Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom / Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House

These are new additions to popular series both with strong, determined female protagonists

Willow Moss and the Vanished Kingdom
Dominique Valente, illustrated by Sarah Warburton
Harper Collins Children’s Books

This is the third instalment in the Starfell series, starring young witch Willow Moss and her kobold best friend, ‘not cat’ Oswin.

Now Willow has been enrolled in school – a normal school – and it’s the very first time the Brothers of Wol, the order newly headed by none other than Silas, have allowed Starfell’s magical children to be educated alongside their non-magical peers, and her parents think it’s now the right thing. Surely there’s an ulterior motive? Willow has her suspicions from the outset.

On the very first day of term Willow meets Twist, a forthright elf girl and they soon become firm friends. Also willing to accept Willow for who she is, there’s Peg, a human boy. When she learns of the new curriculum that students will study Willow finds it pretty alarming, but Peg speaks out firmly in support of ‘magic people’ and of diversity.

Before you can say ’broomstick’; though, the three of them have escaped the confines of the classroom and are heading to Lael, the elf city made entirely of marble wherein Twist’s aunts Tuppence, Griselda and Dot reside.

All they have to do thereafter is to find the vanished elvish kingdom of Llandunia and get hold of the elf staff before it gets into the wrong hands. Not much to ask then.

Dragons, trolls (including an old friend of Willow’s) and more – even Oswin’s cousin – appear in this terrific fantasy tale, but be warned: it ends on a cliff-hanger.

Somehow, despite Sarah Warburton’s illustrations, the cover apart, being in black and white, many readers will I suspect experience parts of this enormously engaging story in colour, such is the power of Dominique Valente’s writing. Bring on the next book.

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House
Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Daniela Sosa
Little Tiger

Zaiba has a third case to solve and it’s set in the home of her new friend Olivia. Olivia’s parents have recently bought the run-down Oakwood Manor and Olivia tells Zaiba that her mum thinks the house is haunted. With its plethora of secret passages and hidden rooms it is certainly steeped in history and some strange things have happened but ghosts? Surely not.

Olivia invites Zaiba and Poppy her pal, to come to the house-warming party the following day and then sleepover, as that offers the ideal opportunity to begin their ‘ghost’ investigation. Zaiba has an unexpected offer of assistance from her brother Ali and with her backpack of detective paraphernalia, and fellow Snow Leopard Detective Agency UK members they’re ready to investigate.

Once the party is underway, things get increasingly weird

and sometimes, a tad dangerous. There are plenty of suspects, and in true detective story style, some red-herrings; but this isn’t merely a junior who-dunnit with all suspects present at the final reveal. Zaiba’s family dynamics and the diverse cast of characters add to the reader’s enjoyment of this fast-paced mystery. So too do Daniela Sosa’s black and white illustrations sprinkled throughout and it was good to see the police treating the crime-solving children with respect rather than dismissing them as interfering.

Young would-be sleuths can also enjoy the additional content after the story.

Museum Kittens: The Sleepover Mystery / Mort the Meek and the Ravens’ Revenge

These are 2 new fiction titles from the Stripes Publishing imprint: thanks to Little Tiger for sending them for review

Museum Kittens: The Sleepover Mystery
Holly Webb, illustrated by Sarah Lodge

The Museum Kittens, Peter, Tasha, Bianca and Boris are proud of their new guarding duties though they’re finding it pretty tiring work. Tired as they might be, they’re all eagerly anticipating the museum’s latest enterprise to bring in extra visitors. A group of sixty children are to visit and stay overnight in the Dinosaur Gallery. Bianca above all the others is mega excited, so much so that she does something which causes a furore in the Costume Gallery and then, following a spat with the other kittens, wants to spend all her time with the children, even keeping them company during the night – the time when the nasty rats are on the prowl. It’s during the night that her siblings realise that Bianca is missing.

The search is on. Come morning they still haven’t found her:

surely she can’t have been intending to run away and got on the coach with the children …

There’s plenty of furry fun, frolics and frights as those who are familiar with the series will know. However, Holly’s latest book is an enjoyable read even if this is your first encounter with these lovable felines; and there are plenty of Sarah Lodge’s black and white illustrations to break up the text for less confident readers.

Mort the Meek and the Ravens’ Revenge
Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by George Ermos

The only Rachel Delahaye stories I’d read before this were her Little Animal Rescue series so this came as something of a surprise. It couldn’t be more different.
For starters it’s set in the kingdom of Brutalia – an island community – where violence is the way of life. Ravens circle overhead, dreaming of eating eyeballs or brains. With its motto LIVE OR DIE, this certainly isn’t a place to book your next summer holiday.

Its chief protagonist is young Mort the Meek who inherits the role of Royal executioner when his uncle dies. Mort is the kingdom’s only pacifist so imagine his horror when he learns that his first victim is to be his good friend Weed.

Nobody has ever dared to stand up to the heinous queen of this realm and survived. Could Mort possibly do so and perhaps even find a way to save his friend’s life?

It all sounds pretty horrifying but Rachel Delahaye’s narrative is often very funny and the tale is full of unexpected twists and turns, so if you can cope with the violent punishment regime (I share Mort’s pacifist principles) you will laugh a fair bit, especially at the ravens. that open each chapter. And, the ending is hugely satisfying …

George Ermos has done a terrific job with the illustrations that are littered with small humorous details.

44 Tiny Acrobats

44 Tiny Acrobats
Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Ashley King
Stripes Publishing (Little Tiger)

When Fry and Sons Circus of Wonder arrives on the common right by Betsy Bow-Linnet’s house just before Christmas, it’s a huge shock for Betsy’s Grandad. More than a shock in fact, it stirs up painful memories of Grandma who used to be one of its performers.

Despite her initial reluctance, Betsy just cannot resist the lure of the big top. So, with her parents otherwise engaged, en route home from the vet’s she buys herself a ticket and in she goes to see the show (accompanied by her mice.)

Betsy is quickly spellbound by the amazing acts and atmosphere of the show and so fails to notice that the latch on the mouse case has been nosed ajar allowing forty three mice to escape … with disastrous results.
Before you can say ‘confession’ Betsy finds herself having to face the loathsome ringmaster, Mr Fry and the next thing she knows, she’s offered herself and her mice as an act for the following day’s show in front of some all-important potential investors in the circus.

