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.

Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race / Aisha and Silver

These are the latest titles in two of Nosy Crow’s series for younger readers kindly sent for review

Magnificent Mabel and the Egg and Spoon Race
Ruth Quayle, illustrated by Julia Christians

No matter what life throws at her, young Mabel is MAGNIFICENT. But for Mabel Chase, the book’s narrator things are sometimes not fair – at all. Seemingly however careful she is about things like being a worthy partner to Edward Silitoe on school sports day, the two just don’t see eye to eye or even arm to arm, let alone egg to spoon. No matter, somehow or other her magnificence always shines through – eventually.

Next, there’s the class play and this term for a change, Mabel really, really wants to get a leading part, William Shakespeare, preferably. But then who is she asked to play but Titania. No matter, magnificence rules, and where there’s a Will, there’s a way …

Then comes the Dermot episode. It comes about when Mabel’s family finally agree to take her to a dog show one weekend. It’s somewhere you can only go (so her Dad says) if you have a dog, Time to start training for the agility event.

As always, our narrator comes out on top.

These latest comical slices of mischief of the Mabel kind with spirited illustrations by Julia Christians, will appeal to the slightly mischievous side of young children be they those readers just starting to fly solo or story time listeners in the foundation stage.

Aisha and Silver
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman

The Unicorn Academy series has captured the hearts of many young solo readers with its mix of sparkling magic and the kind of issues concerning friendship, loyalty and overcoming problems that most primary children have to contend with.

In this latest slice of enchantment Aisha faces problems: first the likelihood of having to repeat an entire school year as she hasn’t yet discovered Silver’s particular magic or bonded with him. Secondly, there’s been a spate of terrible hailstorms that have been causing damage to their beloved school and worse, might endanger the life of anybody caught out in one. That’s the reason for the early closure of the school leaving Aisha just five days to bond with Silver and to stop the storms.

It’s crucial to find out who or what has been causing them: with Aisha also intent on perfecting her music for the dorm’s display ride, she’s under a lot of pressure. It looks as though teamwork will be required to take on the mysterious LT.

Another engaging read with plenty of lovely illustrations by Lucy Truman to break up the text.

Olga: We’re Out of Here! / Judy Moody Goes to College / Zara and Moonbeam

Olga: We’re Out of Here!
Elise Gravel
Walker Books

Olga and her ‘adorable’ albeit rather smelly creature Meh (found in her rubbish bin) return with Olga – fed up with annoying humans – considering leaving Earth and moving to another planet. Perhaps they could even find Meh’s home planet.

Actually, there are several humans that Olga’s not fed up with including her pal, the dog loving Chuck and librarian extraordinaire, Ms Swoop. The latter might just be able to help with Olga’s possible foray into space.
But then Meh starts having digestive problems and before long is so poorly that Olga is truly concerned especially when she notices some unpleasant pimples on the creature’s belly.

Time to visit the library for a bit of investigation, but when Olga gets there she finds not the friendly Ms Swoop but the grumpy Mr Gumstrap on duty. Maybe a trip to the vet’s is a better option. Or is it? …
All ends happily however, and with some exciting news about Meh’s mystery ‘illness’.
Wonderfully quirky and with such an unconventional, research-loving outspoken protagonist, this illustrated notebook style story is such a fun read for primary children.

Judy Moody Goes to College
Megan McDonald, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds
Walker Books

The latest story of Judy Moody finds the girl struggling with maths according that is to her sweet obsessed supply teacher, Mrs Grossman. The reason for this is that being unimpressed with said new teacher, Judy’s concentration is on anything but the measurement topic that’s being taught. Home goes a note to Judy’s parents who decide that their daughter needs a tutor. Stink, her little brother teases her talking of ‘baby flashcards’. Unsurprisingly Judy is not impressed with this tutor idea either but then she discovers that her tutor is a college student and that she too is going to college – sort of!

