Wishyouwas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fledgling

Fledgling
Lucy Hope
Nosy Crow

This is Lucy Hope’s debut novel and what a brilliant one it is: seemingly the author has a rare kind of imagination.

Perched on a rocky cliff deep in the Bavarian Forest is a house like no other: it’s 1900 and now owned by a self-absorbed opera singer mother who spends almost all her time rehearsing. This place is home to Cassie Engel (who narrates the story), her parents and her dying grandmother who is attended once a week by two seemingly sinister nurses known as Crunch and Grind. The house is full of amazing inventions: steam-powered lifts with foot brakes, mechanical morphine pumps, winches, pulleys, and has a whole storey for her erstwhile great-great grandfather’s collection of stuffed owls which now belongs to her father, whose hobby is taxidermy.

Into this strange abode one stormy night through Cassie’s bedroom window, is blown a little cherub to which Cassie feels immediately drawn.

Its arrival sets in motion a chain of weird, sometimes terrifying events. Cassie’s best friend Raphael starts to act differently – a transformation is slowly occurring, while outside in the forest is a growing sense of brooding and malevolence. Then there are the sinister Sturmfalken, the stuff of nightmares.

Cassie it seems is attempting to deal with so much on her own: she’s terrified and she, like the reader, never knows what will happen next. The tension builds as weird discoveries are made: discoveries that send Cassie and Raphael to the dusty castle library to research long-held secrets of the Engel family—dark secrets that are now closing in on the family.

Can Cassie do anything to save them? It’s certainly going to take a great deal of courage and entail accepting who she, her family and best friend are.

However, family love -complex as it may be – is a powerful driving force, so too is the love of Raphael; but prepare yourself for a shock final revelation as the story reaches its dramatic climax. Will light win over the power of darkness?

A superbly crafted gothic novel: the characterisation is superb and like this reviewer, you’ll find likely find yourself unable to put it down once you start reading.

The Christmas Carrolls

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Lo and Behold! Mouse & Mole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Night Train / The Naughtiest Unicorn in a Winter Wonderland

The Night Train
Matilda Woods and Penny Neville-Lee
Little Tiger

This is a wintry addition to the Stripes series of stories for new solo readers that have beautiful full colour illustrations at every turn of the page.

Herein readers can take up the guard’s final call and board the non-stop express train to Sleepy Town Platform ZZZ. Charles is anxious to get his special passengers in on schedule so that they don’t lose the chance to shine in their dreams.

There’s Henri, about to perform in front of the Queen, Princess May on her way to meet the family of her dragon, then comes the yeti – a regular on the train – bound for the North Pole and now accompanying Lily who longs to be a great explorer.
Then one more passenger reveals itself – a huge green furry monster that hopes it has just the thing to stop its dreamer being scared any longer.

Suddenly the train comes to a halt and the driver announces that something is blocking the way. The princess leaves the train to investigate and discovers a tree has fallen across the line. But are any of the passengers willing to help her and the guard Charles to move the obstacle and allow the train to arrive on time? Perhaps if they draw on their yet to be discovered skills, together they can save the situation and enter their dreamer’s dreams.

It must be worth a try.

Despite it’s chilly setting, Matilda Woods tells a warm-hearted tale of teamwork and determination. Penny Neville-Lee’s snowy scenes capture beautifully, the sometimes tense atmosphere of the telling and her portrayal of the characters is charming – even the monster.

A smashing snuggle up in the warm book for youngsters just taking off as independent readers.

The Naughtiest Unicorn in a Winter Wonderland
Pip Bird, illustrated by David O’Connell
Farshore

Can it really be the ninth story featuring Mira and her exuberant unicorn Dave? As he tries his hoofs at some winter sports, it’s evident that the creature hasn’t lost his burping and farting habits or his tendency to gobble up ice-cream or pretty much anything edible he can get hold of.

Then comes the announcement: Unicorn School Winter Expedition. It’s to be Red Class’s very first time and in addition to the sporting activities there’s to be a special quest: The Unicorn School Art Project inspired by the Aurora Lights.

The excitement is high though there’s talk of Snow Beasts by pupils who have been on previous winter expeditions, and it’s even higher when they reach their destination. Armed with ‘snow tools’ just in case of any unwanted encounters, the pupils start to settle in and decide on their activities.

Then comes the real fun and for Mira and Dave that begins with sledging – watch out for a ginormous snow poo-ball.

Will they really meet a yeti though?

What about that art project: will everyone be having such a great time sledging that they miss those magical Aurora Lights? And could somebody discover a use for that Abominable Snow Poo? You’ll never know … unless of course you get hold of this hilarious episode in the life of Mira, Dave and their friends both old and new.

I know a fair number of young solo readers who will gobble it up – Dave fashion – all in one go, pausing to enjoy David O’Connell’s super black and white illustrations along the way.

