Autumn Moonbeam: Spooky Sleepover / Pages & Co: The Treehouse Library

Teamwork is a key ingredient of both these magical fantasies.

Autumn Moonbeam: Spooky Sleepover
Emma Finlayson-Palmer and Heidi Cannon
uclan publishing

In this second story where the world of witches meets the world of dance, it’s the first day at Sparkledale Dance Academy for dance and gymnastics-lover, Autumn. With a mixture of apprehension in case she isn’t up to it and excitement at being in the Black Cats dance team, she meets her best friend Batty at the door. As their teacher Verity welcomes the newcomers and announces the warm up, one of the team is still to arrive. Suddenly there she is at the door, Severina Bloodworth, Autumn’s conceited neighbour, showing off her new hairstyle.

As the session gets under way Verity announces a special team bonding sleepover in two weeks time. She also sends Severina to the store cupboard to find something to tie back her hair. On her return strange things start happening, but are they Severina’s doing or is something or someone else responsible for the trouble?

The following Monday back in their normal classroom Autumn comes upon a book with a paragraph about pixies. What she reads has an uncanny match with events at the dance academy the previous week. Perhaps it’s worth trying out the anti-pixie mischief remedies suggested.

Excitement mounts on the day of the sleepover and Autumn takes the opportunity to accuse Severina of being behind the weird happenings that occur whenever they dance. Her response is something of a surprise to her accuser but a relief to the accused. Perhaps if everyone remembers what Verity always says, “Teamwork makes dreamwork” they can work together to find a way out of the trouble once and for all.

Pages & Co: The Treehouse Library
Anna James, illustrated by Marco Guadalupi
Harper Collins Children’s Books

At last, it’s time for Milo to take centre stage as driver of the Quip in this the penultimate book of what has been an amazing series. Now accompanied by Alessia (the Alchemist’s daughter), is he ready to be a hero? Having been poisoned, his Uncle Horatio is currently lying unconscious in the care of the Pages family, and it appears that the only way to cure him is with a recipe in Alessia’s notebook. Together Milo and Alessia set out, bound for Northumberland in the hope of finding the Botanist, the only person who might be able to help them.

Having grown up on a train and never before left it, Milo is surprised to discover the sense of peace he feels close to trees.; a peace that is disturbed by a human voice. It’s that of the Botanist, aka Rosa, who lives and works in the Treehouse Library of the title; she who is the sworn enemy of the the Alchemist. From her Milo learns that his grandmother is also there and willing to see him. That’s two new and interesting characters who both readers and Milo encounter for the first time and happily for Milo, Rosa makes a decent mug of hot chocolate.

Time is of the essence as they hunt for ingredients for the cure, searching in The Secret Garden, sailing in a pea-green boat, 

repelling the terrifying Jabberwock and challenging Robin Hood as to whether he’s truly all about helping the poor.

With the ruthless Alchemist prepared to do anything it takes to get hold of The Book of Books and discover its secrets, the entire realm of the imagination is in danger: a thrilling struggle for book wandering’s destiny unfolds, and Milo, Tilly, Oskar, Alessia and Rosa have to put all their skills together to find that book first. An awesome read and I can hardly wait for the final story.

The Last Monster / Dennis & Gnasher: Super Slime Spectacular

The Last Monster
Dan Walker
uclan publishing

When it comes to fighting monsters there are none better than the Light Hunters’ young Squad Juno. Lux, who is the Squad’s healer has stopped using his light-hunter powers to heal his teammates in case he accidentally hurts someone again with his strange purple light, a terrible twilight energy that comes from within.

When the team is sent on a new mission to gather information from a professor who is a former light-hunter, they are drawn into a dangerous adventure that is crucial for the fate of the entire world. If killing Monsters is the wrong approach to these creatures, it might mean that the war against them can end. However, their mission is under a terrible threat from Demios who has his own destructive ideas that are in total conflict with those of Luke and the squad. Fortunately though the Light Hunters make new allies as they strive to unearth an ancient secret that might be the key to stopping further monster attacks. So, can they succeed? And what of Luke’s power: after the journey he goes on – physical and mental -will be heal again?

