of the blue arrives knocking at their front door, back from his exploring to replenish his supplies of baked beans and underpants. 

Having heard the family regale the tale of Harry’s insomnia, Uncle Pete offers to help. From among the contents of his rucksack he extricates a map and before you can say ‘yawn’, this eccentric uncle is off to his own home. There he heads for his shed wherein he keeps his now rusty, rickety old biplane.

What should he find has made a home in the pilot’s seat but a tiny mouse named TM. 

In a very short time, the plane has taken off bound for … Uncle Pete isn’t absolutely sure.

Their journey is, shall we say, highly eventful, both in the air and on the ground; but eventually they reach the mountain top and their destination.

I’ll say no more other than this wacky adventure with its wealth of fun details, is fuelled by large quantities of cheese, a plethora of beans, assorted underpants – rather a lot, and strawberry jam sandwiches, not forgetting stardust aplenty.

But is it a case of mission accomplished for Uncle Pete and TM?

The best way to find out is to get hold of a copy of David C. Flanagan’s comical tale with Will Hughes’ suitably quirky drawings and read it yourself. Alternatively you could try tuning in to their live event here https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/uncle-pete-and-the-boy-who-couldnt-sleep-book-launch-event-tickets-149531172763 on Friday May 14th

No matter what there are more adventures of Uncle Pete on the way.

I asked a few children their thoughts about never sleeping and here’s a selection of what they said:
I would love to be able to play Lego all through the nights, but the worst thing would be getting caught and told off. Samuel 6
It would be brilliant to be able to read books and my Kindle all night, but the downside would be my parents banning my favourite things for a whole week.” Emmanuelle 8
You could get out of bed in the middle of the night and get sweet snacks without anyone knowing. Also you could play games with your friends outside and never feel tired.” Leo 7
I could go out at night and do lots of different activities., play lots more sport and look at the stars more. But eventually it could get boring if you run out of things you want to do.” Spencer 8

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.

Fox & Rabbit / Isadora Moon Meets the Tooth Fairy

Fox & Rabbit
Beth Ferry and Gergely Dudas
Amulet Books

Unlikely friends, Fox and Rabbit star in five short interconnected stories, presented graphic novel style, that are perfect for readers just embarking on chapter books. The contrasting personalities of the protagonists is brought out wonderfully in the events – Rabbit being rather anxious and Fox the complete opposite (albeit with a predilection for words beginning with the letter F). However they both have a fondness for adventure and surprises but no matter what they’re doing they thrive on discovering the kind of everyday magic that readers will love.

In the first story, lying back observing the clouds leads them to the fair where Rabbit wins a prize; that prize sends them off on their next adventure – on the beach. There, eventually Rabbit overcomes his fear of the ocean and everything therein. What they find in a bottle leads Rabbit to risk a ‘zinger’ to reach Surprise Island; but is it a misnomer? It certainly provides a wonderful opportunity: some horticultural pursuits occur in the 4th story and Rabbit demonstrates a distinct lack of self control. But what happens when they grow a lemon tree? That you will have to find out for yourself but like their previous adventures a certain Turtle turns up at the end asking ‘What’d I miss?’

But new solo readers will certainly miss enormous fun from both Beth Ferry’s well chosen words and Gergely Dudas’ adorable pictures if they don’t give this engaging demonstration of true friendship, a whirl.

Isadora Moon Meets the Tooth Fairy
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford Children’s Books

Is this really the thirteenth book featuring the fang-tastically adorable Isadora Moon? Despite growing a bit older she shows no signs of losing her magical allure.

As the story starts Isadora is about to lose one of her teeth. But being half fairy, half vampire, should she leave said tooth under her pillow for the tooth fairy as her mum wants, or have it framed per dad’s wishes? He also wants her to accompany him to the vampire dentist to learn how to keep her fangs ‘polished to perfection’.

On the night the fang comes out Isadora is paid a visit by Mignonette, a tiny mouse on her first tooth fairy mission. Now she faces an even bigger dilemma …

Could a visit to dad’s dentist help her make up her own mind?

Maybe with the help of Mignonette, Isadora can instigate a tooth tradition of her very own.

No matter what she does, Isadora Moon’s countless fans will certainly delight in her latest adventure.

Emmy Levels Up / Amber Under Cover

These are two immersive stories for older readers – thanks to Oxford Children’s Books for sending them for review

Emmy Levels Up
Helen Harvey

With a back drop of gaming and a school setting, this is a superb story that focuses on bullying, mostly of the spiteful verbal kind that includes name-calling and other covert psychological nastiness which can make a person feel utterly worthless.

Emmy is on the receiving end of this terrible treatment but finds solace in gaming and the gamer community wherein she feels confident. So we actually have an interweaving of two narrative threads: online Emmentine – confident and highly skilled, and real world Emmy – ridiculed by some of her class for not having the ‘right’ trainers and other gear that her family can’t afford.

The biggest bully is sly vicious Vanessa and it’s she who makes Emmy’s life a misery at school. Her home life too is far from harmonious, in part due her older brother Ryan’s aversion to mum’s boyfriend , Paul.

