Earth Friends: River Rescue / Unicorn Academy: Lyra and Misty

These are titles from two of Nosy Crow’s popular series – thanks to the publishers for sending them for review

Earth Friends: River Rescue
Holly Webb

This is book two in a series about four friends who are endeavouring to make the world a better place for everyone. As it opens Izzy is celebrating her fund-raising success with proceeds being send to a fair-trade clothing co-operative foundation in Bangladesh but she still lacks confidence when it comes to friendship issues.

So when Poppy invites her to stay the night, Izzy is thrilled. Poppy has a dog, Billy and it’s taking him for a walk beside the river that gives rise to Izzy’s next campaign. Both girls are horrified at the amount of rubbish that has been thrown into the water but it’s when Billy chases a water rat and ends up in the river almost drowning on account of a paw getting caught in the wheel of a submerged bike, that Izzy decides on a new project – operation River Rescue.

Now it’s just a matter of getting enough people on board to help raise money and do the actual clean-up.

A lovely story of a local environmental project, with a terrific ending, rather a lot of mud and some surprises along the way.

Unicorn Academy: Lyra and Misty
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman

At the start of a new term Lyra is mega-excited to have joined Unicorn Academy and thrilled to have been paired with Misty. She can’t wait for some amazing adventures like those her cousin has mentioned and it’s not long before she and some others in her dorm discover a mystery that needs to be solved, starting when Lyra finds a portion of what she suggests might be part of an old treasure map.

Why when shown the find does visiting speaker Dr Briar appear interested, then say it’s merely some random scribblings?

With her mind on the riddle on the back of the map, Lyra’s concentration during lessons next day is somewhat lacking, but later she tells her friends she’s solved the clue and that afternoon they head off towards Echo Caves hoping to find the rest of the map.

What though is making Misty reluctant to be part of their adventure? In that case will she ever find her special magic and will she and Lyra ever bond? And what of the rest of the map? …

As always friendship is at the heart of this 17th story in the magical school that young solo readers starting out on chapter books love to visit and in so doing realise that its pupils face many of the same issues as they do. As always Lucy Truman’s black and white illustrations add to the atmosphere.

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.

Mermaids Rock: The Midnight Realm / The Kitten Next Door

Two new titles kindly sent for review by Little Tiger’s Stripes imprint, both from authors popular with young solo readers:

Mermaids Rock: The Midnight Realm
Linda Chapman, illustrated by Mirelle Ortega
Little Tiger
The Midnight Realm referred to in the title in this, the fourth of the Mermaids Rock series, is that region of the ocean around 1,000 metres below sea level that is in constant darkness as no sunlight ever penetrates to that depth. A place where, on account of its extreme pressure and freezing temperatures, humans have only recently developed the technology that makes it possible for them to explore. Not so merpeople however and in particular those merchildren, resident around Mermaids Rock – Marina, Kai, Naya, Coralie and Luna. As the book opens these friends are busy working on the design of a poster for their latest project, corals reefs. And as those who’ve read previous books might expect, Glenda is showing off while being full of negativity towards their efforts.

Excitement rises when their teacher announces a three-day field trip that involves camping on a deserted atoll in the South Pacific.

When Marina says that her father has been researching the disappearance of strawberry squid down in the Midnight Zone, the area that the friends want to know more about for their project, it’s a case of Save the Sea Creatures Club to the rescue once again. And that’s despite being warned how dangerous a place this totally dark region is. A plan is formed: can they solve the mystery of the flashing light that Naya has noticed, (the light that then appears in the tunnel) and discover what is happening to the strawberry squid? Perhaps, but a fair bit of problem solving and creativity will be needed if they embark on such a mission.

And even more when they discover a glowing cave wherein lurks a tentacled monster – a monster that entraps Luna. Now Naya’s creative skill is required if she’s to succeed in rescuing her friend.

With black and white illustrations by Mirelle Ortega to enjoy, this story has exciting moments aplenty, strong friendship, and kindness even towards Glenda despite her misdeeds, this will be lapped up by established fans and other young readers with an interest in marine life and environmental issues.

The Kitten Next Door
Holly Webb, illustrated by Sophy Williams

In this latest story in Holly Webb’s Animal Stories we meet young cat lover Sophia. She longs for a cat of her own but her parents say she must wait until her little sister is a bit older. Then, just after Christmas Sophia spies a tiny, hungry-looking calico kitten Willow appears in the next-door neighbours’ garden and falls under its charm straightaway. She tries to spend some time with the kitten every day but as the holidays come to an end, the people next door move away, taking Willow with them, so Sophia assumes.