How Winston Delivered Christmas / How Winston Came Home For Christmas

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

How Winston Delivered Christmas


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

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

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

How Winston Came Home For Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Runaways of Haddington Hall

The Runaways of Haddington Hall
Vivian French
Walker Books

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

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

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

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

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

Books For Giving That Keep On Giving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genie and Teeny: Wishful Thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roll on book three say I.

The Queen in the Cave

The Queen in the Cave
Júlia Sardà
Walker Studio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following Frankenstein

Following Frankenstein
Catherine Bruton
Nosy Crow

This is a terrific book inspired by Mary Shelley’s gothic story. It begins in Victorian England and is narrated by Maggie the daughter of a Frankenstein obsessive Captain Robert Walton who has dedicated his entire life to tracking down the iconic monster created by Victor Frankenstein. Already this obsession has cost Maggie and her family dear – and now her father is staking all on one final voyage to the Arctic in search of the elusive monster that he considers his destiny.

Unbeknown to her father however, Maggie, accompanied by her pet mouse Victor, boards the ship, a whaler named Moby Dick.

It’s not long however before the girl is discovered by the Captain Ishmael but instead of throwing her off, he makes a pact with Maggie: “Between you and me we will see Captain Walton through the storm and bring him back to safe harbour once more.”

The journey takes them to the icy Arctic Tundra where a horrific revelation is made, then to New York, which couldn’t be more different, and for Maggie, separated from her father, on through America towards Canada. It’s a journey of adventures, terrors, of monsters and heroes and Maggie is a strong character, caring, kind and prepared to take enormous risks for those she loves.

Once again Catherine Bruton has created a gripping story with superb descriptions of the various landscapes but fundamentally this tale is about love, family, loyalty and friendship, accepting difference and looking for what’s good. It will enthral readers and listeners keeping them on the edge of their seats until the final page: unable to put it down, I read the book in a single sitting.

In a word – brilliant!

Dulcinea in the Forbidden Forest

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

When Fishes Flew

When Fishes Flew: the story of Elena’s war
Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by George Butler
Harper Collins Children’s Books

The first novel for a couple of years from storyteller extraordinaire Michael Morpurgo is well worth the wait. With three time settings and two locations, the stories of Ellie and Nandi weave together ancient history and myth, contemporary life and World War Two experiences.

As the story opens Nandi, who lives with her parents in Melbourne, Australia, thinks of herself as Greek. Her father’s family came from Ithaca, the Greek island that is still home to her beloved great aunt Ellie.

Until fairly recently Aunt Ellie was a regular visitor to Melbourne but now she’s become too old (and troubled by the impact of flying on global warming) to make the journey. Nandi misses her greatly, especially those wonderful tales from Greek history and mythology she’d tell whenever she visited. Now Nandi must do the visiting, she resolves.

So, as soon as she’s left school and saved sufficient money, Nandi travels to Ithaca; (what happens is told in the form of her journal called ‘My Odyssey’).

However, when she finally reaches her aunt’s home, Ellie isn’t there, hasn’t been seen for a month and nobody, not even her special friend Maria, knows where she’s gone. We readers can’t help but share Nandi’s sadness but as she sits writing her diary one day she ‘hears’ a voice. A voice that seems to be calling her, beckoning her to take the plunge and dive into shoals of fish that spin around the end of the jetty. One fish though, isn’t like the others, this one is a silver flying fish and needs saving, so Nandi must take the plunge. Into the water she goes and rescues the fish.

It’s through this creature, (Proteus in another form) with which she forms a friendship, that she learns the amazing, unimaginable story of her great aunt: ‘a modern Greek hero, a hero of today and yesterday and tomorrow’ as the fish tells her.

Truly that fish was right: I felt tears welling up as I read the last entry in Nandi’s journal written ten years on from the main part.

Totally gripping (I read it a single sitting) is this tale of love, courage and rescue, of personal discovery and belonging, that will remain with readers long after they’ve put the book down.
George Butler’s black and white illustrations too will stay in your mind; it’s amazing how he imbues them with the spirit of myth, of mystery and of love.

Clock of Stars: Beyond the Mountains

Clock of Stars: Beyond the Mountains
Francesca Gibbons, illustrated by Chris Riddell
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Like the first story, sparkling with excitement is the second totally spellbinding adventure in the Clock of Stars series.

Herein Imogen and Marie, whose home life has changed due to their mum’s new man Mark, return through the door in the tree to the magical land of Yaroslav, where they find much has changed too. Miro has become king and hates it, while Anneshka is Queen no longer and is equally unhappy about it. So when she hears a prophecy that she will rule the Greatest Kingdom, she seizes Marie, believing her to be the key to its fulfilment, and heads off over the mountains pursued by Imogen who feels it’s her fault her sister is in this situation, and Miro. (Chris Ridell’s superb illustrations of the characters at the beginning of the book will remind readers of who’s who.)