What Emmy needs to do is apply some of what she’s learned through gaming to her school adversaries, find a real life supportive tribe of her own and in so doing feel able to tap into her inner resilience and speak out against those whose desire is to humiliate her.

Helen Harvey explores the issue of bullying with enormous sensitivity and empathy in her debut novel that I have no doubt many youngsters will relate to.

Another terrific read is

Amber Under Cover
Em Norry

Meet Amber, in her early teens, bookish, under confident and able to keep her cool, in contrast to her best friend Vi who loves to be in the limelight but apt to panic under stress. Amber is shocked to learn that she’s to become a big sister but that’s only the start of her troubles; she then discovers that she’s been under surveillance by a mysterious spy agency – specialists in global espionage. This organisation were watching her performance in a supposed virtual reality game and she’s been selected to train as a teenage spy.

So clever is this agency that they successfully dupe Amber’s somewhat preoccupied parents into believing her week’s residential training is part of an inter-school programme in recognition of her superior STEM skills.
Staying in an underground bunker, Amber is plunged into a secret world where she has to undergo training in self-defence and surveillance, about which she mustn’t tell a soul: not her parents, not Vi (who would love the stylishness of the place) or anybody who isn’t ‘authorised personnel’. What has she got herself into, Amber asks herself.

However, at the end of the weekend she’s deemed ready for her first mission. What will she say to Vi having to let her down again?

Before long it’s destination Sankt Hallvard Manor an exclusive Norwegian boarding school suspected to be harbouring members of CHAOS an organisation intent on destroying the existing world order. Is she up to the task of fitting in while spying in this world of the super-rich?

Seemingly it will have to be ‘Fake it till you make it.’ in this gently humorous, tense, fast paced story at the heart of which is a girl growing up and finding her place in the modern world.

Willow Wildthing and the Shooting Star / Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Spitfang Lizard

These are new titles in two smashing series for young solo readers – thanks to Oxford Children’s Books for sending them for review

Willow Wildthing and the Shooting Star
Gill Lewis, illustrated by Rebecca Bagley

Gill Lewis enchants once again with her third adventure of Willow and her dog Sniff, often a key player in her Wilderness exploits with the other Wild Things.

As the book starts, Willow’s little brother Freddie needs to go to hospital again and Nana is coming to keep an eye on her granddaughter.
A knock at the door brings not the anticipated Nana but fellow Wild Thing, Raven announcing the imminent destruction of their River Camp on account of flooding after several days of incessant rain. “You have to come,” Raven urges. “We’re going to lose everything.”

Happily, Willow is able to accompany Raven on the understanding that she’s to stay the night with her friend and they meet up with the others.

Only able to rescue some of their paraphernalia, the friends watch as the rest of their camp is washed away. Eventually the rain does stop and Raven suggests they all camp in her back garden from where they can watch the meteor shower that night.

It’s a night that turns out to be truly magical, for three shooting stars fall. Willow is convinced the one she wished on has landed in the Wilderness and she’s determined to find it …

There is SO much to love about the story, not least the way Gill Lewis celebrates children’s creativity and the imagination. These children thrive on a lifestyle that allows them freedom to explore the natural world, make camps, light fires, get thoroughly covered in mud and generally relish being part of the great outdoors. The love of family and the importance of friends – in this book ‘the witch’ (a reclusive writer) plays an important role – are also fundamental.

Each of these elements is captured so wonderfully in Rebecca Bagley’s illustrations which aptly, have a blue theme herein. Another great thing about these stories is their appeal to both girls and boys, those just gaining confidence as independent readers especially.

This is also true of

Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Spitfang Lizard
Kris Humphrey, illustrated by Pete Willliamson

Leo Wilder is apprentice to the Guardian and his job is to keep the village safe from monsters that hide in the eerie forest all around.

In his second adventure, Henrik has summoned Leo to inform him that having left their home along the White River, two deadly Spitfangs have left their riverside home and are getting alarmingly close. His “Whatever you do boy, don’t get spat on.” is pretty troubling as Leo’s already overheard the village chief’s comment to Henrik about the possibility of the lad being eaten.

Nonetheless, off to the forest with the pouch of stones Leo goes. Almost immediately he hears beating wings and there is Starla announcing that she’s come to help. Shortly after two girls appear carrying baskets. “Not friendly. Not friendly at all,” Starla says of them.

A brief conversation ensues and they disappear leaving Leo to continue his search. Suddenly he slips and almost the next thing he knows is that his legs are encased in a grungy cocoon of Spitfire spit. Yikes!

With some enigmatic characters,

this is a highly engaging story for young solo readers: the problem-solving element and smashing illustrations by Pete Williamson contribute significantly to the enjoyment.

Wigglesbottom Primary: Dino Chick / Wulfie: Beast in Show

Wigglesbottom Primary: Dino Chick
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Becka Moor
Nosy Crow

This contains three more episodes in the life of Class Two R and once again they’re in high spirits. At least that’s so in the first story when they learn from Miss Riley that she’s installed an incubator within which are four chicken eggs. They’re less excited to hear that the eggs will take several days to hatch especially when later in the day it comes to their notice that one egg has mysteriously changed colour. Miss Riley sits them down and tells everyone not to touch any of the eggs. Megan decides that the purple and green egg must contain a dinosaur. What a terrifying thought. Several days later three of the eggs have hatched and three fluffy chicks are in the incubator. Suddenly egg number four starts to crack … YIKES! what will emerge?

