This Way To Treasure Island

This Way to Treasure Island
Lizzy Stewart
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Award winning author-illustrator Lizzy Stewart introduces us to two completely contrasting characters, young Matilda and her dad; he tends to be slow, messy and noisy whereas she is fast, tidy and quiet. No matter how different they are though, they almost always have fun together.

One day at the beach Matilda, in possession of a map, announces that she’s off to find treasure. Her dad, she tells him, can accompany her so long as he agrees to follow the map.

Off they go in an old wooden boat with Dad rowing and Matilda giving directions.

Sometimes, Dad becomes distracted and as a result the two drift far out to sea. Dad’s all for taking short cuts but Matilda isn’t sure. She’s even less sure when the nice big rock they’re circling does this …

Fortunately however, the turbulence takes the boat right close to the shore of their treasure island destination. Thereon more map reading is required and almost immediately the two agree to part company; “We’ll see who finds the treasure first!’ says Dad.

Inevitably without his daughter as guide, Dad is soon totally lost.

Matilda meanwhile, although she finds things a tad on the boring side, continues following the map. Eventually she finds the place where according to the map, she should find the treasure but despite looking under, over and inside things, she can’t find it. Time to return to the boat she thinks.

Dad however is still looking and wondering until …

In case you’re wondering, yes they do discover treasure although perhaps it’s not what they were expecting. And then it’s time to go home, maybe without taking any short-cuts however.

Yet again, Lizzy has created a winner with this. Her characters are convincingly portrayed and their treasure island with its rainbow hued flora and fauna, totally gorgeous.

Rich in classroom potential, this smashing book will be requested over and over.

Dino Wars: The Trials of Terror

Dino Wars: The Trials of Terror
Dan Metcalf, illustrated by Aaron Blecha
Maverick Arts Publishing

This, the second in a series of four, will be welcomed by those who relished The Rise of the Raptors but equally, new readers will quickly be sucked in to this new adventure of Adam Caine, sister Chloe and friends. They’re still on that quest to obtain all four Dilotron crystals and thus disarm the lab. producing the biological weapon that will wipe out all dinosaur life on their planet; the lab. with the computer that Adam had accidentally activated. Thus far the adventurers have two of those crucial catastrophe-preventing crystals and the hunt is on – urgently.

Their possible location is Pteratopolis, city of pterosaurs, unknown territory for Adam and his gang.There’s a slight snag though, these particular dinos. are flying creatures and Pteratopolis is a fortress with enormously high, wooden walls. Climbing skills are crucial if the friends are to enter. Or, alternatively what about Dag’s suggestion that he makes use of his heli-kit, albeit with some modifications to the metal blades. In other words, the proposal is that Dag turns himself into a living saw mill; it might just work.

adventure,

It does; now all they have to do is locate the next crystal. What could be easier?

A spot of tree-scaling is needed and inevitably, adventurous Adam is on his way up before his companions can utter, “… break his neck”. But then having reached his destination, he finds himself, courtesy of imprinting, the adopted mother of a newly hatched pterosaur. Oh dear! Consequences again Adam …

Co-existence, co-operation, kindness, diplomacy and daring are all part and parcel of this absorbing, fast-moving,  turning twisting tale; so too are Aaron Blecha’s super comic style illustrations that are scattered throughout the story.

As for securing the object of their quest? You’ll need to secure yourself a copy of the book to find out what happens when Adam and Chloe enter the labyrinth …

The Queen’s Lift-Off

The Queen’s Lift-Off
Steve Antony
Hodder Children’s Books

Those of us who watched the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics will probably recall that Her Majesty the Queen was, so we were led to believe, parachuted into the stadium.
Who would have thought that just a few years later she’d find herself blasting off into space aboard the rocket she’s just helped the little prince and princess to build?

WHOOOSH! goes the Queen, zooming faster than the speed of light, first to Mercury. After which, comet-like she soars to Venus,

before coming to land on the Moon’s surface

from whence it’s merely a matter of a single giant leap to the Red Planet.

Then she boldly takes flight towards Jupiter before she’s off again to spin rings around Saturn.

Zipping on past Uranus and Neptune, not forgetting little Pluto, she’s suddenly sucked into an enormous black hole.

Surely that cannot be the end of Her Royal Highness?