As the story unfolds, unimaginable dangers are faced by both sisters and Imogen is beset by worry creatures that niggle at her feelings sometimes undermining her ability to function properly. Readers too feel frissons of fear at various points throughout (the very idea of those krootymosh be they real or not, is nightmarish as is the sight of that Yedleek) but the telling is funny too, as little by little, both sisters learn to navigate both the ups and downs of life in their own world and in Yaroslav.

Be prepared for an emotional roller-coaster as surprising events unfold and revelations are made both good and not so good, as inevitably both Imogen and Marie learn to look differently at things and in so doing undergo changes in themselves.

This particular adventure concludes satisfyingly but we know by what is said in the epilogue everything is not over quite yet. Bring on the third book say I.

The Super-secret Diary of Holly Hopkinson

The Super-secret Diary of Holly Hopkinson
Charlie P. Brooks, illustrated by Katy Riddell
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Having survived the move to the countryside following her Dad’s job loss, Holly (with volume 1 safely stashed in a time capsule) shares volume two of her memoirs with readers.

Four months have now passed. Mum is still commuting to her old PR job in London while Dad is busy with his Chequers bistro pub project that her Aunt Electra might or might not become general manager of, and her niece aka Holly is assisted by the magic pocket watch given to her as a 10th birthday present by said aunt. She’s just got to get the hang of how to use it properly and then all will be fine.

As the account opens the school Christmas holiday is a couple of days away and life for Holly promises to be hyper-hectic. First though she sneaks a preview look at the reports her class teacher has left in her desk drawer while she has a coffee break. Did I hear the word ‘tamper’ just then? Oops! magic pocket watch disaster number one.

Followed soon after by disaster number two and that one well and truly messes things up for her dad at Chequers. Maybe she can help Mum instead … sounds as though another disaster is imminent. Beware the cloud of doom.

Then there’s the formation of The Cool to deal with, followed shortly after by band management duties. Can she possibly cope with a stay-over visit from London bestie (ex?) Aleeshaa with all this, not to mention keeping an eye on what Grandpa is up to. Then there’s the arrival of a film director looking for a location for his next blockbuster. Talk about chaotic Christmas holiday.

Annoyingly, the chances of Holly getting that i-pad she so much wants seem to be diminishing.

Like this reviewer, readers will likely find themselves giggling at almost every turn of the page: try this for a taster: ‘My bum now looks like two raw steaks being marinated overnight and the way I’m walking you’d think I was auditioning for a cowboy film. I’ve even had to put the loo paper in the fridge.’ (entry following a fall from Declan as Holly prepares for the Chequers Xmas Pony race).

When countryside catastrophes are mixed with comical capers you can be sure Holly Hopkinson is involved one way or another in Charlie P. Brooks’ altogether different, fun family drama with highly appropriate visual jottings by Katy Riddell.

Roxy & Jones: The Curse of the Gingerbread witch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wulfie Saves the Planet

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

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

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

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

Libby and her friend Nazim are hot on the trail.

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

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

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

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

No One Is Angry Today

No One is Angry Today
Toon Tellegen and Marc Boutavant
Gecko Press

Herein (translated from the original Dutch by David Colmer) are ten philosophical short stories – kind of fables but without the morals – illustrated by Marc Boutavant, that explore anger using a cast of animal characters whose emotions are more than a little similar to those of humans, with anger taking various forms – fury, sadness, ridiculousness for instance.

There’s a firebelly toad whose anger is expressed through inflicting pain on other creatures by attacking them viciously, arousing the recipients’ extreme fury – so he hopes.

Then there’s a squirrel, sad that his ant friend has gone away almost definitely not to return; squirrel can’t be angry but waits patiently for his friend— strangely however his anger is displaced, showing itself by means of the walls of his home.

With his birthday imminent, Cricket sends Bear a strange invitation letter listing all the annoying things Bear does on such occasions, but concluding that he’d like it very much if the ursine creature came along. perhaps Bear will feel some anger too …

When Squirrel agrees to dance with Elephant one summer’s evening the former is already contemplating the possibility of having his toes trodden on, but agrees not to get angry if it happens, and almost inevitably, it does and Squirrel feels the pain, but keeps his word. After a series of toe treadings and even getting bashed against a tree, Squirrel’s anger remains quiet while Elephant is ecstatic.

Each of the brief tales is a small piece of drama however the anger is expressed, and interestingly it tends to be the male animals whose anger is aggressive while females show theirs in other ways.

Marc Boutavant’s illustrations are superb in the way he captures each animal’s expressions – facial and body language – as well as the detail of the woodland settings of the tales.