But shortly after Sophia notices the kitten again. Has she run away from her new home? Sophia is determined to find out. And so she does, but she finds out a whole lot more too and that’s one of the essential qualities of Holly Webb’s animal stories. Here we are reminded of just how scary fireworks can be to small creatures such as Willow, as well as how showing loving care and kindness towards animals can be hugely rewarding, sometimes in unexpected ways.

With its pencil sketches by Sophy Williams wherein she captivates even this cat phobic reviewer, this book is just right for new solo readers, especially animal lovers like young Sophia.

Winter Wishes / Frost

Winter Wishes
illustrated by Alison Edgson
Little Tiger

This collection of tales comprises ten illustrated wintry tales each by a different author.

From Caroline Juskus, there’s a lively little penguin Pip, eager to improve his marching in time for The Penguin Parade. There’s a rather confused, large hairy ape-like creature wandering around the snowy forest in Guy Bass’s Finding Bigfoot, an adorable seal pup eager to get in on the act in Michael Broad’s Seeley’s Song.

Caroline Pitchers’s story Is of a husky pup, anxious about her first sledge pull as a member of the team;

Elizabeth Baguley tells of a rather homesick little girl, wishing and an elephant, set in India; while Karen Wallace’s story has a fox cub puzzled about the white ‘feathers’ in the garden in the days coming up to Christmas – he certainly has a lot of learning to do about the season.

Malachy Doyle’s Morning Bear is full of wishing, surprises and lots of guessing; The Kitten in the Snow takes a while to acquire a name in Penny Dolan’s chilly tale; Narinder Dhami’s Tiger in the Night has three fox cubs discovering what it means to be a Siberian tiger and Holly Webb provides the final Just in Time for Christmas, telling how little dog Max leaves the rescue shelter and finds a family home.

Just right to snuggle up and dip into, along with a hot chocolate. Young independent readers might want to read one or two stories a day, or spend a whole afternoon/evening relishing the entire book.
More from the final author in:

Frost
Holly Webb
Stripes Publishing, Little Tiger
This story is part of the author’s wintry animal tales that cleverly mixes fantasy and historical fiction to create magical books for younger solo readers, and for reading aloud.

This one features Cassie, often known as William’s ‘baby sister’ and hence frequently left behind when it comes to the activities of the other older flat-living children. But on one occasion being left behind gives rise to her spotting a little fox on the waste ground close to her London home.

Cassie forms a special bond with the fox cub naming it Frost and feeds it regularly till one winter’s night the creature leads her off on a very special adventure, as they time-slip back to the 1683  Frost Fair on the frozen River Thames.

It’s exciting spending time in this other world but Carrie finds herself lost; can she make it safely back to her own time …

In addition to the consideration of urban foxes and the differing viewpoints about these creatures, another element woven into the story is that of the importance of understanding and helping others, herein through Cassie’s developing relationship with her somewhat irascible neighbour, Mrs Morris.

Plenty of food for thought and discussion, as well as a wondrous wintry adventure. (Line drawings from the Artful Doodlers add further atmosphere to Holly’s telling.)

Luna / Museum Kittens: The Pharaoh’s Curse

Here are two new young fiction stories from Holly Webb, both published by Little Tiger

Luna
Holly Webb, illustrated by Jo Anne Davies

The ninth of Holly Webb’s Winter Animal Stories is another time-slip adventure, this one featuring young Hannah.

She’s on holiday with her family and visiting a Christmas market in Dresden when she spots a wooden bear cub puppet on one of the stalls and knows immediately that she wants it.

Then back at the hotel in the bedroom she was sharing with her sister, the two get into a squabble over the bear and it gets broken.

During the night, Hannah wakes up and finds she is not in her hotel room but sitting on a dirty, straw strewn floor. She’s in a stable; a bear cub is there too and a much larger bear, she thinks.

Managing to open the door of the stall, she bumps into a boy and the two go outside and into a market square. But why is he anxious not to be seen?

Little by little Matthias explains what he was doing in the stable and why he is so determined to stop the cruel bear leaders getting hold of the cub Luna especially, and training her to be a dancing bear. She also learns that the boy sells carved wooden toys and when he invites her to join him in a rescue Luna attempt, she cannot but agree, especially when she actually sees bear dancing in action.