In the second story there’s a new girl in the class. Individuals take turns to show her parts of the school, including some that are strictly out of bounds. 

It’s an unlikely way to make somebody feel welcome but who gets the biggest surprise of all?

The final tale starts with the discovery that the school library is to close due to lack of funds. Can 2R come up with a plan to save it and keep Mr Hope in his job?

Another three wonderfully silly stories for new solo readers (or to read aloud) that show how easily children’s vivid imaginations can spiral into comedic craziness, a craziness that is echoed in Becka Moor’s lively illustrations.

Wulfie: Beast in Show
Lindsay J. Sedgwick, illustrated by Josephine Wolff
Little Island Books

Libby and her beloved purple fluffy best friend, Wulfie (Wolfgang Amadeus Rachmaninoff the Third) return in a second adventure. Libby’s unpleasant stepmother announces the imminent arrival of her older sister, Aunt Ilda. A fanatical dog breeder, she’s determined to win the SNOB prize in the forthcoming dog show to be shown live on TV. Concluding that her failure to win on previous occasions is due to not having a child assistant, she wants to enlist Libby’s awful, spoilt step-brother Rex.

Libby knows she must try to ensure that with Wulfie being so dog-like in appearance, he stays out of sight during the visit. No mean task as the wulfen’s behaviour is, let’s say, somewhat unpredictable and he can sometimes change size at the most inopportune times. 

Times such as his emergence from the washing machine right in front of Aunt Ilda who immediately decides that Wulfie must be her entry in the dog show. And if taking Libby as well as Wulfie and Rex away with her is what it takes, then so be it. 

What she doesn’t know however, is that in addition to his size changing and talking, Wulfie’s sneezes freeze time.

When Libby hears the words, “Your creature belongs to me now, runt, and he is going to make me more famous than any other famous person ever in the whole world.” she knows that Wulfie desperately needs to be rescued. 

But perhaps not before he’s had the chance to make Aunt Ilda look a complete fool on television.

Another fun, action-packed drama with some rather unpleasant characters, as well as the determined, lovable Libby and her equally lovable bestie, all splendidly illustrated by Josephine Wolff.

Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom / Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House

These are new additions to popular series both with strong, determined female protagonists

Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom
Dominique Valente, illustrated by Sarah Warburton
Harper Collins Children’s Books

This is the third instalment in the Starfell series, starring young witch Willow Moss and her kobold best friend, ‘not cat’ Oswin.

Now Willow has been enrolled in school – a normal school – and it’s the very first time the Brothers of Wol, the order newly headed by none other than Silas, have allowed Starfell’s magical children to be educated alongside their non-magical peers, and her parents think it’s now the right thing. Surely there’s an ulterior motive? Willow has her suspicions from the outset.

On the very first day of term Willow meets Twist, a forthright elf girl and they soon become firm friends. Also willing to accept Willow for who she is, there’s Peg, a human boy. When she learns of the new curriculum that students will study Willow finds it pretty alarming, but Peg speaks out firmly in support of ‘magic people’ and of diversity.

Before you can say ’broomstick’; though, the three of them have escaped the confines of the classroom and are heading to Lael, the elf city made entirely of marble wherein Twist’s aunts Tuppence, Griselda and Dot reside.

All they have to do thereafter is to find the vanished elvish kingdom of Llandunia and get hold of the elf staff before it gets into the wrong hands. Not much to ask then.

Dragons, trolls (including an old friend of Willow’s) and more – even Oswin’s cousin – appear in this terrific fantasy tale, but be warned: it ends on a cliff-hanger.

Somehow, despite Sarah Warburton’s illustrations, the cover apart, being in black and white, many readers will I suspect experience parts of this enormously engaging story in colour, such is the power of Dominique Valente’s writing. Bring on the next book.

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House
Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Daniela Sosa
Little Tiger

Zaiba has a third case to solve and it’s set in the home of her new friend Olivia. Olivia’s parents have recently bought the run-down Oakwood Manor and Olivia tells Zaiba that her mum thinks the house is haunted. With its plethora of secret passages and hidden rooms it is certainly steeped in history and some strange things have happened but ghosts? Surely not.

Olivia invites Zaiba and Poppy her pal, to come to the house-warming party the following day and then sleepover, as that offers the ideal opportunity to begin their ‘ghost’ investigation. Zaiba has an unexpected offer of assistance from her brother Ali and with her backpack of detective paraphernalia, and fellow Snow Leopard Detective Agency UK members they’re ready to investigate.

Once the party is underway, things get increasingly weird

and sometimes, a tad dangerous. There are plenty of suspects, and in true detective story style, some red-herrings; but this isn’t merely a junior who-dunnit with all suspects present at the final reveal. Zaiba’s family dynamics and the diverse cast of characters add to the reader’s enjoyment of this fast-paced mystery. So too do Daniela Sosa’s black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout and it was good to see the police treating the crime-solving children with respect rather than dismissing them as interfering.

