Scoop McLaren Detective Editor / Isadora Moon Puts on a Show

Scoop McLaren Detective Editor
Helen Castles
New Frontier Publishing

This is the first of a proposed series featuring thirteen year old Scoop McLaren, editor of Click, an online newspaper. She resides in Higgedy Harbour a place where quite suddenly strange things start happening. Alarming for sure, but even more so is the fact that a brand new rival newspaper, The Dark Times, is reporting these events at exactly one minute past midnight every night.

Could its editor Sonny Fink be connected with all the disasters – the plague of frogs, the torrential rain that hits the town causing a flood, buildings being burned down, to mention just a few?
Scoop, along with her friend Evie, is determined to get to the bottom of things and restore peace and harmony to their hometown; the mayor seems totally disinterested and so it’s down to the two girls.

But just who is this mysterious and unscrupulous Sonny Fink character and is anyone else in town to be trusted to help them discover his identity?

Mixing straightforward narrative, news articles and text messages, this is an amusing, pacey tale that will definitely keep readers guessing as the plot twists and turns its way to the final exposé.

Isadora Moon Puts on a Show
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford University Press

In case you’ve yet to meet young Isadora Moon let me just say that her dad is a vampire and her mum a fairy. That makes Isadora unique – a vampire-fairy no less.

This story starts with the family getting excited about the annual vampire ball, even Isadora who is now old enough to attend. This year it’s going to be super special as it’s being held on the night of a blood moon and all the vampire children are to take part in a talent show. Isadora decides to do some ballet dancing and she has just two weeks to perfect her routine. “It’s going to be an amazing show!’ she tells Pink Rabbit as they snuggle up under the duvet that night.

But then she has a crisis of confidence, changes her mind about dancing and decides to go along with Dad’s tonsorial suggestion. Or does she?

When they get dressed for the ball, Isadora chooses to wear her tutu under her vampire cape. On arrival though she decides to pull out altogether: not going on stage at all. But then she sees a sad-looking little vampire girl who appears a bit different from the others and she in turn notices Isadora’s tutu.

The two begin to talk and Araminta, as the girl is called, reveals something about herself that makes them bond immediately.

An hour later the show is about to begin so Isadora goes to sit with the rest of her family. Will she stay there or could something amazing happen after all …

Let’s just say there’s a glittering surprise in store especially for mum who has told the organisers to delete her daughter’s name from the list of contestants.

As delightful as the black, white and pink illustrations, is the story’s denouement in the latest episode in the life of this zippy character. Her fans will love it! Sparkle with an injection of zesty pizzazz.

Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue & Kitty and the Tiger Treasure

Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue
Kitty and the Tiger Treasure

Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Lovlie
Oxford University Press

These are the first two of a proposed new six book series starring Kitty, a young superhero in training. Kitty’s mum is gifted with cat-like superpowers and Kitty longs to be just like her; the trouble is she’s frightened of the dark.

Her opportunity to try out her own powers comes sooner than Kitty anticipated in Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue.
One night when she’s wearing her superhero outfit there comes a scratching at her bedroom window. It’s Figaro the cat requesting her mother’s help and because of her attire, he’s convinced Kitty too is a superhero.

When there’s an emergency what can she do but remember her mother’s words “Don’t let fear hold you back. You’re braver than you think,” and follow him across the rooftops to the clock tower from where very strange sounds are coming.

An exciting moonlit rescue ensues and Kitty ends up with a brand new tiny feline friend and family member.

In the second story, Kitty is eagerly anticipating tomorrow’s trip to the museum to view the priceless Golden Tiger Statue reputed to have the power to grant wishes, but cats are not allowed and Pumpkin is keen to go see it too. There’s only one thing to do, thinks Kitty as she and the kitten snuggle up together at bedtime and so begins their second moonlit adventure.

Off into town they go but before you can say ‘precious’ Kitty finds herself accused of being a criminal. So when she sees through the museum window a canine thief at work, paws on the Golden Tiger, it’s down to her and her feline friends to give chase, find the culprit, rescue the treasure and return it to the museum before its absence is discovered.

No easy task. Kitty can use her super powers that are growing stronger day by day but it seems the spaniel isn’t working alone. Can she find out who else is involved and put things right before midnight strikes?

