Nixie: Wonky Winter Wonderland
Oxford University Press
Here’s one fab. fairy: she has bucket loads of cheek and attitude. With her wonky wand, tatty dress and mischievous ways, Nixie puts me in mind somewhat of Little Rabbit Foo Foo. This instantly adorable character won me over right from the moment when she ‘clambered into her big red clompy boots … shoved her wonky wand into her left boot, so hastily that the red star on the end wobbled about madly, and shoved her trusty spanner into the other boot.’
Then off she goes wreaking seasonal havoc – or rather having fun as Nixie calls it – in fairyland as the other fairies are frantically dashing around going about their preparations for that annual highlight, The Midwinter Midnight Feast.
With its eleven action-packed chapters, bespattered with ZAPs, FIZZLEs, Swoooooshes, and TINGs; and those funky illustrations from Ali Pye aplenty,
this is such a fun book for newly independent readers ready to take off and fly solo (with just a tiny bit of help from Nixie and her magic perhaps.)
And if that’s not enough there are three suitably magical activities – ‘Tabitha Quicksilver’s Snow-covered Gingerbread Trees’, Nixie’s Swirly Snowstorm in a Bottle’ and ‘Nip’s Winter Wonderland Lantern’ to create; just in case readers haven’t turned to the beginning and started enjoying the story all over again, that is.
Pugs of the Frozen North
Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
Oxford University Press
A plethora of pugs predominate in this the third author, Philip Reeve/artist Sarah McIntyre collaboration and it’s a stonkingly good book for the young and not so young alike. Hilarious just about sums it up but doesn’t really do justice to either the writing, the illustrations or the amalgam of both, for that’s what it really is, so well do the text and pictures meld: the whole is definitely more than the sum of its parts.
This seems to be a growing trend in books for the beyond picture book stage (not that one IS ever beyond them): the recognition that illustrations can add an extra dimension at any time in a person’s reading journey. And the way Sarah McIntrye managed to draw 66 pugs and make every one have its own name, let alone personality, is in itself something of a feat.
There’s a frenetic pace to the telling and if you’re not careful, it’s easy to whizz along, swept up in the pace of the whole thing and miss some of the glorious visual humour that is so much part and parcel of the whole. Essentially, the book features ex cabin boy, Shen lost when his ship gets trapped in the ocean of the frozen north, Sika, a Po of Ice worker (got it?) who is in urgent need of some dogs to pull her sled in the all important Great Northern Race. (We’re told a wonderful tale of how this came to be by Sika’s grandpa.)
The arrival of True Winter marks the start of this race, destination the Snowfather at the top of the world for it’s he who will grant the wishes of the winner and Sika truly wants to win on her ailing grandpa’s behalf.
Of course, nobody has ever had a sled pulled by pugs before and just harnessing them is a challenge in itself; but can the Shen/Sika/66 pugs team harness their own courage and determination and see off the competition?
Competition in the form of Professor Shackleton Jones with his SNOBOT and canine robots,
the bearded Helga Hammerfest and her pair of polar bears (the local favourite)
and the unscrupulous Sir Basil Sprout-Dumpling and his side-kick butler Sideplate and …
glamour puss Mitzi Von Primm with her team of pink poodle-primped huskies.
The race takes them over into dangerous parts: through the Night Forest, over the massively tentacled Kraken Deep and then there’s the dreaded Yeti Noodle Bar to contend with.
And the ultimate winner is … that would be telling.
As I said, the book is truly funny but it’s also a real heart-warmer with just a tiny touch of final sadness; well that’s what I felt, though not Shen. I just turned back a little way and re-read these words of the wise Snowfather: “All old things die in the end, but not stories. Stories go on and on, and new ones are always being born.” … Unmissable!
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