Young would-be sleuths can also enjoy the additional content after the story.

The Princess Rules: It’s a Prince Thing

The Princess Rules: It’s a Prince Thing
Philippa Gregory, illustrated by Chris Chatterton
Harper Collins Children’s Books

A princess who subverts all the established fairytale conventions is definitely one for me. I’ve not read her first three adventures but am pleased to make her acquaintance in the three in this second book of the series.

The rule flouting Princess Florizella acquires a baby brother unexpectedly when a stork makes a delivery to her parents’ palace one night. Shock horror! This infant, who grows to the size of a four year old in a single day and is christened Courier, is now first in line to the throne and he, not the rebellious princess will inherit the kingdom one day. Apparently, in addition to not being intended for Florizella parents (they were only acting as the safe place for delivery) the baby was meant to be a Baby Belling (cooker).

Off goes Florizella to see her best friend, Prince Bennett. He agrees to help her teach the babe not to use his ‘prince permit’ and thus almost immediately, begins the adventuring of the three – on horseback of course.

During adventure number one that involves a run-in with some would-be kidnappers, Florizella learns of her brother’s particular expertise in peppermints.

The second story starts innocently enough as a day trip to the seaside to which Florizella invites pretty much everybody in the kingdom, and on arrival turns into a rip-roaring adventure on the high seas that includes an encounter with a Sea Serpent,

three pirate ships and the discovery of the meaning of the word ‘recoil’. Courier learns something important too.

In the third episode Courier turns inventor with some interesting results, a Mammoth makes an appearance and an agreement is reached.

Philippa Gregory’s terrific storytelling sweeps readers along and Chris Chatterton’s illustrations too, are a treat. It’s a Prince Thing does work on its own although I’d suggest youngsters who haven’t read the first book start with that and then move on to this one, which is just out in paperback.

Museum Kittens: The Sleepover Mystery / Mort the Meek and the Ravens’ Revenge

These are 2 new fiction titles from the Stripes Publishing imprint: thanks to Little Tiger for sending them for review

Museum Kittens: The Sleepover Mystery
Holly Webb, illustrated by Sarah Lodge

The Museum Kittens, Peter, Tasha, Bianca and Boris are proud of their new guarding duties though they’re finding it pretty tiring work. Tired as they might be, they’re all eagerly anticipating the museum’s latest enterprise to bring in extra visitors. A group of sixty children are to visit and stay overnight in the Dinosaur Gallery. Bianca above all the others is mega excited, so much so that she does something which causes a furore in the Costume Gallery and then, following a spat with the other kittens, wants to spend all her time with the children, even keeping them company during the night – the time when the nasty rats are on the prowl. It’s during the night that her siblings realise that Bianca is missing.

The search is on. Come morning they still haven’t found her:

surely she can’t have been intending to run away and got on the coach with the children …

There’s plenty of furry fun, frolics and frights as those who are familiar with the series will know. However, Holly’s latest book is an enjoyable read even if this is your first encounter with these lovable felines; and there are plenty of Sarah Lodge’s black and white illustrations to break up the text for less confident readers.

Mort the Meek and the Ravens’ Revenge
Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by George Ermos

The only Rachel Delahaye stories I’d read before this were her Little Animal Rescue series so this came as something of a surprise. It couldn’t be more different.
For starters it’s set in the kingdom of Brutalia – an island community – where violence is the way of life. Ravens circle overhead, dreaming of eating eyeballs or brains. With its motto LIVE OR DIE, this certainly isn’t a place to book your next summer holiday.

Its chief protagonist is young Mort the Meek who inherits the role of Royal executioner when his uncle dies. Mort is the kingdom’s only pacifist so imagine his horror when he learns that his first victim is to be his good friend Weed.

Nobody has ever dared to stand up to the heinous queen of this realm and survived. Could Mort possibly do so and perhaps even find a way to save his friend’s life?

It all sounds pretty horrifying but Rachel Delahaye’s narrative is often very funny and the tale is full of unexpected twists and turns, so if you can cope with the violent punishment regime (I share Mort’s pacifist principles) you will laugh a fair bit, especially at the ravens. that open each chapter. And, the ending is hugely satisfying …

George Ermos has done a terrific job with the illustrations that are littered with small humorous details.

The Long Way Home / Dirty Bertie: Bees!

These are 2 new Stripes Publishing books that are just right for newly independent readers: thanks to Little Tiger for sending them:

The Long Way Home
Corrinne Averiss and Kristyna Little

Baby elephant Otto likes nothing more than adventuring with Nanu and he’s thrilled when Nanu announces they are to spend a day climbing right to the top of Lion Mountain. Old she might be, but Nanu is extremely wise; she’s also brave and bold and shares Otto’s enthusiasm for exploration.

As they prepare to set out Nanu reminds the little elephant what an explorer needs to remember at all times but from the outset, Nanu seems to be having a forgetting kind of day. First she leaves the fruit out of the backpack and then she forgets the name of their destination and once they reach the top of the mountain it transpires that she’s actually left the backpack behind.