How much worse can things get? …

With its focus on Betsy’s problem-solving skills, and also her determination not to upset her Grandad, this second adventure is as delightful and involving for youngsters as 44 Tiny Secrets (although this book’s not without its own secrets). To reflect the razzmatazz of the circus, Ashley King has used a red theme for her wonderfully quirky, spirited illustrations.

Mermaids Rock: The Midnight Realm / The Kitten Next Door

Two new titles kindly sent for review by Little Tiger’s Stripes imprint, both from authors popular with young solo readers:

Mermaids Rock: The Midnight Realm
Linda Chapman, illustrated by Mirelle Ortega
Little Tiger
The Midnight Realm referred to in the title in this, the fourth of the Mermaids Rock series, is that region of the ocean around 1,000 metres below sea level that is in constant darkness as no sunlight ever penetrates to that depth. A place where, on account of its extreme pressure and freezing temperatures, humans have only recently developed the technology that makes it possible for them to explore. Not so merpeople however and in particular those merchildren, resident around Mermaids Rock – Marina, Kai, Naya, Coralie and Luna. As the book opens these friends are busy working on the design of a poster for their latest project, corals reefs. And as those who’ve read previous books might expect, Glenda is showing off while being full of negativity towards their efforts.

Excitement rises when their teacher announces a three-day field trip that involves camping on a deserted atoll in the South Pacific.

When Marina says that her father has been researching the disappearance of strawberry squid down in the Midnight Zone, the area that the friends want to know more about for their project, it’s a case of Save the Sea Creatures Club to the rescue once again. And that’s despite being warned how dangerous a place this totally dark region is. A plan is formed: can they solve the mystery of the flashing light that Naya has noticed, (the light that then appears in the tunnel) and discover what is happening to the strawberry squid? Perhaps, but a fair bit of problem solving and creativity will be needed if they embark on such a mission.

And even more when they discover a glowing cave wherein lurks a tentacled monster – a monster that entraps Luna. Now Naya’s creative skill is required if she’s to succeed in rescuing her friend.

With black and white illustrations by Mirelle Ortega to enjoy, this story has exciting moments aplenty, strong friendship, and kindness even towards Glenda despite her misdeeds, this will be lapped up by established fans and other young readers with an interest in marine life and environmental issues.

The Kitten Next Door
Holly Webb, illustrated by Sophy Williams

In this latest story in Holly Webb’s Animal Stories we meet young cat lover Sophia. She longs for a cat of her own but her parents say she must wait until her little sister is a bit older. Then, just after Christmas Sophia spies a tiny, hungry-looking calico kitten Willow appears in the next-door neighbours’ garden and falls under its charm straightaway. She tries to spend some time with the kitten every day but as the holidays come to an end, the people next door move away, taking Willow with them, so Sophia assumes.

But shortly after Sophia notices the kitten again. Has she run away from her new home? Sophia is determined to find out. And so she does, but she finds out a whole lot more too and that’s one of the essential qualities of Holly Webb’s animal stories. Here we are reminded of just how scary fireworks can be to small creatures such as Willow, as well as how showing loving care and kindness towards animals can be hugely rewarding, sometimes in unexpected ways.

With its pencil sketches by Sophy Williams wherein she captivates even this cat phobic reviewer, this book is just right for new solo readers, especially animal lovers like young Sophia.

Tales from the Forest

Tales from the Forest
Emily Hibbs, illustrated by Erin Brown
Stripes Publishing

This collection of twenty stories – five for each season – takes readers close up to creatures great and small from various habitats in the forest.

There’s a wishful caterpillar discovering its own metamorphosis, an adder that sheds its beautiful patterned scaly skin and the woodpeckers searching for a new tree in which to nest and rear chicks in spring.

Bees busy performing their various roles in and around their hive;

fireflies lighting up the forest at twilight “The stars of the forest, burning bright”; competitive boars that end up wallowing side by side in the mud; bats, and tadpoles turning into frogs,

we meet them all in summertime.

Autumn presents beavers building a dam; the subterranean mole; a little mouse that has a narrow escape from a marauding hawk to tiny ladybird ready to join its fellows huddling close inside a log and a fawn whose spots vanish and his antlers grow.

In chilly winter Spider’s new web holds her pouch of tiny eggs while she finds a warmer place to spend her days till spring;

Black Wolf finds a white female companion to share his days; Squirrel remembers where she’s stashed her nuts; a little fox and his siblings lose their way and finally, an owlet listens to the sounds of the other forest animals before she and her father add their own voice to the nocturnal song.

Amazing animals all, as the author acknowledges in her final factual paragraphs – one each for the twenty featured. Her stories are packed with detailed, description and information in a highly accessible form so that readers/listeners will come away from each one having learned a lot without realising it. And, each story ends with a 4-line verse.

Erin Brown’s finely detailed, painterly illustrations at every turn of the page are an absolute delight adding further atmosphere and detail to each telling.

Midnight Magic / Cally & Jimmy Twins in Trouble

Midnight Magic
Michelle Harrison, illustrated by Elissa Elwick
Stripes Publishing, Little Tiger

This is the first of a new rhyming series by author of the A Pinch of Magic books, Michelle Harrison; it’s superbly illustrated by Elissa Elwick and it’s absolutely perfect for young solo readers or for reading aloud.

It all begins when with tummy swollen and heavy, ‘One frosty evening, / A tabby cat prowled / Through white winter fields / While a bitter wind howled.’

Said tabby cat makes her way into a barn and there, watched by the animal residents, produces three kittens that she duly and aptly names Snowdrop, Foxy and Midnight. The third one, born at midnight is different – both mischievous and magical. And this magic seems to be doubling each day and potentially troublesome. Indeed, she soon starts calling herself a ‘cat-astrophe’ and before long forges a friendship with the broom from the barn, naming the thing `Twiggy’.

The two travel together and they’re spotted by a girl named Trixie as she plays in her village.

Trixie takes the kitten home where she’s eventually welcomed whereas the broom is treated less favourably. But with her mischievous nature, will the rest of Trixie’s family allow Midnight to stay?

Trixie is certainly happy with her new friend but it’s not long before sparks start to fly. And then Nan makes a discovery about that broom she’d unceremoniously tossed into the cupboard.

W-hay – it’s up and away …

A magical tale, this surely is; it reads aloud like a dream and is perfect for sharing or independent reading. especially around Halloween time.

