Grumpycorn

Grumpycorn
Sarah McIntyre
Scholastic

We all use displacement activities to avoid things we ought to get on with, like writing, as those of us who write for whatever purpose know all too well; and these are what we find Unicorn employing as he starts his session ensconced in his special writing house intent on writing ‘the most fabulous story in the world’.

Inspiration is lacking though and he just cannot get going. Up he jumps reaching for his special fluffy pen – still nothing comes. He makes himself a cup of ‘special moonberry tea.’ Surely that will help bring ideas flooding in; but no.

His wish for an idea to knock at his door isn’t fulfilled; instead Narwhal comes a-knocking. Rather than inviting him in or indeed granting his request to be in the story, Unicorn insults Narwhal and sends him packing.

When Narwhal meets Mermaid he tells her what’s happened and she too goes to see the writer, inquiring how the writing is going. Unicorn’s response that he needs cookies to get his genius working gives Mermaid an idea and she offers a deal: cookies in return for being in his story. So long as those cookies provide inspiration is his response and off goes Mermaid to start baking.

Despite scoffing the entire plate full of delicious-looking delicacies, Unicorn deems Mermaid’s efforts uninspiring.

Next to try their luck is Jellyfish but Unicorn’s reaction to her visit is to lose his temper completely and hurl his writing accoutrements into the sea.
Is that to be the end of his creativity or can his would-be story characters save the situation for everyone?

Funny, reassuring in its demonstration that everyone – even a unicorn- suffers from writer’s block (why don’t all teachers make allowance for that in school?); and that friendship rules; and deliciously illustrated in wonderful rainbow hues, this story is a great one to share – perhaps accompanied by some pizza.

Spyder

Spyder
Matt Carr
Scholastic Children’s Books

Meet Spyder, reputedly the world’s smallest secret agent and penthouse flat resident at No. 7 Fleming Road wherein a special birthday is about to be celebrated.

Suddenly, as the agent has just settled down for a spot of reading she receives an urgent call from HQ.

Instantly, or almost so – it takes a little time to get those feet readjusted to work mode, and then to pack her spy-kit – she’s off on a mission to save Tom’s birthday cake from a disastrous attack by a dastardly buzzing insect going under the code name of Bluebottle.

It’s a hazardous chase with some pretty perilous moments. Not least this one …

There follow, clever moves on the part of Bluebottle, some wily thinking from Spyder and the occasional moment of fun for the agent;

but will it be enough to save the day and the cake?

And who actually gets the last laugh?

All this and more in a totally daft tale that’s a wonderful follow up to Matt’s debut Superbat.

There are some groan worthy puns, plenty of action of the comical kind, some splendidly silly speech bubbles, a show-stopping colour palette and endpapers packed with spy stuff. Another cracking read aloud from Carr who even adds a strategically placed word (or several) on the back cover warning about the folly of trying any of Spyder’s stunts – they’re for trained professionals only.

The Princess and the Suffragette / The Song From Somewhere Else

The Princess and the Suffragette
Holly Webb
Scholastic Children’s Books

This is a sequel of sorts to one of my childhood favourite reads, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess.
It centres on one of the characters from the original story, Lottie, now ten, who has lived at Miss Minchin’s school since she was four.

Now, a few years on, it’s 1911, when the suffragette movement is on the rise, Lottie finds herself becoming friends with one of the maids at the school, a girl named Sally who is interested in the rights of women.
During the next couple of years she also finds herself getting more rebellious and more involved in suffragette activities.

In tandem with her burgeoning rebellion, Lottie discovers that there’s a mystery surrounding her mother, and that what she’d been led to believe about her isn’t the truth.

There’s frankness about Holly Webb’s writing that makes the whole story feel genuine and well researched. She doesn’t avoid mentioning the suffering and brutality that some members of the suffragette movement underwent; and one hopes, her deft manner of talking about it will inspire young readers to understand the importance of standing up for what they believe to be right.