All those things are relatively easy to remedy but then as they start back down, it’s evident that Nanu has forgotten the way home and instead has been taking them into the depths of the forest.
Now it’s up to young Otto to remember everything his Nanu has taught him about being ‘a great elephant explorer’ and endeavour to get them safely back home.

Corrinne’s story is a wonderfully warm one that demonstrates pachyderm style, the importance of both family relationships and memories. A warmth that is brought out beautifully in Kristina Little’s gorgeous illustrations: who could resist falling for Otto and Nanu?

Dirty Bertie: Bees!
Alan MacDonald, illustrated by David Roberts

There’s never a dull moment when young Bertie is around and if you were to collect every one of the books regaling all his misdemeanours, they would fill an entire shelf.

This one presents three more. The first relates what happens when Bertie’s taste for the delicious honey he splurges onto his breakfast toast leads him to entertain ideas about becoming a bee keeper like his neighbour, Mr Monk with whom Bertie has previously had the odd run in. That sounds like trouble to me … and sure enough it is.

Story two sees Bertie and his Gran doing a spot of Great Aunt Morag sitting while his parents are otherwise engaged.

Surprises come thick and fast when the three of them head for the park where a nerve-wracking day unfolds.

In the third episode Bertie’s mum wins a journalism award with dinner and an overnight stay for two at a four-star hotel hotel as part of the prize. Just imagine the potential for trouble when Mum manages to bag another couple of tickets for Bertie and his sister Suzy to accompany them. But why does Bertie insist on taking his own duvet? A lively occasion really doesn’t describe it …

With its hilarious illustrations liberally scattered, new solo readers will devour this in a sitting; the episodes make fun short reads aloud too.

Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race / Aisha and Silver

These are the latest titles in two of Nosy Crow’s series for younger readers kindly sent for review

Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians

No matter what life throws at her, young Mabel is MAGNIFICENT. But for Mabel Chase, the book’s narrator things are sometimes not fair – at all. Seemingly however careful she is about things like being a worthy partner to Edward Silitoe on school sports day, the two just don’t see eye to eye or even arm to arm, let alone egg to spoon. No matter, somehow or other her magnificence always shines through – eventually.

Next, there’s the class play and this term for a change, Mabel really, really wants to get a leading part, William Shakespeare, preferably. But then who is she asked to play but Titania. No matter, magnificence rules, and where there’s a Will, there’s a way …

Then comes the Dermot episode. It comes about when Mabel’s family finally agree to take her to a dog show one weekend. It’s somewhere you can only go (so her Dad says) if you have a dog, Time to start training for the agility event.

As always, our narrator comes out on top.

These latest comical slices of mischief of the Mabel kind with spirited illustrations by Julia Christians, will appeal to the slightly mischievous side of young children be they those readers just starting to fly solo or story time listeners in the foundation stage.

Aisha and Silver
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman

The Unicorn Academy series has captured the hearts of many young solo readers with its mix of sparkling magic and the kind of issues concerning friendship, loyalty and overcoming problems that most primary children have to contend with.

In this latest slice of enchantment Aisha faces problems: first the likelihood of having to repeat an entire school year as she hasn’t yet discovered Silver’s particular magic or bonded with him. Secondly, there’s been a spate of terrible hailstorms that have been causing damage to their beloved school and worse, might endanger the life of anybody caught out in one. That’s the reason for the early closure of the school leaving Aisha just five days to bond with Silver and to stop the storms.

It’s crucial to find out who or what has been causing them: with Aisha also intent on perfecting her music for the dorm’s display ride, she’s under a lot of pressure. It looks as though teamwork will be required to take on the mysterious LT.

Another engaging read with plenty of lovely illustrations by Lucy Truman to break up the text.

Kitty and the Twilight Trouble / Mirabelle Breaks the Rules

Oxford Children’s books do some cracking series for new solo readers: here are the latest books in two of those – thanks to OUP for sending for review: 

Kitty and the Twilight Trouble
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Lovlie

This is young Kitty’s sixth adventure and as the story opens she’s super excited at the thought of visiting the funfair with her cat crew. One of the crew, Pixie is super excited too for she has a cat new friend, Hazel. An introduction is arranged with Kitty for that night but it’s Figaro that turns up with a message from Pixie and Hazel, the latter claiming that she’s a Cat Superhero with her own special powers and important work to do.

It’s a rather dispirited Kitty who looks through her bedroom window into the velvety, moonlit sky contemplating the funfair. Suddenly into view come two cats skipping across the rooftop sporting matching scarves, and Kitty’s encounter with them leaves her feeling even less upbeat.

The following afternoon though, her parents keep their promise and take her to the funfair but once there, what should she see but Pixie and Hazel. As she watches them Kitty sees not superhero behaviour but feline foolishness and nastiness. Suddenly however, Kitty has other important things to attend to. Figaro reports that he’s seen a nest of baby birds that are in great danger. Guess who almost sabotages the entire rescue effort?

But that isn’t all, for back in bed that night Kitty receives another urgent message from Figaro. The supposed feline superheroes are stranded. Now it’s up to Kitty to use her own superpowers.