Cally & Jimmy Twins in Trouble
Zoe Antoniades, illustrated by Katie Kear
Andersen Press

Meet twins Cally and Jimmy: twins they might be, but you’d be hard pushed to find two more different people. Cally – short for Calista meaning ‘most beautiful’ – the quiet one, is our narrator and is well behaved, most of the time. Jimmy in contrast (his real name is Dimitri on account of having a Greek mother) is far from quiet and his behaviour, not helped by ADHD, leaves a fair bit to be desired. In class, he has a special table right beside the teacher’s desk and far away from his sister’s ‘top table’.

In four short stories we get a pretty clear picture of what it’s like to live with the most-annoying-brother-in-the-whole-wide-world. His actions frequently land them both in trouble, though there are plenty of fun times too. And even after getting into trouble together they often end up laughing together afterwards.

Like the time when they made brownies using dad’s ‘fool-proof recipe’ only they added some rather interesting extra ingredients to the mixture. Not sure I’d want to sample those.

Then there’s the time they contribute to a class assembly, the practising of which doesn’t quite go smoothly.

The final episode sees the celebration of the twins achieving double digits and celebrating it in style.

Other colourful characters include Yiayia (grandma)

and lunchtime supervisor, Mrs Gutteridge.

Trail Blazers: Stephen Hawking / Little People Big Dreams: Ernest Shackleton

Trail Blazers: Stephen Hawking
Alex Woolf, illustrated by David Shephard
Little Tiger (Stripes Publishing)

‘Be inspired’ says the first line of the blurb of this book. Who could fail to be inspired by reading about Stephen Hawking, an incredible individual who refused to be defined by his illness and which he never allowed to hold him back from pursuing his awesome scientific dreams, and whose life story is told therein by historian Alex Woolf.

It’s both a biography and a science book – ‘A life beyond limits’ as the subtitle says. Alex Woolf explains by means of an informative narrative together with David Shephard’s illustrations and clear diagrams, Stephen Hawking’s scientific discoveries (panels giving theoretical summaries are provided)

and the challenges he faced through much of his life.

There’s just enough detail of the genius’s revolutionary theories and of the key questions cosmologists have sought answers for, to inspire but not overwhelm readers from the top of KS2 onwards.

The narrative begins with a summary of the history of black holes theory, a brief explanation of the space-time continuum and a mention of other mathematicians and physicists involved in the theory.

There’s also information about Stephen’s formative years: I was particularly interested and amused to read of his family’s trip to India when the car got caught in monsoon floods and had to be towed to safety. (Sounds to me like an almost familiar incident!).

Children will be interested to learn that during his under-grad. days Stephen was far from hard-working and later calculated that he’d spent on average just one hour a day studying, spending much of his time rowing or at the boat club; getting by on his utter brilliance and managing to talk his way into getting a first in his Oxford degree.

It was when he became a student at Cambridge that both Stephen’s clumsiness and his resulting focus on his intellect began to take hold. A diagnosis of the incurable amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) might have overwhelmed even the most determined of people. Not so Stephen whose propensity to ask difficult questions and to put forward new theories without fear of being wrong is exemplary.

“Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. “ So says the final quote – truly inspiring and one hopes, motivating …

Strongly recommended reading for older children.

Little People, Big Dreams: Ernest Shackleton
Maria Isabel Sánchez Vegara, illustrated by Olivia Holden
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

This addition to the popular series of biographical stories presents the famous Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton from the time he was a child growing up in rural Ireland dreaming of wider horizons, when even at a young age, he showed the qualities of a good explorer – optimism, idealism, patience and courage.

We learn of his participation as a young man, in expeditions endeavouring to reach the South Pole. Then how, inspired by Roald Amundsen, he planned to cross Antarctica from sea to sea, via the pole.

This expedition aboard Endurance, began in August 1914 with a crew of 28 enthusiastic, optimistic men and assorted animals. After months crossing the ocean, the ship became trapped in ice;

and so it remained for nine months with their calm leader doing his utmost to keep the spirits of his crew high, until the ice began to break up their ship.

Though there was scant hope of a rescue, Ernest never lost hope of saving his crew, and finally he and five of his men reached a whaling station. Then, having found help, he returned and brought his crew back home, Incredible though it may seem, every one of them survived.

With his unfailing optimism, Shackleton, a true inspiration to countless others, died at the young age of 48, as the final timeline shows. A true inspiration to young readers too, especially at this time when remaining optimistic is to say the least, challenging for us all.

Winter Wishes / Frost

Winter Wishes
illustrated by Alison Edgson
Little Tiger

This collection of tales comprises ten illustrated wintry tales each by a different author.

From Caroline Juskus, there’s a lively little penguin Pip, eager to improve his marching in time for The Penguin Parade. There’s a rather confused, large hairy ape-like creature wandering around the snowy forest in Guy Bass’s Finding Bigfoot, an adorable seal pup eager to get in on the act in Michael Broad’s Seeley’s Song.

Caroline Pitchers’s story Is of a husky pup, anxious about her first sledge pull as a member of the team;

Elizabeth Baguley tells of a rather homesick little girl, wishing and an elephant, set in India; while Karen Wallace’s story has a fox cub puzzled about the white ‘feathers’ in the garden in the days coming up to Christmas – he certainly has a lot of learning to do about the season.

Malachy Doyle’s Morning Bear is full of wishing, surprises and lots of guessing; The Kitten in the Snow takes a while to acquire a name in Penny Dolan’s chilly tale; Narinder Dhami’s Tiger in the Night has three fox cubs discovering what it means to be a Siberian tiger and Holly Webb provides the final Just in Time for Christmas, telling how little dog Max leaves the rescue shelter and finds a family home.

Just right to snuggle up and dip into, along with a hot chocolate. Young independent readers might want to read one or two stories a day, or spend a whole afternoon/evening relishing the entire book.
More from the final author in:

Frost
Holly Webb
Stripes Publishing, Little Tiger
This story is part of the author’s wintry animal tales that cleverly mixes fantasy and historical fiction to create magical books for younger solo readers, and for reading aloud.

This one features Cassie, often known as William’s ‘baby sister’ and hence frequently left behind when it comes to the activities of the other older flat-living children. But on one occasion being left behind gives rise to her spotting a little fox on the waste ground close to her London home.