 

The Song From Somewhere Else
A.F.Harrold, illustrated by Levi Pinfold
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Here’s a book that is both beautiful and alarming, terrifying even at times.

Frank (Francesca Patel) is stalked and bullied by the local nasty, Neil Noble, and a couple of his pals; but then a rather odd boy, Nick Underbridge comes to her rescue. You might expect that the girl would be greatful, indeed she knows she ought to be, but at school Nick is said to be smelly and so not exactly the kind of person she’d want any involvement with.
However, for safety she goes back to his house with him intending merely to thank him and leave. It’s a rather strange house – not what she’d expected – filled with abstract painting done by Nick’s dad; there’s a rather strange earthy aroma pervading the place and suddenly she hears music. It’s the most haunting and beautiful music she’s ever heard; and she wants more of it and more, and more. And so, she returns.

What happens thereafter is the development of an unlikely but challenging friendship, and the discovery that within Nick’s home are secrets.

There’s a talking cat involved too.

Part reality, part fantasy, this story is absolutely wonderfully and lyrically told, and entirely convincing – the stuff of dreams, the stuff of nightmares both.
And Levi Pinfold whose images – dark, mysterious and haunting – are a fine complement to Harrold’s telling, equally beautifully illustrates it.

Totally captivating: a magical book to return to over and over.

Mopoke

Mopoke
Philip Bunting
Scholastic

Ever heard of a mopoke? I certainly hadn’t until this book arrived and even then I thought at first it was a made up word. Then I discovered a note at the back telling readers that a ‘Mopoke’ is the Australian nickname for the Southern Boobook, their smallest and most common owl species.
The particular mopoke of the title is the star of Philip Bunting’s debut picture book, which unsurprisingly begins ‘This is a mopoke.’
What follows is a deliciously playful sequence in which the mopoke, sitting on its branch longing for some solitude, becomes a highpoke, a lowpoke, a poshpoke and a poorpoke.

One then becomes two and then, more pokes, and a wee poke. Thereafter the real fun starts with a ‘Fee-fi-fo-poke’.

Before long the creature has become a ‘yo-poke’ – twice thanks to the addition of an exclamation mark.
Other animals also put in an appearance – there’s a wombat, totally unexpected, a snail riding a tortoise …

and a crow(poke) until finally the long suffering creature has had enough and flies off, presumably in search of a peaceful spot, leaving an empty branch.
Gently humorous, with a deceptively simple text and delightfully droll illustrations, this extended wordplay joke is great fun to share; and perfect for beginning readers of all ages.

Cat In A Box

Cat in a Box
Jo Williamson
Scholastic

The joys of being a family cat are chronicled through the eyes and voice of one particular black and white moggy.
She starts by waking the household – a gentle walk over the twins, a more vigorous pushing and miaowing for the grownups.
As the family day unfolds, our narrator pretty much pleases herself despite assertions that she’s indispensible.
Jo Williamson shows her sitting about, chasing a ball of wool, clawing the curtains,

fishing with her pals, climbing and hunting outside …

and in.
She has to be in on the action no matter what or where; and all, or almost all, in the name of necessity. Who’s kidding whom?
There are one or two activities that don’t offer such delights even if they are self-induced …

but that’s the penalty for wanting to be a part of everything, no matter what!
Who wouldn’t fall under the charms of such a creature: even this cat-phobic reviewer was totally beguiled; but then Jo Williamson’s portrayal of this particular feline’s antics are so delectably insouciant and the feline narration so wonderfully tongue-in-cheek.

I’ve signed the charter  

Three Pirate Tales

There appears to be a plethora of pirate picture books at present: these three arrived in a single postal delivery:

The Treasure of Pirate Frank
Mal Peet, Elspeth Graham and Jez Tuya
Nosy Crow
Taking the rhythmic pattern of the nursery rhyme The House that Jack Built, the authors have woven a lovely lilting tale of a young boy set on discovering the hiding place of Pirate Frank’s treasure.
He has a map so show him the way, a trusty ship in which to sail,
To the island with spices and gold and tall mountains all snowy and cold,
On which is a forest with monkeys bold, and a swamp with lilypads topped with frogs.

