BfK 8&#x2013;10 Junior/Middle continued
elephant&#x2019;s gaoler, a poet beggar and a stunted stonecutter &#x2013; brings a different personality, and problem, to the stor y. Eloquently written, evocative yet emotionally restrained, the stor y skilfully weaves its disparate themes and unforgettable characters into a memorable and haunting fair ytale in which Yoko Tanaka&#x2019;s unsettling, powerful artwork is the per fect complement.
the narrative which took this reviewer entirely by surprise.
The illustrations by Colin Stimpson are as quirky and appealing as the text and lend much to the narrative. This is a book that young readers will enjoy. My only quibble is that it doesn&#x2019;t really stand alone and probably can&#x2019;t be enjoyed to the full by anyone who hasn&#x2019;t read its predecessor.
Noah Barleywater Runs Away
John Boyne, ill. Oliver Jeffers, David Fickling, 224pp, 978 0 385 61895 3, &#xA3;10.99 hbk
The White Wand HHHH
Martin Howard, ill. Colin Stimpson, Pavilion, 224pp, 978 1 84365 134 5, &#xA3;7.99 hbk
This book is a sequel to Howard&#x2019;s The Wickedest Witch. Esmelia Sniff is an aged and decrepit witch with a strong attachment to the grubby side of magic. Sam is her apprentice. Sam is a very talented young witch with a stronger interest in the wholesome side of magic. Both are hostile to a witch named Diabolica or Deadly Nightshade, who holds the enviable title of Most Superior High and Wicked Witch. Yes, that&#x2019;s it: this is a comical book about magical practitioners.
Esmelia and Sam must find a wand to compete with the Black Wand of Ohh Please Don&#x2019;t Turn Me Into Aaaaaargh&#x2026; Ribbett, a presumed parody of the Elder Wand in Harry Potter. The book now becomes a quest narrative as the witches set out to find the formula to create a wand to rival the Black.
Howard maintains throughout both the narrative pace and the level of comedy. In a book like this the characters are always pastiches, but these are pleasing and well sustained. As the story unfolds it employs more and more deliberate allusions to familiar fairy-story motifs. In &#x2018;Hansel and Gretel&#x2019; for example the wicked witch gets locked inside her own oven. Sniff&#x2019;s oven is a Hag 3000 that is advertised as having space for &#x2018;even the gangliest teenager&#x2019;.
However there are innovations: every witch should have a familiar, and Sam is no exception. But her familiar is not a cat or a bird but a beetle named Ringo. There is a twist at the end of
&#x2018;One bite of an apple, after all, is hardly a satisfying breakfast for an eight-year- old boy, especially one who&#x2019;s on his way to see the world and have a great adventure.&#x2019; Well, the &#x2018;world&#x2019; to be seen, and the &#x2018;great adventure&#x2019; to be experienced, by young Noah Barleywater are to prove to have a very different outcome from what he may have been anticipating. The general sort of reason for the boy&#x2019;s decision to run away, if not perhaps its precise explanation, may be clear to some readers from early on but such foreknowledge will do very little to diminish the appeal of Boyne&#x2019;s engaging blend of fable and fairy tale. Noah&#x2019;s travels take him to eerily strange villages, to surreal encounters with talking animals and inanimate objects and, eventually, to a magical toyshop, populated almost entirely by puppets. Here, he meets its proprietor, the elderly man with whom he is to exchange life stories and, in the process, to see new light begin to shine on his own darkness. As an insight into how a young child has his first intimations of the complexities of adult life and of the processes of ageing and dying (and of happiness and fulfilment too) Boyne&#x2019;s stor y is powerful and poignant, all the more so for being gentle and totally free of didacticism. Oliver Jeffers&#x2019; fourteen black and white illustrations, though minimalist in style, are strong in their suggestiveness.