Pretty soon, Judy declares that having a tutor like Chloe is ‘crucial’ – ‘maths is everywhere. Maths is life.’ However, less impressed with this new-found enthusiasm of Judy’s are her school friends and it’s not long before she’s playing alone and lunching solo. Moreover, she finds herself sent to the attitude tent by Miss Grossman who’s finding her lippiness just a tad too much. Can Chloe help Judy sort this out too? Perhaps, with a bit of calming, peace-inducing yoga …

Huge fun whether or not the reader is an established Judy fan. I love Peter H. Reynolds illustrations.

Zara and Moonbeam
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

Is this really the 15th magical story set at Unicorn Academy, the school on Unicorn Island where you meet your very own unicorn and have awesome adventures together. Now it’s Zara who is eagerly waiting for her unicorn to reveal her magic power. But Moonbeam keeps seeing pictures in her head and saying strange things: surely that can’t be connected to her magical power, or can it?

Suddenly who should appear but school inspector, Mr Longnose: could he perhaps be connected with the awful heatwave they’re experiencing? Zara and her friends are determined to find out. When Moonbeam keeps seeing the same images over and over she starts to think she can see into the future.

Then a school field trip is announced and after a while, Zara climbs an enormous rock and finds herself in trouble. Can Moonbeam find her magic power in the nick of time and save the girl?

With Lucy Truman’s black and white illustrations adding to the drama, Unicorn School enthusiasts especially, will devour this adventure, probably in a single sitting.

The Monster in the Lake / Unicorn Academy: Isla and Buttercup

Here are the latest stories in two magical series from Nosy Crow

The Monster in the Lake
Louie Stowell, illustrated by Davide Ortu
Nosy Crow

We’re back in the magical world Louie Stowell took us to in Dragon in the Library with youngest magician in the world, Kit Spencer. Beneath that library in Book Wood, she’s having ‘spelling’problems. She hasn’t been distracted, her pronunciation was spot on as were her hand gestures; so why, oh why, are her spells going haywire?
Then Kit and her pals learn two things: one: they can understand what the animals they encounter in the park are saying and two: Dogon the delightful dragon dog is poorly, very poorly.

Definitely time for a spot of investigation …

Almost before you can say ‘weird’ the friends find themselves face to face with a strange creature calling itself Lizzie and saying it’s a Lesser Nessie from Scotland.

After a conversation with Lizzie, the friends return to the library and before long they’re embarking on a double rescue undertaking in Scotland, via one the library’s portal books.

Once there they discover a mobile library and its librarian Duncan. Then follows a terrific adventure full of mermaids, ancient curses and much more. It’s dangerous, nail-bitingly tense and absolutely perfectly paced.

Once again Louie Stowell’s telling with its mix of magic, friendship and bookish references works a treat, and with Davide Ortu’s stylish illustrations, the result is another spellbinding foray into the world of Kit, Faith, Josh and Alita.

An absolutely brilliant, unmissable story for primary readers: and what a superb final observation by Faith, “Whatever else changes, whatever threats we face … We will always have books.”

For slightly younger readers:

Unicorn Academy: Isla and Buttercup
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

Can it really be the 12th visit to the magical Unicorn Academy? I know one girl, now seven, who has lapped up all the stories so far and has been eagerly awaiting this new one. I’m sure she will devour it in a single sitting.

The term is drawing to a close and Isla is eager to graduate along with all the other girls. When her unicorn Buttercup discovers that his magical power is ‘finding magic’ Isla hopes that he’s capable of using this special power to find the evil Ms Willow who has disappeared.

Does 2nd year student Valentina know anything about her whereabouts – she’s certainly acting strangely. Why is she receiving so many letters, and who is sending them?

Once again, teamwork is key in this adventure: Will the girls find the missing teacher; will Isla finally believe in herself and will everyone receive their graduation scroll at the end of term?

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Snow Goose / Unicorn Academy: Violet and Twinkle

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Snow Goose
Anne Booth, illustrated by Rosie Butcher
Oxford University Press

There’s trouble in the Magical Kingdom of Birds: the amazing Silver Snow Goose normally appears to open the Winter Festival and the snow geese then start to migrate south for winter but this year there’s no sign of him, so winter cannot come.

Uncle Astor is causing problems again. He’s furious at not being  guest of honour at the festival and this is the result.