Another lovely seasonal tale full of snow and festivity, but also with a big emotional pull about the plight of the real bear cub and about the cruelty of bear dancing, which happily has almost died out.

Museum Kittens: The Pharaoh’s Curse
Holly Webb, illustrated by Sarah Lodge

Watched by the resident museum kittens, there’s great excitement among the museum staff standing in the Egyptian Gallery and it’s on account of a part of the Book of the Dead on loan from another museum.

It’s rumoured that there’s a curse on this particular piece of papyrus and when unpleasant things start occurring coinciding with its arrival, Peter kitten decides something terrible is going to happen to the museum. Tasha thinks otherwise and is determined to prove him wrong.

Then part of the gallery ceiling collapses, but that’s only the first disaster.

The entire gallery is flooded on account of a burst pipe; the kittens are trapped, so too is Grandpa Ivan. Is he right when he says, “Museum cats are perfectly capable of rescuing themselves,” or are they to fall victim to that pharaoh’s curse everyone’s been talking of? And what of the precious papyrus? Will it be ruined by the water?

Exciting stuff; those relatively new to chapter books will be whisked away, rooting for the kittens throughout; they’re made even more adorable thanks to Sarah Lodge’s plentiful illustrations.

Sea Keepers: The Mermaid’s Dolphin / Museum Kittens: The Midnight Visitor

Introducing two new younger fiction series:

Sea Keepers: The Mermaid’s Dolphin
Coral Ripley
Orchard Books

Meet Emily, Grace and Layla. Emily’s parents have just bought Mermaid Café; Layla lives just up the hill and Grace’s grandfather is a fisherman. The three team up to rescue a dolphin from a fishing net and find themselves plunging into a wondrously magical adventure with Marina the mermaid princess.

The three girls are unexpectedly chosen as the new Sea Keepers – guardians of the underwater world (a role not needed for hundreds of years). But human Sea Keepers? Humans have earned themselves a bad reputation with the Mer king and queen on account of their ocean polluting, whale killing and fishing, so the three girls will really have to prove themselves worthy of such a role.

They’ll need to confront Effluvia, the evil mermaid responsible for stirring up rubbish storms; she who has set her sights on finding the magical Golden Pearls; she with the power to mesmerise others.

Stop her they must, for the future of the underwater world is at stake; they simply have to find at least one of those magic pearls. Are they up to their task?

With talking sea creatures and much more, this magical story has at its heart the serious problem of ocean pollution. It’ll certainly immerse a certain section of young independent readers, and with still two pearls unfound at the end, this is just the first adventure of the Sea Keepers.

Museum Kittens: The Midnight Visitor
Holly Webb, illustrated by Sarah Lodge
Little Tiger

This is the first of a new series by cat-loving author Holly Webb who got her inspiration from stories of real-life museum cats from the British Museum and the Hermitage in Russia.

The appearance of a small black kitten on the museum steps one night has the majority of the feline residents of the museum all in a tither. The creature introduces himself as Peter and kitten Tasha at least, is eager to hear the story of this little scrap of a thing from ’Out There’.

Tasked with showing the incomer around the museum, the three resident kittens lead Peter through the various galleries but when they hear visitors the others hide leaving the newcomer alone.

Tasha returns to find him, taking him on a rat hunt during which they hear strange sounds coming from the Dinosaur Gallery; marauding rats perhaps, or something else?

Disaster strikes as an incident results in the famous T-Rex losing a bone:

the search is on … Will it be found and will Peter ever feel as though he fits in?

Young moggy lovers especially will lap up this story. Holly Webb has created some interesting cat characters, young and not so young; and Sarah Lodge’s black and white illustrations add further atmosphere and humour to the telling.

Star / Beyond Platform 13

Star
Holly Webb, illustrated by Jo Anne Davies
Stripes

Here’s a wonderfully wintry tale about a little girl named Anna who finds a small carved wooden tiger figure at her grandmother’s house. She puts the carving under her pillow at bedtime and the following morning when she wakes up she is somewhere completely different, a snowy village in Russia.

What’s more there are reports of a tiger cub in the vicinity.

Then Anna/Annushka realises the reason she’s where she is – that cub needs to be kept safe. She’s even more sure when she comes face to face with the little tiger in the forest and Annushka is convinced it’s a female.

