Dark Peak / Lightning Strike

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

Dark Peak
Marcus Sedgwick

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lightning Strike
Tanya Landman

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

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

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

Introducing Rollercoasters

These three books are the first of a series from Oxford University Press called Rollercoasters developed in association with Barrington Stoke. With their highly engaging themes intended to build reading confidence and foster a love of reading, they all use the Barrington Stoke ‘dyslexia friendly font’ and are aimed at readers from around eleven. Each includes an author spotlight, some background information relevant to the story and more.

I Am the Minotaur
Anthony McGowan

Carnegie prize winning Anthony McGowan’s perceptive story focuses on fourteen year old Matthew, referred to as Stinky Mog, who is the narrator.

Matthew does his level best to care for his mum who is battling depression, while trying equally hard to fit in at school without being noticed especially by those types likely to make him the target of their bullying. Not an easy task when he frequently turns up looking decidedly dishevelled in his ragged uniform.

Enter Ari, a beautiful girl who totally captivates Matthew – ‘I longed and yearned for Ari’ he tells readers describing his feelings for her as ‘warm and golden’.

Shortly after her birthday, her brand new bike is stolen and Matthew decides on a plan to get it back from the thieves and make Ari happy as a consequence.. He heads off to the public library to start an internet search.
Next day off he goes to a rendezvous: can he pull off his bike rescue? If so, can it change the course of his life?

With themes of bullying, parental depression and poverty, this short novel packs a powerful punch. It’s great to see that for the narrator, the school library with its kindly librarian is a place he feels safe.

Edgar & Adolf
Phil Earle and Michael Wagg

Whether or not you are a soccer fan (and I’m anything but) this story based on real characters – at the heart of which is friendship – will surely move you. It certainly did me.

The book begins in 1983 in a village in Scotland with seventeen year old Adi.
Adi has come from Hamburg, Germany, with something he has inherited and is on a special mission: to find a man named Edgar Kail and return to him what is rightfully his – a special football badge that the now frail old man hasn’t set eyes on for over forty years. If he succeeds Adi will have fulfilled his grandfather’s final wish to reunite the erstwhile England footballer with his prized possession.

And succeed he does but that is only the start of the tale for it’s one that spans some sixty years as Adi and Edgar share memories, press cuttings, letters and more relating to Edgar and the lad’s grandfather Adolf Jäger.

According to the authors’ notes at the back of the book, Edgar Kail and Adolf Jäger having played for their clubs before WW2 – Dulwich Hamlet and Altona 93 – remain folk heroes celebrated by fans (including Phil and Michael) to this day. Amazing.

Patrice Lawrence

If you’ve read the author’s YA book Orangeboy, then you’ll know how utterly compelling her writing is.
As the story opens, Al is living in a flat with his mum who is attempting to stay on the straight and narrow after spending time in prison. Partly as a result of having moved several times already, Al has only. two friends, his pet rats Vulture and Venom, and he has to keep them secret from the council.

Things are tough as Al’s mum out of prison on licence, has very little money and no job. Consequently it’s not long before she shoplifts from the local supermarket and after an incident that involves Mr Brayer who lives in a flat below, is back in prison.

Al’s certain that it’s Mr Brayer’s fault and decides to get his revenge whatever anybody else says.

The entire cast of characters and the connectedness between them is interesting especially Al’s Gran and his nineteen year old sister Plum, a college student and carer, who is called on to stay with him when his mum goes back to prison. We also discover something of Mt Brayer’s back story which comes as a surprise to Al and I suspect to readers.

Gripping and thought-provoking, this should certainly appeal to older, under confident readers.

Feline Encounters Featuring Gracie Grabbit & Gawain Greytail

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Gracie Grabbit and the Tiger
Helen Stephens
Alison Green Books
Young Gracie Grabbit is the daughter of Bobby Grabbit a robber (who reminds me somewhat of Ahlberg’s Burglar Bill).
One day father and daughter visit the zoo, Bobby with swag bag at the ready. Gracie threatens to tell the zookeeper to set the tiger on him if he gets up to any of his nefarious activities but no sooner has she taken her eyes off him than he sets to work stealing from both animals and humans.


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When she discovers what her light-fingered father is up to, she goes to tell the zoo-keeper but he’s otherwise engaged and doesn’t respond. Not so the sleepy-looking character nearby though. He sees all that’s going on – once he’s got both eyes open that is.

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And one of the things he sees is Gracie retrieving the stolen articles from her dad’s swag bag and returning them to their owners; or rather, that’s her intention. She gets things a bit muddled …

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and has no idea who should have the key she’s left with.


