Primary Fiction Shelf

The Umbrella Mouse
Anna Fargher, illustrated by Sam Usher
Macmillan Children’s Books

Here’s a war story that’s altogether different. It’s set in London in 1944 and begins in Bloomsbury’s James Smith & Sons Umbrella Shop wherein we meet Pip Hanway and her family of umbrella mice.

When disaster strikes in the form of a bomb on the building, killing her parents, Pip is forced to begin a hazardous hunt for a new home, a home in the Italian hills where her family had its origins.

She is fortunate to meet rescue dog, Dickin, and thus begins a highly unusual tale that draws on true stories of animals caught in the WW2 conflict, a story of resistance, of courage, determination, treachery, sacrifice and bravery.

Anna Fargher’s debut is a powerful, compelling telling that will have readers and listeners charged with emotion as they root for these animals fighting the evil Nazi regime; and with occasional illustrations by Sam Usher of Rain, Sun, Snow and Storm fame to add to the pleasures, the book is strongly recommended for individuals and will also make a great KS2 class read aloud, particularly for those studying WW2.

Turns Out I’m an Alien
Lou Treleaven
Maverick Arts Publishing

The narrator of this zany tale is eleven-year-old Jasper who stands 4ft 6in tall and has green hair and eyes. A highly imaginative child so his teacher tells him, Jason lives with his extremely nice foster parents Mary and Bill Clarkson.
One day in order to bring in some extra cash. Mary and Bill decide to rent out one of the now unused bedrooms.

Before their guest has even arrived, Jasper is beginning to doubt whether his foster parents really are as predictably normal as he’d heretofore thought, especially when he notices Mary cooking what appears to be a kind of glowing green rock and Bill constantly checking the night sky through his binoculars.

Then out of the dark descends a weirdly spherical being with an orange skin uttering greetings from planet Snood and introducing himself as Flarp Moonchaser, “Slayer of the Multi-Headed Muck Monster of Murg” as he stretches forth his hand for Jasper to shake. Moreover, the thing has a strange bag stuffed full of weird and wonderful objects.

I’ll say no more other than that Jasper discovers his alien origins, the children are cascaded into a madcap space adventure to save a planet from the terrible Emperor Iko Iko Iko; there are secret agents, secret, secret agents and things get pretty Gloopy.

Entirely crazy, but readers will be swept along by the unfolding drama, which perhaps doesn’t actually end at The End.

Dennis in Jurassic Bark
Nigel Auchterlounie
Studio Press

Fans of the traditional Beano comic will certainly recognise the characters Minnie the Minx and Walter although this book is a novel, not a comic, albeit with a fair sprinkling of black and white illustrations.

It’s another madcap adventure for Dennis who is plunged back in time 65 million years. First though we find the boy visiting his gran watching a TV news reporter talking about ‘what seems to be a huge mutant, ice-cream stealing seagull’ that Dennis immediately identifies as a Pterodactyl. Dennis however isn’t the only child watching the news item; so too, among others, are his worst enemy Walter and Minnie the Minx.

Before you can say Pterodactyl Dennis finds himself on Duck Island determined to save Beanotown from dinosaur disaster.

There’s no need to be a Dennis fan to be entertained by this madcap romp with its interactive puzzles to enjoy along the way.

Dino Wars: The Trials of Terror

Dino Wars: The Trials of Terror
Dan Metcalf, illustrated by Aaron Blecha
Maverick Arts Publishing

This, the second in a series of four, will be welcomed by those who relished The Rise of the Raptors but equally, new readers will quickly be sucked in to this new adventure of Adam Caine, sister Chloe and friends. They’re still on that quest to obtain all four Dilotron crystals and thus disarm the lab. producing the biological weapon that will wipe out all dinosaur life on their planet; the lab. with the computer that Adam had accidentally activated. Thus far the adventurers have two of those crucial catastrophe-preventing crystals and the hunt is on – urgently.