Cassie forms a special bond with the fox cub naming it Frost and feeds it regularly till one winter’s night the creature leads her off on a very special adventure, as they time-slip back to the 1683  Frost Fair on the frozen River Thames.

It’s exciting spending time in this other world but Carrie finds herself lost; can she make it safely back to her own time …

In addition to the consideration of urban foxes and the differing viewpoints about these creatures, another element woven into the story is that of the importance of understanding and helping others, herein through Cassie’s developing relationship with her somewhat irascible neighbour, Mrs Morris.

Plenty of food for thought and discussion, as well as a wondrous wintry adventure. (Line drawings from the Artful Doodlers add further atmosphere to Holly’s telling.)

The Hat Full of Secrets

The Hat Full of Secrets
Karl Newson, illustrated by Wazza Pink
Stripes Publishing, Little Tiger

Picture book author, Karl Newson turns his hand to writing a longer story, and with Wazza Pink’s full colour illustrations it has become one of Stripes Publishing ‘Colour Fiction’ series for emergent readers.

It’s a cracking story that starts with young Henry Pepper discovering a ‘secret’- a really big one. He rushes back excitedly to tell his Grandad but finds himself getting tongue-tied as he attempts to do so.

Grandad however understands and suggests that a good place for keeping secrets is under your hat. Henry has no hat, but Grandad comes to his rescue giving him one of his specials, a very large one called a Jones, ‘made for adventures’.

And so it is, for no sooner has Henry set off again down the garden path than strange things start happening in the form of flying luggage labels – five of them – all of which except one, float off in different directions.

Henry picks up the remaining one which reads, ‘Shh! The Egg Box Crown’ and returns to his grandpa to tell him. Grandad too has a label and he tells Henry that they’re his secrets.

As memories come back, Grandad regales the boy with wonderful stories of things that have happened in his life relating to each label that once read aloud, morphs into an item pertinent to the message, before disappearing into dust.

Besides the one already mentioned, there’s a label about a missing Tyrannosaurus Rex Bone, another about The Ice and the Polar Bear, one that says ‘Shh! The Fastest Arrow’ about an awesome drive and the final label, ‘Shh! A Moon with a View’ that results in an incredible lunar happening.

Having shared Grandad’s secrets, it’s time for the wonderful final surprise in the form of Henry’s own secret. What could it possibly be? Is that Jones hat large enough to contain it – I wonder.

I absolutely loved every minute spent reading this gorgeous tale that has at its heart the special relationship between a young boy and his aging Grandad. It truly celebrates the power of the imagination and the magic that memories can bring. Illustrator Wazza Pink succeeds in bringing out these qualities in her scenes of the two characters together.

Rocket Boy / You’re a Star, Lolo / Charlie & Mouse Even Better

Rocket Boy
Katie Jennings and Joe Lillington
Stripes Publishing

Young Callum has a dislike of broccoli, a fertile imagination, and is passionate about space, Mars especially.

One Saturday he decides it’s time he learned a bit more about his favourite topic, above all, what it would be like to witness a Martian sunset.

Having stocked up on some vital supplies and donned his space boots and helmet he’s ready to board Epic. Then, final checks carried out, comes the countdown …

Out in space he is surprised to discover he has a stowaway, his cat Oscar, and the creature now has the power of speech. In fact Oscar proves to be a valuable crew member when things get tricky on account of a meteor storm and again once they’ve safely landed on Mars, where Callum does finally set eyes on that which he has come to view.

However, as he heads back to the landing module a very strange sight meets his eyes. “What on Mars is that…?” he asks.

Will Callum succeed in returning safely to planet Earth?

Flying a flag for the power of the imagination, Katie Jennings’ story with Joe Lillington’s detailed full colour illustrations on every spread,

should go down well with young, just flying solo readers, particularly space enthusiasts like its main character.

You’re a Star, Lolo
NIki Daly
Otter-Barry Books

This, the third in the series about the adorable, Lolo who lives with her Mama and Granny Gogo contains four episodes for new solo readers to relish.

In the first, Lolo adds a secret ingredient to the soup she makes especially to warm up her Mama when she comes home on a chilly, rainy day.

Next we find Lolo kept awake by a scary sound convincing herself the ‘Ghorra-Ghorra! Hoooaaah! Bwoooooo!s’ she hears are those of a monster, till she and Mama discover what’s really creating such a terrible noise.

The third story starts in school when Lolo’s favourite teacher gives each pupil some seeds to plant. Lolo has tomato seeds from which she learns a lot. So too do the other members of her family; but when it comes to bringing in the results of their labours to show to their classmates, Lolo surprises everyone …

In the final episode Lolo is super-excited when she discovers that she and Gogo are to spend a week of the summer holiday in a seaside town near Cape Town.

The holiday is great but the journey home is more than a little eventful and Lolo wonders if she’ll make it back in time to start school again.

Like the previous books, with its combination of gentle humour and warm family relationships, and of course, Niki Daly’s own  black and white illustrations at every turn of the page, this one is sheer delight.

Charlie & Mouse Even Better
Laurel Snyder, illustrated by Emily Hughes
Chronicle Books

If you’ve yet to meet the rather mischievous brothers, Charlie and Mouse, now’s your chance in their four latest seemingly ordinary activities.

First of all it’s Pancake Day and Mum receives some rather unlikely requests for pancakes from the boys – baby pancakes, a pancake turtle and even a pancake dragon.

It’s as well that Mum knows just how to curtail all this pancake bingeing before the table is totally full, not to mention two little tummies.

Shopping sees Charlie and Mouse off with Dad on a secret expedition to buy a birthday present for Mum. She’s fond of sparkly things; but what will the boys eventually choose – something more practical perhaps?

In Helping, Dad is busy baking a cake so the boys decide to make some decorations. You are going to love Mouse’s final remark on their endeavours.

Eventually it’s birthday time. Before the celebration actually happens though, Dad and the boys need to do some hasty de-smoking of the house. Then once she comes home it’s down to Mouse to do some clever Mum distracting – four minutes worth to be precise – before the presentation of that special Surprise offering.

In these four short chapters, Lauren Snyder demonstrates the astuteness of her observations of very young children, and of course how parents respond. Equally well-observed are Emily Hughes’ illustrations of the family.

With its gentle humour, both verbal and visual, this delightful book is just right for emergent readers.