These absorbing stories with their young female protagonist plus  several feline characters, and a wealth of smashing illustrations,  are just right for new solo readers. My tester read each book in a single sitting …

and was inspired to ponder on the possibility of having her own super power –

“My superpower would be that if people are fighting or at war I could make them become friends’.       Emmanuelle age 6

Me and Mister P: Maya’s Storm

Me and Mister P: Maya’s Storm
Maria Farrer, illustrated by Daniel Rieley
Oxford University Press

In this latest story, polar bear Mister P washes up on the beach close to young Maya’s home in Lighthouse Cottage. Maya is still getting used to being part of a new family – Mum, Dad, big brother Max and sister, Iris. She now feels safe there but memories of her old life in another country haunt her occasionally.

Maya has formed a special bond with Granny Anne who lives on the edge of the village, but other family members are worried about Gran –her forgetfulness and at times erratic behaviour, seem to be on the increase. Things on the Gran front are going to have to change, says Mum.

So when Maya and Gran discover at the back of a cave, a huge polar bear with a suitcase bearing a label which reads Mister P, 1 Lighthouse Cottages, Maya knows that she now has more than just Gran to worry about. She certainly doesn’t want her parents finding out about the new furry visitor and Gran seems to have taken a shine to him.

But how are they going to provide him with the diet of fish he needs?

However Maya cannot spend all her time worrying about Mister P. There’s a birthday party to be organised too.

No matter where Mister P lands, he always manages to end up as a hero and so it is here. Along the way though the rest of Maya’s family of course, discovers him – first her brother at whose place of work he causes a degree of alarm, then Iris and her parents.

Eventually Mister P gets itchy feet; he cannot stay forever after all; but when he does go Maya knows she’ll never forget him; and her brother gives her a vey special something as a reminder of their time together.

Funny, disquieting at times and tinged with sadness, but readers will close the book with an abiding feeling of warmth and an even greater endearment than ever towards its main protagonist. As always, Daniel Rieley has done a great job with his expressive greyscale illustrations.

Polly and the New Baby

Polly and the New Baby
Rachel Quarry
Oxford University Press

Little Polly’s imaginary friend Bunny goes everywhere with her. She takes him in the pushchair she had as a tiny baby.

Every time her Mum or Dad try to persuade her to do without said pushchair, she insists it’s an absolute necessity. Bunny and chair go to the supermarket, the park and even to her Gran’s house.

There’s a problem though: Mum is soon to have a new baby and needs the chair for her own purposes. Several replacement modes of transport for Bunny are offered but none satisfy Polly

and all the while Mum’s due date draws ever closer.

Even when it’s imminent, and Polly and Bunny go to stay at Gran’s, you’ve guessed, the pushchair goes too.

However, when Mum introduces Polly to her new little sister Lily, the now big sis. makes a special announcement concerning her friend: “Bunny can walk!”

Definitely now’s the time to pass on that old pushchair surely; or is it? … It would appear that Polly isn’t the only one with a new sibling.

Happily Polly’s imagination stretches to making a compromise that might just work for everyone.

The understated humour in both words and illustrations makes this story of a family with a super-cute creative thinking protagonist, a delight to share with little ones around Polly’s age whether or not a new arrival is in the offing.

King Dave Royalty for Beginners

King Dave: Royalty for Beginners
Elys Dolan
Oxford University Press

In the third book featuring Dave the dragon along with his trusty sidekick, steed Albrecht, said dragon knight, cum wizard, cum, the on the way to being qualified hero, receives an urgent summons to the castle from the King.

On arrival he learns that this majesty is about to depart for a very important Annual Conference for royals and he needs a trustworthy kingdom-sitter to stand in during his absence.

Handing Dave his copy of Royalty for Beginners, the King leaps into his coach and is on his way.

Be prepared for more medieval mayhem to ensue pretty much as soon as Dave dons the crown.

He starts with inspecting knights, waving – the royal wave naturally; paperwork – plenty (even if he doesn’t know what it all means,) and opening places: all in a day’s work even if somewhat weird.

So far so good but then the following day a visit from some ambassadors is on the agenda and Dave decides a party is just the thing to impress the important dignatories.
And so it does – eventually – and so much so that they decide to stay on a bit longer. Uh-oh!

From that point things begin to unravel starting with a special event …

It’s as well Albrecht doesn’t take his eye off the ball, despite being banished from the kingdom, for there’s a dastardly plot afoot.

Elys Dolan delivers another full on fairy tale farce full of the sort of silliness that will keep young readers turning the pages as they laugh their way through from beginning to end, spluttering over both text and the plethora of illustrations.

The Colour Monster Goes to School / Beautiful Bananas

The Colour Monster Goes to School
Anna Llenas
Templar Publishing

It’s the day Colour Monster starts school and he’s rather confused about what to expect as he anticipates what this new place might be like.

His friend Nuna is there to reassure him about what to put in his bag as well as to introduce him to his teacher and new classmates and to accompany him as he discovers the activities on offer that day.

