The Secret Wild

The Secret Wild
Alex Evelyn, illustrated by George Ermos
Walker Books

How super to have an adventure that revolves around plants.

Ten year old Fern Featherstone is, according to her father, an overly curious child. She has spent most of her time travelling the world with her botanist parents and has accrued a fair bit of information about plants, many of which she talks to, but her father disapproves of non-theoretical knowledge. As the story begins, Fern and her parents are in the Amazonian rainforest; but after a mishap her parents decide to send her to London to live with Uncle Ned: after all she’s never had a friend or been to school like other children her age. This is something about which Fern is far from happy; but then on the plane, she finds herself unexpectedly in possession of a strange small plant – one that can understand her – her very first friend.

Once at Uncle Ned’s, she learns of strange happenings in London’s public places: a spate of unusual plants appearing from nobody knows where, growing destructively large, disrupting people’s lives and even causing seismic tremors. The following morning, feeling uprooted Fern wanders into the city, meets neighbour and plant phobic Woody. But when her plant – she’s named it Special – starts getting weaker, she only has this strange boy to ask for help to locate the botanist woman from whom she acquired it.

It’s not long before Fern discovers that this woman – Oleander, as she tells Fern to call her – has nightmarish plans and that her so called ‘green revolution’ must be stopped before time runs out.

There are so many things to love about this debut novel: the main protagonist who lives life on her terms, her lovable author Uncle Ned whose main skill apart from writing is toast-making; Fern’s friend in need, jigsaw-puzzle loving Woody, the way in which both scientific knowledge and London landmarks are woven into the story, the use of plant names for many of the characters, not forgetting that botanist turned villain and the whole thing is sprinkled with humour. With a fab. cover by George Ermos whose plant drawings grow around each new chapter page, it’s a book that will wind its tendrils around you and not unfurl them until you reach the end.

Mort the Meek and the Monstrous Quest / Mike Falls Up

These are two new fiction titles from the Little Tiger Stripes imprint – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

Mort the Meek and the Monstrous Quest
Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by George Ermos

According to the introduction to this second adventure of Mort, I am mad, for it warns readers not to proceed to the first chapter if they suffer from seasickness, which I most definitely do. Nonetheless having enjoyed Mort the Meek and the Ravens’ Revenge, I was prepared to swallow some anti-nausea tablets and board ship along with the founder of Brutalia’s pacifist society and vegetarian protagonist, as eager as he, to leave the ghastly shores of Brutalia with its gruesome Queen. In fact it’s partly on account of said Queen that Mort sets sail on the Salty Sea for she has issued a challenge that would give him the opportunity to search, not for the treasure she desires, but for his missing father and sibling twins Gosh and Gee.

However, find an amazing treasure – the three tentacled Belgo – is just what Mort and his tough companion Punky, daughter of a rock crusher, do.

That happens only half way through this story though, by which time Mort has more or less convinced himself that said Belgo has consumed his missing family members, What of his pacifism now? Will it lose out to his anger?

The fact that Rachel Delahaye is a wonderfully humorous wordsmith is part of what makes this dark tale a smashing read; she’s replaced those chapter opening ravens with masters of misinterpretation, Bruce and Larry, a pair of lobsters. There’s danger aplenty too, but the story isn’t without hope: after all where there’s pacifism there’s always hope, all of which George Ermos brings out in his plentiful black and white illustrations.

For slightly younger readers is:

Mike Falls Up
Candy Gourlay, illustrated by Carles Ballesteros

This addition to the Stripes series of full colour fiction for newly independent readers begins in the Chocolate Hills, in the Philippines. It’s a very hot day, too hot really to do anything much and Mike’s mama has sent him and his dog Bowow out for some fresh air while she prepares dinner. They’re sitting on a hill when a sudden earthquake occurs, the ground splits open and Bowow leaps into the hole.

Soon after an anonymous note blows up on which is written BIRTHDAY. COME NOW. JUST FALL UP.
The boy has no idea who sent it, nor how to fall up but he does know that he has to find Bowow, so into the darkness he plunges. The next thing he knows Mike is roused by a dog with an unfamiliar face and a voice shouting, “Foofoo! Is he awake?”

What follows results in an altogether different kind of birthday party but it isn’t for the little girl Kaneisha in whose London room he finds himself. Nor does it take place in a setting either child recognises; suffice it to say that their host is exceedingly happy to see the unexpected guests, a fun time ensues and friendships are forged.

The author has certainly left gaps for readers to fill in this strange story that Carles Ballesteros has made even stranger with his almost surreal, computer game style illustrations.

Interestingly, this is the first in the series to be published as a paperback original, which I think, the target audience might prefer.



Museum Kittens: The Sleepover Mystery / Mort the Meek and the Ravens’ Revenge

These are 2 new fiction titles from the Stripes Publishing imprint: thanks to Little Tiger for sending them for review

Museum Kittens: The Sleepover Mystery
Holly Webb, illustrated by Sarah Lodge

The Museum Kittens, Peter, Tasha, Bianca and Boris are proud of their new guarding duties though they’re finding it pretty tiring work. Tired as they might be, they’re all eagerly anticipating the museum’s latest enterprise to bring in extra visitors. A group of sixty children are to visit and stay overnight in the Dinosaur Gallery. Bianca above all the others is mega excited, so much so that she does something which causes a furore in the Costume Gallery and then, following a spat with the other kittens, wants to spend all her time with the children, even keeping them company during the night – the time when the nasty rats are on the prowl. It’s during the night that her siblings realise that Bianca is missing.