Madame Badobedah / A Sea of Stories / Zippel: The Little Keyhole Ghost

Madame Badobedah
Sophie Dahl and Lauren O’Hara
Walker Books

This is a rather longer than usual picture book story of an unusual older woman and the young narrator, Mabel.

Mabel lives at The Mermaid Hotel an establishment managed by her parents. She’s an only child with a fertile imagination and a thirst for adventure and here she acts as narrator of the tale of what happens when a certain rather unusual guest arrives. Not only does the woman have twenty-three bags, two large trunks, lots of jewels and a dressing table but also two cats, two dogs and a tortoise, oh! and a penchant for toffees too.

So high-handed is her manner that Mabel takes an instant dislike to her, naming her Madame Badobedah and deciding she’s a villain. Donning her large raincoat, hat and sunglasses the girl becomes Mabel the Spy.

One Saturday morning the strange guest invites Mabel into her room for tea.

We learn that Madame Badobedah had long ago come across the sea on a big ship to escape war and had once been a ballerina – hence the jewelled tiara.

Gradually as this rather unlikely friendship blossoms we learn more about Madame Badobedah – she’s ready to apologise when she thinks it’s due, enjoys visiting the mermaids,

and also has some secrets that she wants to keep to herself. I love the way Sophie Dahl’s narrative gradually reveals things about the lonely Irena (as we discover is her real name) but leaves plenty of gaps for readers to fill in for themselves.

Lauren O’Hara captures the inherent warmth of the story in her deliciously whimsical illustrations that are just perfect for the quirky telling.

Another story about an intergenerational friendship is:

A Sea of Stories
Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Paddy Donnelly
Stripes Publishing

Young Roo loves to visit her grandpa who lives in a cottage beside the sea with Bathsheba, his ancient cat and a large collection of Bits-and-Pieces he’s accumulated over the years.

Grandpa has a garden that has become overgrown and wild, the ideal place for a game of hide-and-seek when she goes to stay for a few days. When he gets tired there’s nothing he likes better than to sit in his favourite armchair and tell stories to Roo; stories inspired by the objects in his collection.

They all relate to the hidden cove at the bottom of the cliff, a place that Grandpa’s legs won’t carry him to any longer on account of the ‘rambly-scrambly path’ that leads down there.

On her final night at Grandpa’s Roo turns her wish for a way to bring Grandpa and his favourite cove back together into a plan; a plan that the following day is brought to fruition.

Highlighting the importance of sharing stories, this unusual story is both warm and infused with a delightful quirkiness.

Zippel: The Little Keyhole Ghost
Alex Rühle, trans. Rachel Ward, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Andersen Press

One day after the holidays Paul returns home from school and gets the surprise of his life: a voice comes from the keyhole when he inserts his key and it turns out to be a tiny ghost claiming he lives in the keyhole.

He names the being Zippel; but later on that same day he learns that the lock on the front door is to be replaced in just three days.

Later that evening Paul’s parents leave him alone and go to a meeting. Immediately the lad informs Zippel and the race is on to find the enormously inquisitive ghost (with an interest in everything including toilets) a new home before the three days are out.

With smashing Axel Scheffler colour illustrations and absolutely full of delicious wordplay and puns, not to mention Zippel’s rhymes, this warm-hearted story about discovering friends in the strangest of places is fun around Halloween especially, but worth reading any time.

Speedy Monkey / An Owl Called Star

Speedy Monkey
Jeanne Willis, illustrated by Chantelle & Burgen Thorne
Stripes

Speedy Monkey, like many young humans is bursting with energy and inquisitiveness. Nothing wrong with that except that the other rainforest creatures think that his constant capering is way too lively and noisy; peace and quiet is what they crave.

Speedy’s efforts to be more like them are a dismal failure and none of them has any desire to emulate the little monkey.

Come nightfall, as the animals try to sleep, Bat suggests if Speedy wants to do what he was born to do he should go to the  edge of the forest, climb to the top of the Kapok tree and … “Everyone will love you for it.”

Speedy does just that, but being completely alone is no fun at all.
Suddenly a really fierce storm approaches and Speedy knows that he has to warn his fellow animals of the danger.

There’s no time to lose, but will they heed his warning?

Happily yes, but once they’re all safely gathered in Bat’s cave, one creature is notable by his absence …

Jeanne Willis’s telling is as lively and full of fun as her protagonist in this latest addition to the Stripes’ series of full colour fiction for new solo readers. Also exuding liveliness are Chantelle and Burgen Thorne’s funny, spirited illustrations of Speedy and his fellow rainforest dwellers.

For those ready for a longer read is

An Owl Called Star
Helen Peters, illustrated by Ellie Snowdon
Nosy Crow

This is the eighth story about Jasmine and her best friend Tom. Here the two are out walking with Jasmine’s sheepdog when he disappears and in their hunt for him, they come upon an injured barn owl in some brambles and they name it Star.

With the help of Jasmine’s mum, the owl gradually regains its strength; but barn owls are hunters that love to feed on small mammals and Jasmine has also offered to look after Aisha’s hamster for the weekend. Is it wise to keep both cages in the same room? Not only that but she’s also planning a secret Halloween party. It looks as though she might just have taken on rather more than she can cope with, especially when the hamster goes missing after Jasmine forgets to secure the door of his cage, and then Mum declares that Star is ready to be released.

Readers, especially animal lovers, will lap up this story and along the way learn a fair bit about barn owls from the information Helen Piers has skilfully woven into her narrative. Ellie Snowden’s detailed pencil drawings that break up the text are a delight.

The Missing Bookshop

The Missing Bookshop
Katie Clapham and Kirsti Beautyman
Stripes Publishing
This smashing story from debut author, bookseller Katie Clapham took me back to my days working in a children’s bookshop on Saturdays and during school holidays, a job I loved and which always made me want to own a bookshop just like the one Katie has written about. It never happened though: I’ve stayed in education, albeit with a house full of as many books as some bookshops.

Mrs Minty is the owner of the one here, a place young Milly loved to visit especially for the weekly story time sessions when she’d sit transfixed on one of the cushions on the rainbow carpet listening to Mrs Minty read from a book, often in response to Milly’s ‘one with … in’. Times when Milly has saved sufficient pocket money to buy a book of her own were especially exciting.