It’s great to return to the Light Hunters’ world for this second adventure. Like the first, the story unfolds at a fast pace with lots of twists and turns, tension aplenty, great danger, dilemmas too; but the emphasis is on friendship, teamwork and trust.

Dennis & Gnasher: Super Slime Spectacular
I.P. Daley, Craig Graham and Mike Sterling, illustrated by Nigel Parkinson

Little does class 3C’s teacher Miss Mistry realise just what she is about to unleash when she announces on the Thursday before the end of term that her pupils haven’t done their science module and consequently must do so on a science-related school trip the very next day,

On said outing Dennis and his partner Khadija, aka Sketch, decide to make their slime recipe one thousand times better than everybody else’s. What in the name of science experimentation could possibly go wrong?

The very next day sludgy slimy goop is ‘pranking’ the whole of Beanotown and in Dennis’s own words . ’at the same time it’s making endless fart noises. It’s like the Attack of the Fifty-Foot Whoopee Cushion!’ But is this all the doing of Dennis et al or could the town’s mayor Wilbur Brown have anything to do with mucous mayhem.

Delicious daftness in novel form that fans of the comic will relish as will chapter book readers who have a fondness for crazy capers.

Autumn Moonbeam: Dance Magic / Isadora Moon and the Shooting Star

Autumn Moonbeam: Dance Magic
Emma Finlayson-Palmer and Heidi Cannon
UCLAN Publishing

Meet Autumn Moonbeam lover of dance and gymnastics and enthusiastic watcher of dance shows on spell-a-vision. Imagine her delight when she learns of a try-out for Sparkledale Dance Academy’s competitive dance team, Black Cats: she’s so excited she can barely concentrate in her Potions lesson in school. Once back home she and her two friends Leif and Batty practise their moves in Autumn’s garden.

There’s a rather large problem though, her arch enemy Severina Bloodworth is also trying out for the team and she’s pretty amazing. Autumn suffers a crisis of confidence: what if she’s not good enough?
Then comes audition day. There are highs and lows as the event proceeds in front of the three coaches: will Autumn secure one of the four places on offer?

Emma Finlayson’s spell-tastic tale of whirling, twirling young witches is a delight. It has some charming characters (and the occasional not so charming one), warm family dynamics, strong friendships and key messages about self belief, overcoming your collywobbles, not forgetting the pure joyful liberating magic of dance. Pure enchantment too are Heidi Cannon’s illustrations: the perfect complement to Emma’s sparkly writing. If you know anyone looking for their next chapter book series, this would be a terrific choice, especially for lovers of dance and magical things.

Isadora Moon and the Shooting Star
Harriet Muncaster
Oxford Children’s Books

Decidedly different Isadora Moon is enormously excited when her teacher Miss Cherry announces that their next class project is space. To get their brains thinking skywards, the homework for that evening is to create something to do with space. Isadora enlists the help of her Dad and that night as they watch the sky from the astronomy tower, what’s that Isadora spies falling earthwards?

A shooting star perhaps? The hunt is on for its landing place.

Then follows an encounter with a new, twinkling friend named Nova, a Glow Sprite who’s not supposed to be there. Moreover, Nova’s moon kitten Pluto is missing and she needs Isadora’s help to find him. Between space lessons with a special visitor, emergency searches in the forest, magical campfires, a glowing sleepover, not to mention moon cheese, Isadora must do all she can to help Nova find Pluto before her new friend has to fly back to the stars in time for her mother’s return.

With her keynote pink, silver and black sparkly cover, and pink and black illustrations throughout, Harriet Muncaster’s fourteenth episode starring our favourite fairy/vampire is full of its usual charm and humour and certain to delight Isadora’s countless fans. They’ll be delighted too, by the Isadorable make and do activities following the story.

