New in the Bloomsbury Readers Series

Scratch and Sniff
Margaret Ryan, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Wings of Icarus
Jenny Oldfield, illustrated by Bee Wiley
Sindhu and Jeet’s Detective Agency
Chitra Soundar, illustrated by Amberin Huq
Maggie and the Moonbird
Katya Balen, illustrated by Pham Quang Phuc
Bamba Beach
Pratima Mitchell, illustrated by David Dean
Ping and the Missing Ring
Emma Shevah, illustrated by Izzy Evans
Bloomsbury Education

These are additions to the Bloomsbury Readers series: banded book stories that aim to foster independent reading at KS2, all written by award-winning authors and illustrated in black and white and definitely worth offering to children for home or school reading.

The titular Scratch and Sniff are dogs belonging to PC Penny Penrose. Said constable frequently gets given the boring tasks and this is so on the day we meet her counting traffic cones outside the police station while her colleague Sergeant Snide is off investigating a burglary at the furniture store. However when her two faithful pooches learn of this, they decide it’s time for the ‘doggy Secret Service’ to get to work and they too head off to the scene of the crime. There, they decide to look around outside leaving the sergeant to do his detecting inside and that’s when they’re party to something highly suspicious in the form of two men struggling to carry a heavy sofa, something with a very valuable cushion, that they put into a van belonging to the department store and drive off. Time to use those cones and to alert Penny …
With plenty of funny drawings this is assuredly, a fun cops and robbers tale for those readers just beginning to fly solo.

Wings of Icarus is Jenny Oldfield retelling of the classic Greek myth about the daring boy Icarus, imprisoned with his dad Daedulus on the island of Crete by King Minos, but determined to make their escape – one way or another. When the sea proves too much for their first plan, Daedulus decides that while their captor might be Lord of Earth and Sea, he certainly isn’t ruler of the skies. Hence their only chance is to take to the air … While Icarus sleeps his father builds wings from feathers collected and next morning after warnings from his father, the boy is so excited he takes off alone … Compellingly told and enticingly illustrated.

As Sindhu and Jeet (along with Sindhu’s parents) leave Chennai bound for London the best friends have different agendas for the holiday. The pair have formed Sindhu and Jeet’s Detective Agency but all Jeet wants to do is relax and be a tourist whereas Sindhu has brought along her young detectives’ handbook – just in case. Before they’ve even boarded the plane Sindhu spots something she thinks is suspicious behaviour. Almost the next minute the two friends find themselves trapped between a wall and two baggage burglars. Time to try some of their Kabadi skills … Will the plane wait even if they can extricate themselves from this and the next very tricky situation?
Happily yes, but that’s only the start of their adventures: next stop the sights of London, first off The Tower of London itself. So begins another exciting investigation where again the friends’ ace powers of observation and a liberal sprinkling of imagination, along with determination are called into play.
Even then they’re not quite finished with detecting. After a day of rest, they visit the Natural History Museum where Mum has a special interest in the conch collection and one conch in particular. However when they get to the cabinet where it’s supposed to be, there’s a label saying the item has been ‘temporarily removed’.When next they look, there’s a conch back in the cabinet, but is it the right one? Mum doesn’t think so … This holiday is turning out to be anything but boring after all decides Sindhu. There are plenty of thrills and tension to keep readers turning the pages in this one.

Pratima Mitchell’s contemporary story Bamba Beach immediately transported me to some of the many wonderful holidays I’ve spend in Arpora, Goa just off the coast. The setting is a fishing village where young Hari lives with his family. Times are hard with almost no fish left in the bay on account of the tsunami and to catch those further out, the family needs a boat with a flat bottom and an outboard motor rather than their old dilapidated one made from coconut wood. Hari knows full well they can’t afford it but the good-hearted lad is desperate to do something to raise money for his family. He’s not a boy to give up even in the face of village superstitions and family feuds; and when he’s offered a bi-weekly job washing local headteacher, Brother Angelo’s car, it’s at least a start. From small beginnings … though even with several more customers Hari reckons it will take fifteen years to make the capital needed to set up a shop. What else can he do?
Seemingly plenty, for it’s not long before unexpected help comes from somebody Hari has helped. A highly engaging and interesting look at a culture most young readers will not be familiar with.