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Her decision about said key however proves a turning point, not only for its recipient but also for Gracie’s dad who is in for a shock and a surprise when he’s unceremoniously seized by the seat of his pants.

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That’s not quite the end of the story however; let’s just say Bobby Grabbit becomes a reformed character and a whole new career opens up for him.
The illustrations are full of warmth and humour: like the author’s How to Hide a Lion series, this book has a lovely retro feel and look to it.

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Gawain Greytail and the Terrible Tab
Cornelia Funke and Mónica Armiño
Picture Squirrels
Sir Tristan of Twitstream, lord of Raven Castle has, with the help of Tab and her knife-sharp claws, put paid to almost all the castle’s mouse population within a month. Three mice, Shuffle, Snuffle and Scuffle remain but are in danger of death by starvation if not by feline claws.
Enter one Gawain Greytail, famous mouse knight, and feared by all cats, come to the aid of those last surviving castle mice.

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Before long, thanks to some heating and hammering, there’s not one but four knightly mice, armed and ready to do battle with the ferocious feline adversary. “Cower and shiver, terrible tab! … clear off before we cut your mangy coat to pieces!” challenges Gawain as the poking, stabbing and chopping commences.

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Do the brave foursome manage to see off the best mouser in the land? Let’s just say that this is the sight at Sir Tristan’s breakfast table the following morning …

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And this is what they found in the only remaining mouse controllers thereafter …

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This is the very first Picture Squirrel hardcover and like all other Picture Squirrels has a Dyslexia-friendly font and tinted background for ease of reading. Here, the text is displayed on what could be parchment handbills spread out opposite, above or below the dramatic, action-packed illustrations which bring to mind stills from an animated film.

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Crazy Car Rides

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Mad in the Back
Michael Rosen and Richard Watson
Picture Squirrels
I first encountered a previous incarnation of this (called The Car Trip) in Michael Rosen’s book of poems The Hypnotiser when it was a much requested read aloud with a class of infants I was teaching in the late 1980s. Sadly the book it’s from is now out of print but I still have my rather battered André Deutsch copy on a shelf.
So, it’s great to have this slightly reworked version now available as a Picture Squirrel with Richard Watson’s riotous pictorial rendering of the journey.
Essentially what we have is an account of a long-suffering mother driving a small car and being driven to distraction by the on-going bantering and demands of the two small children in the back seat, aptly called ‘The Moaning’.

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It begins thus: “Can I have a drink?”I want some crisps.” “Can I open my window?’ “He’s got my book.” and switches to “Get off me.” “Ow that’s my ear.
I suspect by now many adults will find themselves reminded of similar scenarios with their own offspring although I’m sure they’d no longer resort to such ‘exciting’ comments as “Look out the window – there’s a lamp-post.” Or “Look -… there’s a tree.” as distractions from the back seat bickering.
The whole thing works really well as a picture book. I envisage much giggling when this is read aloud…

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and scenes similar to those depicted therein are likely to ensue as to whose turn it is to read it. I can just hear them now…
(If you haven’t come across Barrington Stoke’s Picture Squirrels before then essentially the philosophy is an all inclusive one: the font used is a ‘dyslexia-friendly’ one and the tinted background aims to ‘reduce visual stress’.)

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Peg + Cat The Race Car  Problem
Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson
Walker Books
Peg and Cat are stars of an award winning TV series and now they roar into their very own picture book to participate in the Tallapegga Twenty race. First though, they have to construct their vehicle from bits and pieces they find at the scrap yard. And a great job they make of it, as soon as they’ve sorted out the right shaped wheels, that is. Once at the race track their supreme confidence dips drastically when they see the opposition. Should they give up before the race begins? Of course not, says organizer Ramone, so the race is on… and it’s fortunate that Peg is able to keep count of the laps completed and work out who’s in the lead:

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anything can happen in the course of 20 circuits. She does however need a bit of a reminder from Cat to stay calm and count backwards when she’s “totally freaking out!” over the broken side pipe.

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But who will be the first to cross the finish line and win that golden cup? Could it possibly be our problem-solving crew Peg and Cat in Hot-Buttered Lightning? One thing is certain; the victory won’t be an easy one whoever wins.
With its in-built maths challenges and lots going on in the bright pictures, this book is likely to appeal particularly to those young readers and listeners who are somewhat mathematically inclined.

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Don’t miss the Children’s Book Illustration Autumn Exhibition in Piccadilly if you’re in London between 23rd and  29th   October              C090B987-9FD4-47C9-A6E5-CEEE0DD83F4E[6]