The Light Hunters / Dragon Storm; Ellis and Pathseeker

The Light Hunters
Dan Walker
UCLan Publishing

Prepare to be immediately swept up in this rip-roaring, action-packed fantasy adventure. ‘You ask me what light is? Light is everything. Every single thing . The very fabric of our world is made up of this force – people, trees, … Few can access Light, control it. You are one.’ So writes Professor Medela before the real story begins; but it’s key to the entire thing.

Twelve year old Lux lives with his ailing Grandpa and Miss Hart, his grandfather’s carer (but much more besides) in Grandpa’s clock repair shop. At school Lux, his best friend, tech-loving Maya and their fellow students are drilled in what to do should there be a Monster attack. For centuries the Light Hunters have, for the benefit of the townsfolk of Daven, done battle with these terrible creatures, not always successfully. In one attack a decade back, Lux’s immediate family along with half the town’s residents lost their lives, turning the people against Light.

Lux is on a mission to save his Grandpa’s life and to this end has been told to search for a book called Investigations into Light and Healing by a former Light Hunter. Now Lux himself has a secret: not only is he able to wield light, there’s a possibility he might be the finest Light Healer ever. Against his Grandpas’s strict instructions never to reveal his secret, Lux first uses his healing power for saving Maya when she receives a life-threatening injury from a Monster. However this deed draws to the town, one Deimos, a fallen Hunter determined to harness Lux’s power for his own dark and nefarious ends.
Readers join the hero on a journey with lightships, heart-stopping sights and perils unbounded, in this deft amalgam of relatable real-life emotions, a vividly conjured world, a race against time, humour and some wonderful characterisation. What more could one ask, other than, when is the second episode coming?

Dragon Storm: Ellis and Pathseeker
Alastair Chisholm, illustrated by Eric Deschamps
Nosy Crow

In the kingdom of Rivven dragons are forbidden. However, hidden from normal people and their King is The Dragonseer Guild, a place for a group of people with a special power enabling them to see beyond the human world. Ellis and his dragon Pathseer are part of this secret league.

Now it’s the Maze Festival in Rivven, and Ellis and Pathseeker are set on being first to complete the three mazes in the the king’s palace grounds and become this year’s tournament winners. But in the mazes they discover a mysterious girl who has her own reasons for wanting to win the tournament and she’s secretly using dangerous dragon magic by wielding a strange necklace.

Now there’s much more at stake for Ellis and Pathseeker. It will take all their courage and expertise to find a path back out of the mazes; yes Pathseeker does eventually discover her power. But can they keep the existence of dragons and the Guild a secret from King Godfic?

This third Dragon Storm adventure is every bit as exciting as the previous two and existing fans as well as new readers will be swept up by the narrative, but want to pause to enjoy Eric Deschamps’ illustrations along the way.

This is the Way in Dog Town / Cheesed Off! / Blue Badger

This is the Way in Dog Town
Ya-Ling Huang
Frances Lincoln Children’s Books

Spend a day in Dog Town with little ones and you’ll soon be singing along to the tune of Here we go round the Mulberry Bush. Just like humans, the residents of this canines only town start by brushing their teeth, after which they get dressed (with a bit of adult assistance) as they ‘Pull, pull, pull!’ Then it’s off to school, hurrying of course as there’s so much there to enjoy be it drawing, playing outdoors and having lunch at midday. Duly sated, ‘Yum, yum, yum!’the afternoon is spent painting and swimming. Early in the evening, the young dogs, walk home and once indoors the way they eat their dinner is let’s say rather messy as they ‘Slurp, slurp, slurp! their way through plates full of spaghetti. So, it’s as well they have a jolly good scrub in the bath later in the evening before retiring to bed.

As they share this book with an adult, little humans will enjoy joining in with action words, as well as emulating the puppies’ actions and exploring the various busy scenes created by Ya-Ling Huang.