Yet another magical nocturnal story from team Paula and Jenny that will enthral young new solo readers. There are a considerable number on my radar who eagerly await each new Kitty story.

The same is true of another young character, Mirabelle who is also delightfully different and stars in …

Mirabelle Breaks the Rules
Harriet Muncaster

Mirabelle, cousin to Isadora Moon, is half witch and half fairy. and as a new term starts at Miss Spindlewick’s witch school, her parents are hoping to receive better reports than before.

Mirabelle’s best friend, Carlotta has brought her a present from her holiday abroad – a bottle of shimmery multi-coloured magic dust which Mirabelle puts into her pocket. The snag is that its label is printed in a different language.

As the first lesson gets under way, Mirabelle volunteers to collect the ingredients for a colour changing potion from the store cupboard; most of these too she puts into her pocket. The potion mixing gets under way but before long something very untoward starts happening in the cauldron the two friends are sharing. Pretty soon the entire room is in chaos. Uh-oh! trouble again for Mirabelle.

She does her upmost to stay on the right side of Miss Spindlewick right up to the last lesson of the day with happens to be some loop the loop practice in the forest. Looping the loop is one of Mirabelle’s favourite things to do and she can’t resist flying over, rather than under the trees per the rule. Could she be heading straight for another disaster …

Mirabelle is a character whose mischief is the result of her struggle with rule keeping, rather than wrong intentions. Her first person narration endears her to readers right from the start and Harriet’s portrayal of her in those purple and black illustrations ensures that she looks every bit as enchanting as she sounds.

The Giants’ Tea Party / Lottie Luna and the Giant Gargoyle

The Giants’ Tea Party
Vivian French, illustrated by Marta Kissi
Walker Books

In the kingdom of Little Slippington, the royal coffers are empty and with the bills unpaid the king and queen are in desperate need of some gold.

Rather than marry a wealthy princess, the anything but heroic Prince Max reluctantly embarks on a mission to the valley of the giants who, according to legend, are rich beyond imagination and might (or might not) be persuaded to part with some of their gold. First though the prince needs a steed of some kind and the only one available is Horace a rather grumpy old donkey. Deal done, off they go, first stop the abode of the Wisest One. She tells him his journey will mean having to cross the Hungry Marshes.

Meanwhile in Golden Hollow, Glom king of the giants also has a problem. Two actually, one being the need for some Papparelli roots (the only food that will make the geese lay their golden eggs), the second the constant interruption from his grand daughter Hamfreda reminding him of the first while he’s trying to put the finishing touches to his flying machine.

Wonderful weaver of words, and fashioner of neofairy-tales, Vivian French, includes a talking cat, marshes hungry for stories, a blank book and some decidedly unsavoury characters, the Crimps in her enchanting narrative: but will Max succeed against the odds? That’s the key question and to discover the answer you’ll have to read this cracking book. Marta Kissi’s illustrations bring out the humour inherent in the telling,

making this whole immersive world even more enjoyable.

Here’s another treat from Vivian: her 4th in the smashing Lottie Luna series:

Lottie Luna and the Giant Gargoyle
Vivian French, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Young werewolf, Lottie Luna, she of super strength, super speed and X-ray vision , is concerned about all her Shadow Academy classmates discovering her special skills when an end-of-term talent show is announced,

and worse, she hears that all parents will receive a personal invitation from the head teacher. Her close friends, Marjory and Wilf are determined to help her keep her secret, but with ‘Awful Aggie’ always on the lookout to make trouble, she’s going to have more difficulty than she’s faced before convincing the other students she’s just like everyone else. No wonder she’s in no hurry to give her parents their invitation to the big event.

In the meantime Lottie wants to help Wilf and Marjory polish their magic act, as well as deciding what she’s going to do in the show. They certainly don’t want Aggie taking the prize gargoyle.

With Nathan Reed’s splendid black and white illustrations, this latest Lottie adventure will delight her many fans and likely win her some new ones too. Despite its setting and main protagonist, the pupils in this otherworldly story face challenges similar to those struggling to fit into a typical school, making it all the more easy to relate to.

Beauty and the Bin

Beauty and the Bin
Joanne O’Connell
Macmillan Children’s Books

For Laurie Larksie things seem to have improved since she started at secondary school. It’s sufficiently far from their home not to invite her new friends around, something she’s anxious to avoid as her eco-warrior parents are, despite their best intentions, an embarrassment to her. Their house is also a hydroponic growing farm, and her mum and dad involve both Laurie and her younger sister, Fern, in salvaging food from supermarket bins despite Laurie’s determination not to become as she says, ‘Garbage Girl’. While she’s happy to go along with most of what her parents do, they refuse to listen to how she feels about this particular activity. After all she just wants to fit in – buy herself some new clothes, have hot chocolate after school with her friends Zainab and Emilia, and use social media.

When an inter-school competition for young entrepreneurs is announced, Laurie sees it’s a great chance to showcase her homemade skin and beauty products that use only natural ingredients – Beauty in the Kitchen – and before you can say ‘enterprise’ she finds she’s been approached by Charley (the school’s uber-cool girl) as her partner.