Can Keeper of the Book, Maya, and her friends, uncover the whereabouts of the missing snow goose, and bring winter to the kingdom, even if it means Maya taking her longest ever flight?

With the popular mix of magic and bird facts, Anne Booth’s Maya and her new adventure will certainly please her numerous already established followers and she’ll no doubt win new enthusiasts with this wintry tale. Rosie Butcher’s black and white illustrations and beautiful borders are likely to seduce readers whether or not they’re familiar with the series.

There’s plenty of magic too in

Unicorn Academy: Violet and Twinkle
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

Can it really be the 11th adventure set in the school where magic is part and parcel of the pupils’ lives?

Violet is eager to graduate from Unicorn Academy along with all her friends. First though she needs to bond with her unicorn Twinkle and becoming true friends with this creature inclined to put his hoof in it when he speaks and thus hurt other people’s feelings isn’t straightforward.

What’s more he doesn’t really listen to Violet or think about what she wants to do.

In the meantime there’s the identity of the cloaked figure to be discovered.

Her unmasking precipitates an alarming event that sees Violet and Twinkle cascading towards the Frozen Lagoon where almost before you can say ‘binding spell’ they find themselves taken prisoner.

Can Twinkle discover his magic and save not only the two of them, but also all the friends who come searching for the missing pair? A very daring rescue is called for.

Certainly for young solo readers, the magic still holds good.

Fabio: Mystery of the Ostrich Express / Ariana and Whisper / Princess of Pets: The Naughty Kitten

Fabio: Mystery of the Ostrich Express
Laura James, illustrated by Emily Fox
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Fabio, flamingo detective and resident of a small town on the banks of Lake Laloozee, returns to solve his second case and it involves a stolen necklace.

Fabio and his trusty associate Gilbert giraffe are about to depart on the Ostrich Express for a much-needed holiday at Coconut Palm Resort when something, or rather someone, catches Fabio’s eye.

Once on the train, a desert fox who introduces herself as Zazie – appears in the dining car sporting a fur stole and enormous ruby pendant – the legendary, -very valuable so she tells Fabio and Gilbert – Lalooze Ruby.

As the train speeds across the desert, unexpected happenings take place, the first being that Gilbert is knocked unconscious when he hits his head against the window as the train is suddenly brought to a full-stop. Leaving his friend in the care of Zazie, Fabio leaves the train and discovers a baby elephant lying beneath the stars tied to the tracks. Fabio unties him and learns that a gang of bandits – hyenas and a leopard – had tied him down.

That though is only the beginning. Soon a scream pierces the dark followed by hyena’s laugh and as Fabio climbs back aboard the train he spots a leopard silhouette and learns that the ruby has vanished from around Zazie’s neck – pulled off by a thief so she says.

Never fear, Fabio is hot on the case; he merely needs to enlist the aid of the train crew to help power his refurbished handcar,

let loose the tied-together table cloths , … cavort across a few train carriages, execute a deft flick of Gilbert’s cane and … and … that would be telling way too much of this exciting, fast-paced, perfect for just flying solo readers tale.

And with Emily Fox’s dayglo bright, pink and orange powered illustrations and occasional text backgrounds, plus Fabio-patterned chapter breaks, what more can any young reader want?

Ariana and Whisper
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

Unicorn Academy is ‘where magic happens’ and now in story number 8, arachnid-fearing  Ariana is finding it hard to make friends. She does however love her special unicorn Whisper and enjoys spending time in the stables bonding with him and helping him discover his magic power.

Things improve somewhat when she starts to bond with untidy Matilda and then Ms Nettles announces that the day’s lessons are to be replaced by a field trip to the edges of the woods to find out which animals are leaving and why. An adventure is set to begin: something is very wrong in the woods and Ariana can feel it.

Not long after, Whisper discovers his special power: perhaps with its help, together with the courage of Ariana, her unicorn and the other students, the mystery of what has been happening with the animals can be solved.

Fans of the sparkling series will lap this up with its short, bite-size chapters and Lucy Truman’s enchanting black and white drawings.

