The Super-secret Diary of Holly Hopkinson: Just a touch of utter chaos / (The Boy Who Got) Accidentally Famous

Here are two hugely readable books from Harper Collins Children’s Books: thanks to the publisher for sending them for review:

The Super-secret Diary of Holly Hopkinson: Just a touch of utter chaos
Charlie P. Brooks and Katy Riddell

After the crisis with Mum almost taking a job in New York, things are once again in turmoil in the Hopkinson household, particularly where adept inventor/wielder of words, ten year old Holly is concerned. For instance she might as she says, have mentioned to her best friend Daffodil something about a New York move. Actually her mum is embarking instead on opening a farm shop/emporium.

Then her teacher Miss Blossom announces that she’s engaged to be married and that the entire class will be involved. Now while this is not good news for Holly Hopkinson (schoolgirl) and Holly Hopkinson (Band Manager Inc.) that still leaves possibilities for her Film Location and Places Inc. persona. Now she should pass on the information regarding the marriage to Aunt Electra whose establishment might just be a possibility for the wedding venue. Seemingly it’s time for Holly to make use of her magic pocket watch once again.

I loved the famous artists’ background homework episode and that of the visit to one of London’s cutting edge ‘art galleries.’ That event certainly sets some changes in motion.

As with the previous two diaries, this one is full of laugh-out-loud moments, plenty of twists and turns in the family’s fortunes, some village politics, funny food and unusual characters, including one or two unexpected ones. Like the others, Katy Riddell’s black and white illustrations provide an additional layer of humour to Charlie P. Brooks’ storytelling. 

It does work as a stand-alone book but it’s probably better if readers are familiar with Holly’s previous diaries (now safely stashed in a biscuit tin) before embarking on this one.

(The Boy Who Got) Accidentally Famous
David Baddiel, illustrated by Steven Lenton

This is a laugh-out-loud story starring the very ordinary eleven year old Billy who lives with his ordinary mum and dad and his ten month old sister (also ordinary). Nothing out of the ordinary has ever happened to Billy; but then one day something extraordinary takes place. A TV crew from TotalTV TV descend on Billy’s school, Bracket Wood to film for a show to be called School Daze. Many of Billy’s classmates play up for the cameras, hoping one of them will become famous. Not Billy however: he’s sure that the closest to fame he’ll ever get is reading about his favourite star Sunshine De Marto in his mum’s glossy magazines.

However, what happens thereafter only goes to show how wrong somebody can be: Almost overnight, on account of his ordinariness Billy becomes an internet sensation: #BillyTheNormo #OrdinaryBilly and the trending #Relatabill; there’s even a #Relatabill rap. Now at school too, everybody notices Billy especially when TotalTV want him to sign a contract. Moreover there’s a strong possibility that he might actually get to meet Sunshine De Marco.

However as his fame increases, Billy feels like somebody else entirely 

and it’s fortunate that his best friend Bo has his back, at least to begin with. Billy has to make some choices for himself if he really is to meet Sunshine and caught up in his stardom, he makes some unwise decisions. Can true friendship save him and help the boy realise his dream?

David Baddiel’s witty take on fame and friendship is a very funny, heart-warming, highly engaging and relatable story that readers in KS2 will love. It also offers lots of opportunities for class discussion and more. Steven Lenton’s black and white illustrations really help bring the characters – ordinary or otherwise – to life. Unable to it put it down, I read the book in a single sitting.

Woodland Magic: Fox Cub Rescue / The Smidgens Crash-Land

Woodland Magic: Fox Cub Rescue
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Katy Riddell
Piccadilly Press

This is the first of a new series about a community of tiny sprite-like beings residing in the depths of Whispering Wood in Hidden Middle, out of sight of the Ruffins (humans) who live on the edge of the woods. Living off the land, seeking out and collecting their food and useful objects discarded by Ruffins, these tiny folk are called Keepers. Early every morning the Keepers head off into Ruffin territory to repair and protect the environment from the actions of the Ruffins.
The main protagonists of this story are Cora and Jax, would-be Keepers in training who are excited about their very first venture in the Big Outside where they’ve been asked to reseed land bulldozed by the Ruffins, and if possible to collect various natural items. They must complete this work by dawn or risk being sent back to school.
The two friends think they’ve plenty of time to do the bidding of Scarlet Busybee, but once in the Outside they’re soon distracted, first by a mother fox and her cubs and then a shiny metal slide and only just make it back in time. They’re given another chance and the following day set out, full of good intentions, with two specific jobs to do.
Again the two are distracted in part by something that’s happened as a consequence of their previous day’s actions. Seemingly it’s going to take more than a mere sprinkling of Cora’s woodland magic to put things right 

but perhaps some timely unexpected assistance by fellow Keepers could yet help save the situation.
Julie Sykes cleverly weaves the actions and consequences thread into her enchanting story while Katy Riddell’s sprinkling of black and white illustrations imbue the telling with a misty magical feel.
New solo readers, especially lovers of nature sprinkled with woodland magic, will delight in this book and eagerly anticipate the further titles in the series mentioned after the ‘create your own wildflower meadow’ instructions that follow the adventure.

There’s more magic with tiny beings in:

The Smidgens Crash-Land
David O’Connell, illustrated by Seb Burnett
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Since her previous adventure Gafferty Sprout has been very good but this hot-headed young Smidgen seems to have a nose for trouble. In this second adventure it isn’t long before trouble is what she finds as she and new best friend Will take to the air but only briefly; a mishap with their glider plunges them down right by Noah who is out shopping at the ‘Big Folk’ market with his mum.
Even bigger trouble soon turns up in the form of another Smidgen, one Crumpeck, who claims to have discovered the location of the third Smidgen clan’s home, a place called Burrow. ‘… even more Smidgens to get to know – and more friends’ thinks Gafferty. But is it really that straightforward, for Crumpeck steals Gafferty’s precious magical knife and starts heading for the Burrow. What else can she do but follow him, harmless Smidgenologist or not?
However when Gafferty eventually finds a way into the Burrow she discovers that these Smidgens are not the friendly folks she’d anticipated.

