Seasonal Junior Fiction

The Naughtiest Unicorn at Christmas
Pip Bird, illustrated by David O’Connell
Egmont

It’s time to don those festive jumpers and get ready to join Mira and her friends along with their UBFFs (unicorn best friends forever) in the week before Christmas.

Mira hopes that she and her unicorn Dave will be given the lead roles in the school play The Legend of the Snow Unicorn.

In the meantime here’s a question asked by her friend Darcy: “What goes RAINBOW thump, RAINBOW thump, RAINBOW thump, RAINBOW thump?

It’s Dave rolling down a snowy hill entangled in the long rainbow scarf, teacher Miss Glitterhorn was endeavouring to wrap around him. And following this spectacle said unicorn merely snorts and produces an enormous frozen poo. Not a very promising start when the auditions for that all important play are to be held imminently.

Inevitably things get increasingly chaotic when Dave is involved and yes the play does eventually take place, but as to who are the star performers – the best way to find out about the drama that’s performed is to get your hands on a copy of this fourth episode of high jinks Mira and Dave style.

As usual David O’Connell livens things up even more with his smashing black and white illustrations.

Princess of Pets: The Snowy Reindeer
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller
Nosy Crow

In her latest adventure Princess Bea is excited to be staying with her Great Aunt Sylvia but she really wishes that her snowy castle had some animals she might make friends with.
Then when out playing in the snow she discovers a little lost reindeer, despite her aunt’s residence being a humans only place, Bea knows she simply has to get the creature safely inside the castle.

Having done so though her challenges have only just begun, for party preparations are underway and she needs something to keep her new friend in, not to mention food. Then cousin Annie discovers Marshmallow, as the reindeer is now called, but Bea is determined to keep his presence a secret from the grown-ups – no easy task as the animal has a mischievous streak and a voracious appetite. When rule-abiding big sister Natasha too learns of the visitor things get even more tricky.

Can Bea ever manage to reunite Marshmallow with his family?

I know a good many fans of the series who will be lapping up this wintry episode in the life of animal helper extraordinaire, aka Princess Beatrice. Olivia Chin Mueller’s numerous illustrations add to the enjoyment of young solo readers.

Amelia Fang and the Lost Yeti Treasures
Laura Ellen Anderson
Egmont

Amelia and her best friends are spending a couple of days at the chilly Yeti Mountain Pits where Florence’s Grand-Yeti Clemence is celebrating her 350th birthday. Florence is a terrific character and it’s good to see more of her in this story. As for Amelia though, she badly wants to attend two parties over the weekend and tries her best to find an opportunity to break the news to her that she can only spend one night at Clemence’s birthday bash.

With the party in full swing precious things start disappearing

and then, even worse, the pits themselves and thus the homes of the yetis start to collapse. Before long comes a declaration from the Unicorn Detectives: Yeti Mountain Pits are not safe and need to be evacuated.

With a mystery to solve, Amelia and her friends need to move fast but very carefully or risk being trapped forever underground.

Fast paced this story surely is, and cleverly woven into the zany plot is a key message about friendship: ‘Make new friends but keep the old’ as the song goes. This is something that Florence’s Grand-Yeti Clemence and Amelia have a heart-to-heart about during the party and is later discussed by Florence and Amelia.

Terrific fun and thought-provoking too: Amelia enthusiasts will relish this mix of warmth and ‘yuck’ provoking disgustingness. No matter if readers haven’t read the previous books in the series, they can still enjoy this one, but better still start from the beginning and work through all the adventures giggling at all Laura’s wonderful illustrations along the way.

Some Recent Young Fiction

Sophie’s Further Adventures
Dick King-Smith, illustrated by Hannah Shaw
Walker Books

This is a new edition containing three books in one, so it’s a bumper bundle of stories about the adorable, animal-mad little Sophie. I remember children in my early days of teaching avidly lapping up the stories when she first appeared on the scene back as an uncompromising four-year old who discovered a snail that led to her passion for all things animal.

In these three adventures she visits the farm, learns to ride, and pays a visit to great Aunt Al in the Scottish Highlands.

I asked the opinion of precocious reader, 6 year old Emmanuelle, who quickly became absorbed in the book. She commented that she particularly loved reading about Sophie riding Bumblebee the pony and later drew a picture of her doing so. She also said it made her want to try horse riding herself.

Seemingly the determined Sophie, still has the capacity to delight especially with Hannah Shaw’s illustrations that give the stories a fresh, present day feel.

Here Comes Lolo
Hooray for Lolo

Niki Daly
Otter-Barry Books

These books are part of a mini series for new solo readers starring young Lolo, a sparky young character who lives with her Mama and Gogo (gran) in South Africa.

Both titles have four stories each being just the right length to consume in a single sitting.

In the first book Lolo wins a longed-for gold star for reading, loses it, then gives it away; acquires a much-wanted, rather large hat; finds a lost engagement ring in the street;

and reports a lost dog and in so-doing assists in the arrest of a thief.

Along the way, helped by Niki’s delightful line drawings, we discover much about Lolo’s family life, her school life, her friendships and interests.

In Hooray for Lolo, the friendship with best pal Lulu is threatened when Lolo thinks she hasn’t been invited to her birthday party; she becomes a member of the library and chooses her first picture book which subsequently goes missing; wakes up one day with tummy ache and ends up having an operation, and finally, discovers that baby-sitting Bongi is exhausting work.

Sparkly stories all, with lots of gentle humour that will win Lolo lots of friends among young readers who are sure to enjoy making the acquaintance of this enormously engaging girl.

Princess of Pets: The Lost Puppy
Paula Harrison, illustrated by Olivia Chin Mueller
Nosy Crow

When Princess Bea discovers a puppy in the fountain of the palace grounds, she knows that she’ll have to find it somewhere else to live for it’s against her father’s rules to have pets in their home. But with frantic preparations for the evening’s banquet under way, not to mention the deportment lessons she’s supposed to be having, keeping a lively puppy hidden at Ruby Palace in the meantime is a huge challenge.

Then there’s the matter of the threat to the café belonging to her best friend Keira’s parents, that, so she discovers over dinner, her father’s guests, are planning to demolish to make way for the mansion they intend to build. Bea is determined to thwart that plan.

Can she achieve both goals? Possibly, with her kind heart and strong resolve, together with help from her best pal and perhaps some special spring rolls from the café.

Fans of the Princess series will likely devour this addition to the series at a single sitting.

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.