Before long though, conflicts of interest begin to arise: Laurie’s family want her to be fully involved in the fast approaching March4Climate protest, so she has to try and juggle family commitments with the competition, while not losing her two best friends.

Can Laurie manage to stay true to her principles and continue working with somebody who thinks she’s always right? And who will eventually win that competition?

The author’s inspiration for her thought-provoking, humorous debut book came after spending a year as a journalist writing about food waste, so she really knows and feels strongly about waste and sustainability. Alongside these themes though she explores the personal journey of her chief protagonist, Laurie, as she learns what real friendship means.
(Also included are some beauty recipes, and ‘top tips’ from Laurie on how to avoid wasting food.)

Strongly recommend for upper KS2 readers and those around Laurie’s age just finding their feet at secondary school.

44 Tiny Acrobats

44 Tiny Acrobats
Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Ashley King
Stripes Publishing (Little Tiger)

When Fry and Sons Circus of Wonder arrives on the common right by Betsy Bow-Linnet’s house just before Christmas, it’s a huge shock for Betsy’s Grandad. More than a shock in fact, it stirs up painful memories of Grandma who used to be one of its performers.

Despite her initial reluctance, Betsy just cannot resist the lure of the big top. So, with her parents otherwise engaged, en route home from the vet’s she buys herself a ticket and in she goes to see the show (accompanied by her mice.)

Betsy is quickly spellbound by the amazing acts and atmosphere of the show and so fails to notice that the latch on the mouse case has been nosed ajar allowing forty three mice to escape … with disastrous results.
Before you can say ‘confession’ Betsy finds herself having to face the loathsome ringmaster, Mr Fry and the next thing she knows, she’s offered herself and her mice as an act for the following day’s show in front of some all-important potential investors in the circus.

How much worse can things get? …

With its focus on Betsy’s problem-solving skills, and also her determination not to upset her Grandad, this second adventure is as delightful and involving for youngsters as 44 Tiny Secrets (although this book’s not without its own secrets). To reflect the razzmatazz of the circus, Ashley King has used a red theme for her wonderfully quirky, spirited illustrations.

Scoop McLaren: Waves of Mystery / The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes: The Tumbling Tortoises

Here are two recent fiction titles from New Frontier Publishing – thanks for sending …

Scoop McLaren: Waves of Mystery
Helen Castles

Scoop McLaren, editor of her very own online newspaper Click and her best friend and roving reporter Evie return for a second mystery to solve. The newspaper has now gone national and as the story opens Scoop is playing host to young surfing ace Fletcher Stein who has set his sights on winning Higgity Harbour’s big surfing competition.

However as the semi-final approaches things start to happen that give Scoop, the book’s narrator, cause for concern: could somebody be attempting to sabotage Fletcher’s chances? Right away the two girls are on the case but their sleuthing has to be kept under the radar as Evie’s policeman dad immediately tells them to leave the detective work to the police.

It’s not long before one suspect is identified; but how many people are involved in trying to stop Fletcher even reaching the final let alone winning the whole event. And is a curse part of the problem?

However, reach the final he does but things then get even weirder as people start disappearing …

With lots of twists and turns, the fast paced plot shows how Scoop uses her instincts, intelligence and her attention to detail, to get to the bottom of things.

An enjoyable tale for older readers at the heart of which is friendship and loyalty.

Another sequel, this time for slightly younger readers is:

The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes: The Tumbling Tortoises
Brenda Gurr

Zoe is excited to hear that with her Galapagos tortoise cupcakes idea she has won the Wildside Zoo’s competition and is now the official baker for the zoo’s endangered animals campaign.

However when she hears that her entire class has been invited to the launch event and that class captain Polly is to report on it, she realises that it’s going to be an enormous challenge to do the extra research she wants to make the most realistic-looking cakes possible and deliver them to the venue while ensuring that her identity as the popular cake creator Zinnia Jakes is kept under wraps.

Can Zoe possibly pull it off? Perhaps, with the assistance of her musical Aunty Jam and of course, best friend Addie.

Another action-packed narrative that is lots of fun and likely to tickle the taste buds of young solo readers.

Can You Whistle, Johanna? / Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls

Can You Whistle, Johanna?
Ulf Stark, illustrated by Anna Höglund
Gecko Press

Here’s a book from Swedish author Ulf Stark that will surely touch your heart.
The boy narrator of the story, Ulf has a grandfather he visits regularly. His friend Berra doesn’t have a grandfather but wishes he did so he could enjoy a similar relationship, so Ulf tells him that he knows just the place to find one.

The following day, he takes Berra to visit an old people’s home and there they find an elderly man, Ned

who although initially surprised, is more than happy to accept Berra as his grandson.“There I was, just sitting and feeling a bit lonely, and then you came along!”

A wonderful connectedness develops between the two with Ned remembering his wife, Johanna, and things about his world – the smells, colours and simple joys, as well as those that are now too much of a challenge. The boys learn from Ned new skills and they have tremendous fun

including sharing special ‘birthday’ celebrations …

although there is one particular skill that Berra finds difficult to master – hence the book’s title.
This leads to the boys’ visits to Ned becoming less and less frequent but not before the boys give him a very special birthday celebration.

