A Different Boy

A Different Boy
Paul Jennings
Old Barn Books

Following on from the wonderful A Very Different Dog, Paul Jennings has written a second very different, equally gripping book.

Orphan Anton has recently arrived as a resident at Wolfdog Hall, a terrible place where no-one even knows his first name, lessons are miserable affairs, the teachers thoroughly unpleasant.
Pretty soon, the boy makes a break for it, and surprisingly, despite threats to the contrary, he isn’t followed. He is however without money or friends.

Hearing the horn sounding from a ship down the hill in the harbour the boy makes his way to the pier. The ocean liner has yet to leave and Anton watches people making their way up the gangplank, bound for a new land of promise, peace and plenty.

One of the passengers is Max, a rather strange-looking boy with a face resembling a porcelain doll and wearing a jumper absolutely covered with ribbons, labels and badges looking like, so Anton thinks, nothing less than a noticeboard. He’s also wearing a black arm band.
A peculiar exchange takes place between the boys after which at Max’s instigation, they exchange name labels and Max leads him aboard. Unlike Anton, the lad is accompanied by his mother.

Thus begins Anton’s new life as a stowaway.

During the voyage he gradually comes to know more about the rather strange seeming Max who has identical bald-headed boy puppets, one wearing a green jumper, the other a red one.

In tandem readers discover through text printed in italics that he once had a brother, Christopher, who died in a fire while Max was rescued.

Later in the main text Max’s mother explains that this was a recent event, and that now her son needs someone to look out for him in his twin brother’s stead. She also posits the idea that when they arrive in the ‘New Land’ Anton could live with them. A deal is made.

Shortly after, disaster strikes, there’s a rescue, a startling revelation concerning the identity of who had really died in the fire, another startling revelation, about Anton this time. And, there’s a satisfying ending; what more can you ask? Oh yes, there are occasional slightly spooky line drawings too.

Like all books by Paul Jennings, this one (based very loosely on the author’s experience of emigrating to Australia from England as a boy) draws you in immediately and grips you throughout . Like the author’s previous titles too, it’s superbly written without a wasted word. Having said that, it’s also quite unlike any of his previous titles.

The Ammuchi Puchi

The Ammuchi Puchi
Sharanya Manivanna and Nerina Canzi
Lantana Publishing
To visit India, no matter which part, is an assault on the senses, especially that first time: the sights, sounds, smells, the sheer seeming chaos that surrounds you is almost, though not quite, overwhelming. But somehow, for me at least, there is something about it that gets right into your spirit and doesn’t want to let go; so, you keep on going back again and again and … then, you realise that you’ve fallen in love with the place. This picture book evokes some of the wonderful sights, sounds and smells of the country.
Now one of the most striking things about India, particularly the southern part is the dazzling, dancing array of butterflies and it’s something my partner and I both appreciate every time we go. I happen to have picked up a few words of Malayalam and thought I recognised Ammuchi as mother but then realised that word is ‘ummachi’ ; I know grandmother, or rather maternal grandmother as ‘ammacci’ in Tamil (having taught some Tamil speaking 5 year olds in my reception classes) and my Hindi, which is much better, tells me that ‘puchi’ means kiss. So, before even opening this gorgeous book, I was making lots of connections and deciding the title means ‘grandmother’s kiss’.
Let’s get to the story then: the setting, I think, is rural south India; and its narrator is Aditya who lives with his younger sister, Anjali, their parents (Amma and Appa) and grandmother, Ammuchi.

The two children adore their paan-chewing grandmother, despite being somewhat scared by her ghost stories – “Don’t you see it sitting there, with eyes big-big like two moons?” until that is, they grow out of being spooked and join in with her tales of ghost sightings, furnishing their own details to add to her descriptions of the mango-tree dwelling manifestation.

Just as Aditya’s tenth birthday approaches, Ammuchi gets ill, has to go into hospital and dies. The two youngsters, like their parents, grieve and the children in particular struggle to come to terms with their loss: that constant ray of sunshine no more illuminates their lives …