Tumtum & Nutmeg: A Circus Adventure
Emily Bearn, ill. Nick Price, Egmont, 240pp, 978 1 4052 5444 1, &#xA3;5.99 pbk
Following the success of previous titles in this series about the two endearing mice, readers will not be disappointed in Tumtum and Nutmeg&#x2019;s latest adventure. It is the General Marchmouse&#x2019;s bir thday and all is set for his party &#x2013; at least it is, until the General, en route, discovers a circus and a toy bus. Just a moment or two tr ying things out wouldn&#x2019;t hurt, would it? As one thing leads to another, complications ensue &#x2013; a bus chase, a robbery, a tank, two mystified children and false accusations are just some of the things that happen... but as with all
26 Books for Keeps No.186 January 2011
the books in this series, Bearn ensures a happy ending takes place which is to the satisfaction of all concerned. The mixture of excitement, suspense and secrets will keep Tumtum and Nutmeg&#x2019;s many fans enthralled once again. A gently humorous, warm and cosy read! RL
Stanton&#x2019;s ingenuity. Even eight adventures in, Mr Gum&#x2019;s adventures are fresh, inventive and still surprising readers in the most unexpected ways.
Under the laughs and the apparent mayhem is a hugely satisfying story too. Stanton keeps an imperceptible but firm hold on his narrative. So we shouldn&#x2019;t be surprised that Surprising Ben has one more appearance, bursting onto the scene, when we genuinely least expect him, to precipitate the explosion in the sherry factory that brings the book to its horribly messy climax.
David Tazzyman&#x2019;s illustrations are the perfect accompaniment, as wild and energetic as ever.
And Stanton slips in two wonderful final treats for his readers: first there&#x2019;s a description of the Por tuguese version of Mr Gum&#x2019;s favourite TV programme, &#x2018;Bag of Sticks&#x2019; (it&#x2019;s the same, but with Portuguese subtitles), and then a story told entirely, but logically, backwards: who would have expected that? Genius!
AR The Longest Whale Song HHHH
Jacqueline Wilson, ill. Nick Sharratt, Doubleday, 320pp, 978 0 385 61815 1, &#xA3;12.99 hbk
A new Jacqueline Wilson, a new girl heroine in a shattering situation. This time it&#x2019;s Ella, whose Mum lies in a coma as a result of eclampsia following the bir th of Ella&#x2019;s half- brother. Stricken with worr y, and utterly bereft of her mum&#x2019;s care, Ella has to cope with being looked after by her step-dad Jack whom she doesn&#x2019;t even like. Even a longed-for visit from her own dad provides cold comfort when he fails to put his distraught daughter before his new partner. School is proving a trial too, as her best friend Sally has gone off with Dory, throwing Ella into the unwelcome company of the mean and horrible Martha.
Mr Gum and the Secret Hideout
Andy Stanton, ill. David Tazzyman, Egmont, 256pp, 978 1 4052 5327 7, &#xA3;5.99 pbk
The inhabitants of Lamonic Bibber reassemble for a new Mr Gum adventure, the eighth in the series no less. Alongside central characters Polly, Friday O&#x2019;Leary, gingerbread headmaster Alan Taylor and Billy William the Third, there are welcome returns for minor characters including Crazy Barry Fungus, and Captain Brazil, summed up by Polly, with Andy Stanton&#x2019;s typically eye-catching imagery, as &#x2018;mad as a bulldozer&#x2019;s cousin&#x2019;!
There&#x2019;s a great new character too: Surprising Ben pops up here, pops up there, he&#x2019;s everywhere, in a surprising way. Except on page 98. Because just when you expect him to surprise you, he surprises you by not surprising you at all.
Surprising Ben perfectly encapsulates the clever silliness of these books, and
A school project on whales provides Ella&#x2019;s path to redemption. Humpbacks she discovers, can sing for hours, calling out their love to each other underwater, just as Ella sits at her mother&#x2019;s bedside and hopes to reach her by repeating messages of love in her ear. And as the days go by with no improvement, some surprising things happen. Ella and Jack start to get on better, united in their determination to bring about the recovery of the woman they both love. Ella makes an unexpected new friend at school. And she begins to bond with the baby brother who has lost his mum before he even found her.
Though the eventual happy conclusion to this story never feels seriously in doubt, it comes very quietly, right at the end. For this is less the life and death tale of a desperately ill mother, than of a girl finding out who and what can be relied on when the chips are down; of the qualities that really matter in people, and of the tremendous things that are possible when families pull together. All this Ella discovers, along with the idea that she might like to be a marine biologist when she grows up!
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