Glassheart / Brand New Boy / Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean

Katharine Orton
Walker Books

Prepare to be both chilled and enchanted, bothered and bewitched as you read this, the second of Katherine Orton’s stories. It tells of Nona who has lost all her family in the war (WW2) and of her adopted Uncle Antoni. This though isn’t a tale of war itself, but of its aftermath, as together they travel through the wilds of Dartmoor, each caring and protecting the other as a magical adventure unfolds. With echoes of folktale and legend, the landscape that the author crafts is wild, unpredictable – sometimes sinisterly nightmarish.

Her tale is one of power, fragility and also strength as the two walk side by side, stopping to replace stained glass windows, Nona with a small piece of magical glass in the form of half a heart reminding her of what once was, Uncle Antoni with his skill and artistry in stained glass.

With the girl as his apprentice, they undertake a mysterious commission that sees Nona face to face with her nemesis. But though fragile, Nona has an inner strength, loyalty and determination which drives her on in her endeavour to protect those she loves.

Truly evident is Katherine Orton’s understanding of suffering and the assuagement of grief.

Brand New Boy
David Almond, illustrated by Marta Altés
Walker Books

George joins an ordinary class in an ordinary school somewhere in northern England. Daniel is fascinated and watchful, especially when George’s ear falls off. It’s clear that this newcomer is far from ordinary. But then Daniel is actually not so ordinary either. He’s capable of doing extraordinary things: he’s caring, perceptive, questioning, open-minded and ready to accept somebody just a little bit different.

So, while he and his friend Maxie in particular go about their football and other activities at school, his mind is full of thoughts about the mysterious newcomer. But then just as suddenly as he came, two days later, George is there no more. Will he ever come back?

If ever there was a story to encourage children to think about what they are and to consider the true meaning of being human, and of freewill, then this is it.

Deceptively simple in its telling David Almond’s story has a quiet power while Martha Altés illustrations bring out the humour inherent in the tale.
Never underestimate children; all too frequently I see both teachers and parents so doing. They too should read this book.

Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean
Justin Somper
UCLAN Publishing

This is a reissue of a book (the first of a series) originally published some fifteen years back. It’s a swashbuckling tale of pirates and vampires set in the future in an attractive-sounding location – Crescent Moon Bay on the Australian coast.

We meet twins Grace and Connor, who are left entirely alone in the world when their lighthouse keeper father to whom so many owe their lives, suddenly dies. The children cast themselves off in his boat out to sea and all too soon are hit by a storm but they’re not to meet their demise in the ocean. Grace is rescued by Lorcan Furey, one of the vampire crew of a strange boat, Connor by friendly pirates.

The action then switches between the two as their stories unfold alternately with secrets emerging until at last, the two are reunited. With its lively cast of characters (depicted before the title page) this is an entertaining start to a sequence of further adventures for older primary readers and beyond.

New in Town

New in Town
Marta Altés
Macmillan Children’s Books

Despite its shaggy dog narrator, Marta Altés latest book is anything but a shaggy-dog story.

After a long and tiring journey, said narrator, in search of a new home, arrives at a large town.

After asking around and looking in lots of places, and in spite of all the wonderful sights, sounds and smells, he still hasn’t found anywhere that feels just right.

The people are a delight despite their rather different ways of doing things

but everyone seems just too busy, and nobody can understand, or perhaps even see the home seeker

untll the dog has a chance encounter with a little girl who is lost and wants to go home.

As they look for the child’s home together, the feelings of loneliness (the dog’s) and of being lost (the child’s) grow less

but then it’s time to say goodbye – or is it?

Warm and funny – the illustrations especially – this tale of kindness, friendship and accommodating differences needs to be read several times to appreciate all that’s going on in Marta’s splendid scenes of bustling city life.

A Clutch of Activity Books

I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge fan of activity type books; the teacher part of me would much prefer to provide children sheets of paper, large and small and a variety of materials, some encouragement and let them create. However that’s not for everyone and I know there are some children (and definitely lots of parents) who want something much more self-contained on occasion. So, here’s a clutch of stand-out books that might be just the thing to turn to on a rainy day or when the children seem at a loss for what to do next…


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Let’s Go Find a Tiger!
Yasmeen Ismail
Macmillan Children’s Books
In the company of two explorers we foray deep into the jungle seeking a tiger. Tigers however are far from the only inhabitants of this lush environment: there are brightly coloured birds – particularly if you draw some as well as using the stickers provided at the back of the book, a variety of minibeasts, a snake or so …

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a lone monkey that needs feeding (you draw or stick the food and additional monkeys), and some more friends to play with (you decide what).
Further in are some animals already engaged in playful activity; they too need others to join them.
Watch out for that pond: what scary thing lives there? – It’s pretty much up to the reader …
And so the search continues: there’s an encounter with a large, friendly pachyderm, some leopards partying, birds among the branches …

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and finally or almost so – that sought-after tiger.
At the end of the book, the reader has become the co-creator of his or her own jungle story, or that’s the intention. Very young children will need an adult to read the rhythmic, sometimes rhyming text aloud before embarking on the artistic endeavours offered herein.
As always Yasmeen Ismail’s own illustrations are a delight – exuberant and playful. I suspect any youngster offered this book would delight in personalizing it in his or her unique way.