He must beware of the volcano, spitting out fire,
As he ascends the steps going higher and higher;
then crosses the bridge to the tall palm tree; there to behold – my goodness me!
Who’s this standing atop that chest?

It seems there’s only one thing to do. What would that be if the boy was you?
Jez Tuya’s imaginative perspectives and creature crammed spreads are worth revisiting once the treasure has been found and the tale completed.

Pirates in the Supermarket
Timothy Knapman and Sarah Warburton
Scholastic Children’s Books
First there were Dinosaurs in the Supermarket; now the place is beset with pirates hell-bent on creating mischief and mayhem among the groceries as unsuspecting shoppers go about the task of filling their trolleys with goodies. They leave plenty of clues but nobody save one small boy is aware of the piles of rubble appearing in the aisles,

the cannon-wielding gang on the rampage, or the piratical accoutrements appearing around the store. Fortunately for all concerned just when it seems things might be getting somewhat out of hand, the aforementioned boy springs into action and before you can say, ‘shiver me timbers’ he has things under control – well and truly so methinks …

Which all goes to show that you need to keep your eyes wide open whenever you embark on a supermarket shop; you never know who might be lurking …
Fun, fast and full of crazy characters, oh and the odd observant one too.; and they’re all colourfully portrayed in Sarah Warburton’s comedic supermarket scenes. What more can a swashbuckling child ask?

Pete’s Magic Pants: Pirate Peril
Paddy Kempshall and Chris Chatterton
Egmont
Another pair of Pete’s snazzy magic pants come out of the suitcase for a wearing – pirate’s stripy ones in this instance – and before you can say ‘Avast’, with a wiggle and a wobble, the lad is off on the high seas aboard the Flying Fowl with Cap’n Ted and his trusty, clucking crew. They’re on the trail of Long John Silverside the most feared buccaneer on the high seas; he who has seized the treasure rightfully belonging, so we’re told to Cap’n Ted and his pals.
Can they escape the jaws of the sharks and the clutches of the soggy-suckered octopus, find their way to where the treasure is stashed and then get past the loutish-looking Long John himself?

Perhaps – with the help of Pete’s brain and the odd touch of brawn thereafter.
Fans of Pete’s previous adventure will welcome this second tale, which is pacey, pant-revealing and full of high drama and I suspect it will capture some new pants followers too.

I’ve signed the charter  

Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle
Matt Hunt
Scholastic Children’s Books
Town life doesn’t suit Lion: he dreams of clear sunny skies, wind in his mane, sand in his paws and, his guitar. Nothing more. So when he spies a ‘beach house for sale’ advert he cannot believe his luck. That very evening he packs the necessities – mostly strawberry smoothies – and heads off over land, air and sea until he reaches the island of his dreams. There, he takes up residence and thus, his perfect existence commences …

What joy to wake to the sounds of parrots and splashing waves, to breakfast on succulent coconuts and strum a guitar to your heart’s content. Soon though, unsurprisingly, Lion begins to feel lonely; but how can he communicate his need for a pal without a phone or mail service?

Sunlight moment! Lion decides to write a message, pop it in one of the many bottles he has (sans smoothie of course) and drop it into the sea. No response. Lion writes more messages, puts them into more empty bottles – many bottles, tosses them into the sea, watches them disappear, and sleeps …
What happens thereafter, is not exactly what Lion had hoped;

but suffice it to say without giving the whole thing away, all ends happily and … rather noisily. Which all goes to show that you don’t always know what will make you happy; and that stepping out of your comfort zone, embracing difference and welcoming new arrivals can work wonders.
A timely, important message for readers and, a tumultuous one for Lion. Matt Hunt delivers both with verve and humour.

I’ve signed the charter