Montgomery Bonbon: Murder at the Museum

Montgomery Bonbon: Murder at the Museum
Alasdair Beckett-King, illustrated by Claire Powell
Walker Books

With a moustache and beret at the ready, there’s a new sleuth on the block; it’s ten-year-old Bonnie Montgomery aka Montgomery Bonbon, Widdlington’s best detective. He is always at the crime scene on the look out for likely suspects and searching for clues, usually accompanied by erstwhile ice-cream seller, Grampa Banks whose van comes in very useful for stake outs. Clever, easily ignored by adults and with excellent powers of observation, this unlikely crime-fighting duo are the stars of this first in a mystery series.

As the story starts, Bonnie and Grampa Banks are visiting the Hornville Museum – Widdlington’s oldest building. Suddenly there’s a frightful scream and they are plunged into darkness. A security guard has been murdered and a carved stone eagle has been stolen. On goes her disguise and transformation! There is Montgomery Bonbon, on the case in an instant. Quickly on the scene too is Inspector Sands; she is definitely not a fan of Montgomery Bobbon and in return Bonnie has a very low opinion of the detective.

A few clues are soon found and Bonbon is immediately on the trail of suspects, the thief and the appropriately named Blowpipe Killer. Could any of the museum staff have played any part in the murder or theft? I love the clever way illustrator Claire Powell provides readers with a look at Bonbon’s case notes throughout and her depictions of the characters are superb.

With some tricky red herrings, an interfering scarlet macaw, seagulls, crisps and scones along the way, can our determined young detective maintain her cover and solve the case before disaster strikes again?

Beckett-King has created some superb characters in his gently humorous, thought-provoking debut novel, not only team Bonnie and Grampa whose fondness for one another and their age difference are a big asset, but several others too including Bonnie’s new friend Dana Hornville. Youngsters will love meeting them and like this reviewer, eagerly anticipate more of Bonnie. Has she been perhaps taking lessons from a certain Belgian detective whose voice (or rather David Suchet’s) I caught echoes of as I read.

Who Will Kiss The Crocodile?

Who Will Kiss The Crocodile?
Suzy Senior and Claire Powell
Little Tiger

Suzy Senior puts a hilarious spin on a favourite fairytale in her snappy rhyming take on Sleeping Beauty. It starts on Princess Liss’s first birthday when her family hold a big fancy ball for all the town’s residents, or rather, all but one. With the party in full swing there’s a sudden chill as in sweeps a furious fairy who proceeds to shout, “… In fifteen years, she’ll bump her knee.And then the princess DIES!” and with a wave of her wand she turns the infant into a baby crocodile. All is not quite lost though thanks to a life-saving pixie who informs the princess’s distraught parents that instead of dying, their daughter will sleep `til woken with a kiss. But who would be willing to kiss a crocodile, especially one with increasingly long claws?

On her sixteenth birthday the princess injures her knee while swimming in the lake and takes to her bed for what turns out to be a snooze lasting around a century, during which numerous princes have shown up at the castle only to flee when they realise what slumbers within the increasingly crumbling castle.

Eventually the neighbours decide to call upon the services of the Handy-Grans to carry out some urgent work on the thorny hedge surrounding the castle. This they do and after a day’s slog they discover the slumbering crocodile within.

Rather than running for their lives, they run back to their van for some knee soothing salve…
Surely there couldn’t be a happily ever after to this story – or could there?

Claire Powell’s comical scenes are simply bursting with bright colour, her cast of characters is inclusive and Suzy’s text is a delight to read aloud. If you like fractured fairy tales, don’t miss this one.

The Royal Leap-Frog

The Royal Leap-Frog
Peter Bently and Claire Powell
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Written in perfect rhyme is Peter Bently’s very funny version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Leaping Match fable. It tells, and shows through Claire Powell’s splendid, vibrantly coloured illustrations, what happens when a flea and a grasshopper (both convinced they’re the best) compete before the king whom they want to decide which one of them can jump the higher. Along with them to the palace goes a little green frog.
Utter chaos ensues as first flea

and then grasshopper leaps – captured with panache in Claire’s detailed scenes for which she uses a variety of layouts.

Both insects then depart the royal dining room leaving the king flat out on his sofa. However his respite is brief for up steps the frog claiming an ability to out-leap both previous contestants. What will be the outcome of his attempt?

A laugh-out-loud book that’s great to share in the classroom or at home with individuals, whether or not they’re familiar with the original fairy tale.