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You Are an Artist
Marta Altés
Macmillan Children’s Books
This book takes the form of a series of ‘lessons’ from an artist, THE artist from Marta Altés’ I Am An Artist picture book. The art teacher provides a drawing lesson, a lesson in looking at things creatively wherein you have to find the 10 faces, an opportunity to get colourful, another to use sticker shapes in imaginative ways (I’ve seen foundation stage children engaging in using real objects – leaves,

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flower petals, shells, pebbles, pencil shavings, scraps of paper, wood offcuts etc. in a similar fashion,

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rather than the stickers provided at the end of the narrative). Then there is a lesson on using line, another about looking for and using pattern …

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and some other fairly open-ended activities.
Not only does this book offer hours of fun but also provides the opportunity to think about, and talk about being an artist and what it entails.
I love the assertive message inherent in the title.

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Atlas of Adventure Activity Fun Pack
illustrated by Lucy Letherland
Wide Eyed Publications
Even if you’re not going far afield this holiday, you can visit all kinds of locations near and far courtesy of a companion to Lucy Letherland’s splendid Atlas of Adventure. Essentially it comprises a fair bit of colouring in (this seems to be in vogue at present), things to spot and snippets of information that are scattered throughout the various spreads. So, pens and crayons at the ready, you can ‘Go Wild in Africa’, ‘Party Around the World’, go deep sea diving and more.

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There’s also a flags of the world poster a the back of the book and stickers to embellish the map of the world on the reverse side.

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Pop this into a bag before you embark on a journey with youngsters, no matter what your destination.

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Making Faces!
Jacky Bahbout and Momoko Kudo
Thames & Hudson
With a large die-cut circle through each of the 32 tear-out pages of this book/pad children are provided with a whole host of possibilities to be inventive with mark-making materials, offcuts of paper/fabric, wool, glue and other bits and pieces. Then by peering through the central hole, they can become the star (human or animal) of their own playful scenarios

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with sound effects as suggested on some of the pages, though there isn’t always much room for embellishment around the face hole.
The paper used feels like artists’ paper and the wide variety of topics such as ‘Let’s Space Walk’ or ‘I Love Spiders’ included should offer something to interest most young children.

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The King Cat & Mr Mistoffelees

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The King Cat
Marta Altés
Macmillan Children’s Books
The feline narrator of this story has had things pretty much his own way for a very long time. He does however provide occasional entertainment and regular nocturnal protective duty for his ‘people’ in return for being left to slumber during the daytime, not to mention a little bit of relaxation therapy proffered by human hands. All in all life couldn’t be better for this – in his own words – GOOD, SUPER CUTE king.
Then one morning without so much as a by your leave, everything changes.

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The rules of the kingdom are upheld no longer.

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Time to reinforce the status quo decides our erstwhile domestic king and before long peace and normality are restored. So why does the realm seem so quiet – too quiet perhaps with the old rules back in place.
Oh! what’s that …

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Maybe some negotiation could work after all …
I love the droll illustrations and straightforward manner of telling of this comic tale of domestic rivalry. Indeed it could well be a metaphor for sibling rivalry with the arrival of a new infant in the household. Don’t forget to look closely at the details in fore- and endpapers for the story really begins and ends thereon.

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Mr. Mistoffelees
T.S. Eliot and Arthur Robins
Faber & Faber Children’s Books pbk
We’ve already been treated to Arthur Robins’ hilarious illustrative rendition of Macavity; now it’s the turn of the Mr. Mistoffelees the ‘Original Conjuring Cat’ to take centre stage and that is exactly what he does. In close up we view a performance of his confusion-causing illusions,

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of one kind … and another.
This small black feline character takes us through his whole repertoire of sleights of hand and more,

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while deceiving us all that his sole occupation is mouse-hunting . And as for shyness –well that’s what he’d have us believe but

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we know better.
Even I, with my cat allergy and phobia find this Mr M. totally irresistible, which only goes to prove that he truly is, as Arthur Robins has so admirably shown, ‘Magical Mr. Mistoffelees’.

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The five year old maker of this puppet certainly thought so too.


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