But then one evening a beautiful butterfly flies down and settles on Anjali’s head. It’s “Ammuchi Puchi,” she tells her brother. Next day at school, he tells his classmates of the event, saying, “Ammuchi Puchi is an insect who is our grandmother.” Despite their ambivalence, back home that evening, Aditya ponders further and becomes convinced that the butterfly is in fact his grandmother. His parents’ response and seeming lack of understanding, result in the Ammuchi Puchi becoming the children’s secret. It turns out though, that it’s not only the children who have a secret: the Ammuchi Puchi has one too: one that she reveals to the brother and sister one rainy night;

and so begins the healing and the understanding that Ammuchi’s love will always permeate their lives, no matter what.
Grandmothers have a very special place in Indian families in particular, but grief is a universal phenomenon. What Sharanya Manivannan’s moving, thought-provoking narrative offers for all readers is, ‘a place from which to become aware’. Yes, it’s deeply sad in part; but ultimately it’s about much more than heart-breaking loss and grief: this is a joyous celebration of love, of a very special person who relished life; of family; of the beauty of the natural world; and of the power of the imagination. No matter your feelings about, or understanding of, reincarnation, the author’s symbolising of the grandmother as a butterfly both comforts the child characters and allows for open-ended responses from readers everywhere.
Nerina Canzi’s illustrations complement the telling beautifully. The predominance of vibrant hues in the lush flora and fauna, the fabrics of the clothing, the kolam design on the school floor, the carpets and rugs, underscores the Indian setting while at the same time, reinforcing the message that the story is essentially, about abiding love and the way children have a propensity to transcend deeply upsetting events. In contrast, almost all colour is leeched from the spread dealing with Ammuchi’s dying, reflecting the palpable desolation her death brings to the whole family, and rendering it all the more affecting for readers, not least this reviewer.
A must have book for all family bookshelves and primary classroom collections.

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Operation Bunny / Tally & Squill in a Sticky Situation

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Operation Bunny
Sally Gardner illustrated by David Roberts
Orion Children’s Books
Meet young Emily Vole, nine years old and, having been left abandoned in a hatbox believed to be ‘an explosive device’ at Stansted Airport, adopted by the Dashwoods, who subsequently had their own triplets. Emily is then relegated to the status of a servant and made to sleep on an ironing board in the laundry room. Fortunately for Emily however, kindly neighbour Miss String (a sort of fairy godmother figure) and her huge talking cat, Fidget, step in:

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(I was greatly amused to discover that Fidget liked nothing better than’ ironing while listening to cricket on the radio.’) and within a year, Emily has learned to read, write, do maths and speak both German and French, not to mention Old English. Not only that but her new friends introduce her to a whole new exciting life in a world of magic and danger, a world she’d never even dreamed about. But it’s Emily herself who inadvertently does something that results in her becoming the new Keeper of the Keys.
Subsequently Emily inherits a shop and, aided and abetted by Fidget and a pair of detectives, Buster – a grumpy individual, and James Cardwell – much more equable and sensible, turns detective herself and is determined to solve the mystery of Operation Bunny.
Sally Gardener’s writing style is delightfully quirky and contemporary: Mr Dashwood is a hedge fund manager and his wife has strawberry-blonde hair extensions and ‘trusted in her credit cards: silver, gold and platinum.’
This will make independent readers (not to mention adults) laugh out loud in places and David Roberts’ deliciously spiky illustrations are a real treat adding to the deliciousness of the whole experience. (That Harpella of his is enough to send shivers down your spine.)

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And, with Emily and her friends now running a detective agency, those who enjoy the slightly dark-edged humour in this can look forward to further cases of the magical kind.
The story would also make a great read aloud to share with those not yet confident to read it solo.

A servant girl is also the heroine of another new series, the first of which is:

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Tally & Squill In a Sticky Situation
Abie Longstaff illustrated by James Brown
Little Brown
This story features orphan and kitchen maid Tallulah (aka Tally) and her pet squirrel, Squill. Tally’s home is Mollett Manor, an old mansion; but she’s only to be found below stairs, so to speak in the scullery where she sleeps in a sink. However, Tally’s a very bright young thing and when she discovers first a plethora of spiders, some mysterious ancient carved cubes, an ancient tapestry and then a secret, magical library beneath the manor – a library wherein the books come to life, she’s in her element.
When Mollett Manor is burgled it offers a challenge to Tally who determines to catch the thieves; but can she do it? Well, she has Squill and those magic books …

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plus Lord Mollett’s endorsement, “You’re the most sensible person we have around here.” And what of those flashes of seeming recognition she keeps having: where do they fit in to all this?
Using plenty of short sentences, Abie Longstaff weaves a good tale; and this one’s likely to draw newly independent readers into its web and hold them spellbound throughout. There are touches of humour and James Brown’s illustrations plus the various lists, pages of rules,

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notes and other written items add to the fun of this magical book.

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Lemur Losing & A Ghost Called Dog

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How to Lose a Lemur
Frann Preston-Gannon
Pavilion Books
“Everyone knows that once a lemur takes a fancy to you there is not much that can be done about it.” Thus begins a delightful child narrated take of what happens when one does just that – to the small boy himself. As our narrator takes a stroll in the park one sunny morning he notices, but does his level best to ignore, the lemur that’s in hot pursuit.