On one such day Milly notices that both Mrs Minty and her shop have lost some of their sparkle, particularly whens she compares Mrs M. with the picture hanging on the wall behind the counter.

As she sits with her mum in a café after their bookshop visit, Milly expresses her concern, asking, “What do you do if something is old and creaky?”
Mum’s response about careful treatment and the possibility of replacing it with something new upsets the girl who considers Mrs Minty irreplaceable despite her “You’d make a wonderful bookseller,” words to Milly.

The next week, having watched the bookseller at work, Milly’s fears grow: the woman is a veritable encyclopaedia when it comes to knowledge about books – nobody could do better and after the session as she and her mum sit together they talk further about the bookshop’s future. So worried is Milly that she then runs back to tell Mrs Minty about her bookshop’s irreplaceability.

After the weekend the shop is closed when MIlly and her mum pay a visit. It remains so for the rest of the week until a sign appears in the window ‘CLOSED DUE TO UNFORSEEN CIRCUMSTANCES’ followed the next week ay the even more concerning ‘CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE’. What on earth can have happened?

Another week passes and a van appears outside the bookshop full of items from inside; then a woman gets in and drives away before Milly has a chance to question her. Doom and gloom descend upon Mllly and deepen when a FOR SALE sign appears soon after.

It’s time to launch operation Save Minty’s Bookshop decides Milly and she gets busy right away.

A few days later her mum returns from a supermarket visit with exciting news …

As a lover of local independent bookshops, especially those specialising in children’s books, my heart went out to Milly and Mrs Minty in this smashing story that flies the flag for such establishments. I loved Milly’s resilience and determination as well of course, as the fact that she’s a bibliophile at such a young age.

Kirsti Beautyman’s expressive illustrations portray so well, young Milly’s changing emotions as the story progresses towards its thoroughly satisfying finale.

Another cracking addition to Stripes’ series of full-colour fiction for newly independent readers; it’s bound to be devoured by book and bookshop lovers especially.

The Climbers

The Climbers
Ali Standish, illustrated by Alette Straathof
Stripes Publishing

This new title in Stripes full-colour fiction books for new solo readers stars young Alma who lives with her overbearing uncle in a town bordering a forest, a forest in and beyond which young Alma longs to explore. “The forest is full of fearsome beasts. That’s why only hunters are allowed there,” her uncle insists when he discovers she’s climbed a tree. And as for the mountains beyond, they are populated by settlers as bad as the beasts.

Nevertheless Alma feels drawn to the world beyond her narrow hometown and that night she ventures out into the darkness determined to see the forest for herself.

As she walks deeper among the trees, the bird song seems to be welcoming her and suddenly, hearing a cry, she comes upon a frightened – looking bear cub. Unable to leave it alone but unable to take it home, she carries him gently to a disused shed on the edge of town; then she creeps back indoors and falls fast asleep.

Every night thereafter, Alma and the cub – she calls it Star Bear – slip out and explore the forest together.

The cub as bear cubs do, grows bigger and one day rumours of a bear sighting are spreading in the town’s market square. Fears escalate: a giant sharp-toothed beast brought by the mountain settlers, they decide. Anna keeps her knowledge to herself, while the mayor decides a wall round the town is to be erected to keep outsiders from entering and a search for the ‘beast’ begun.

She takes Star Bear back into the forest, fearing that what the townsfolk are doing will shortly prevent them from meeting.

More and more trees are felled to build the stockade and lack of food in the dwindling forest results in empty-bellied townsfolk. Should Alma now reveal the truth? She does and soon finds herself on Star Bear’s back as they flee for safety into the deepest depths of the forest. Before them are the mountains. There’s only one way to go …

On the mountainside the two come upon a boy riding a tiger; the boy’s not scary or furry and introduces himself as Tully. The friendship that forms between them changes everything.

Without being a story spoiler I’ll say little more except that it’s a case of onwards and upwards, as the two children, and others they meet, (together with their animals) finally see the light: love and courage conquer and connect us all.

As in this powerful, moving story, so it is in our increasingly troubled times: it’s children who show the way when it comes to optimism, open minds and open hearts.

Beautifully told by Ali and dramatically illustrated by Alette Straathof, be it read alone or read aloud, this is a must read..

Revenge of the Living Ted

Revenge of the Living Ted
Barry Hutchinson, illustrated by Lee Cosgrove
Stripes Publishing

This is the sequel to Night of the Living Ted and it’s every bit as good a tale.

Early on in the story we meet  Bearvis, Dad’s birthday gift styled on his favourite singer who plays a significant role later on.

A little while after, Lisa Marie and Vernon are just leaving Drake’s house having discovered that he remembers nothing – so he says – of their previous teddy bear filled adventure, when two pairs of rough furry hands throw bags over their heads and bundle them into the back of a car.

The next thing they know is that they’re sitting chained up in what looks like from the clues they spot, the boardroom of a successful business establishment.

Suddenly in bursts a strangely shaped man who introduces himself as Ursine Kodiak. Said character boasts that he’s the genius responsible for building the machine that brought monstrous teddy bears to life and then was able to eradicate the events surrounding them from the memories of those involved.

Then he takes the two children into his bear-filled factory and starts blabbing on about Mummy Bear (from the Goldilocks story which he misremembers), artificial intelligence and other alarming things. Furthermore he wants to enlist Lisa Marie’s help with his future plans for saving the world and things really seem dangerous. Should she become his Executive Senior Assistant?

Let’s go no further with this smashing fast-moving, fur-filled farce, but just say that it’s sure to fire up enthusiasm with readers and listeners – it’s a terrific read aloud – and along the way might introduce youngsters to some exciting new vocabulary. To add to the enjoyment, the text is liberally sprinkled with dramatic illustrations by Lee Cosgrove.

Roll on the third adventure.

Two Sides / Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise

Two Sides
Polly Ho-Yen and Binny Talib
Stripes Publishing
Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise
Swapna Haddow and Alison Friend

To help bridge the gap between picture books and assured fluent reading of chapter books Stripes Publishing are creating a short fiction series with a colour illustration at every page turn; these are the first two titles. Both are beautifully designed and illustrated.

Two Sides explores a friendship between total opposites, Lenka and Lula. Born on the same day, the former is neat and tidy, a cat lover and enjoys drawing; her best friend is a dog enthusiast, messy and something of a chatterbox.
A perfect twosome it seems and so it is until the fateful morning when Lula oversleeps after which everything goes terribly wrong.

