Turtle Bay

Turtle Bay
Saviour Pirotta and Nilesh Mistry
Otter-Barry Books

The conservation message in this story is even more pertinent now than when the book was first published about 25 years back.

Essentially it’s a look at the breeding process of Japanese loggerhead turtles, but it’s much more too.
Taro is firm friends with Jiro-San whom in response to his sister calling the man weird, the boy says is “old and wise and full of wonderful secrets.” The two spend a lot of time on the beach where Tiro has already learned both how to care for some of the sea creatures and how to be mindful and watch what’s happening in the rockpools.
Now Jiro-San is often to be seen sweeping the rubbish and broken glass from the beach or sitting on a rock watching and listening and one day that is how Taro finds him. He’s preparing for the return of his “old friends”, Jiro-San explains to the boy.
Having spent the following day together sweeping the beach and placing the rubbish in Jiro-San’s cart, he invites Taro to meet him that evening by the big rock. He does, but that’s not when they see the particular friends the old man has been talking about.

That happens a few days later, when accompanied by his somewhat reluctant sister, Taro heads off to the usual meeting spot. Suddenly something emerges from the water: it’s a mother turtle, come to lay her eggs on the beach, which she does before heading back to the sea to let the other turtles know the beach is safe. The following evening a band of female turtles arrive and lay their eggs in holes on the sandy shore.

Some weeks later Jiro-San and the two children observe the nocturnal emergence of hundreds of baby sea turtles and see them scuttling down to the sea.

Nilesh Mistry’s gorgeous blue, yellow and lavender-hued scenes show these events and create a sense of calm and of wonder that will be shared by children who read or listen to Saviour Pirotta’s perfectly paced tale with its important messages about caring for the environment, mindfulness, patience and being open-minded about people.

(There’s additional information about saving sea turtles at the end of the book.)

The Whispering Stones

The Whispering Stones
Saviour Pirotta, illustrated by Davide Ortu
Maverick Arts Publishing

Following on from The Stolen Spear, Wolf is back in his village and now knows that he wants to become a healer like Moon, the current village shaman.

It’s Moon he confides in and the healer is encouraging, offering to become his guide and teacher. Not so however Moon’s son, Rain, who considers it his right to assist and follow his father.

First Moon asks Wolf to accompany him to return the spear from the first story to its rightful owner, now a skeleton in the House of the Dead. Therein he receives a gift. It’s the bird-skull amulet that once hung around the dead healer’s neck.

This amulet gives Wolf seeing-dreams – visions that are not always what they first appear so Moon tells the lad, and if wrongly interpreted could have fatal consequences. A warning to heed if ever there was one.

Then Moon invites Wolf to go with him to a secret shaman ceremony in honour of the Time of Wolf Moon, further infuriating Rain.

During the ceremony Moon is poisoned after drinking from the bowl he’d given to Wolf and inevitably the boy is blamed.

In order to clear his name and save his mentor’s life, Wolf must take the shaman with him and search for a cure. It’s a journey that is long, hard and dangerous, taking them far from their island home

to the Whispering Stones.

Once again this is a gripping tale during which its young protagonist narrator learns much about himself, about the importance of choices and their consequences, about acceptance of past mistakes and the ability to learn from them, and about the power of friendship. And the good thing is that the story ends with Wolf, in the company of his trusted friend, Crow, about to embark on another adventure.

This is a historical series that is both exciting and with its Neolithic period setting, unobtrusively imparts some information about the ancient past.

Davide Ortu helps to bring Stone Age atmosphere to the book with his dramatic illustrations and amulet chapter headings.

Particularly recommended as a lower KS2 class read-aloud as well as for individual readers.

The Stolen Spear / Buttercup Sunshine and the House on Hangman’s Hill

Here are two recent additions to Maverick Publishing’s junior fiction list

The Stolen Spear
Saviour Pirotta, illustrated by Davide Ortu
Maverick Publishing

The first in a new series set in the Late Neolithic period, on an island in the Orkneys, this is exciting historical fiction for primary age readers.

The focus is on the narrator, young Wolf, and his endeavours to discover who is really responsible for the disappearance of the sacred spear that is stolen from a burial mound during the midsummer celebrations.

And after a journey that takes him far from his village and community, from one island to another, discover the thief he does with the help of his trusty dog Shadow and friends he makes along the way.

By the time he reaches home once more, not only has Wolf secured the spear, but he’s also discovered his path in life. Tough and strong he may not be, but he’s destined to become a very special person in his community,

With illustrations by Davide Ortu adding to the atmosphere, there’s trickery, plenty of thrills, friendship, hope and determination aplenty in this twisting, turning Stone-Age tale for which the author draws on real historic links and places about which he talks in a note at the end of the book.

Buttercup Sunshine and the House on Hangman’s Hill
Colin Mulhern
Maverick Publishing

Colin Mulhern tells a tale that blends together comic horror and the classic story of Frankenstein that sees the return of Buttercup Sunshine.

As the story begins there’s been a zombie invasion of Buttercup’s locality (even her gran has been zombified) and she’s on her way to inform the town’s powers that be, when she meets a postman who begs her instead to go first to Hangman’s Hill to deliver a package to a house that has suddenly appeared as if from nowhere.

What follows is a bizarre encounter with the extremely weird and seemingly totally mad scientist calling himself Dr Frankenstein and what’s more he has a monster and a storeroom full of jars containing human brains.

Buttercup is desperate to find a cure for the zombies but as she discovers, the doc. has other plans of the world destroying kind. So when he sends her to fetch one of those brains – a very particular one – from the store, she knows she has to do something or she might even find herself becoming part of his very unearthly experiment.

I’ll say no more other that the words ‘bunny rabbit’ and the hope that she succeeds.

Totally crazy but enormous fun and ‘a bit carroty’ in its final moments.

Fairy Tales Old, Fairy Tales New

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The Orchard Book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales
Savoiur Pirotta and Emma Chichester Clark
Orchard Books
Readers and listeners enter a world full of enchantments, mystery and a scattering of frights when they open the covers of this re-incarnation of ‘The Sleeping Princess” first published in the early 2000s. The magic still holds good though as each of the ten stories is visited or revisited through Pirotta’s appropriately direct retellings of favourites such as Hansel and Gretel, Rapunzel, the Frog Prince, Rumpelstiltskin, the Twelve Dancing Princesses and Snow White and Rose Red.

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Emma Chichester Clark’s wonderful jewel-like illustrations – large and small – bring an extra glow, an occasional frisson of fear;

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and in many cases, a degree of gentle humour …

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to the verbal renditions.

Equally full of enchantment, occasional scares and sadness, and plenty of Celtic humour is:

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edited by Siobhán Parkinson, illustrated by Olwyn Whelan
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books
Subtitled ‘New Fairy Tales by Irish Writers’ this collection of stories has many of the same ingredients: princesses, (one features in a tale by John Boyne), frogs – ‘the other’ one gloriously named Hildegard. I love this story with its princess who wears a red cloak and happens upon a wolf as she walks in the forest;

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it comes from the pen of Ireland’s first laureate for children’s literature, Siobhán Parkinson.
Then there’s an ogre – gruesomely green although he, Finbar the Furious, is capable of no wrongdoing.

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Every one of the seven stories reads aloud beautifully and Olwyn Whelan’s gorgeous watercolours delight at every turn of the page. Here’s one from Darragh Martin’s ‘The Sky-Snake and the Pot of Gold’

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This wickedly funny story had my audience in fits of giggles, especially over the stripe-stretching Síle transforming himself into what young Nora refers to ‘GIANT’S STICKY SNOT’
A book to treasure alongside other fairytale collections.

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