King Dave Royalty for Beginners

King Dave: Royalty for Beginners
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press

In the third book featuring Dave the dragon along with his trusty sidekick, steed Albrecht, said dragon knight, cum wizard, cum, the on the way to being qualified hero, receives an urgent summons to the castle from the King.

On arrival he learns that this majesty is about to depart for a very important Annual Conference for royals and he needs a trustworthy kingdom-sitter to stand in during his absence.

Handing Dave his copy of Royalty for Beginners, the King leaps into his coach and is on his way.

Be prepared for more medieval mayhem to ensue pretty much as soon as Dave dons the crown.

He starts with inspecting knights, waving – the royal wave naturally; paperwork – plenty (even if he doesn’t know what it all means,) and opening places: all in a day’s work even if somewhat weird.

So far so good but then the following day a visit from some ambassadors is on the agenda and Dave decides a party is just the thing to impress the important dignatories.
And so it does – eventually – and so much so that they decide to stay on a bit longer. Uh-oh!

From that point things begin to unravel starting with a special event …

It’s as well Albrecht doesn’t take his eye off the ball, despite being banished from the kingdom, for there’s a dastardly plot afoot.

Elys Dolan delivers another full on fairy tale farce full of the sort of silliness that will keep young readers turning the pages as they laugh their way through from beginning to end, spluttering over both text and the plethora of illustrations.

Super Snail

Super Snail
Elys Dolan
Hodder Children’s Books

Virtually without need to prove themselves, human superheroes are absolute winners with youngsters, but a super snail? That might take a little more demonstration of worth and that is exactly what Kevin (actually a normal slug) sets out to do in this super story.

Slug though he might be, come nightfall, Kevin dons a hard coiled mollusc coat and becomes transformed: fearless, invincible – an exceedingly slimy gastropod.

Now Kevin already has all that a superhero should have – a secret subterranean hideout complete with trusty butler, as well as a range of brilliant gadgets; but in spite of everything he’s yet to convince himself that he’s the real deal.

Time to consult the brave and comely League of Heroes.

Proof possibilities are posited and then all that Kevin needs is to receive the appropriate Snail Signal and he’s off on a mission, sadly at a snail’s pace, not super fast.

Once on the disaster scene, despite his best efforts Kevin is less than helpful; he resorts to last ditch efforts but even that merely renders him the butt of the villains’ jokes.

I should head home, thinks our would-be hero but then quite suddenly Kev. hears something alarming concerning one, Laser Pigeon, and he observes what looks like the ideal opportunity finally to exercise his slippery-slimy superpower and save his would-be dinner date, the ‘dynamic’ career worm Susan …

Super-author/illustrator Elys has out-supered herself with this one. With each new book, I think to myself, she won’t better this but then she does; and so it is with Kevin’s stupendously silly saga. It’s out of this world brilliant. Just get hold of a copy and see.

Santa’s Wonderful Workshop

Santa’s Wonderful Workshop
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press

If you’ve ever wondered what happens between the time Santa drops off the last Christmas present and the time he starts his deliveries the following Christmas Eve, then here is the answer. In her inimitable zany style, Elys Dolan gives a month by month account of the activities that take place in Santa’s workshop and a final exposure of one never to be forgotten Christmas Eve.

This is a total hoot from start to finish and every page in between too: Elys has totally let her imagination run riot with this one.

Take January for instance when we learn that already, the nice/naughty list has gone missing – hiding in plain sight as a loo roll; then by May the elves have become a tad too creative on the toy production line.

June brings a malfunctioning of the ‘Present-o-matic machine – it starts churning out toasters and come August everyone is down with a dose of flu.

Surprisingly everyone makes it through to Christmas Eve (although not without a spell of trouble with the police) but just as Santa is about to leave on his delivery round the missing bear suddenly reappears causing a catastrophe.

Can Christmas be saved? Let’s hope so or the Easter Bunny will be the one having the last laugh. Or should that be a certain polar bear?

Completely and utterly bonkers, there’s just SO much going on that I’d advise not starting to read this unless you’ve got plenty of time to enjoy the shenanigans on every spread.

Wizarding for Beginners!

Wizarding for Beginners!
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press

Dave the dragon spent his last tale honing his skills as a would-be knight and now returns, along with his best pal, Albrecht; he of story-telling prowess, the glossy-coated, somewhat noxiously smelling goat.
Now they’re going undercover as wizards in order to gain entrance to the decidedly shady Wizarding Guild with the aim of freeing their friends from the evils of dastardliest of all wizards, the hair-obsessive, tantrum throwing terrible Terence: he who has ambitions to take over the entire world.