Something has to be done,but her father, who doesn’t know she’s actually seen the cub, thinks they shouldn’t get involved.
Even the idea of going out alone in the snow is enormously scary but she’s a determined, resourceful young miss and so when everyone else is fast asleep out she creeps.

This nail biting story is based on a real event, so says the author’s note at the end wherein she tells of a cub whose parents had been killed by poachers that was rescued, cared for in a rehabilitation centre and eventually released back into the wild at a nature reserve in Russia.

Beyond Platform 13
Sibéal Pounder, Eva Ibbotson, illustrated by Beatriz Castro
Macmillan Children’s Books

Eva Ibbotson’s original magical book The Secret of Platform Thirteen was published about 25 years ago and now Sibéal Pounder has penned a smashing sequel that is also both funny, and full of magic and madness.

It’s now nine years after the events of The Secret of Platform 13; the Island of Mist is besieged and Prince Ben and friend Odge Gribble (the hag) are hiding away. The protective mist surrounding the island is disappearing and in the hope of discovering the reason why, Odge decides to travel to Vienna (via the gump – a bump containing a hidden door to another world) to secure the services of a mistmaker. And so it is, in a case of mistaken identity (Odge’s speciality) young adventurous Lina Lasky who most certainly is no mistmaker, becomes involved in a quest to foil the plan of the power-mad harpies before the gump closes over.

Totally captivating and full of priceless comic moments and strange creatures,

A bagworm shot out and a bridge was created

this story absolutely whizzes along sweeping readers with it; and zany as it is, there lie within messages relating to kindness and finding a place in the world – whatever world.

With smashing black and white illustrations by Beatriz Castro, this is an unputdownable delight through and through.

The Princess and the Suffragette / The Song From Somewhere Else

The Princess and the Suffragette
Holly Webb
Scholastic Children’s Books

This is a sequel of sorts to one of my childhood favourite reads, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess.
It centres on one of the characters from the original story, Lottie, now ten, who has lived at Miss Minchin’s school since she was four.

Now, a few years on, it’s 1911, when the suffragette movement is on the rise, Lottie finds herself becoming friends with one of the maids at the school, a girl named Sally who is interested in the rights of women.
During the next couple of years she also finds herself getting more rebellious and more involved in suffragette activities.

In tandem with her burgeoning rebellion, Lottie discovers that there’s a mystery surrounding her mother, and that what she’d been led to believe about her isn’t the truth.

There’s frankness about Holly Webb’s writing that makes the whole story feel genuine and well researched. She doesn’t avoid mentioning the suffering and brutality that some members of the suffragette movement underwent; and one hopes, her deft manner of talking about it will inspire young readers to understand the importance of standing up for what they believe to be right.

 

The Song From Somewhere Else
A.F.Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Here’s a book that is both beautiful and alarming, terrifying even at times.

Frank (Francesca Patel) is stalked and bullied by the local nasty, Neil Noble, and a couple of his pals; but then a rather odd boy, Nick Underbridge comes to her rescue. You might expect that the girl would be greatful, indeed she knows she ought to be, but at school Nick is said to be smelly and so not exactly the kind of person she’d want any involvement with.
However, for safety she goes back to his house with him intending merely to thank him and leave. It’s a rather strange house – not what she’d expected – filled with abstract painting done by Nick’s dad; there’s a rather strange earthy aroma pervading the place and suddenly she hears music. It’s the most haunting and beautiful music she’s ever heard; and she wants more of it and more, and more. And so, she returns.

What happens thereafter is the development of an unlikely but challenging friendship, and the discovery that within Nick’s home are secrets.

There’s a talking cat involved too.

Part reality, part fantasy, this story is absolutely wonderfully and lyrically told, and entirely convincing – the stuff of dreams, the stuff of nightmares both.
And Levi Pinfold whose images – dark, mysterious and haunting – are a fine complement to Harrold’s telling, equally beautifully illustrates it.

Totally captivating: a magical book to return to over and over.

Seasonally Flavoured Fiction

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Jingle Bells!
Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton
Nosy Crow

If you’ve yet to meet comedic twosome, the wonderful baker dogs Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam I urge you to do so with this book of three stories. Shifty’s the more industrious, of the pair; Sam means well but tends to lack his pal’s organisational skills.
In the first story, the dogs have been commissioned to create Santa’s Christmas cake and deliver it to him the same afternoon. No easy task especially with next-door neighbour Red Rocket determined to create mischief at every opportunity.