The King’s Birthday Suit

The King’s Birthday Suit
Peter Bently and Claire Powell
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is a priceless telling of Hans Andersen’s classic The Emperor’s New Clothes revamped for the 21st century.
Peter’s gleeful rhyming narrative is faultless and absolutely brilliant to read aloud (if you can overcome your giggles), and Claire’s detailed illustrations are a veritable feast for the eyes.

So without further ado, let me introduce King Albert-Horatio-Otto the Third with his special attire for every activity you can imagine and likely more that you can’t. I hate to think what his laundry bill cost. 

With his birthday fast approaching said king simply MUST have a new outfit to impress the visitors he’ll receive but none of the creations of the fashion designers win his approval. So when two apparently well-intentioned fabric merchants – McTavish and Mitch – show up promising to fashion THE perfect cloth, the king can’t resist their offer.
Now this pair look the real deal but what is that clickety-clackety loom actually producing? 

Time for the King’s ministers to take a look and report back. Their descriptions “That cloth, sir – oh my!’ … We just can’t describe it!” have the King rushing to see for himself. A fitting ensues, followed by the final try-on the following day. 

Then come the evening when all the guests have gathered it’s time for the great reveal …

and everything that ensues thereafter. Which all goes to show youngsters the importance of having the confidence to speak out and say what they believe is the truth.

Gloriously and gleefully silly, this is an unmissable book for family and primary classroom collections.

The Night After Christmas

The Night After Christmas
Kes Gray and Claire Powell
Hodder Children’s Books

For many, Boxing Day is something of a come down after the big day itself. Not so for Santa and his wife, especially come evening time. That’s when things really start to hot up for them, as well as for his faithful band of elves who are eagerly awaiting that rallying cry to the eight giant owls aptly named Snowy, Ghost, Blizzard, Snowball, Milkshake, Whitefly, Misty and Noble. Their task on this special occasion is to safely deliver a ginormous cracker – XXL-plus size no less, filled to near bursting point and ready for the big bang.

Once the elves have pulled the thing and spilled out its super-tasty contents, it’s time for Mrs Claus to step up for the big switch-on. And what a magnificent sight she triggers: first the colours cascade forth and then the stars shift to create spectacular ‘Yule constellations’.

Thereafter comes the dancing with both elves and reindeer performing their ‘Strictly’ moves with panache – all except Vixen who has four left hooves, so we’re told.

But all good things must come to an end and as the northern lights begin to fade, Santa starts to feel the need for some shut-eye. Off go the revellers and you can guess what Mr and Mrs Claus do (after a quick stop under the mistletoe) – zzzzz.

Brilliantly told in Kes Grey’s unfaultable rhyming text that bounces joyfully along to that final throwaway finale, and equally exuberantly illustrated in Claire Powell’s fantastically funky scenes of festivity. How she managed to portray all those elves as the party erupts, is an astonishing feat in itself.

A Christmas cracker with a superabundance of ‘rooty-toot-toot’ magic that will surely become a seasonal classic.

The Wizard in My Shed

The Wizard in My Shed
Simon Farnaby, illustrated by Claire Powell
Hodder Children’s Books

Having narrowly avoided spluttering my coffee over the opening pages of Horrid Histories star Simon Farnaby’s new adventure tale, I envisaged that I’d continue spluttering throughout (not coffee – I hastily consumed that before resuming reading), and so it was. (Though I did have to stop after every chapter to take a few ‘mellow moments’ – like Evanhart, wizard Merdyn’s bestie until he decided to follow the ‘path of darkness’ and become a warlock aka a bad wizard x1000.)

The story follows both madcap Merdyn (from the Dark Ages) and would-be star singer,/dancer

twelve year old Rose, from now, residing in the normal town of Bashingford with her mum and brother. Each has a desire: Merdyn wants to avenge his banishment to the Rivers of Purgatory (actually it was The Rivers of Time) and at the same time get out of the 21st century in which he’s mysteriously arrived and return to the Dark Ages; Rose is anxious to sort out her broken family,

after her father’s death, which happened before this story begins.

There’s also Rose’s guinea pig, Bubbles, a frequent poo-er, that seemingly doesn’t do much else and certainly doesn’t enjoy sharing Rose’s fairy story books.

When Rose happens upon a ‘cloth creature’ wearing peculiar shoes, gesturing weirdly and thinking he’s in the land of Purgatory – you can work out his name – she decides he might actually be of some help to her.

A deal is struck. A family-sorting-out spell (and perhaps one to make her the world’s best singer) in exchange for Rose’s assistance in coping with so many strange 21st century ways and means.

That necessitates keeping the visitor in the garden shed away from Mum – to protect her smartphone – though that might be the least of her worries about the curious stranger. They will need to locate Merdyn’s treasured magic staff and find a way to return him whence he came. Surely nothing could possibly go a-miss – could it … ?

There’s masses of madness, magic, crazy characters,

not to mention high drama, and that enormously endearingly bonkers Merdyn, to enthrall readers throughout what proves to be a heart-warming tale.

And, with the addition of Claire Powell’s terrific illustrations, the enchantment just got even stronger, while ‘the world watched in silence.’

Read alone or, read aloud it’s an absolute winner.

Daddy Hairdo

Daddy Hairdo
Francis Martin and Claire Powell
Simon & Schuster

Like many newborn babes, Amy had started life with very little hair: in contrast her Dad was the proud owner of a prolific mop.

As time passes she catches her dad up in the hair stakes and then, as his starts to disappear, she overtakes him.
She decides to join her Dad in a search for his hair but unsurprisingly it has vanished for good.
Eager to discover what happens to hair that’s been shed they search through books and ponder over its disappearance.: both to no avail.
Meanwhile Amy’s hair has grown apace and just keeps on so doing. It definitely needs a great deal of TLC and eventually becomes so long she requires a carry from a kind adult. Even so she’s reluctant to visit the hairdressers.

Dad studies and works on honing his tonsorial skills until he is ready to unleash them on his daughter.
The results are sensational …

There’s a snag however: such funky hair-dos make life pretty problematic: indeed all kinds of Amy’s favourite activities become impossible.

There’s only one solution …

Readers will delight in the splendid creations Claire Powell has depicted and laugh long and loud over Francis Martin’s zany father/daughter tale of tonsure-related trials and tribulations. She and he have created a winner there.


Suzy Senior and Claire Powell
Little Tiger

This crazy rhyming tale is narrated by an octopus, an underpantless octopus no less.

His lack of a bottom covering makes him the butt of jokes and derision on the part of the other undersea creatures, most especially when he goes to town to try and buy himself some suitable octopants.

On-line shopping proves equally fruitless or rather, pantless.

One day however, our pant-hunter comes upon a hitherto unknown establishment, going by the name of Under-Sea Emporium and run by a rather smart seahorse sporting a spotty bow tie.

The place seems to sell pretty much any garment you might imagine and many you can’t, from evening wear for eels to jewellery for jellyfish and water wings for whales, in various spotty, stripy, sparkly and decidedly funky fabrics.
But as for underpants for an octopus customer, that is quite another matter altogether.

So exactly what can an eight-legged, or could it be eight armed, marine animal wear instead?

The big reveal (not a big bum reveal) comes on the final spread …

Bubbling and bursting with playful alliteration, Suzy Senior’s suitably silly story is likely to have young listeners pinging their knicker elastic with wriggling giggles, while Claire Powell’s funky undersea scenes of pant-wearing, and would-be same, seawater creatures should make sure that mirth is multiplied.

Almost any story with pants seems to induce a similarly snickering response but this one has a terrific twisting finale.

Have You Seen My Giraffe?

Have You Seen My Giraffe?
Michelle Robinson and Claire Powell
Simon & Schuster
Did you know that large animals have replaced goldfish as fairground prizes? No? Me neither, but it’s so according to the purveyor of this tall tale, so it’s definitely worth being forewarned– just in case you too happen to win a giraffe.
The crux of the matter is keeping one’s parents on board; but if you can’t manage that, you’ll just have to hide the thing – somehow or other.
So, let’s consider the possibilities: a forest would be ideal but since that’s not going to grow up overnight, a temporary expedient will be needed; or camouflage perhaps.

If you are to keep this giraffe, then a name is desirable – even if it is one that’s acquired in less than favourable circumstances …

Could it be however that there might be a solution that would make everyone happy, after all forests can prove pretty hospitable environments for both humans and a certain species of African even-toed ungulates to reside in and they’re great places for the occasional game of hide and seek too.

Gloriously silly scenes of consternation, chaos, catastrophe and clever thinking show just how preposterous the whole idea is: but then, that’s what makes it such a rib-tickler.

I’ve signed the charter