Their possible location is Pteratopolis, city of pterosaurs, unknown territory for Adam and his gang.There’s a slight snag though, these particular dinos. are flying creatures and Pteratopolis is a fortress with enormously high, wooden walls. Climbing skills are crucial if the friends are to enter. Or, alternatively what about Dag’s suggestion that he makes use of his heli-kit, albeit with some modifications to the metal blades. In other words, the proposal is that Dag turns himself into a living saw mill; it might just work.

adventure,

It does; now all they have to do is locate the next crystal. What could be easier?

A spot of tree-scaling is needed and inevitably, adventurous Adam is on his way up before his companions can utter, “… break his neck”. But then having reached his destination, he finds himself, courtesy of imprinting, the adopted mother of a newly hatched pterosaur. Oh dear! Consequences again Adam …

Co-existence, co-operation, kindness, diplomacy and daring are all part and parcel of this absorbing, fast-moving,  turning twisting tale; so too are Aaron Blecha’s super comic style illustrations that are scattered throughout the story.

As for securing the object of their quest? You’ll need to secure yourself a copy of the book to find out what happens when Adam and Chloe enter the labyrinth …

Buttercup Sunshine and the Zombies of Dooooom / Uncle Gobb and the Plot Plot

Buttercup Sunshine and the Zombies of Dooooom
Colin Mulhern
Maverick Arts Publishing

Buttercup Sunshine is the ‘friendliest, most angelic little girl you could ever imagine.’ So thinks Granny Fondant. Why, then, when the woman looks out of her window one fine morning, does she see the child running down Honeysuckle Lane towards her little house wielding a chainsaw? And even more strange, why is she asking Granny for petrol ,of all things?

Buttercup has alarming information to impart: zombies are on the loose and they’re heading towards Buttercup and Granny intent on eating their brains.
Even more alarming is the news that the chainsaw belongs to lumberjack, Mr Blackberry, one of the undead advancing upon them at that very moment.

Time to close the curtain, put the kettle on, make a cuppa, flourish a tray of shortbreads and sit down to hear what Buttercup has to say. Apparently the whole affair had begun with a star.

Seemingly the young lady, aka Agent Sunshine, was investigating a crime one night. The crime being the theft – so she thinks – of a thimble and thus, aided and abetted by the torch, a micro walkie-talkie and fellow detective Barry, who just happens to be a computer-hacking toad , the hunt is on for the mystery thief.

Back to that star. It, we learn was a meteorite that had landed slap bang, in a cemetery right in the centre of the Wicked Woods of Woe. Being Agent Sunshine, she just had to sally forth into those woods and that’s where everything kicked off.

Buttercup encounters Mr Blackberry who suggests that the meteorite might be made of diamonds.
It turns out though, that said meteorite appears to have magical properties capable of rendering dead bodies into a state of undeadness – an undeadness that means being ‘Huuugrry …’.

The question is, will the shortbreads run out before Buttercup has finished telling Granny her tale and if not, how, if at all, does this crazy situation resolve itself?
I’ll merely say that with Buttercup adopting warrior pose, standing firmly beside Granny armed with a pair of her longest knitting needles,

a plan gets underway. A plan entailing a great deal of hammering and banging not to mention needle-clicking, oh, and a vacuum cleaner.

The story is bursting with zany humour to which the author has added a liberal sprinkling of laugh-inducing line drawings; it’s likely to satisfy those who enjoy their giggles mixed with occasional gruesome chills and that I suspect is a lot of young readers.

The same can be said of:

Uncle Gobb and the Plot Plot
Michael Rosen, illustrated by Neal Layton
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This, the third in the series starring Malcolm and his awful uncle, has each of them with a plot; hence the crazy title and needless to say Uncle Gobb’s plot isn’t a good one, in fact it’s downright dastardly.

Uncle Gobb is intent on setting up a school right behind the one Malcolm attends; the difference being, this educational establishment, or should I say non-educational, alternative is Dread Shed School of Facts. Now what that has to do with being educational, the author and I both agree upon and I’ll leave you to work it out.

However there’s no need to work out that this is a crackingly bonkers read, equally zanily illustrated by Rosen’s plot partner, Neal Layton whose daft artwork adds further gigglesome moments to this wonderful tale of plot and counter plot.