The other two tales, Sea-Monster Ahoy! and The Lucky Cat aren’t Christmassy but they are equally good fun and all are perfect for those just taking off as independent readers, who will particularly relish Steve Lenton’s lively scenes of the canine mystery solvers at work.

Harper and the Fire Star
Cerrie Burnell illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson
Scholastic

Harper, the girl endowed with a rare musical gift, who resides in the City of Clouds and is able to play any instrument she picks up without learning a single note, returns in her 4th adventure and once again it’s full of music, magic, friendship and gentle humour.
In this story, the Circus of Dreams (Harper’s birthplace) is back in town and as well as seeing her parents, Harper has something important she wants to do and that is to help the Wild Conductor win back his place in the magical show. Why he wants to do so is a mystery to Harper and her friends, nevertheless they put on an amazing show but things don’t quite go according to plan.
Then they learn exactly why getting back into the circus is so important to the Wild Conductor: it’s on account of his love for a girl named Fire Star, so called because ‘whenever she heard music she began to shine like a star.’
Adding to the fun of the tale are Laura Ellen Andersen’s sparkly illustrations.
Always ready to help others, Harper is a delight.

The Storm Dog
Holly Webb
Stripes Publishing

Young Tilly and her mum are going to stay with her Grandma and Great-Gran over Christmas but when work delays her mum, Tilly travels ahead alone on the train.
Great-Gran (almost ninety) has sent Tilly a parcel to open on the train and inside she discovers a Christmas tree decoration and a photo.
Soon, lulled by the motion of the train, Tilly starts to doze and finds herself back in the time when it was her Great-Gran taking the journey as an evacuee more than seventy years back. (Tilly is learning about World War Two for a school project.) She then re-lives some of Great-Gran’s evacuation experiences along with her two younger brothers who also stayed at Mr Thomas’ farm on the Welsh borders, attended the village school, tended the farm animals, had their first experience of snow and sledging, and prepared for the Christmas season..
Tilly forms a special friendship with Tarran, Mr Thomas’ sheepdog and it’s he that plays an important role on more than one occasion.
Gently told, the twisting, turning adventure draws you in right away and keeps you entranced right through to the end. It’s great for giving young readers an insight into life in WW2, especially those who, like Tilly, are learning about the period at school. Line drawings by Artful Doodlers, several per chapter, are scattered throughout the story, further adding to the reader’s enjoyment.

Curse of the Werewolf Boy
Chris Priestley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This had me gripped from the start. Essentially it’s a boarding school parody of the Gothic kind and its stars, or rather heroes – neither seems to quite fit the bill – Arthur Mildew and Algernon Spongely-Partwork aka Mildew and Sponge are pupils at Maudlin Towers School, by all accounts a pretty awful establishment for the ‘Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Especially Wealthy’.
Returning after a half-term holiday, the pupils are informed that a terrible crime has occurred: the School Spoon (once owned by the school’s founder) has been stolen and the headmaster threatens terrible consequences for the culprit(s).
Who better for a spot of detectivating than Mildew and Sponge who are about to learn that crime solving isn’t as easy as they might have thought. Particularly when there’s a ghost in the attic, not to mention a Viking wandering around, a history teacher, one Mr Luckless who has a ‘temporo-trans-navigational-vehicular-engine’ (a time machine to you and me); even a werewolf boy (but you’d expect that from the title), and more.
It’s not only the lead crime solvers who are splendid; every single character is wonderful be they pupil or teacher – you can meet the whole cast at once via the role of honour board at the start of the story. With staff names such as Mr Particle actually newly deceased when the story opens; you can guess what subject he taught, Mr Stupendo and the Latin speaking Miss Livia; and Enderpenny and Furthermore numbering among the pupils.
Then there’s the narrative itself which is peppered with such deliciousness as:
I know what a ha-ha is, you nose hair,” said Kenningworth … ; and
… Mildew’s upper lip began to lose some of its structural integrity…”;
a brilliantly controlled plot that twists and turns while keeping readers totally engrossed throughout its mock scary entirety; and if that’s not enough, the book is chortle-makingly illustrated by none other than Chris Priestly himself.
Why am I including this story in a Christmas review, you might be wondering: that’s for me to know and for you to discover when you get hold of a copy of this cracker of a book.