In the same reading band is Katya Balen’s magical moonlight adventure Maggie and the Moonbird featuring a girl who instead of going bird-watching with her dad as she really wants, has to visit the zoo with her aunt and two annoying little cousins. There she sees a bird that despite its information label, doesn’t match her own knowledge or the description of the Silverfinch in her bird book. Nonetheless she picks up one if its feathers and takes it home. That’s where, after she’s in bed with the feather tucked under her pillow, the magic takes flight … Altogether an enchanting and timeless fantasy read that will surely get readers’ imaginations soaring.

The most challenging story is another contemporary one, Ping and the Missing Ring. Ping the protagonist and her family are Thai and live in Bath. The custom is that Thai people are calm, composed and polite, which Ping sometimes finds tricky to maintain.
So when she’s invited to stay with her cousins in West London in a house full of traditional Thai furniture and crafts, she promises her mum to be on her best behaviour; definitely no adventures or mystery solving. But, after a visit from Isabelle who has money troubles and a sick husband, Aunty Lek’s engagement ring is missing. She thinks Isabelle has taken it but Ping thinks otherwise: she can’t stop herself going into detective mode. Exciting and with lots of interesting details about the traditional Thai way of life, this like all the others, is an engaging read though herein the illustrations act as chapter breaks, as do those in Bamba Beach.

The Giants’ Tea Party / Lottie Luna and the Giant Gargoyle

The Giants’ Tea Party
Vivian French, illustrated by Marta Kissi
Walker Books

In the kingdom of Little Slippington, the royal coffers are empty and with the bills unpaid the king and queen are in desperate need of some gold.

Rather than marry a wealthy princess, the anything but heroic Prince Max reluctantly embarks on a mission to the valley of the giants who, according to legend, are rich beyond imagination and might (or might not) be persuaded to part with some of their gold. First though the prince needs a steed of some kind and the only one available is Horace a rather grumpy old donkey. Deal done, off they go, first stop the abode of the Wisest One. She tells him his journey will mean having to cross the Hungry Marshes.

Meanwhile in Golden Hollow, Glom king of the giants also has a problem. Two actually, one being the need for some Papparelli roots (the only food that will make the geese lay their golden eggs), the second the constant interruption from his grand daughter Hamfreda reminding him of the first while he’s trying to put the finishing touches to his flying machine.

Wonderful weaver of words, and fashioner of neofairy-tales, Vivian French, includes a talking cat, marshes hungry for stories, a blank book and some decidedly unsavoury characters, the Crimps in her enchanting narrative: but will Max succeed against the odds? That’s the key question and to discover the answer you’ll have to read this cracking book. Marta Kissi’s illustrations bring out the humour inherent in the telling,

making this whole immersive world even more enjoyable.

Here’s another treat from Vivian: her 4th in the smashing Lottie Luna series:

Lottie Luna and the Giant Gargoyle
Vivian French, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Young werewolf, Lottie Luna, she of super strength, super speed and X-ray vision , is concerned about all her Shadow Academy classmates discovering her special skills when an end-of-term talent show is announced,

and worse, she hears that all parents will receive a personal invitation from the head teacher. Her close friends, Marjory and Wilf are determined to help her keep her secret, but with ‘Awful Aggie’ always on the lookout to make trouble, she’s going to have more difficulty than she’s faced before convincing the other students she’s just like everyone else. No wonder she’s in no hurry to give her parents their invitation to the big event.

In the meantime Lottie wants to help Wilf and Marjory polish their magic act, as well as deciding what she’s going to do in the show. They certainly don’t want Aggie taking the prize gargoyle.

With Nathan Reed’s splendid black and white illustrations, this latest Lottie adventure will delight her many fans and likely win her some new ones too. Despite its setting and main protagonist, the pupils in this otherworldly story face challenges similar to those struggling to fit into a typical school, making it all the more easy to relate to.

Lottie Luna and the Fang Fairy

Lottie Luna and the Fang Fairy
Vivian French, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Despite her pa, King Lupo’s initial reluctance, young werewolf extraordinaire. (Princess) Lottie Luna, she of the super-speed, super strength and X-ray vision, is allowed to join her classmates on a camping expedition. Also on the trip are Agatha Claws (Aggie) who’s a touch above herself, and Larry who announces on the coach that he’s got a very wobbly tooth and hopes to receive a silver coin from the fang fairy when it comes out so long as she can find where to leave it.

On arrival they have to agree on sleeping arrangements and once that’s done everyone gathers around the campfire for supper followed by a bedtime story telling session. Poor little Larry gets frightened by some of what he hears.