I’d suggest using these as starting points for community of inquiry discussions with primary children.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghoulia and the Doomed Manor
Barbara Cantini
Amulet Books

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

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

No pressure then!

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

Pages & Co: The Book Smugglers

Pages & Co: The Book Smugglers
Anna James, illustrated by Marco Guadalupi
Harper Collins Children’s Books

As this 4th instalment of the wonderful series about Tilly Pages and her book wanderings opens, her grandfather Archibald unwraps a package from Italy and discovers an Italian edition of The Wizard of Oz;.But after handling it, looking at the card within, with its strange symbol, he falls fast asleep and two weeks later, still hasn’t woken from his deep slumbers.

Meanwhile Milo, who lives on board the Sesquipedalian, his Uncle Horatio’s magical train that uses the power of imagination to travel both through Story and the real world, book wanders into The Railway Children, meeting its three child protagonists and getting involved in the action therein. This happens while the train is en route to the Archive, from where his Uncle, who has undertaken a dangerous new job, wants to get his hands on some special Records that are in the care of Artemis, the Archive’s Bibliognost.

It’s there that Milo too ‘borrows’ a scrapbook of particular interest to himself. He also learns that his Uncle needs assistance from Tilly in securing the particular book he seeks: next stop Pages & Co, London. There, Horatio discovers that the reason Tilly’s grandfather is still asleep is that he’s been poisoned, something he can hopefully remedy but only in return for Tilly being allowed to go with him on her own. Moreover, the task she’s to perform is exceedingly dangerous. Next thing Milo knows is that having handled a copy of The Wizard of Oz, his Uncle too falls asleep.

Time to blow that whistle and get things moving. Amost immediately both Tilly and Milo are embarking on a desperate race against time to save two poisoned people.

Can they work out what on earth and in biblio-world, is going on? First comes hot chocolate,
then a journey that takes them to the Emerald City where they meet Dorothy.

Piece by piece they begin to assemble the puzzle that takes them ever closer to the Alchemist. Next stop on their mission is Venice.

Talk about stories within stories within … the story Anna James has woven is utterly enthralling. I love the wonderful booky comments in the exchanges between Milo and Tilly “that’s why all reading is magical’’ … “the books we read help us choose who we want to be” … “I guess we’re all built of stories”.
If this high drama doesn’t create even more young bibliophiles, then, along with some toasted marshmallows, I’ll eat my copy of The Book Smugglers, but then of course I’ve already devoured its contents.

Billie Swift Takes Flight

Billie Swift Takes Flight
Iszi Lawrence
Bloomsbury Education

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Boy Behind the Wall

The Boy Behind the Wall
Maximillian Jones
Welbeck Children’s Books

This story is the launch book for Welbeck Flame, a new fiction imprint of Welbeck Children’s and it’s published using the fictional author name Maximillian Jones (the copyright is Tibor Jones Studio Ltd).
It’s a fantastic read, set in Berlin in the 1960s with two main boy protagonists: Harry Rogers, son of an American diplomat who has recently moved with his parents to West Berlin; and Jakob Fiedler, the ‘adopted’ son of the very strict Hans Eberhardt, a powerful, high ranking Stasi officer and his wife Margot.

Shortly after moving to Berlin, Harry witnesses the shooting of a boy trying to escape over the Wall into the West.

Not long after he floats a helium balloon with a message attached and it’s found by Jakob who seizes the chance to reach out to him asking for help to find his real mother who is somewhere in the West. At first Harry had thought the message was blank but it smelled of lemon and then he remembers something he’s seen in a spy comic given to him by Dieter, owner of a comic-book store he visits as often as he can.

The boys continue their correspondence cleverly making it look as though they’re just two pen friends in order to get their letters past the watchful authorities. At the same time both Harry and Jakob have issues with their fathers in particular both of whom are challengingly manipulative and Harry’s father appears to be hiding something from his wife and son. In the meantime Jakob has made friends with Dana, a girl who introduces him to her musical group.

Both Harry and Jakob realise that with The Wall as the main obstacle, a hidden tunnel is the only possible way out. However, time is running out with the Stasi on their trail seemingly with eyes everywhere. With an atmosphere of fear and distrust all around, whom can they really trust? Each other? Parents? Other ‘friends’?

Full of tense moments, this is a riveting page-turner about a part of recent of history not often visited in children’s fiction. This adult reviewer couldn’t put it down.

Fairy Tales Gone Bad: Frankenstiltskin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theodora Hendrix and the Curious Case of the Cursed Beetle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midnight Magic: Mirror Mischief
Michelle Harrison and Elissa Elwick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winnie And Wilbur:Winnie’s Best Friend / Barkus:The Most Fun

Favourite characters return in these two books:

Winnie and Wilbur: Winnie’s Best Friend
Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul
Oxford Children’s Books

After more than thirty years during which witch Winnie ’s original fans have likely introduced her to a new generation, we have a story that takes us right back to the time when she met her constant and faithful black moggy companion, Wilbur.