Lenka’s forgotten pencil case containing the coloured pencils she needs to complete a competition entry, but now lying on Lula’s bed and a rejected present made by Lulu for Lenka lead to a fierce row and by the time their bus reaches school, a special friendship has fractured.

School feels a totally different place; the two girls sit far apart in the classroom but then their teacher allows the class a play stop en route for the library.

An opportunity for the rift to be healed perhaps …

The author acknowledges that even the very best, closest of friendships can have their ups and downs; and words said in the heat of the moment can really hurt. This is something young readers will definitely acknowledge as they lap up Polly Ho-Yen’s story with Binny Talib’s expressive scenes of the girls.

Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise opens with a bored Little Rabbit whose Mama, siblings and friends are all too busy to play with her. But then her grandfather invites her to become his assistant for the day and the young rabbit is in for surprise.

Instead of merely spending all his time with his friends, Big Rabbit devotes himself to altruistic activities, the first of which concerns Mole’s dark tunnel and Little Mole’s imminent birthday party.

Next comes a visit to Granny Hedgehog who is suffering from a bad case of the snuffles.

Dormouse too is in need of help: his little ones are hungry and their nest isn’t big enough to accommodate them all.
And then there’s Squirrel. She’s injured her paw and so can’t forage for food for her children.

It’s all in a day’s work for Big Rabbit but by the next morning it seems that Little Rabbit’s been infected by her grandfather’s enthusiasm for helping others and her friends too are willing to lend a hand.

Celebrating kindness, Swapna’s gentle telling in combination with Alison’s adorable woodland watercolour illustrations make for a delightful read alone, or a read aloud to younger children.
Readers will close the covers of both books with a boost of confidence having enjoyed a longer story: thoroughly recommended for home reading and for classroom libraries in KS1 and early KS2.

The Moon

The Moon
Hannah Pang and Thomas Hegbrook
Stripes Publishing

It was the non-scientific chapters of this superbly illustrated volume that attracted me most, rather than those on the space race, lunar exploration and moon missions.

Earth’s moon has inspired countless people – artists, poets, mathematicians, astronomers and a great many others have aspired to investigate it scientifically and some have even managed to pay it a visit. It’s truly a source of awe and wonder to us all, no matter what our predilections.

There is an enormous amount of fascinating information in this book published to coincide with the anniversary of the moon landing, as well as myths and legends, poetry, folklore and Thomas Hegbrook’s wonderful, wonderful full-page illustrations of such things as  the celebration of the Chinese New Year.

On this spread we learn that the festival was long ago a celebration of a successful harvest of wheat and rice, when food was offered to the moon; this has been celebrated since the Shang dynasty around 1600-1046BCE.
Other aspects of the celestial calendar are covered in this chapter including paragraphs relating to some religions that follow a lunar calendar including Buddhism, although I saw no mention of Hinduism.

The Moon features in many myths, some being concerned with the Man in the Moon; we learn of such from the Haida people who live on the Pacific coast of Canada; from Germany, including residents of Rantum a small village on the German island of Sylt. It’s said there, that the Earth’s tides are controlled by the Man in the Moon, a giant responsible for pouring water onto Earth creating high tides, and resting as the waters die down.
There are also many Moon Rabbit myths from as far afield as Japan, Korea and Africa.
I especially liked The Fox and the Wolf fable and the way it’s set within a beautiful moonlit scene.

Other parts I found fascinating were The Moon and our Bodies, sleep being one aspect affected by its cycle, as well as the chapter on how a full moon is thought to make people do strange things, even perhaps having an effect on such diverse things as the stock exchange and emergency service call outs.

Numerous artists have included the moon in their paintings. In traditional Chinese art it’s most often shown as a tiny object in the distance; whereas Japanese paintings frequently show a large, partially hidden moon.

Architects too have been inspired to use the moon in their building designs.

There is SO much to learn from this book but it’s impossible to cover everything in a review such as this. Instead I suggest you treat yourself to a copy of Hannah Pang and Thomas Hegbrook’s magnificent moon-filled compilation.

Anthology of Amazing Women / Amazing Women: 101 lives to inspire you

Anthology of Amazing Women
Sandra Lawrence, illustrated by Nathan Collins
20 Watt

The author has selected fifty amazing women from various walks of life and from all over the world, who have made significant contributions to society through their ground breaking achievements in art and design, history, politics, science, sport, entertainment, literature and business.
The choice must have been an incredibly difficult task, so as well as the fifty who are each allocated a full double spread, Lawrence manages to squeeze in almost another fifty by including thumbnail sketches of an additional half dozen woman at the start of each section. I’m somewhat ashamed to say that a few of the names are new to me so I am particularly indebted to Sandra Lawrence for drawing my attention to these wonderful women.

One such is the sculptor Edmonia Lewis who created a series of sculptures based on Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha, but of whose work very little has survived, although her The Marriage of Hiawatha and Minnehaha sculpture was discovered in 1991 and is now on display at the Kalmazoo Institute of Arts in Michigan.
Equally inspiring and previously unknown to me is Elena Cornaro Piscopia, who studied at the University of Padua in the seventeenth century and became the first ever woman to receive a Ph.D. So too is Stephanie Kwolek, the chemical researcher who invented Kevlar, the super-strong plastic material.

No book about the achievements of women would be complete without Emmeline Pankhurst, political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement whose 40 year campaign for women to have equal voting rights with men, finally achieved complete success shortly after her death in 1928.

Other women who have made their mark in politics featured herein include Eleanor of Aquitaine, the Rani of Jhansi, Lakshmi Bai, who dressed as a man, led her army in an attack against General Hugh Rose but was sadly killed in battle and even Rose himself was mightily impressed by her bravery and cleverness.
The politics section concludes with Malala Yousafzai, winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize and now a UN Messenger of Peace, who in her struggle for the rights of girls to have an education was seriously wounded by the Taliban in 2012.

Another young woman who stood up against the oppressive rule of the Taliban, this time from Kabul, is the athlete Robina Muqimyar who twice represented Afghanistan in the Olympics.

Several of my favourite authors are featured in the Literature section including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who wrote Purple Hibiscus and Half a Yellow Sun; and the Finnish writer and illustrator Tove Jansson, creator of the wonderful Moomins books.