Princess of Pets: The Naughty Kitten
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller
Nosy Crow

Princess Bea is an animal lover but her father King George tells her time and again that Ruby Palace is ‘no place for a pet’. However, the nine-year-old princess isn’t one to be deterred by royal rules when it comes to taking care of animals needing help.

While she’s at the kite festival with her teacher Mr Wells, Bea climbs up a tree to free her kite and there comes upon a ginger kitten; and of course, she just has to rescue it.

Determined to keep it safe until they can find its owner she manages to sneak it in to the palace but discovers that Tiger as she calls it, is rather excitable. Moreover when her father discovers the creature, he’s far from pleased and gives Bea just 24 hours to get rid of it.

At night the kitten decides to go exploring and Bea needs to summon up all her courage to hunt around the palace in the pitch dark, especially when she hears a noise that doesn’t sound like Tiger …

Young animal lovers just flying solo as readers will enjoy this addition to the series illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller.

Where Dani Goes, Happy Follows / Snow Sisters: The Enchanted Waterfall / Unicorn Academy: Rosa and Crystal

Where Dani Goes, Happy Follows
Rose Lagerercrantz and Eva Eriksson
Gecko Press

This is my first encounter with the delightful Dani whose adventures began with My Happy Life.In this, her sixth instalment the girl is spending the winter break staying with her grandparents because her father has again become sad and is now spending time with his mother and brother in his home city, Rome to ‘think about his life’.

While out ski-ing, the normally cheerful Dani gets that gloomy feeling but then she suddenly thinks of her best friend Ella and remembers that it’s almost her birthday. What better birthday present than an experience – a surprise visit from Dani?

There’s a slight snag though: Ella lives miles away in Northbrook. Of course, being the positive child she is Dani’s sure one of her grandparents will drive her: maybe she doesn’t have a problem after all.

After consideration Grandma asks her if she dares go from Stockholm to Northbrook on the train by herself so long as Ella’s mum collects her at the station. Granpa needs a fair bit of convincing but eventually Dani is on the train bound for her destination.

When she arrives at Northbrook however things start to go wrong; the station is covered in snow and there’s nobody there to meet her. That however is only the first bad thing that happens …

With her near indomitable spirit, Dani is an adorable character. In this book, in a very short space of time she emerges with a lot more understanding of the adult world with its ramifications and frailties.

With its bitter-sweetness, Rose Lagererantz’s writing really rings true and her characterisation is superb.

Eva Eriksson’s splendidly empathetic black and white illustrations are a delight and add an extra touch of piquancy to the book.I will definitely seek out the earlier titles in this series.

Wholeheartedly recommended for solo reading and as a class read aloud for KS1 and early KS2.

Snow Sisters: The Enchanted Waterfall
Astrid Foss, illustrated by Monique Dong
Nosy Crow

This is the 4th and final magical adventure of the three sisters, with special powers to enchant, who reside in a castle on the mystical island of Nordovia.

Now Magda, Hanna and Ida must draw on all their strength and bravery to undertake their final quest in this battle of good versus evil, for it’s the Day of the Midnight Sun and the nefarious Shadow Witch is absolutely determined to do whatever she must to obtain the power of the Everchanging Lights and make the skies forever dark.

As always the combination of magical fantasy, highly engaging characters (some animal), a powerful plot with just the right amount of darkness, and plenty of Monique Dong’s lovely black and white illustrations will ensure that early chapter book readers will lose themselves in the adventure.

And do the sisters succeed in ensuring that the Everchanging Lights are in their rightful place by the time the clock strikes the midnight hour? Let’s just say that where’s there’s light and love, there is hope.

For roughly the same age group, there’s more magic in:

Unicorn Academy: Rosa and Crystal
Julie Sykes, illustrated by Lucy Truman
Nosy Crow

This series for the countless young unicorn lovers out there takes us yet again to Lakeside Unicorn Academy for another instalment of magical unicorn delight.

The pupil in question herein is Rose and her unicorn partner is Crystal and after just a month at the school the two are off on a rule-breaking adventure in search of the magical map. It’s not all down to the twosome however, teamwork is involved and they both have to learn what being a member of a team entails.

Engaging, undemanding fun.