Finally, after several weeks Berra is ready to demonstrate to Ned his whistling prowess but when he boys get to the home they learn that Ned has died. Berra is devastated.

Despite being profoundly affected by his loss, Berra wants to go and say a final farewell at Ned’s funeral and it’s then that he whistles the old man’s tune.

We see how this special relationship has enriched the lives of both Berra and Ned, and that’s what shines through this sensitively told story despite the boys’ loss. Equally moving are Anna Höglund’s wonderful droll illustrations that support the text splendidly.

Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls
Atinuke, illustrated by Onyinye Iwu
Walker Books

This is the second enchanting book of three short tales starring Tola, the youngest of three siblings who live with their grandmother in a crowded, run-down flat in Lagos.What she lacks in stature, Tola makes up for in spirit and determination. Money is short and so Grandmummy spends almost all her time selling groundnuts at the roadside to earn sufficient for the children’s schooling but little else.

The first story takes place on a Saturday with all three siblings indoors but only Tola doing the chores. As she squats picking out the stones from the rice, her brother Dapo is using his knees to play with his football (strictly forbidden inside) while big sister Moji is studying on a computer on loan from her school.
Ignoring her warnings to stop or incur Grandmummy’s wrath, Dapo dislodges the contents of a shelf with a wild ball sending her gold earrings flying into the air. One is quickly retrieved but can they manage to find the other one before Grandmummy returns?

In the second episode Grandmummy falls ill with malaria and the siblings resort to desperate measures to buy her the vital medicine she needs; and Dapo surprises everyone by using his skill to make money.

The three fine girls of the title are cool, indulged young misses in their fancy gear that Tola notices when she’s out and about. The same three posh ones that she manages to impress later on when she accompanies Mr Abdul to the masquerade.

There are so many things to love about young Tola especially her resourcefulness and ability to think on her feet; but her entire family are a delight. Onyinye Iwu’s black and white illustrations are a delight too, filling in some of the details about the life of this Nigerian urban family.

Jasper & Scruff Take a Bow / My Robot’s Gone Wild

These are two new titles from Little Tiger’s Stripes imprint both featuring already popular characters. Thanks to the publishers for sending them for review.

Jasper & Scruff Take a Bow
Nicola Colton

The unlikely best friends Jasper, a dapper feline and mud loving Scruff the pup return for a third adventure.
When Jasper hears of the Reach For the Stars talent show to be held at the town hall the following afternoon the two can’t wait to take part. There’s a snag though: Scruff wants them to enter as a dazzling magic making twosome; Jasper wants to do a solo act, one he’s polished up from a previous occasion.

During the heats Jasper’s act fails to impress the judges and he’s eliminated whereas Scruff manages to get through to the finals. Finals for which the winner will receive a Grand Prize – a week on stage performing alongside Marvello the Magnificent. 

It’s a prize that Sophisticat Lady Catterly has set her sights on.
Perhaps now Scruff and Jasper should join forces to try and wow the judges.

Come the finals however, there appears to be some chicanery at work where Lady C and the Sophisticats are concerned. Time for Jasper and Scruff to do a spot of detective work of the underground variety to discover exactly what is going on.

With detailed illustrations that fizz with energy and gentle humour on every spread, this entertaining drama is perfect for young solo readers at that crucial in-between stage. Scruff and Jasper are a hugely endearing pair and there are some interesting bit part players in the cast of characters too.

Equally, Nicola’s lively narrative style with its occasional puns and plenty of snappy dialogue makes the book work well as a read aloud.

My Robot’s Gone Wild
Dave Cousins, illustrated by Catalina Echeverri

Changes are afoot in the fourth of Dave Cousins’ Robot adventures featuring the robot babysitter Robin created by twins Jess and Jake’s inventor Grandma.

As the story opens year six has just ended and the twins, accompanied by a robot (not Robin) dressed to look like Grandma, Ivana and Ali, and Digby dog, are on a train en route to the Scottish countryside. The purpose is a holiday visit to Robin currently in hiding with Grandma at Granny Anderson’s who lives in a remote spot near Loch Wilder. Said Granny (the twins motorbike riding great grandmother) has organised some ‘wild camping’ for the visitors.

The first shock is the nature of the location, the second is the change in Robin. The robot now bears some resemblance to a tree and thanks to upgrades by Grandma, has new feet and hands and sports army-style shorts and shirt. Grandma certainly hasn’t been idle while in Scotland: she’s also created pop-up tents as well as a ‘water-dragon-submarine’ supposedly to help with catching cattle rustlers.

Then a spot of fishing lands Jake (narrator) in icy cold water: this holiday certainly doesn’t look too promising especially when hedgerow stew is served up for supper. 

Surely day two must be better but …

So much happens during the rest of the holiday and by the time they leave, the children have accepted among other things, that it will be without the physical Robin although they take something with them that will make it feel as though he’s still with them.

It seems as though this is the final story in Dave Cousins’ madcap robot series, so amusingly illustrated by Catalina Echeverri. I know a fair few readers who, like Jess and Jake, will be sorry to say farewell.