I could go on at length but must quickly mention Anita Roddick creator of the The Body Shop chain, champion of ‘natural ethically sourced products in reusable bottles’ and much more.

Striking illustrations by Nathan Collins of each of the featured women accompany the pen portraits and every spread has a coloured frame giving the whole book an inviting, stylish appearance. All schools, both primary and secondary should buy this.

Also celebrating great women is

Amazing Women: 101 lives to inspire you
Lucy Beevor and Sarah Green
Stripes Publishing

Of the one hundred and one women featured herein, the majority are British and the earliest such as political activist Constance Markievicz, author and illustrator Beatrix Potter, scientist Marie Curie, nurse Edith Cavell and women’s right activist Emmeline Pankhurst were born in the 1850 and 60s.

The youngest woman included is Kiara Nirghin, born in 2000, who as a 16 year old schoolgirl in South Africa, invented a polymer, SAP which is made from cheap recycled and biodegradable materials that is able to store water and, it is hoped, can be used to feed crops particularly in times of drought – truly amazing, and what an inspiration for the cause of girls in science.

Sarah Green’s portrait of Kiara Nirghin

Interestingly in their press release, the publisher  says this,  ‘… following recent political developments and resulting conversation, Stripes has taken the decision to replace Aung San Suu Kyi with Mithali Raj, captain of the Indian Women’s cricket team in the Leaders section in future reprints’.

Published in the year of the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, this beautifully illustrated collection of women’s achievements is another worthwhile addition to both primary and secondary school libraries and one I suspect will be much borrowed and discussed.

Seasonally Flavoured Fiction

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam: Jingle Bells!
Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton
Nosy Crow

If you’ve yet to meet comedic twosome, the wonderful baker dogs Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam I urge you to do so with this book of three stories. Shifty’s the more industrious, of the pair; Sam means well but tends to lack his pal’s organisational skills.
In the first story, the dogs have been commissioned to create Santa’s Christmas cake and deliver it to him the same afternoon. No easy task especially with next-door neighbour Red Rocket determined to create mischief at every opportunity.

The other two tales, Sea-Monster Ahoy! and The Lucky Cat aren’t Christmassy but they are equally good fun and all are perfect for those just taking off as independent readers, who will particularly relish Steve Lenton’s lively scenes of the canine mystery solvers at work.

Harper and the Fire Star
Cerrie Burnell illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson
Scholastic

Harper, the girl endowed with a rare musical gift, who resides in the City of Clouds and is able to play any instrument she picks up without learning a single note, returns in her 4th adventure and once again it’s full of music, magic, friendship and gentle humour.
In this story, the Circus of Dreams (Harper’s birthplace) is back in town and as well as seeing her parents, Harper has something important she wants to do and that is to help the Wild Conductor win back his place in the magical show. Why he wants to do so is a mystery to Harper and her friends, nevertheless they put on an amazing show but things don’t quite go according to plan.
Then they learn exactly why getting back into the circus is so important to the Wild Conductor: it’s on account of his love for a girl named Fire Star, so called because ‘whenever she heard music she began to shine like a star.’
Adding to the fun of the tale are Laura Ellen Andersen’s sparkly illustrations.
Always ready to help others, Harper is a delight.

The Storm Dog
Holly Webb
Stripes Publishing

Young Tilly and her mum are going to stay with her Grandma and Great-Gran over Christmas but when work delays her mum, Tilly travels ahead alone on the train.
Great-Gran (almost ninety) has sent Tilly a parcel to open on the train and inside she discovers a Christmas tree decoration and a photo.
Soon, lulled by the motion of the train, Tilly starts to doze and finds herself back in the time when it was her Great-Gran taking the journey as an evacuee more than seventy years back. (Tilly is learning about World War Two for a school project.) She then re-lives some of Great-Gran’s evacuation experiences along with her two younger brothers who also stayed at Mr Thomas’ farm on the Welsh borders, attended the village school, tended the farm animals, had their first experience of snow and sledging, and prepared for the Christmas season..
Tilly forms a special friendship with Tarran, Mr Thomas’ sheepdog and it’s he that plays an important role on more than one occasion.
Gently told, the twisting, turning adventure draws you in right away and keeps you entranced right through to the end. It’s great for giving young readers an insight into life in WW2, especially those who, like Tilly, are learning about the period at school. Line drawings by Artful Doodlers, several per chapter, are scattered throughout the story, further adding to the reader’s enjoyment.

Curse of the Werewolf Boy
Chris Priestley
Bloomsbury Children’s Books

This had me gripped from the start. Essentially it’s a boarding school parody of the Gothic kind and its stars, or rather heroes – neither seems to quite fit the bill – Arthur Mildew and Algernon Spongely-Partwork aka Mildew and Sponge are pupils at Maudlin Towers School, by all accounts a pretty awful establishment for the ‘Not Particularly Bright Sons of the Not Especially Wealthy’.
Returning after a half-term holiday, the pupils are informed that a terrible crime has occurred: the School Spoon (once owned by the school’s founder) has been stolen and the headmaster threatens terrible consequences for the culprit(s).
Who better for a spot of detectivating than Mildew and Sponge who are about to learn that crime solving isn’t as easy as they might have thought. Particularly when there’s a ghost in the attic, not to mention a Viking wandering around, a history teacher, one Mr Luckless who has a ‘temporo-trans-navigational-vehicular-engine’ (a time machine to you and me); even a werewolf boy (but you’d expect that from the title), and more.
It’s not only the lead crime solvers who are splendid; every single character is wonderful be they pupil or teacher – you can meet the whole cast at once via the role of honour board at the start of the story. With staff names such as Mr Particle actually newly deceased when the story opens; you can guess what subject he taught, Mr Stupendo and the Latin speaking Miss Livia; and Enderpenny and Furthermore numbering among the pupils.
Then there’s the narrative itself which is peppered with such deliciousness as:
I know what a ha-ha is, you nose hair,” said Kenningworth … ; and
… Mildew’s upper lip began to lose some of its structural integrity…”;
a brilliantly controlled plot that twists and turns while keeping readers totally engrossed throughout its mock scary entirety; and if that’s not enough, the book is chortle-makingly illustrated by none other than Chris Priestly himself.
Why am I including this story in a Christmas review, you might be wondering: that’s for me to know and for you to discover when you get hold of a copy of this cracker of a book.