But once inside this exceedingly strange rule-bound place,

No bums on the table especially on spaghetti night.

it isn’t many hours before Albrecht has managed to get himself kidnapped and shoved into a sack (on account of his glossy coat so we later learn) and it’s down to Dave to rescue him. In this enterprise he’s ably abetted by Brian who just happens to be a female wizard – something Dave discovers when he follows Brian into the loo, the ladies loo no less. But her gender isn’t Brian’s only secret; her magic so she admits is rather reliant upon porridge – yes porridge – but that does happen to be Dave’s favourite breakfast (mine too actually).

A deal is struck: the two team up and with additional assistance from an emotional wreck of a monster named Pansy who’s large, lonely, lacks self-confidence and is all ‘owie’ on account of having fought a tiger.

While all this is going on poor Albrecht is having a pretty terrible time. Terence is making him confront the magic mirror,  a thoroughly nasty piece of work that appears to have nothing good to say about anyone or anything.

Or does it?

If all these shenanigans haven’t whetted your appetite for this splendidly silly saga, then let me just throw into the mix a brand new dessert called Squirrel Parfait, some further great reveals in the gender department, rule rubbishing galore, a reunion and errr, that would be telling!

Hurray for porridge power, for the splendid plugs for books, reading and libraries, and the plethora of jokes herein.

Elys Dolan’s second Dave saga is as deliciously daft and enormously enjoyable as Knighthood for Beginners. This is a great read, especially for those who like their stories liberally sprinkled with crazy illustrations of the Dolan kind.

Need more help finding summer reading for your child? Try the Toppsta Summer Reading Guide

How the Borks Became

How the Borks Became
Jonathan Emmett and Elys Dolan
Otter-Barry Books

Who better to introduce the concept of evolution and Darwin’s theory of natural selection to primary age children than author Jonathan Emmett and illustrator Elys Dolan?

So let’s take a journey to a distant planet, quite similar to earth, named Charleebob, home to a species going by the name of Borks.

When we arrive a group of llama-like Bork mothers has just given birth to a large brood of Borklings, long-necked, shaggy, yellow creatures, each one slightly different.

They didn’t always look that way though: long, long ago their appearance was altogether different: their fur was short, smooth and blue and their necks short and thick, at least that’s how most of them were. A few exceptional ones had shaggier fur – not ideal for hot weather but when the chilly time arrived later in the year, they were the ones that survived.

Over the next couple of generations, more changes took place; first instead of all the offspring having blue fur a few were bright yellow.

This meant that the latter blended in with their surroundings so that when a Ravenous Snarfle was on the lookout for its lunchtime feed, the blues were hastily consumed

leaving the yellow-furred few to thrive and breed the next Borkling batch – all yellow, the majority with short necks, a few with long skinny ones.
You can guess which ones survived the drought that year, saved by their ability to feed on the thick leaves high up in the Ju-Ju-Bong trees. And that’s it – evolution in just four generations of Borks.

Clearly changes don’t happen that fast, but artistic licence on behalf of the book’s creators demonstrates how three key environmental factors – climate, predation and food availability brought about evolutionary changes with only the fittest surviving by natural selection.

The combination of Emmett’s brilliant, quirky rhyming narrative and Elys Dolan’s wonderfully witty, whimsical illustrations is an enormously enjoyable amalgam of science and storytelling, which offers a perfect starting point for the KS2 evolution topic.

(At the end of the book it’s explained that the Borks’ evolution story is a hugely speeded up account of what really happens: evolution happens at a much, much slower rate and the changes are smaller and more gradual so that an earth animal could take millions of years to change.) While you’re looking at the back matter, do check out the quirky end papers.

My Bunny’s Chocolate Factory


Mr Bunny’s Chocolate Factory
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press
Elys Dolan follows her wonderful Doughnut of Doom with another confection-related picture book.
Imagine being force fed chocolate; that’s the fate of the chickens that work in Mr Bunny’s chocolate-egg making factory pressing the chocolate into bars, eating the chocolate bars, squeezing out chocolate eggs, wrapping and packing same. Mr Bunny has his own special secret recipe and to ensure perfection he also employs a quality control unicorn named Edgar.
Like many successful entrepreneurs Mr B. is greedy …


hence the force-feeding, to ‘crank up egg production to the max’ – no breaks, cancelled holidays even, the latter as a result of a plethora of bad eggs being discovered by Edgar.


Finally the chickens revolt. They down tools: a strike is declared.