Meanwhile the evil Claudia Slymark is on the prowl, still searching for a piece of that magical mirror.
In the end (though happily not the end of the series), Gafferty must rely on Smidgen rule 4 to extricate herself from a very very tricky situation. Can she do it?
Superbly illustrated once more by Seb Burnett, this is another of David O’Connell’s wonderfully exuberant mixes of humour, adventure and magic. It’s sure to leave readers and listeners eagerly anticipating Gafferty’s next adventure: perhaps therein the three Smidgen clans will be reunited – you never know …

The Super-secret Diary of Holly Hopkinson

The Super-secret Diary of Holly Hopkinson
Charlie P. Brooks, illustrated by Katy Riddell
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Having survived the move to the countryside following her Dad’s job loss, Holly (with volume 1 safely stashed in a time capsule) shares volume two of her memoirs with readers.

Four months have now passed. Mum is still commuting to her old PR job in London while Dad is busy with his Chequers bistro pub project that her Aunt Electra might or might not become general manager of, and her niece aka Holly is assisted by the magic pocket watch given to her as a 10th birthday present by said aunt. She’s just got to get the hang of how to use it properly and then all will be fine.

As the account opens the school Christmas holiday is a couple of days away and life for Holly promises to be hyper-hectic. First though she sneaks a preview look at the reports her class teacher has left in her desk drawer while she has a coffee break. Did I hear the word ‘tamper’ just then? Oops! magic pocket watch disaster number one.

Followed soon after by disaster number two and that one well and truly messes things up for her dad at Chequers. Maybe she can help Mum instead … sounds as though another disaster is imminent. Beware the cloud of doom.

Then there’s the formation of The Cool to deal with, followed shortly after by band management duties. Can she possibly cope with a stay-over visit from London bestie (ex?) Aleeshaa with all this, not to mention keeping an eye on what Grandpa is up to. Then there’s the arrival of a film director looking for a location for his next blockbuster. Talk about chaotic Christmas holiday.

Annoyingly, the chances of Holly getting that i-pad she so much wants seem to be diminishing.

Like this reviewer, readers will likely find themselves giggling at almost every turn of the page: try this for a taster: ‘My bum now looks like two raw steaks being marinated overnight and the way I’m walking you’d think I was auditioning for a cowboy film. I’ve even had to put the loo paper in the fridge.’ (entry following a fall from Declan as Holly prepares for the Chequers Xmas Pony race).

When countryside catastrophes are mixed with comical capers you can be sure Holly Hopkinson is involved one way or another in Charlie P. Brooks’ altogether different, fun family drama with highly appropriate visual jottings by Katy Riddell.

Saving the Planet – The International Yeti Collective: Shadowspring / Astronuts Mission Two: The Water Planet

The International Yeti Collective: Shadowspring
Paul Mason, illustrated by Katy Riddell
Little Tiger

The Yeti Collective is a worldwide organisation with each of its strands having responsibility for an element of conservation while simultaneously aiming to avoid human detection.

Shadowspring (underground water upon which all wildlife and the humans depend) is under the protection of the Greybeards (the British group) but now somebody or something is interfering with the water levels and things are looking bad for the inhabitants of Tadpole’s community.

Tadpole (she of unripe character), daughter of the sett’s leader, Shipshape (she in perfect order), is next in line to become the Greybeards’ leader, a role for which she feels anything but fit.

Despite the precedent for avoiding humans contact, like her grandfather before her, Tadpole meets a human; his name is Henry, a boy just adapting to boarding school life.

Now, on account of the danger the Greybeards are facing, Tadpole and Henry (aka Hen-ree) must work together: an extremely dangerous undertaking ensues.

It’s a delight to enter and share in this world with its highly pertinent environmental messages, that’s populated by wonderful characters such as the two main ones in this story.

I missed the first book in the series, but I intend getting hold of it forthwith; I’m sure it too will be a superb read.

Astronuts Mission Two: The Water Planet
Jon Scieszka and Steven Weinberg
Chronicle Books

AstroWolf, LaserShark, SmartHawk, and StinkBug, the four NNASA agents, return having previously failed to find the perfect Goldilocks Planet, with a new mission, to find a planet fit for human habitation.

Having splash-landed on Water Planet, they discover it is awash with clams, a power-hungry, sub-aquatic force led by their president, P.T.Clam . Said creature is absolutely gushing with praise about his home planet and more than a little keen to swap his planet of residence for Earth. the polluted waters of which he claims to filter. Now why might he be so eager for that exchange?

It appears that he’s willing to do a special deal on the quiet with AlphaWolf (the mission’s leader) but another clam, Susan B. Clamthony tells a rather different story

and it’s one that the Astronuts really need to hear. It sounds as though not all the residents of Water Planet are as dastardly as their leader.

Packing the adventure with punny humour, hilarious interchanges and with a bounteous brio, Jon Scieszka, via his Earth narrator, cleverly knits together environmental information and facts about climate change. Combined with Steven Weinberg’s equally zany collage illustrations, every one of which is as immersive as the watery environment of the story’s setting, (love the spread on how they were created) this is a terrific second instalment.

More please! I hear youngsters, (especially fans of graphic novels) cry. (And this reviewer.)