But even that’s getting a bit ahead of this story that starts with the newly qualified witch living in that black house with which we’re now so familiar, but she’s all alone until that is, she decides to invite her three sisters to come and stay to help. They certainly alleviate her loneliness but it’s not long before sisterly squabbles begin, soon followed by cat fights. Enough is enough for Winnie so off they go but then she’s lonely once again.

A wave of her wand results in a parrot but that’s a short-lived visitor and her next attempt brings forth a little dragon though obviously with it comes danger of the fiery kind.

Will Winnie ever find an ideal companion to share her home and her life? No prizes for guessing the answer to that one …

Delivered with their characteristic verve and humour, team Thomas and Paul have conjured forth another magical Winnie and Wilbur story that will delight readers young and not so young.

Barkus: The Most Fun
Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Marc Boutavant
Chronicle Books

The lively, lovable dog, Barkus, is back in a third sequence of four lively, entertaining episodes, along with his human family – the child narrator, her mum and dad plus little moggy, Baby.

In the first story, the family set off for a camping trip leaving Baby in the safe care of Miss Daley, or so they think. However, on arrival at the camp site it’s revealed that Barkus has been harbouring a secret – a tiny feline one – and to the surprise of the rest of the family, the stowaway appears to enjoy camping just as much as all the others.

The second episode – a springtime one – sees the entire family visiting grandfather Jess on his farm. Barkus seems drawn to the cows and they to him and is especially happy when a baby calf is born to Dora.

Autumn is a special time for Barkus on account of the fun he can have with the fallen leaves; he also steals the show at the annual parade.

The final adventure has a chilly, wintry feel as the family take a trip to their cabin for some skiing but a big storm keeps them snuggled up indoors enjoying some storytelling.

With its mix of humorous colour illustrations and engaging text this is just right for readers just starting to fly solo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sky
Holly Webb, illustrated by Jo Anne Davies
Little Tiger

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

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

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

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

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

Count

Count
Melvin Burgess, illustrated by Chris Mould
Andersen Press

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nobody quite knows what will happen next …

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

More for primary age readers please Melvin.

The Secret Garden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tales from the Ocean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Earth Friends: Pet Protection
Holly Webb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New in the Bloomsbury Readers Series

Scratch and Sniff
Margaret Ryan, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Wings of Icarus
Jenny Oldfield, illustrated by Bee Wiley
Sindhu and Jeet’s Detective Agency
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Amberin Huq
Maggie and the Moonbird
Katya Balen, illustrated by Pham Quang Phuc
Bamba Beach
Pratima Mitchell, illustrated by David Dean
Ping and the Missing Ring
Emma Shevah, illustrated by Izzy Evans
Bloomsbury Education

These are additions to the Bloomsbury Readers series: banded book stories that aim to foster independent reading at KS2, all written by award-winning authors and illustrated in black and white and definitely worth offering to children for home or school reading.

The titular Scratch and Sniff are dogs belonging to PC Penny Penrose. Said constable frequently gets given the boring tasks and this is so on the day we meet her counting traffic cones outside the police station while her colleague Sergeant Snide is off investigating a burglary at the furniture store. However when her two faithful pooches learn of this, they decide it’s time for the ‘doggy Secret Service’ to get to work and they too head off to the scene of the crime. There, they decide to look around outside leaving the sergeant to do his detecting inside and that’s when they’re party to something highly suspicious in the form of two men struggling to carry a heavy sofa, something with a very valuable cushion, that they put into a van belonging to the department store and drive off. Time to use those cones and to alert Penny …
With plenty of funny drawings this is assuredly, a fun cops and robbers tale for those readers just beginning to fly solo.

Wings of Icarus is Jenny Oldfield retelling of the classic Greek myth about the daring boy Icarus, imprisoned with his dad Daedulus on the island of Crete by King Minos, but determined to make their escape – one way or another. When the sea proves too much for their first plan, Daedulus decides that while their captor might be Lord of Earth and Sea, he certainly isn’t ruler of the skies. Hence their only chance is to take to the air … While Icarus sleeps his father builds wings from feathers collected and next morning after warnings from his father, the boy is so excited he takes off alone … Compellingly told and enticingly illustrated.

As Sindhu and Jeet (along with Sindhu’s parents) leave Chennai bound for London the best friends have different agendas for the holiday. The pair have formed Sindhu and Jeet’s Detective Agency but all Jeet wants to do is relax and be a tourist whereas Sindhu has brought along her young detectives’ handbook – just in case. Before they’ve even boarded the plane Sindhu spots something she thinks is suspicious behaviour. Almost the next minute the two friends find themselves trapped between a wall and two baggage burglars. Time to try some of their Kabadi skills … Will the plane wait even if they can extricate themselves from this and the next very tricky situation?
Happily yes, but that’s only the start of their adventures: next stop the sights of London, first off The Tower of London itself. So begins another exciting investigation where again the friends’ ace powers of observation and a liberal sprinkling of imagination, along with determination are called into play.
Even then they’re not quite finished with detecting. After a day of rest, they visit the Natural History Museum where Mum has a special interest in the conch collection and one conch in particular. However when they get to the cabinet where it’s supposed to be, there’s a label saying the item has been ‘temporarily removed’.When next they look, there’s a conch back in the cabinet, but is it the right one? Mum doesn’t think so … This holiday is turning out to be anything but boring after all decides Sindhu. There are plenty of thrills and tension to keep readers turning the pages in this one.

Pratima Mitchell’s contemporary story Bamba Beach immediately transported me to some of the many wonderful holidays I’ve spend in Arpora, Goa just off the coast. The setting is a fishing village where young Hari lives with his family. Times are hard with almost no fish left in the bay on account of the tsunami and to catch those further out, the family needs a boat with a flat bottom and an outboard motor rather than their old dilapidated one made from coconut wood. Hari knows full well they can’t afford it but the good-hearted lad is desperate to do something to raise money for his family. He’s not a boy to give up even in the face of village superstitions and family feuds; and when he’s offered a bi-weekly job washing local headteacher, Brother Angelo’s car, it’s at least a start. From small beginnings … though even with several more customers Hari reckons it will take fifteen years to make the capital needed to set up a shop. What else can he do?
Seemingly plenty, for it’s not long before unexpected help comes from somebody Hari has helped. A highly engaging and interesting look at a culture most young readers will not be familiar with.

In the same reading band is Katya Balen’s magical moonlight adventure Maggie and the Moonbird featuring a girl who instead of going bird-watching with her dad as she really wants, has to visit the zoo with her aunt and two annoying little cousins. There she sees a bird that despite its information label, doesn’t match her own knowledge or the description of the Silverfinch in her bird book. Nonetheless she picks up one if its feathers and takes it home. That’s where, after she’s in bed with the feather tucked under her pillow, the magic takes flight … Altogether an enchanting and timeless fantasy read that will surely get readers’ imaginations soaring.

The most challenging story is another contemporary one, Ping and the Missing Ring. Ping the protagonist and her family are Thai and live in Bath. The custom is that Thai people are calm, composed and polite, which Ping sometimes finds tricky to maintain.
So when she’s invited to stay with her cousins in West London in a house full of traditional Thai furniture and crafts, she promises her mum to be on her best behaviour; definitely no adventures or mystery solving. But, after a visit from Isabelle who has money troubles and a sick husband, Aunty Lek’s engagement ring is missing. She thinks Isabelle has taken it but Ping thinks otherwise: she can’t stop herself going into detective mode. Exciting and with lots of interesting details about the traditional Thai way of life, this like all the others, is an engaging read though herein the illustrations act as chapter breaks, as do those in Bamba Beach.

Journey to the Last River

Journey to the Last River
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Teddy Keen edits a spin-off from The Lost Book of Adventures, an Amazon adventure presented in the form of a scrap book journal belonging to ‘The Unknown Adventurer.’ Smudgy, apparently finger-marked pages and ‘handwritten’ text add authenticity.

Again the written account grips the reader from the start as you learn that the adventurers (the writer, and Bibi who grew up somewhere in the region) are staying in a wooden outhouse belonging to a local villager, preparing for their six week canoe trip into the rainforests. They’ve got the original map ‘borrowed’ from The Geographical Society to help them search for that Last River and discover its secret. The writer hasn’t mentioned this to his companion; instead he’s led her to believe that he’s an artist adventurer.

There’s certainly drama aplenty including an unexpected encounter with a man who draws the supposedly non-existent river in the sand with a stick and Bibi recognises a few of his words including ‘wait’, ’rains’ and ‘guide’ before disappearing again. The two travellers are heartened and eager to continue however.

Continue they do and just over two weeks into their journey they acquire a new crew member, a squirrel monkey that they name Nutkin.

The days pass and the two begin to despair of ever finding what they’re searching for; but then comes the lightning followed by torrential rain.

Suddenly a realisation dawns: perhaps their journey isn’t in vain after all …

Brilliantly illustrated with powerfully atmospheric scenes of the Amazon flora and fauna,

as well as the elemental spreads, there’s a lot to learn from this book with its important final conservation message. Readers will be enthralled by the detail included in both the words and visuals, as well as by seeing the transformative effect the trip has on the ‘writer’.

A superb book that offers huge potential to upper KS2 classes in particular.