The search is on. Come morning they still haven’t found her:

surely she can’t have been intending to run away and got on the coach with the children …

There’s plenty of furry fun, frolics and frights as those who are familiar with the series will know. However, Holly’s latest book is an enjoyable read even if this is your first encounter with these lovable felines; and there are plenty of Sarah Lodge’s black and white illustrations to break up the text for less confident readers.

Mort the Meek and the Ravens’ Revenge
Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by George Ermos

The only Rachel Delahaye stories I’d read before this were her Little Animal Rescue series so this came as something of a surprise. It couldn’t be more different.
For starters it’s set in the kingdom of Brutalia – an island community – where violence is the way of life. Ravens circle overhead, dreaming of eating eyeballs or brains. With its motto LIVE OR DIE, this certainly isn’t a place to book your next summer holiday.

Its chief protagonist is young Mort the Meek who inherits the role of Royal executioner when his uncle dies. Mort is the kingdom’s only pacifist so imagine his horror when he learns that his first victim is to be his good friend Weed.

Nobody has ever dared to stand up to the heinous queen of this realm and survived. Could Mort possibly do so and perhaps even find a way to save his friend’s life?

It all sounds pretty horrifying but Rachel Delahaye’s narrative is often very funny and the tale is full of unexpected twists and turns, so if you can cope with the violent punishment regime (I share Mort’s pacifist principles) you will laugh a fair bit, especially at the ravens. that open each chapter. And, the ending is hugely satisfying …

George Ermos has done a terrific job with the illustrations that are littered with small humorous details.

Humanatomy: How the Body Works

Humanatomy: How the Body Works
Nicola Edwards, George Ermos and Jem Maybank
360 Degrees

Ever wanted to go beneath your skin and get right up close to your inner workings? If so, then this is definitely the book for you.

Tucked inside the front cover is a flip-over section comprising eight superb labelled illustrations, one for each of the body’s systems

excluding the endocrine, immune and reproductive systems.

The main part of the book contains an introductory page followed by a brief explanation of how the systems work together; and then detailed chapters on each of those systems, the first being the integumentary system.

Like the chapters that follow, it begins with a short overview of the functions and other fascinating facts; and then goes into detail using questions that immediately draw the reader in. Questions such as ‘Why do we have different shades of skin and why do some people have freckles?’ ‘Why do your hands go wrinkly in the bath?’ or, ‘How does skin heal itself? And what are scabs and scars all about?’

Next comes the muscular system, followed by the skeletal system that includes a labelled pictorial sequence of how a broken bone heals …

Thereafter we have the digestive system and then the respiratory system. I’ve no doubt children will delight in the ‘What is snot and why do we have it?’ paragraph and be fascinated to learn that the highest ‘sneeze speed’ on record is 165 km (103 miles) per hour.

The circulatory, nervous and urinary systems are equally fascinating. Did you know that blood makes up about 7% of our body weight? Or that lobsters have little urine nozzles under their eyes and communicate by squirting wee into each other’s faces – slightly off key but the sort of thing that children love to discover.

The final systems spread encompasses the endocrine, immune and reproductive systems.

And the last chapter (before the very accessible glossary) looks at DNA and what makes us who we are.

Altogether a fabulous publication. The writing is perfectly pitched for child readers, the production is excellent, as are the  illustrations by George Ermos and Jemima Maybank, it’s a book that deserves to be in every primary classroom collection and on every child’s bookshelf.

Baking Bonanza: Dough Knights and Dragons / Jake Bakes a Monster Cake

Dough Knights and Dragons
Dee Leone and George Ermos
Sterling

Here’s a ‘Great British Bake Off’ tale set in the days of yore when dragons roamed and knights fought them.
A young knight comes upon a cave filled with novel ingredients and cannot resist cooking up a huge pot of savoury stew.
So delicious is its aroma that it arouses the resident dragon and before long the two have formed a forbidden friendship because it’s deemed in this land that every knight must slay a dragon and every dragon must eat a knight.
As their friendship flourishes so do their culinary skills but as the day of impending contest draws ever nearer, the two realise that they must cook up a clever solution by means of the thing that has bound them together in friendship.

And what a tasty solution that turns out to be with its mix of semantic niceties and unusual shaped doughnuts;

and the outcome changes the nature of competitions between knights and dragons for ever more,
This is a recipe for a lip-smacking storytime: there’s adventure, friendship, edibles, suspense, chivalry and a sweet ending, all delivered through a rhyming narrative readers aloud will enjoy sharing, and vibrant, playful digital illustrations.
Take a look at the end papers too.

More cooking in:

Jake Bakes a Monster Cake
Lucy Rowland and Mark Chambers
Macmillan Children’s Books

Jake is busy in the kitchen; he’s called in his pals to help him bake an extra delicious cake for sweet-loving Sam’s birthday tea.
His fellow monsters scoff at Jake’s cook book deeming instructions a waste of time …

and instead invent their own recipe, a concoction of altogether unsavoury items. Surprisingly, the mixture tastes pretty good to Jake though.

When it’s baked to perfection, off go Jake and his fellow cooks to deliver the enormous confection; but suddenly disaster strikes …
Is that the end of a wonderful birthday treat for Sam?
Lucy Rowland and Mark Chambers have together rustled up a deliciously disgusting tale. Lucy’s the rhymer and Mark the picture maker and their latest offering is sure to illicit plenty of EEUUGHs from young audiences.
There’s an added treat in the form of a pack of scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers: clothes pegs at the ready!