Cheesed Off!
Jake Hope and Genevieve Aspinall
uclan publishing

The humans are having a party and it’s time for the photos: on the count of three everyone say “Cheese!” but what about that warning sign at the start of this book – the one about a certain word bringing mice from their house. Too late! The partiers have uttered the word and it’s been heard behind the skirting board. Out come the mice but not a whiff of cheese can they detect. Not a single sighting of a sliver can they spy no matter how hard they try.
Then suddenly an announcement is made and something with candles atop is carried in. Now what might that be …

Huge fun for those in the early stages of becoming readers especially, is Jake Hope’s extended joke illustrated with lots of amusing details from the viewpoint of the mowses’ – oops, make that mice. Therein Genevieve Aspinall shows how humans don’t always realise what’s actually going on right under their noses – or, to be more accurate, beneath their feet.

Blue Badger
Huw Lewis Jones and Ben Sanders
Happy Yak

Badger is having an identity crisis: is he black or is he white – albeit with a blue bottom having sat down beneath a bush to eat berries. Off he goes to ask the opinion of other creatures. Bird is unsure, Dog doesn’t know either although he admires Badger’s blue rear and invites him to play. Both Cow and Skunk are dismissive whereas Zebra is equally nonplussed about his own colour markings and Panda merely takes the opportunity for some self-flattery.
Whale sends Badger off to meet Penguin whose considered response is both helpful and constructive, making Badger feel much more positive about himself as well as perhaps, a tad hungry … Happiness at last.

Author Huw Lewis Jones adopts an almost detached tone to his gently humorous text that includes a repeat refrain, while Ben Sanders places his black and white characters on stark, coloured backgrounds in this story with its ‘You can be whatever you want to be’ message.

The Visible Sounds

The Visible Sounds
Yin Jianling and Yu Rong (translated by Filip Selucky)
UCLAN Publishing

This is the powerfully affecting picture book, based on the true story of Chinese dancer Lihua Tai. It tells of MiLi, who as a little girl of two, suffers an illness and loses her hearing as a result. Initially frustrated, anxious, and alone in her world of silence, MiLi uses tears to express how she feels. Doctors are unable to cure her but then one day MiLi realises that although she’s unable to hear sounds, she is able to perceive them in other ways: sound can be felt within, touched, and seen through understanding and interpreting vibrations and movements in the world.

The author expresses the child’s realisation through a plethora of sensory musical phrases: ‘Sounds are waves when fish pass through water, like the lightest of kisses.’ … ‘Sound is the bright sunshine flowing into one’s blood, beaming with rays.’ … ‘Language is a river, flowing and flooding into MiLi’s body.’ … ‘The beautiful music jiggles in her blood. It doesn’t have a sound, but it shines with colours and emotions …’

Perfectly complementing the beauty of the text are Yu Rong’s illustrations with their synthesis of striking graphic style, detail and blending of colours and greyness.

This is a book, that with themes of aiming high and being our very best selves,

while offering a message of hope to differently abled youngsters, surely speaks to us all. It concludes with a note on sign language and a page about Tai Lihua.

A must have for schools, and for family collections.

How Do You Make a Rainbow? / Finney’s Story

Positivity shines through in both these recent picture books:

How Do You Make a Rainbow?
Caroline Crowe and Cally Johnson-Isaacs
Macmillan Children’s Books

Rainbows have always been symbols of hope but during the last year have come to symbolise not only that hope of better things to come, but also our appreciation of NHS staff and other key workers with children everywhere creating their own rainbows to say thank you.

This book starts with a little girl and her grandad looking out on a grey rainy world and the child asking for his help to create a cheering up the sky rainbow. Rather than offering a scientific answer, Grandad explains that rainbows aren’t really painted; rather they’re created from kindness and hope, love and thinking of others.

Then, taking one colour at a time,

he goes on to give examples of small, everyday things that bring and give cheer both to others and ourselves.
Told in Caroline’s jaunty rhyme and through Cally’s playful, vibrant illustrations that exude positivity and kindness,

this is a hugely heartwarming book (with two final spreads of activities), for sharing both at home and in foundation stage settings. Definitely one to reach for if you’re feeling a bit down; it will surely act as a reminder of focusing on the positive things in life.