First comes Nuna’s favourite, music, in which Colour Monster is let’s say, an enthusiastic participant though he seems even more enthusiastic about stories …

There are lessons to learn about turn taking, appropriate use of the toilet facilities

and how to eat lunch.
The afternoon comprises some gymnastics – with an additional piece of equipment; followed by a creative session with Colour Monster as the subject.

Come home time, it’s clear that the newbie has had a fun-filled day; but poor Nuna is completely worn out.

If you’ve not come across the Colour Monster in his previous escapades, then this is a great place to start especially if you have little ones starting school or nursery next term.

With her wonderful mixed media illustrations, Anna Llenas’ funny story of the risk-taking protagonist is a delight, reassuring with plenty to giggle over, as the big day draws close.

Beautiful Bananas
Elizabeth Laird and Liz Pichon
Oxford University Press

There are gentle echoes of Handa’s Surprise in this African setting tale of Beatrice, who sets out through the jungle with a bunch of beautiful bananas for her granddad.

That’s her intention, but along the way a giraffe flicks his tail accidentally displacing the bananas and sending them into a stream.

This sets off a concatenation of animal-related mishaps involving a swarm of bees, then some mischievous monkeys,

a lion, a parrot and finally an elephant each of which apologises and provides a replacement gift, with the story coming full circle with the elephant’s offering. It’s a delighted Beatrice who then heads to her Grandad’s home, assuring herself that after all, “Bananas are best.”

There’s plenty to spot in Liz Pichon’s vibrant scenes, not least the tiny jungle creatures

and the pairs of eyes peeping out from among the foliage as youngsters listen to Elizabeth Laird’s amusing story that is still a winner with me 15 years after its first publication.

Ariki and the Island of Wonders / Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Silent Songbirds

Ariki and the Island of Wonders
Nicola Davies, illustrated by Nicola Kinnear
Walker Books

Nicola Davies’s sequel to Ariki and the Giant Shark is equally rooted in island life, the natural world and the Pacific Ocean.

Strong-minded Ariki and her good friend Ipo, who live on Turtle Island, ignore the advice of Ariki’s guardian to learn about wave behaviour from a bowl of water and set sail on Sea Beauty. “We’ll be in trouble, ” says Ipo as they discover the wind is rather stronger than expected and Ariki has to agree.

It isn’t long though before there’s a storm brewing and it’s impossible to turn back: the only option, they realise, is to let the storm blow them where it will.

After several days without food and virtually nothing to drink, they encounter a wounded whale that has become separated from its family, which the children help. The whale then assists them by towing them towards an unfamiliar island that looks like paradise.

On the island they meet a strange man calling himself Crusoe McRobinson and learn of a dangerous creature the man calls “Dog”. There are in fact a number of these ‘dogs’ lurking and because of them the other island residents – humans and animal – as well as the two children, are in jeopardy.

Is there anything Ariki can do and if so will the two friends ever get back safely to Turtle Island?

Zoologlist story weaver, Nicola Davies cleverly entertains and educates at the same time in this gripping tale. Her affinity with the natural world shines through in her narrative with its vivid description of wildlife showing the interconnectness of human beings and the natural world.

To add to the magical mix, Nicola Kinner’s black and white illustrations perfectly capture the relationship between the human characters and nature.

Magical Kingdom of Birds: The Silent Songbirds
Anne Booth, illustrated by Rosie Butcher
Oxford University Press

Combining magic and wonder with facts about birds is this latest story in Anne Booth’s series of chapter books for young readers that began when its main protagonist, Maya was made keeper of a very special colouring book that could draw her into the Magical Kingdom of Birds.

The picture that appears to draw her to the Kingdom (where in addition to being a schoolgirl she is the Keeper of the Book) in this adventure is this one.

Instead of the usual focus on one particular kind of bird, songbirds from many parts of the world are featured; the reason being there’s to be a special singing gala so her friend Willow tells Maya. But can they really trust Willow’s wicked Uncle, Lord Astor, who claims to have become a reformed character wanting only to bring everyone together in friendship?

Of course not: he has set his sights on stealing the songs of all the participants in the event and using them for his own nefarious purposes.

Maya certainly has a big problem on her hands and she also has to face up to singing in her school concert if she succeeds in saving the songbirds.

Another exciting episode, with Rosie Butcher’s enchanting black and white illustrations, this is certain to excite Maya’s established fans and capture some new enthusiasts for the series too.
(The final pages contain fascinating facts on the real birds that inspired the story, plus fun things to make and do as well as additional information about the plight of endangered Indonesian songbirds).