Next morning Lottie discovers footprints close to her tent and even more around Larry’s. Is somebody trying to scare the cub or is it something more sinister? Lottie is determined to find out; but of course, she doesn’t want any of her classmates to find out about her special skills.

After breakfast it’s time for a hike: everyone is put into groups. The aim is to get to the top of High Hill and en route the cubs are asked to find ten or more plant and animal varieties – a chance for Lottie to reveal one of her superpowers by accident if she isn’t careful. Then comes a realisation – Larry has gone missing; it’s time to tell the grown-ups.

They do; and Lottie, Wilf, Marjory and Aggie are sent as a search group sans teacher and as you’d expect, Aggie has equipment for every eventuality in her rucksack. On the way though she storms off after a tiff, so it’s two not one person the others have to look for. Then Marjory reveals something to Lottie which changes things somewhat, but this search is all about teamwork;

and there are footprints to follow. Where will they lead and what about that tooth of Larry’s?

Lottie Luna is a hugely loveable character – suitably dignified and princessy? errr … and this, with its themes of friendship, being true to yourself and forgiveness, is, as one expects of Vivian, another fangtastic story (book 3 in the spooktacular series). Adding to the delights are Nathan Reed’s splendidly atmospheric black and white illustrations that augment the gentle comic feel of the whole. (I love the tiny winged onlookers guarding the page numbers.) Looking forward to the Giant Gargoyle story …

Lottie Luna and the Twilight Party

Lottie Luna and the Twilight Party
Vivian French, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Harper Collins Children’s Books

The little werewolf princess aka Lottie Luna has a special mission in this sparkling second story: she wants to give her friend Marjory a very special birthday surprise.

Lottie has only been at her school for a few weeks but already she’s loving it and managing to keep her powers under wraps except to her two real friends Wilf and Marjorie.

The problem is that another class member, the self-satisfied Agatha Claws, is always on the lookout for ways to cause trouble for Lottie and now Aggie’s cousin Kiki has just joined the class and is showing signs of being even more unpleasant than her relation.

When Kiki manages to get her hands on a note Lottie has passed to Wilf concerning the birthday plan, things start to get pretty tricky; especially as the success of the plan rests partly on Lottie’s irritating brother Boris doing his bit.

Despite her reluctance to reveal her special powers to others, it seems that there is no other way than to use her super speed,  super sight, super hearing and super strength if Marjory is to have a birthday she’ll never forget.

On this occasion pushing a stuck truck out of a very muddy very deep puddle

and rummaging in rubbish bins are just two of the unlikely activities Lottie has to perform if operation party is to succeed.

There’s at least one surprise action and one welcome departure before the end of this fantastical fun story but I’ll keep those to myself and just say young readers will be gripped as they read of one little werewolf’s unstoppable energy and resolve.

They’ll also be utterly enchanted by Nathan Reed’s blissfully funny illustrations liberally scattered throughout the tale.

Wigglesbottom Primary: Break Time Bunnies / Lottie Luna and the Bloom Garden

Wigglesbottom Primary: Break Time Bunnies
Becka Moor and Pamela Butchart
Nosy Crow

It’s always a delight to read of the exploits of Class 2R in their school where pretty much anything can happen.

Here we have three new fun, beautifully observed episodes wherein the children allow their imaginations to take flight. In the first story it’s a case of bunnies running riot in the playground: could they be ATTACK BUNNIES and why are they there?

The second tale, has class teacher Miss Riley announcing the imminent arrival of a ‘special guest’. Is the man who sits at the back of the class a TV talent spotter or has he another purpose for watching the goings on of teacher and pupils?

In story number three the children all sign up for violin lessons but their music teacher, Miss Stein looks really spooky. Could she perhaps be a witch – a bewitching witch?

It’s so easy to get sucked into 2B’s zany premises in these enormously enjoyable stories and the final revelations are always delicious.

As ever Pamela Buchart has done a brilliant job illustrating these small sparkling stories. She catches the zaniness of Becka’s tellings SO well making every page turn not only a verbal but a visual treat.

Bring on the next one.

Lottie Luna and the Bloom Garden
Vivian French, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Harper Collins Children’s Books

Meet Lottie Luna, star of a super new series by Vivian French.
Lottie is a werewolf, but a very special one with extra powers on account of her being born during a full lunar eclipse. Hence she’s super speedy, super strong, has x-ray vision and has super hearing. Oh yes and she’s also a princess on account of her father inheriting a kingdom.