Not so: thank the universe then, for a passing spaceship that succeeds in safely beaming her up and depositing her safe and sound and none the worse for her awesome adventure, back in the palace garden, where it just happens to be afternoon tea-time. Hurrah!

And who, or what, should be there to serve it up …

Into his seemingly simple story Steve manages to weave some wonderful textual references to Star Trek and the American moon landings.

As always however, it’s the awesome illustrations that carry not just one, but many stories (as well as visual starting points for children’s own storying). However many times one looks at them there always seems to be something new to discover and enjoy. In this story there’s the ever -increasing number of loyal companions the Queen has on her journey, as well as a little alien and his flying saucer which appear from time to time.
Oh and of course, in each and every scene there’s a royal corgi complete with space-helmet, looking as though he’s thoroughly enjoying every minute of the adventure, Oddly enough, her highness just happens to have some dog biscuits (along with her lippy, perfume spray, specs and the various other necessities she carries in her handbag).
I’m guessing since its near loss, she’s never parted from this vital article of personal storage.

I think this series just keeps on reaching new heights; this one is my favourite thus far, although I was probably predisposed so to think because I was lucky enough to have my review copy signed and handed to me by Steve himself. You can’t get better than that – until the next one, perhaps.

The Yark / The Island of Horses

The Yark
Bertrand Santini and Laurent Gapaillard
Gecko Press

Meet the Yark, a voracious child-guzzling monster that restricts his consumption to the flesh of ‘very good’ children on account of his delicate digestive system. Consequently it doesn’t do, if you’re a child, to be good or even compliant
The creature has a problem though, for in our modern times, the supply of such well-behaved, and thus gobblable youngsters, has become increasingly hard to come by. The present crop yields virtually no nutritional value so far as this particular monster is concerned and Yarks as a species are on the verge of extinction.

Yark is now wandering the forest in the dead of night, hungry, weary and seeking shelter when an idea pops into his head. Santa Claus has a list of all the well-behaved children in the entire world.

Donning a polar bear disguise, the creature pays Santa a visit:

Santa however sees through the disguise but still the dastardly Yark escapes the North Pole with the list in his clutches.

His first port of call thereafter is France where in Provence resides the altogether desirable little Charlotte. Surprisingly instead of being petrified of the marauding intruder, the child is positively thrilled to find this thing she’s read of staring down at her. Seemingly at this particular moment she no longer wants to be on that list of good children; rather she intends to be the complete opposite. And so she is; thus putting paid to the Yark’s anticipated meal.

Lewis is next on his list, a London dweller; will he too thwart the creature’s plan to make a meal of him? If so who, or what next? …

Suffice it to say that our Yark does finally redeem himself thanks to a doting little girl, Madeleine.

Laurent Gapaillard’s fine gothic style drawings of the shaggy, toothy Yark complete with his ridiculously diminutive wings set in richly detailed landscapes, against murky cityscapes or intricately rendered interiors are sometimes scary or shocking, at other times comical or endearing. Rich language, dark humour and equally rich art combine to make an enormously enjoyable read.

The Island of Horses
Eilís Dillon
NYRB Kids

This is a re-issue of a novel by respected Irish author Eilis Dillon that focuses on two teenage boys, Danny MacDonagh, 15, and Pat Conroy, a year older, residents of Inishrone, an island three miles off the coast of Connemara, near the mouth of Galway Bay and offers a view of village life in the first half of the 20th century.

The two boys take off in a boat on an adventure to the forbidden Island of Horses. Thereon they need to hone their survival skills and are thrilled to discover in a valley, a herd of beautiful wild horses.

What happens thereafter is an exciting tale, eloquently told, of colt-capture, kidnapping and more that may well still grip some readers as much as it did me when I first read a Puffin Books edition as a child many years back.

A Different Boy

A Different Boy
Paul Jennings
Old Barn Books

Following on from the wonderful A Very Different Dog, Paul Jennings has written a second very different, equally gripping book.

Orphan Anton has recently arrived as a resident at Wolfdog Hall, a terrible place where no-one even knows his first name, lessons are miserable affairs, the teachers thoroughly unpleasant.
Pretty soon, the boy makes a break for it, and surprisingly, despite threats to the contrary, he isn’t followed. He is however without money or friends.

Hearing the horn sounding from a ship down the hill in the harbour the boy makes his way to the pier. The ocean liner has yet to leave and Anton watches people making their way up the gangplank, bound for a new land of promise, peace and plenty.