Can Mr Bunny and Edgar run the factory by themselves? What has happened to missing worker, Debbie? And, can change happen, or will the boss remain a ‘bad egg’ evermore?
Elys Dolan has, yet again, created a picture book full of comic scenarios that are absolutely brimming over with rib-tickling detail. There is just SO much to giggle over and explore on every spread, not least the wonderful speech bubbles emanating from her superb cast of characters.
All in all, a stonkingly good picture book upon which to feast your eyes and ears.

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The Doughnut of Doom


The Doughnut of Doom
Elys Dolan
Nosy Crow
Confronted with a cover like that of this doom-fuelled tale what is one to do? Suck it and see, or run away screaming?  This reviewer did the former, first stop the front endpapers over which I spent a fair bit of time chuckling and chortling at the multitude of visual and verbal foodie fun puns.
Now on to the main story: we’re in the office of (among others) trainee reporter, Nancy McNutty (her name is significant in the whole saga) who is endeavouring to get her first big break – a tricky thing with a boss like Big Cheese, so she tells us. Yes, Nancy is our story-teller here and she’s convinced there’s something fishy afoot at Lemon Labs. Now this isn’t a shot in the dark; she has a mole on the inside. Her boss however, has other ideas – of a rather insulting kind you”ll surely agree.


But when the phone rings and it’s Nancy’s Lemon Lab ‘sauce’ on the other end, she hot foots it straight over there, only to learn that disaster had already struck …


panic has set in and rumours abound. In a flash, Nancy has hitched a lift and is hot on the trail of the ‘monster’ and pretty soon has tracked him down – kind of!


The fire service appears on the scene but almost in an instant the fire fighters meet their doom. Next come the military …


Ditto yes, even the green ones are guzzled.
An announcement is made – and hastily retracted or rather altered almost before it’s uttered to “It’s unstoppable! We’re out of options! Evacuate the city! PANIC!
And that’s when Nancy makes a crucial, possibly life-changing decision, and after a consultation with Prof. Nutcase, decides to ‘stop reporting the action and be a part of it.’ Will the doughnut meet its demise, or will Nancy?
I’m not going to spoil the finale by telling you what happens thereafter; but it involves a challenge, some chomping and …


but that’s not quite the end of everything and I’m happy to report that Nancy hits the headlines well and truly … There is just SO much crammed into this amazing tale that a short review with a few photos just cannot do it justice: you need to get out there, seize – or preferably buy – a copy for yourself and immerse yourself within. I’ll guarantee it will be some considerable time before you emerge; and one helping will definitely NOT be enough.

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Super Stan & Steven Seagull – Action Heroes

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Super Stan
Matt Robertson
Orchard Books
Meet two very different brothers, Jack and Stan. The latter always seemed to be the centre of attention, which is hardly surprising as he excelled in everything; moreover he had an AMAZING superpower enabling him to …

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You can imagine how this made Jack feel on the 364 days of the year when it wasn’t his birthday; but surely young Stan wouldn’t do anything to spoil his big bro’s special day would he? He’s certainly very excited and that’s before he starts …

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Not to mention wrestling with a lion and engaging in a game of soccer with the giraffes …

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Jack is not happy.
Suddenly though, a scream pierces the air, a scream the significance of which only Jack knows.

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At last it’s his turn to do something that puts him in the limelight for a change; something that proves to be a turning point in the relationship between Jack and Stan …
Choosing a suitably limited colour palette in keeping with the superhero theme, Matt Robertson delivers spread after spread full of comic humour. Don’t you love the way Jack deftly snatches Stan’s teddy from the clutches of the bear, for instance…

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Altogether a super debut picture book.

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Steven Seagull Action Hero
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press
Steven is a seagull – a retired cop so we are told. Now there’s a crazy scenario if ever there was one. But it seems his retired status is about to change: his ex-partner Mac, needs his assistance and he needs it right away to assist in the search for Beach City’s sand thief. The two consult …

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and then head off to the scene of the crime in search of likely suspects.
First stop Harry’s ice-cream van but Harry has an alibi so it can’t be him. Nor is it Lola the lifeguard – her day’s been spent saving not digging but what about Rick? Looks like he’s a reformed character although his volleyball skills need a bit of polishing. Steven is at a loss but who is the builder of this magnificent edifice?


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Bingo! It’s the handiwork or rather claw-work of Claude Von Crab and he has weapons of destruction up on those ramparts.
Can Steven pull out all the stops and save the day? Perhaps, with a little female assistance …

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Totally off the wall but this one did appeal to my sense of the ridiculous – particularly this throwaway comment of Mac’s …

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Leo a ghost story
Mac Barnett and Christian Robinson
Chronicle Books
Leo is a house ghost – we readers can see him but others can’t. He’s been in his current residence for years, drawing and reading,

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but one spring day a new family moves in and Leo becomes a host ghost. His efforts definitely aren’t appreciated by the incomers who immediately decide the house is haunted and call in all manner of exorcists.