Hattie + Olaf

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

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

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

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

and also falls out with Linda.

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

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

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

Play Like Your Football Heroes

Play Like Your Football Heroes
Seth Burkett and Matt Oldfield, illustrated by Tom Jennings
Walker Books

Former pro football player Seth Burkett co-authors this book with friend and writer Matt Oldfield. It’s broken down first into four parts with tips on how to: Train Smart, Think Smart, Live Smart and Play Smart, and then into chapters each featuring five or six star players. It’s great to see both men and women included, one of the latter being American icon and political activist Megan Rapinoe, winner of two World Cup winner’s medals as well as both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot trophies. But what makes her even more inspirational to this reviewer is her peace message: “We have to love more, hate less, listen more, talk less.’

Self belief is key if you’re to become a successful soccer player, or indeed succeed at pretty much anything: Kevin De Bruyne is a shining example of a player who believes in his ability, in his case to ‘pull off another amazing assist’. He started having to find the courage to step outside his comfort zone (a requisite if you’re to develop self confidence) age fourteen when he left his Drongen home and family to join the Genk academy 100 miles away. Just one of the incidences of his awesome self-belief.

Incredibly skilful ball dribbler, Messi, didn’t gain that outstanding ability in a vacuum; rather he needed to work on a whole lot of inter-linked skills to become the amazing ball master that he is. Training, training and more training in different conditions: constant, variable and random. Don’t worry if this sounds a bit technical; explanations are given in the very first chapter, featuring of course, Lionel Messi.

Another star who believed in himself, no matter what is Harry Kane who scored that crucial goal in the final minutes of the first group game against Tunisia in the 2018 World Cup. A real smart hero assuredly..

When it comes to playing smart, somebody who personifies the five ‘P’s – ‘proper preparation prevents poor performance’ is French midfielder N’Golo Kanté, he of outstanding stamina.

However, no matter where you open the book you’ll likely find something that will speak to you: and sometimes challenge you.

With both authors’ passion for the game shining through all that they’ve written in this inspiring, interactive book, as well as some 80 black and white illustrations by Tom Jennings, there’s lots in here for readers from around seven, be they enthusiastic watchers/team supporters of the game, or a young player and would be football star, .

The Hideaway

The Hideaway
Pam Smy
Pavilion Books

Thirteen year old Billy, a sensitive boy, just cannot cope with seeing his mother whom he loves deeply, in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend Jeff with whom they live. So with a few things in his backpack and doing his best not to be seen, he creeps out one night. 

He makes for All Souls’ graveyard and the following morning he encounters an old man who wants to know what he’s doing there. Billy begs him not to tell anyone and the man strikes a deal with him: assistance with his clearing work in the overgrown graveyard for a few days in return for keeping quiet about the lad’s whereabouts. 

The man turns out to be kind and thoughtful, which surprises the boy.

Meanwhile Grace (Billy’s mum) has discovered her son is missing and the story alternates between events relating to her and the home, and Billy (Different fonts are used for each). Grace decides she needs to ask for help outside and starts with her close neighbour and before long the police are also involved.

Billy meanwhile does not remain undiscovered: Izzie from his maths class finds him while she’s waiting for her mum.

The story offers the stark contrast between the harshness of Billy’s life with the supernatural happenings of All Souls’ Eve while at the same time weaving a thread of abiding love and hope through them both. 

As the drama moves close to the night of All Souls’ Eve, a sequence of ten textured, powerfully atmospheric double spread illustrations replace the text 

and thereafter, for a few pages, the words, set on grey paper take on a ghostly white appearance.

There’s another stark contrast too: that of the gentle, thoughtful and caring old man with Jeff whose toxic, controlling and abusive personality has driven Billy to run away.

For older readers through to adults, with its themes of domestic abuse, families, childhood, separation and reunion, this important book, recounts with enormous sensitivity and power a story that will haunt the reader long after the beautifully produced book has been set aside.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

but who will win this battle?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Diary of an Accidental Witch

Diary of an Accidental Witch
Perdita & Honor Cargill, illustrated by Katie Saunders
Little Tiger

There’s a new magical school on the story map and it’s called Little Spellshire School of Extraordinary Arts. Little Spellshire is the sleepy town full of cats and magical children into which Bea Black and her weather scientist Dad have just moved; this book takes the form of eleven-year old Bea’s diary – her first ever.

But it’s a case of izzy fizzy, Dad was so busy and so dizzy that he’s gone and enrolled her not in the ordinary academy but the Extraordinary establishment in the forest intended for young local witches.

Unexpectedly Bea finds herself sitting through all kinds of strange and spellbinding lessons in the company of peculiar classmates

and tasked with homework that entails venturing into the forest in the middle of the night to find skeledrake roots for a potion – now what on earth are they?