As to who is the victor of the battle for young brains, I’ll let you work that one out too.
Better still head off down to your nearest bookshop, obtain your own copy and laugh your way through it.

The Wondrous Dinosaurium / My Perfect Pup

The Wondrous Dinosaurium
John Condon and Steve Brown
Maverick Arts Publishing

Danny is thrilled when his mum finally agrees to let him have a pet and he knows what he wants. Not a common or garden cat or dog but something much more exciting – something prehistoric no less. And he knows exactly the place to go: an establishment belonging to Mr Ree.

His first choice, a Diplodocus requiring vast amounts of vegetation every day quickly proves too much, so it’s back to the shop for something slightly smaller.

In fact Danny returns to Mr Ree’s Wondrous Dinosaurium quite a few times, trying out a range of possibilities …

until finally he comes upon a box in a dark corner of the shop.

His mum thinks he’s brought home a tortoise but she’s in for a surprise when the creature comes out of its shell.

John Condon’s amusing tale about the pitfalls of not doing any research before choosing a pet will hit the spot with both dinosaur lovers and pet people.
Steve Brown’s illustrations of the dinosaur menagerie are at once droll and yet recognisably authentic dinosaur species: avid dinosaur fans may well be able to put names to all Mr Ree’s stock of creatures, one of which was new to this reviewer.

My Perfect Pup
Sue Walker and Anil Tortop
New Frontier Publishing

Siblings Max and Millie have definite ideas about what they’re looking for as they head for the Perfect Petshop, very different ideas. However they both fall for the same beguiling little pup.

Inevitably though, Tiny, as they decide to call him, doesn’t remain so for very long; nor does he live up to Millie’s ‘pretty’ requirement. In fact he’s so far from perfect by both siblings’ standards …

that one day they return him to the pet shop.

Tiny himself has ideas about the perfect owner and when Joe Barnaby arrives on the scene it looks as though he might just be the one.

Joe and his family live on a farm with sheep, and Joe loves to play, to run and sometimes to take a ride on the dog, now named Horse. What better place for a sheepdog?

Expectations, acceptance and being patient are key themes in Sue Walker’s enjoyable story for which Anil Tortop’s spirited illustrations really bring out Tiny/Horse’s personality.

Arlo, Mrs Ogg and the Dinosaur Zoo / Why is the Cow on the Roof? & Smart Girls Forever

Arlo, Mrs Ogg and the Dinosaur Zoo
Alice Hemming, illustrated by Kathryn Durst
Maverick Arts Publishing

At Purple Hill primary School there’s yet another supply teacher in 4X; they’ve gone through quite a few already so the question is, how long will the strange-looking Mrs Ogg survive, particularly when she decides to take the class on an outing – their first ever – to the zoo? Can she possibly keep seventeen unruly children under control for a whole day? It’s particularly important, for their attendance at the end-of-year party depends upon the trip being 100% trouble free.
Arlo decides it’s unlikely, so he assigns himself the role of chief back-up.

Mrs Ogg however is no ordinary supply teacher and the zoo she’s taking them to is no ordinary zoo, which probably accounts for the inclusion on the ‘don’t forget’ letter sent to parents just prior to the trip, of a T-bone steak.

Is the outing a success and do they arrive back at school with all seventeen children plus teacher safe and sound? And, are they allowed to go to that eagerly anticipated end-of-year party? You’ll have to get hold of a copy of this action packed story and find out.

With its twisting-turning plot, it’s certainly lots of fun. Packed with zany illustrations by Kathyrn Durst

and promises of further adventures to come, let me just say, there’s a whole lot more to class 4X than previous teachers had thought: Mrs Ogg manages to unearth a whole lot of hidden talents therein.

Why is the Cow on the Roof?
Smart Girls Forever

Robert Leeson illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Walker Books

These two books of short stories were first published 20 years ago and they’re as amusing now as ever – great for reading aloud or for solo reading.

Why is the Cow on the Roof? is one of the five folk tale based renditions in the first book, the story being based on the Norwegian, ‘The Husband who was to Mind the House’ and is a hilarious account of what happens when a husband and wife swap their round of daily tasks to see who works hardest.