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Leo decides to move out anyway and goes a-roaming in the city. People walk past or even through him until his wanderings eventually result in an encounter with a young pavement artist, Jane who mistakes him for an imaginary friend.

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If I tell her I am a ghost, I will scare her away,” he fears.
Then late at night a thief enters Jane’s home, Leo apprehends him by donning traditional ghostly garb

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and finally gains acceptance as the being he truly is.
Christian Robinson’s wonderful retro-style illustrations, executed with collage and paint in suitably spectral shades work so well in combination with author Mac Barnett’s  matter of fact, economic narrative style: ‘ A squad car came and hauled the man off the jail. That was that.’ he comments when the thief is taken by the police.

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And, “Jane I told you a lie. I am a ghost … I am just your real friend.” “Oh!” said Jane. “Well that’s even better.
This is a wonderfully wise, warm story of friendship and acceptance, and a great one for sharing at this, or any time of the year, especially accompanied by honey toast and mint tea.

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The Mystery of the Haunted Farm
Elys Dolan
Nosy Crow
Newly moved into the farm, Farmer Grey is more than a little discombobulated by the phantoms that seem to have invaded his residence during his somnambulatory activities.

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So, the terrified fellow calls in the Ghost-Hunters who quickly confirm that neither the pond, nor the farmhouse itself have any ghosts – according to their Scare-o-Meter, the Phantom Finder 5000 that is. So it’s off to check the barn, but the seeming invasion by ‘terrifyingly gooey supernatural creatures’ doesn’t register on that PF5000 either. What can be going on?
But then, a clue leads to the chicken coop up on the hill and it’s a case of follow those goats and see what’s going on in that ‘incredibly creepy chicken coop’

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Once inside and down the stairs, those Ghost-Hunters are amazed at the sight before their eyes: an underground fear factory the likes of which they’ve never seen before.
But why are all those animals taking on ghostly or ghoulish appearance? Mother Hen starts to explain and all is about to be revealed in an amazing show-stopping finale …
I won’t reveal the rest of this brilliantly funny romp but suffice it to say that the moon has something to answer for and those Ghost-Hunters put a pretty clever training plan into action, which is highly effective …
most of the time.

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Definitely other winner from the stupendously clever Elys Dolan

For older readers:

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Emma Fischel
Nosy Crow
Flo, the modern young witch with a worldy-wise, rather eccentric Gran and a sceptical mum returns for a second Haggspitt extravaganza. Herein she has to take on the horrifying Haggfiend – head and arms of Hagg and body of Fiend with ‘evil in her cold cruel heart’; but is she real or merely a character from that book of Magical Myths.
As with the first story, there’s plenty of excitement and humour sizzling away between those gorgeous Chris Riddell covers. I can’t envisage many 8s to 10s not being caught up and swept along by this super, spellbinding story narrated by Flo herself.  I was!

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For plenty of visual thrills visit the wonderful Children’s Books Illustration Autumn Exhibition at Waterstones, Piccadilly 23rd-29th October         C090B987-9FD4-47C9-A6E5-CEEE0DD83F4E[6]

The Clockwork Dragon

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The Clockwork Dragon
Jonathan Emmett and Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press pbk
When Max is sacked from the toymaker’s workshop he is forced to try his hand at the only job he sees advertised in the town.

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Knowing that knights need armour, Max goes to the armourer’s workshop where he meets Lizzie, who although amused by Max’s intentions, gives him an idea. DSCN3744 (800x600)

Equally important, she agrees to assist him in a spot of metalwork and together they toil for a week, heating, hammering, painting, patching and piecing together all the metal they can lay hands on. The result is a huge clockwork dragon.

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Next morning, Flamethrottle, for that is the name of the human devourer, decides that only a plump princess or two will satisfy his hunger. Imagine his shock then, when on leaving his cave he is confronted by an even larger, fiercer looking dragon. No longer feeling quite so brave, Flamethrottle beats a path across the countryside towards the next kingdom, hotly pursued by Max and Lizzie in their wind-up contraption. And therein lies the rub: the clockwork motor runs down at the crucial moment leaving Max and Lizzie desperate to turn that vital key and get the creature moving again. Flamethrottle meanwhile realizes his pursuer has stopped. So can its creators manage to trick him into giving the key the vital turns it needs to set the thing in motion once more?