Surely it’s not too much to remind her Dad to get her moved into the Academy ASAP.
It’s either that or dig deep and find her inner witch: with the Halloween ball fast approaching it would be useful to discover even the teeniest smidgen of a magical spark.

Then there’s the question of Excalibur

about which I’ll say no more except that the incident is just one of the many magical mishaps and untoward incidents to be found in Bea’s diary that is bound to have readers giggling and wriggling in delight.

However as well as frog minding, persevering with broomstick-riding, levitation, avoiding getting ExSPELLED, being Witch In Charge of Bat Bunting, which requires the cutting of 1200 paper bats, keeping Dad from finding out of what’s really going on, this spellbinding story is concerned with a girl trying her best to fit in at a new school, making the best of a tricky situation and trying her level best to make friends.

Full of heart, this is the first of four stories brewed by the Cargill team, aided and abetted by Katie Saunders who supplies liberal sprinklings of amusing illustrations (including a class photo and a map): an ideal concoction that simply effervesces with humour and heart. Youngsters will definitely be spellbound and eagerly anticipate diary number two; so too, this reviewer.

Polly Pecorino: The Girl Who Rescues Animals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rainbow Grey

Rainbow Grey
Laura Ellen Anderson
Farshore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Willow Wildthing and the Magic Spell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to be a Human
Karen McCombie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

for younger readers is

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

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

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

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

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

Petunia Perry and the Curse of the Ugly Pigeon

Petunia Perry and the Curse of the Ugly Pigeon
Pamela Butchart, illustrated by Gemma Correll
Nosy Crow

I missed this the first time round so I’m please to meet twelve year old Petunia Perry aka Peri in this reissue. Now in her first term at secondary school, Petunia has decided to write her memoirs and is starting to do so from inside her wardrobe.

As the cool chapter headings indicate, she’s beset by problems and presently believes her best friend Cammy hates her and will never speak to her again. There’s also a pigeon of the unpleasant kind, the question of whether she’s the perpetrator of spoon crime, an unwelcome unicorn-obsessed suitor,

a mother who is totally embarrassing at parents’ evening, not to mention that she begins to have doubts about the boy she really likes. Then when The Spoons, the band she’s formed with the inclusion of Cammy’s cat Margaret as lead singer, looks set to hit the rocks, things really can’t get much worse and certainly not any more crazy.
Totally hilarious throughout, but also surprisingly credible. Peri and the other characters – be they classmates such as Smile Boy and Cara, parents, relations, teachers (I must mention Mr Phart of socks and sandals fame) are all wonderfully observed. I love Gemma Correll’s accompanying visuals.

Pamela Butchart has given Peri a strong voice that readers will quickly come to love; she’ll have you chortling thoughout: I certainly was; but there are some serious themes too: forbearance, empathy and kindness being key.
Anybody want a spoon or two, or a kitten perhaps?

Fox & Rabbit Celebrate

Fox & Rabbit Celebrate
Beth Ferry and Gergely Dudás
Amulet Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Sisters

Seven Sisters
Ayisha Malik and Erika Meza
Little Tiger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Myths, Monsters and Mayhem in Ancient Greece

Myths, Monsters and Mayhem in Ancient Greece
James Davies
Big Picture Press

However famous the Greek myths might be, retellings of these ancient tales for youngsters can sometimes be pretty dull, turgid even; now here’s a book that makes them anything but.

In a dramatic comic book style James Davies presents half a dozen tales making them highly accessible to primary age readers wherein they will find bravery, loss, love,

greed and envy. Interspersed between the stories are thematic spreads on various topics that offer a broader look at such aspects of Greek mythology as the Greek gods and how the Greek myths explained the world; there’s a presentation of heroes and heroines including Atlanta, Achilles, Penthesilea and Odysseus. We also take a journey through the Greek underworld, a place that could be downright scary or delightful depending on your actions during your life.

James Davies’s bold graphic artistic style means that he manages to make even the most terrifying monsters such as the many-headed Scylla and the gigantic Hydra look amusing.

Right now I think we definitely need that tiny little shining insect that popped out of Pandora’s Box spreading light wherever there was darkness and hope wherever there was despair. Definitely now would not be a good time even to contemplate hiding away inside that ginormous wooden horse like those Greek soldiers did when Helen was rescued in The Trojan Horse story. However there’s much to learn from all six stories: that of Theseus and his quest to defeat the horrendous Minotaur,

the Twelve Labours of Heracles, Orpheus and Eurydice and Perseus and Medusa.

With Ancient Greece being one of the oft used topics in KS2 history, a couple of copies of this enthralling book would make a worthwhile, up to the minute addition to primary school topic resources as well as the school library.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will she succeed? It might just require a miracle …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Soofiya
Otter-Barry Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.