This however means that she’s had to move home to the crumbling Dracon Castle and consequently has to start at a new school mid year. Like many youngsters, Lottie is nervous about this and certainly doesn’t want it known at Shadow Academy that she’s special even if that means not revealing her real self.

Lottie’s class teacher announces a pupil project – to create a design to transform the wasteland behind the school into a beautiful garden and the winning design will be used for the purpose.

Before long Lottie finds she has two friends, and decides that the head of her new school is amazing – a kindred spirit too; perhaps things won’t be so bad after all.

As for the garden design, Lottie is the winner but once the garden creation begins,

more challenges arise – there’s a Bloom Garden saboteur at work.

Now Lottie must do all she can to save the enterprise from road developers; but can she do it? Perhaps it’s time to draw on those superpowers of hers …

Friendship, determination, being true to yourself, courage, resilience and forgiveness are at the heart of this smashing story Vivian has woven.

Nathan Reed has done a terrific job with his black and white illustrations; they’re offbeat and splendidly playful.

More please!

The Extraordinary Gardener / The Five of Us / Incredible You

Celebrating the paperback editions of 3 Tate Publishing titles:somehow they all speak a similar message to us in this current crisis:

The Extraordinary Gardener
Sam Boughton

Wildly imaginative, Joe lives in an ordinary apartment in an ordinary city but in his inner world, plants flourish growing taller than skyscrapers and wondrous animals abound.
Then thanks to reading one night in bed, a seed of an idea is planted in his mind; it’s colourful, aromatic and joyful sounding. The following morning he sets about transforming that idea into reality, starting with an apple seed and some basic tools.

His idea seems to take ages and ages, almost forever; so much so that Joe forgets his seed and returns to imagining colour into his grey existence. But then one daydreaming day Joe spies something outside, colourful and REAL!

Tender care and new seedlings turn that single tree into a stunningly beautiful garden; a garden admired by his neighbours and that ignites his imagination once again.

More seed gathering ensues and gradually the entire neighbourhood is totally transformed into a riot of colour. Just the kind of awesome moment we all need in our lives just now, and the message too about reaching out to neighbours and strangers.

The more you look at this book, the more you see – the detail is awesome; and Sam Broughton’s way of using greyness and gradually bringing more and more colour into her scenes is wonderful, culminating in a glorious fold-out.

Time to get yourself some seeds, go into your garden (or failing that grab some containers), and begin growing something amazing …

The Five of Us
Quentin Blake

This is an enormously powerful story about how five friends, set out for a picnic into the countryside, in a big yellow bus driven by Big Eddie. Now what we’re told about the five is that each of them has a special, amazing ability: Angie can see things miles away; Ollie’s hearing is supersensitive; Simona and Mario are extraordinarily strong and as for Eric – he’s not yet aware of his superpower, but of that  … more later.

During the picnic Eddie starts feeling “ a bit peculiar’ and suddenly the children have an emergency on their hands. Now more than ever they need to work together

but which of them is going to end up saving the day – or will it be a wonderful collective problem-solving effort.

Quentin Blake’s genius shines forth in every way in this book; his characters are wonderfully portrayed and he leaves plenty of space for readers to bring their own interpretations to the story, though one thing is absolutely clear: do whatever you can – a crisis situation can bring out the most awesome talents in every single one of us.
Written 6 years ago, this is just as timely now – or perhaps even more so.

Incredible You
Rhys Brisenden and Nathan Reed

We all have a bad day from time to time and perhaps like the boy protagonist in this book, on especially bad ones, we might wish to be someone or something else.

This boy however, having run through the gamut of ordinary

and less ordinary animals and the possibilities offered by so being, comes back round to the senses that he himself possesses and the wonderful wealth of possibilities these can generate.

In short everyone is uniquely AMAZING!

Amazing too is the combination of Rhys Brisenden’s rhyming text and Nathan Reed’s colourful scenes of upbeat characters, animal and human, demonstrating the multitude of ways of being yourself.

Hours of visual stimulus and an abundance of potential talk herein.

Supercats v Maximus Fang / Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of ZOMBIES

It’s great to see these two popular fiction series going from strength to strength:

Supercats v Maximus Fang
Gwyneth Rees, illustrated by Becka Moor
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This is the second of Gwyneth Rees’ Supercats series that will delight animal lovers, especially those who enjoy tales with a bit of a zesty bite. They’ll certainly get that with Tagg, a recent recruit to a team of crime-fighting supercats. (think feline MI6). Tagg’s personal superpower is camouflage, a tremendously useful skill for any secret agent.