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It’s either that or be baked alive …
The cocktail of dastardly dragons, mechanical and otherwise, wily and determined child characters and a rip roaring adventure combined with exciting illustrations packed with humorous details and mechanical ones, make this a sure fire winner for the young (and not so young). Certainly my child audiences demanded an immediate re-reading, pored over the inside covers as well as the action-packed colour spreads and were eager to know if the ‘A Max and Lizzie Adventure sign on the back cover heralds further adventures.

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High Fliers

DSCN2107 Nuts in Space
Elys Dolan
Nosy Crow
Will they or will they not find their way home with their precious cargo? That is the nub of this hilarious story starring Commander Moose and his half dozen crew members. Having completed their mission to find The Lost Nuts of Legend and boarded their super stealth covert cruiser, they discover that the Star Nav of their craft, Forest Fleet’s Finest Starship no less, has malfunctioned. Oh woe! DSCN2108

Moreover, their food supplies are exhausted and their maps have been mysteriously consumed. Hmm! What can they do? Certainly not start on those nuts guys: they are reputed to bestow unimaginable boons: invincibility and bedtimes that are never passed, for instance. Stopping by at the Death Banana to ask for directions? Certainly not a good move, either guys.

DSCN2109 So do those fearless, very hungry, crew members ever find their way back home again? And what about those all-important Nuts of Lost Legend; what is their fate? If you want to know, and I’m pretty sure you do, then get hold of a copy of this action-packed saga. It’s absolutely chock-full of treats – both visual and verbal (not to mention nuts). Well, maybe not NUTS! DSCN2110It’s guaranteed to keep youngsters absorbed for hours, days, maybe even weeks!
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When Angus Met Alvin
Sue Pickford
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Alien Angus is different; there’s nothing he likes better than to rest quietly in his peaceful garden. One day however his peace is disturbed when a spaceship crashes, creating havoc in the centre of his lawn.


Out jumps Alvin, another alien whose mission it is to demonstrate his ‘special space skills’.
Angus is unimpressed by Alvin’s fancy flying and there rapidly develops a competitive element to their trickery. Time for Angus to consult Professor Poppemoff’s tome for a suitable idea.


To say that Alvin’s already inflated idea of his skills is further inflated by Angus’s challenge and that it consequently causes his downfall – indeed his total deflation – is no exaggeration.
The resulting pin-sized Alvin is far from amused and quickly makes an ‘I promise to behave myself’ deal with Angus. Thereupon he receives a deft dusting of special, size restorative


and sets to work to prove himself, which he duly does. Peace is finally restored in Angus’s garden.
A delightfully daft tale of friendship and lateral thinking, laugh-makingly delivered through a combination of completely crazy ideas compiled into a comic text, and playful pictures.


These are littered throughout with off-beat details and appropriately idiotic images.
I envisage this one sparking off all manner of alien artistry and other imaginative ideas from enthusiastic listeners of the earthling species. It certainly got a huge thumbs up from both large groups of five and six year olds that I shared it with.
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 Pairs of children could be Angus and Alvin and then using the wonderful endpapers as a starting point, can compile and then depict, their own sets of ‘Special Things’ on small coloured pieces of paper. These can then be pasted up on opposite sides of a large sheet of card or paper, one half for Alvin’s, the other for Angus’s.

What about having an alien tea party, Alvin and Angus style, with young earthlings compiling the menu and concocting the food and drink. Then sharing it of course!


Those Magnificent Sheep in their Flying Machine
Peter Bently and David Roberts
Andersen Press
I found myself struggling not to break into fits of laughter as I read this one out loud; indeed my ribs were aching trying to keep my giggles in. This absolutely uproarious saga tells and shows what happens when Lambert and Eunice and Marly and Mabs and Old Uncle Ramsbottom, Bart, Ben and Babs (phew!) accidentally take to the air in a biplane.


Squashed into the cockpit they set forth on a round the world trip to see the sights. They drop in at, among other destinations, France for a can-can, Tibet where little Ben’s encounter with a Yeti is too close for comfort, DSCN2058

and India where a maharajah’s invitation to his Delhi palace for “Mutton curry” sends them scuttling hastily planewards. But then … east? west? Home’s best, the others firmly tell Ramsbottom , so, home they go. The returning plane is spotted by its silver-topped cane bearing owner who rushes eagerly to apprehend the thieves, only to find his empty flying machine at rest atop the hill, but no sign of any thieves, just a field full of white, woolly sheep.

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If you are interested in teenage fiction, nominations are called for the Queen of Teen award 2014. For further information got to: