These are three additions to the Bloomsbury Readers series – thanks to the publisher for sending them for review.
The Great Cake Race Teresa Heapy, illustrated by Erica Salcedo Sindhu and Jeet’s Missing Star Mystery Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Amber Huq Time Travel at Puddle Lane Emma Shevah, illustrated by Laura Catalán Bloomsbury Education
In the first story Jamila sees a note announcing The Great Cake Race ‘fastest cake wins’ she reads. Now she knows that she’s a fast runner but something of a novice at cake making. However she resolves to create a cake like no other and to do so in honour of her beloved Nani. With her name on the list of entrants all that remains is to learn how to bake. With her dad to help and memories of what her Nani used to say, off she goes but her initial attempts are pretty disastrous. Maybe that box containing Nani’s baking books might just be what she needs. With Nani in her mind, can Jamila create something truly spectacular and beat the person who has won the title for several years in a row? An unlikely story but one that with its determined little girl as main character is great fun especially for those readers just starting to fly solo. Erica Salcedo’s black and white illustrations are a delight.
Rather more challenging is the second set of adventures of detective duo Sindhu and Jeet. The first of the three mysteries involves working out which of two wills of a deceased neighbour is the valid one. The outcome can make a big difference to one human and a lot of rescue dogs. The second story involves a missing film star, Ranjith Kumar who disappears on the day he is supposed to make a TV appearance. Where has he gone and why has he vanished? Readers may well be surprised when they find out. In the third story a precious emerald ring is missing on the day of the wedding although the bride-to-be swears she put it safely away in a wooden box the previous evening. Can the children discover what has happened to it so that the wedding can go ahead as scheduled? Readers will find out something about South Indian traditions as they read these three enjoyable episodes.
Time Travel at Puddle Lane refers to what two friends, Ariella and Yusef, suspect their school librarian is doing when they notice the sooty state of her clothes and her filthy fingernails on several occasions. They decide to investigate using the same means as that they suspect Miss Riche uses – by taking an artefact from the school’s collection kept in a cabinet in the library and going through a door that’s always kept locked. The soap dish the children use transports them to early 19th century London where they have an exciting adventure, are helped by some very kind people, meet their school’s founder when she was just a child and discover things about slavery. An unusual tale that will likely leave KS2 readers hoping for further time travelling adventures of the friends, perhaps in the company of their school librarian.
These are two adventure stories set in Scotland and both with an environmental theme:thanks to Owlet Press and Harper Collins Children’s Books for sending them for review.
The Whale Watchers Dougie Poynter, illustrated by Amber Huq Owlet Press
It’s the start of the school summer holidays and Finn is anything but pleased to be travelling by train to Scotland to study whales along with his marine biologist mum and younger brother Jesse who is really excited about the prospect of whale watching. Who wants to go to a cold, rainy place at the end of nowhere when you might go somewhere hot like Spain or France? But it’s part of his mum’s job to collect data on the various kinds of whales, minke whales in particular. Moreover, the thought of such creatures and ideas of plastic pollution in the oceans and endangered animals makes Finn’s stomach churn: contrary to what his mum believes Finn thinks the world is already doomed.
However when he arrives next morning things don’t seem quite so awful: the cottage where they’re to stay is right on the beach. Then while on the shore the boys meet Skye and Rain, her dog. Gradually as they spend time together sharing experiences and an adventure neither will forget,
their friendship grows strong and Finn is able to see things differently. After all his misgivings he has an unexpectedly incredible summer holiday and has a wonderful surprise even before his train home has reached its destination.
Dougie Poynter, himself an avid conservationist, cleverly weaves information about the marine life of the Moray Firth and the impact of pollution on its waters and the wider environment into his splendid story: everyone can make a difference and although it might seem small to the individual, the impact of each person together can be huge. I was horrified at the comment from a colleague of Finn’s mum, ‘just a single one-litre plastic bottle can break down into enough tiny pieces of plastic to put a piece on every single mile of beach on the planet.’ Amber Huq’s illustrations add to the dramatic impact of the tale.
There’s also an excellent final factual section reinforcing the novel’s message that includes lots of ways that everybody can help contribute to the cause of marine animals and the environment in general.
When Things Went Wild Tom Mitchell Harper Collins Children’s Books
From the quote from Tennyson’s The Eagle before the story begins I knew I was going to enjoyTom Mitchell’s latest book; it even exceeded my high expectations.
With his parents and irritating younger brother Jack, Kit has recently moved from Nottingham to an old house in Granton, in the highlands of Scotland, a place he describes as in the middle of nowhere. He has a lot to contend with: the wi-fi is rubbish, he’s starting at a new school and now his mum is wanting him to join them on a walk. It’s on said walk however that pesky Jack stumbles upon an unknown object and later on when PC Lennox comes knocking on their door, the boys learn that the object they found is a tracker that has been removed from the leg of a missing golden eagle named Adler.
Then a school project is announced and everyone in Kit’s class is expected to produce an idea to investigate. Is there perhaps a chance he could become ‘Kit Brautigan, bird detective’? Apparently the killing of these awesome birds is fairly common and when the brothers realise there is actually a pair of nesting eagles under threat, they feel they must do something. Before long the school’s most popular pupil, Tamora, becomes involved as does her younger sister, Bea.
But who wants to harm the eagles and why? The main suspects are a local farmer McNab, the sinister game keeper Mosby and landowner Lord Cavendish, (father of Tamora and Bea.) Can the city children catch the killer culprit?
With mishaps and mayhem aplenty, Tom’s gently humorous tale – a whodunnit but so much more – is a timely reminder that we all need to take responsibility for protecting our precious environment and its wildlife.
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.