In this story Tagg and another member of the team, Sugarfoot have their first mission. They need to infiltrate the dastardly Killer Cats crew that includes just back in town, Gory Gus, and thwart his plans to break his partner in crime Maximus Fang out of prison.

The prison break has to be stopped but are the newbie supercats up to the task?

Assuredly they’ll need to employ both their superpowers and all their feline wits or else they’ll end being fish-sliced in the paws of the Hit Cats. Moreover, Gory’s superpower is telekinesis and Maximus’s power is weather control. ‘Think tsunamis! Think tornadoes and hurricanes!’ Hmm!

Can Tagg and Sugarfoot succeed in their mission? Perhaps with the help of ‘the Weapon’ …

There’s plenty of tension, especially when having persuaded the Killer Cats to let them join their crew, Tagg and Sugarfoot discover what that entails …

Add plenty of fun to the mix, with additional lashings thanks to Becka Moor’s illustrations, and what you have is a highly satisfying moggy adventure.

Sam Wu is NOT afraid of ZOMBIES
Katie and Kevin Tsang, illustrated by Nathan Reed
Egmont

Sam Wu is still trying to prove he’s not afraid of anything in this his fifth fear conquering challenge. He’s already succeeded in becoming unafraid where ghosts, sharks, the dark and spiders are concerned – well almost!

So what about zombies? Surely such thoughts won’t send frissons of fear running through the lad will they? Err, maybe not, except … supposing his arch nemesis Ralph Zinkerman the Third, lets it be known that there are zombie werewolves living in his basement.

Is this really something Sam wants to tackle, especially when Ralph has just told tales on him in class? But, Sam has loyalties to Ralph’s sister Regina so maybe he should summon up all his courage, accept the invitation to visit the Zinkerman residence and (along with some friends) see what is going on in that basement of theirs, despite strict orders from Mr and Mrs Z that said basement with its locked door was ‘strictly off limits’.

Could this perhaps be Sam’s scariest fear-confrontation yet?

Splendidly funny through and through with a great finale, and terrific Nathan Reed illustrations scattered throughout that highlight the hilarious situations, this series just keeps on getting better.

Think Big!

Think Big!
Kes Gray and Nathan Reed
Hodder Children’s Books

Humpty Dumpty sits on a wall, but he’s not alone; his friends sit alongside and they are considering their futures.

Humpty however, sets the bar very low: “A boiled egg” is his only ambition. Shock horror among the others who go on to urge him to Think Big!

“Buy a pair of football boots and become a footballer,” suggests Wee Willie Winkie.

“Look for clues and become a detective, says Little Bo-Peep.

He could perhaps, like Little Miss Muffet, consider becoming a scientist.

Egg though he might be, he “really should try thinking outside of the box.” as Jack and Jill recommend. I second that!

An artist, a policeman, a doctor or a firefighter are also put forward as possibilities; but it is perhaps the Cow who jumped over the moon that really gets Humpty’s brain buzzing with potential personal achievements.

But will our eggy friend actually manage to live up to his elevated thoughts and reach for the stars …

Storytelling maestro Kes Gray smashes it again with this tale that will surely have you giggling from start to final, laugh-out-loud punchline (or more accurately crunchline).

Nathan Reed does a terrific job capturing Kes’s droll humour in his high-voltage illustrations, every one of which is a cracker.

With its powerfully positive ‘believe, work hard and you can achieve’ message this is an eggstra-special offering for young children.

Samson the Mighty Flea

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Samson the Mighty Flea
Angela McAllister and Nathan Reed
Andersen Press
Samson the Mighty Flea is top of the bill at Fleabag’s Circus, which is no surprise: he can lift a match, a pea and, the lovely Amelie – all at once. Despite this, he’s not satisfied; Samson longs for the big time so he bids farewell to fellow Fleabag performers and off he goes determined to be “the biggest star in the world“.

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But the world is a very big place and he’s such a small flea: “Go back where you belong,” a bug tells him. There’s no going back for Samson though, not until he’s performed before a huge audience. That does eventually happen …

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but so does something else: Samson realises that however much he’d longed for fame, it’s worth nothing without his old friends and one in particular.
Meanwhile back at Fleabag’s that particular friend is about to give the performance of her life too …

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Thought provoking and funny, this circus romp moves in and out of rhyme and so requires careful perusal by an adult reader aloud before public performance. I loved the offbeat nature of the whole thing: its unlikely characters are portrayed with finesse by Nathan Reed, who provides visual delight at every turn of the page.