One of the passengers is Max, a rather strange-looking boy with a face resembling a porcelain doll and wearing a jumper absolutely covered with ribbons, labels and badges looking like, so Anton thinks, nothing less than a noticeboard. He’s also wearing a black arm band.
A peculiar exchange takes place between the boys after which at Max’s instigation, they exchange name labels and Max leads him aboard. Unlike Anton, the lad is accompanied by his mother.

Thus begins Anton’s new life as a stowaway.

During the voyage he gradually comes to know more about the rather strange seeming Max who has identical bald-headed boy puppets, one wearing a green jumper, the other a red one.

In tandem readers discover through text printed in italics that he once had a brother, Christopher, who died in a fire while Max was rescued.

Later in the main text Max’s mother explains that this was a recent event, and that now her son needs someone to look out for him in his twin brother’s stead. She also posits the idea that when they arrive in the ‘New Land’ Anton could live with them. A deal is made.

Shortly after, disaster strikes, there’s a rescue, a startling revelation concerning the identity of who had really died in the fire, another startling revelation, about Anton this time. And, there’s a satisfying ending; what more can you ask? Oh yes, there are occasional slightly spooky line drawings too.

Like all books by Paul Jennings, this one (based very loosely on the author’s experience of emigrating to Australia from England as a boy) draws you in immediately and grips you throughout . Like the author’s previous titles too, it’s superbly written without a wasted word. Having said that, it’s also quite unlike any of his previous titles.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Aleksandra Artymowska
Big Picture Press

Graphic designer and illustrator Aleksandra Artymowska has taken Jules Verne’s novel and created an absorbing picture book puzzler.

At the invitation of Captain Nemo, readers are invited to set sail seeking adventure and a treasure beyond price. All they have to do is to enter the hatch of the Nautilus and descend, then search the seven seas for seven locks with which to open his secret sea chest.

Easy enough surely? Not quite, especially as there’s a giant squid lurking somewhere ‘neath those seas.
Those who embark on the treasure hunt will however be participants in a unique sub-aquatic experience taking them deep, deep down under the sea..

First of all there’s the correct button to find that will get the submarine started and of course, the steering wheel, to make sure you stay on your chosen course.

With a variety of challenges including hidden symbols and keys to detect, mazes to navigate, art works to locate, corals and shells to compare,

a reef to steer through, weird and wonderful creatures aplenty to surprise and perhaps alarm, all of which are part and parcel of the host of strange seascapes and labyrinthine mazes explorers encounter. Surreal sights abound.

Dive down in Nautilus and you’ll more than likely remain submerged for several hours, before you surface, with or without having spotted the compass hidden in plain sight in each and every scene. And just in case you haven’t solved all the posers, the author/artist has provided the answers at the back of the book. Happy exploring.

Robinson

Robinson
Peter Sis
Thames & Hudson

Drawing on an episode from his childhood as well as the Robinson Crusoe story that he loved as a boy, award-winning author/illustrator, Peter Sis has created an absolute dream of a picture book.

The narrator and his pals’ favourite game is pirates so when their school announces a costume party it seems as though everyone will go in pirate gear. Until that is, Peter’s mum suggests he should go as Robinson Crusoe and he does.

His excitement as he walks to school is quickly shattered when his classmates make fun of him for having the confidence to be different. (Presumably they aren’t familiar with the Crusoe story.)

Peter’s mum takes him home, tucks him up in bed and at this point in a feverish state, Peter’s imagination takes over.

There follows a dream-like sequence where, in stages, his bed is transformed into a three-masted sailing ship heading towards an island.

On the next spread Sis seems to be paying homage to Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are when he says, ‘I float in and out of hours, or maybe days, until I am cast upon an island.

On this island, Peter encounters verdant tropical landscapes, one a maze comprising amazing flora and fauna.

He builds himself a protective shelter, makes his own clothes, finds food and becomes friends with the resident animals;

and all the while the lad is growing in self-confidence, though he still keeps his eyes open for pirates.

Finally, with new-found fortitude, the boy does connect once more with his friends and the story ends in a wonderfully satisfying way.

Sis experiments with several artistic styles in his pen, ink and watercolour illustrations and this serves to intensify the fantastic quality of his island landscapes and his whole journey, both inner and outer.

Thoroughly immersive: this is a book to linger over, read and re-read, and a wonderful demonstration of the power of literature to shape and expand the imagination.