The other four stories also pose questions including ‘Why are you such a Noddy, Big Ears?’ and “Who’s Next for the Chop?’, the former, a pourquoi tale being based on a Native American ‘Rabbit’ character and the latter from a story in the Arabian Nights..

In each case, Leeson’s renditions are full of humour with plenty of dialogue used to great effect; if you’re reading them aloud to a group, don’t forget to share Axel Scheffler’s funny line drawings that introduce each story.

Smart Girls Forever contains six tales from various parts of the world, all of which have resourceful female lead characters; they are, Leeson tells us ‘Russian, Indian, Irish, Scottish, Persian and English’ but ‘could be from anywhere’.

Look out for Natasha who outwits the devil and Oonagh who gets the better of the terrible giant Cucullin, an act for which her husband Fin M’Coul will be forever grateful.

Not My Hats! / The Great Big Book of Friends

Not My Hats!
Tracy Gunaratnam and Alea Marley
Maverick Arts Publishing

Polar Bear Hettie has an absolute passion for hats, no matter their shape or size Hettie loves to wear them.

Imagine her reaction then as she sits fishing one day when Puffin happens along desirous of a hat. “I’ll share my lollies, my dollies, my books and my brollies, my flippers and my slippers and I’ll even share my kippers … but I’ll never, ever share my HATS,” she tells him in no uncertain terms.

On account of sudden hunger pangs, Puffin settles for the kippers and disappears.

She repeats this litany again when Puffin reappears and this time fobs him off with slippers on account of his chilly tootsies.

Before long Hettie has dozed off dreaming of hat heaven when who should wake her but a certain black and white bird.

On this occasion Puffin suggests swapsies proffering items from his backpack, each of which is resoundingly refused until he suggests a scarf.

Now there’s a possibility: perhaps Hettie could spare the odd titfa after all.

With its plethora of outrageous headwear, this delightfully daft tale that moves in and out of rhyme, demonstrates that language is fun, sharing is best and friendship better than standoffishness.

Friendship is also explored in this non-fiction book:

The Great Big Book of Friends
Mary Hoffman and Ros Asquith
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Friendship is the theme of the fifth book in Hoffman and Asquith’s Great Big Book series. Herein the book’s creators explore many aspects of the topic starting by asking ‘What is a friend?’ They then go on to look at best friends, friendship groups, what might be shared, difference, pen friends, imaginary friends, objects that can act as friends such as a favourite toy or comforter,

More difficult ideas including falling out, and losing a friend, are also included, as is ‘How many friends?’
Each sub topic is given a double spread and is amusingly illustrated with Ros Asquith’s signature cartoon-style artwork.
With its chatty style and inclusive illustrations, this is a good book to explore with a class or group as part of a PSHE theme.

AdoraBULL

AdoraBULL
Alison Donald and Alex Willmore
Maverick Arts Publishing

Alison Donald and Alex Willmore have created a lovely book based on a misunderstanding by one of the main characters.

Tom and Alfred are the best of friends sharing everything and totally inseparable until Tom starts school, leaving Alfred with little to do but remain at home and wait for his pal’s return.

One day though Tom comes home announcing to his parents that he needs a pet – a cute, snuggly one and it has to be totally adorable.

Poor Alfred is worried: what on earth does the word mean, he wonders, and determined not to lose his place in Tom’s affections, sets about finding out.

Having done so he gets to work to make himself fit the bill.
Action plan A is anything but a success so Alfred decides it’s time for plan B – a make-over …

His new look is met with amusement not only by the barn animals, but also by Tom.

Plan C only serves to infuriate Tom: it seems as though being adorable just isn’t a bull thing. Alfred is miserable and in need of some time alone.

But that evening Tom appears carrying a large box, and what a wonderfully heart-winning and unexpected surprise peeps out at its recipient.

The outcome is, no more lonely days for Alfred.

Alison Donald’s funny, warm-hearted tale of friendship is beautifully illustrated by Alex Willmore whose scenes of Alfred and his antics are superbly expressive and like the book’s title, absolutely A-DOR-A-BLE!