Finney’s Story
Alana Washington and Charlotte Caswell
UCLan Publishing

Finney the fox is an aspiring book author but he has a lot to learn about the whole process of authorship. Fortunately however, he has a moggy friend that is ready and willing to offer some helpful advice, or should that be, criticism. The trouble is, does Finney really have any ideas of the original kind,

let alone an understanding of what that word actually means.

Cat’s suggested visit to the library …

leaves him even more dispirited “All the original stories are gone,” he reports. Finney does notice something else however, something that might just be of assistance. But will this ‘ideas machine’ as he calls himself ever actually produce the goods?

Listeners will love being in the know with Cat as Finney puts forward his proposed storylines from traditional tales in this dialogue between the two friends. They’ll love too, Charlotte Caswell’s bold illustrations with their silhouettes depicting the fairytale characters Finney mentions in his story openers.

There’s a QR code inside the front cover which when scanned gives access to a free Sarah-Ann Kennedy audio reading of the book.

Glassheart / Brand New Boy / Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean

Katharine Orton
Walker Books

Prepare to be both chilled and enchanted, bothered and bewitched as you read this, the second of Katherine Orton’s stories. It tells of Nona who has lost all her family in the war (WW2) and of her adopted Uncle Antoni. This though isn’t a tale of war itself, but of its aftermath, as together they travel through the wilds of Dartmoor, each caring and protecting the other as a magical adventure unfolds. With echoes of folktale and legend, the landscape that the author crafts is wild, unpredictable – sometimes sinisterly nightmarish.

Her tale is one of power, fragility and also strength as the two walk side by side, stopping to replace stained glass windows, Nona with a small piece of magical glass in the form of half a heart reminding her of what once was, Uncle Antoni with his skill and artistry in stained glass.

With the girl as his apprentice, they undertake a mysterious commission that sees Nona face to face with her nemesis. But though fragile, Nona has an inner strength, loyalty and determination which drives her on in her endeavour to protect those she loves.

Truly evident is Katherine Orton’s understanding of suffering and the assuagement of grief.

Brand New Boy
David Almond, illustrated by Marta Altés
Walker Books

George joins an ordinary class in an ordinary school somewhere in northern England. Daniel is fascinated and watchful, especially when George’s ear falls off. It’s clear that this newcomer is far from ordinary. But then Daniel is actually not so ordinary either. He’s capable of doing extraordinary things: he’s caring, perceptive, questioning, open-minded and ready to accept somebody just a little bit different.

So, while he and his friend Maxie in particular go about their football and other activities at school, his mind is full of thoughts about the mysterious newcomer. But then just as suddenly as he came, two days later, George is there no more. Will he ever come back?

If ever there was a story to encourage children to think about what they are and to consider the true meaning of being human, and of freewill, then this is it.

Deceptively simple in its telling David Almond’s story has a quiet power while Martha Altés illustrations bring out the humour inherent in the tale.
Never underestimate children; all too frequently I see both teachers and parents so doing. They too should read this book.

Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean
Justin Somper
UCLAN Publishing

This is a reissue of a book (the first of a series) originally published some fifteen years back. It’s a swashbuckling tale of pirates and vampires set in the future in an attractive-sounding location – Crescent Moon Bay on the Australian coast.

We meet twins Grace and Connor, who are left entirely alone in the world when their lighthouse keeper father to whom so many owe their lives, suddenly dies. The children cast themselves off in his boat out to sea and all too soon are hit by a storm but they’re not to meet their demise in the ocean. Grace is rescued by Lorcan Furey, one of the vampire crew of a strange boat, Connor by friendly pirates.

The action then switches between the two as their stories unfold alternately with secrets emerging until at last, the two are reunited. With its lively cast of characters (depicted before the title page) this is an entertaining start to a sequence of further adventures for older primary readers and beyond.