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The lad tries all kinds of escape ruses such as tree climbing and cycling … but nothing seems to work, not even giving them stern looks.
In desperation the boy buys a train ticket but guess what joins him. He takes to the air; but those pesky animals seem to have all eventualities covered, even camel riding …
and trekking through blizzards. Surely the latter will see them off but no.

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Suddenly though, the creatures seem to have gone to ground; the boy is far from home though and has no idea how to get back. Perhaps … well, just perhaps: I’ll say no more and leave it to readers to imagine what happens thereafter
Sheer delight from cover to cover is this board book with its collage style illustrations from rising star, Frann Preston-Gannon whose amusing story is certain to please the very youngest listeners as well as those adults who share it with them.

For older readers:

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A Ghost Called Dog
Gavin Neale
2QT
A family has just moved into a new house. Dad is a writer, working at home and under pressure with a deadline looming, so much of the task of settling in and organizing things is left to Mum, although she has to go to work as well. They have two children: Abby and her competitive, soccer-mad brother, Chris. When wildly imaginative Abby says she sees a rabbit in the shed this is rubbished by Chris; but then suddenly, he starts feeling ice-cold fur rubbing against his skin.
Moreover, there are two mysterious old women: stern, goat-keeping Nora and chatty Daphne, who live in a cottage close by and are showing a great deal of interest in the children. And what is all the talk of potential witches, spirit familiars and warlocks?
So begins a story full of intrigue and danger involving a disappearance (the children’s mother), challenges and dark forces.
Gavin Neale clearly knows something of the interests, or rather obsessions of primary school children, and his story may well hit the mark with readers who like stories with a mix of fantasy and reality, challenge and problem solving.

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Shiny Red Objects – Misidentifications

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Toad and I
Louise Yates
Jonathan Cape
I’ve loved all Louise Yates’ Dog Loves … books so couldn’t wait to read this one. It’s altogether different; Dog is nowhere in sight but we meet some congenial new characters.
Herein we meet young Kitty who, by dint of searching for her lost ball, comes upon the resident of a large tree – a Toad no less; not the kind that on receipt of a kiss becomes a handsome prince, but one that is eager to invite Kitty into his hole of residence aka his treehouse.

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And it’s one that has all mod cons as Toad is only too happy to point out …

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but while he’s so doing, the pair are interrupted by the arrival of Squirrel who announces an injured owl without. Having hastily donned suitable gear, they hurry out to repair the damage so to speak and in so doing, they discover its cause: “A meteorite,” said Owl. “It knocked me off my branch.

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Next stop is back inside – the observatory in case of further meteorite fall. In comes Shrew with another announcement, concerning his house this time. There follows further investigations of a somewhat crazy kind …

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until finally, Kitty takes matters into her own hands, unearths the root of all the trouble and guess what: it’s that small, once spherical object that she’d been playing with at the start; and it had set in motion a whole catastrophic concatenation of Owl displacing, house squashing and hedgehog hitting. Fortunately nobody really minded and even more fortunately Toad and Kitty are able to repair all the damage …

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in time for a game before teatime.
With a lovely final twist – or should that be bounce, we leave the friends to their farewells and promises of further meetings …
What a delicious cast of characters Louise Yates has conjured up here: I hope she brings them back for further adventures.

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The Mouse Who Reached the Sky
Petr Horâček
Walker Books
Co-operation is key in this gorgeous follow-up to The Mouse Who Ate the Moon. Herein Little Mouse spies a shiny red ‘marble’ hanging in a tree, wants it and tries unsuccessfully to reach it.

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Determined to get it however, she enlists the help of Mole who decides it’s a balloon but is equally unsuccessful in reaching the object so they ask Rabbit, who assures them it’s a ball. But can they come up with a plan that will enable them to reach the spherical object, bring it down and finally, identify the thing? Maybe – so long as they work as a team …

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They try their best but despite all their stretching they can’t quite get there … “Oh no!” – “Whoops!” … CRASH! But all is not lost – definitely not, for down it comes together with hundreds more and at last identification done, let the feast commence …

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With a cut-out page and a fold-out, the bright, richly textured, collaged mixed-media illustrations are enormously tactile, appealing to both children and adults. The former will delight in peering down Mole’s hole …

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and then out when the page is turned; and opening the vertical gatefold to reveal the teetering trio.
A beauty from start to thoroughly satisfying finish.

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