BfK 8–10 Junior/Middle continued
enhanced – without, however, sacri- ficing his essential boyishness. By the time this particular ‘adventure’ ends, the reader will be able to rest content that the future of story has been ensured. Given the theme of his novel, it is wholly fitting that Beck’s own storytelling is free from all ‘bending’, instead preferring a straightforward, linear, carefully paced approach. His silhouette illustrations, generously scattered throughout his text, give his book an extra, attractive dimension.
RD Magicalamity HHHH
Kate Saunders, Marion Lloyd Books, 306pp, 978 1 4071 0896 4, £16.99 pbk
There is so much to enjoy in Kate Saunders’ latest novel that it’s hard to know where to begin. It is the story of Tom Harding, who discovers in chapter one, and much to his surprise, that his father is a fairy. The news is broken by a tough looking lady in a blue boiler suit, one of three fairy godmothers appointed by Tom’s father.
Tom’s father was wise in his choice of multiple godmothers because Tom needs all the help he can get. His father has been arrested in the fairy realm and accused of murder, unlawful marriage to a mor tal, and producing a
demisprite (Tom). He denies all charges but the ruling fairy family, the Falconers, as despotic and unscrupulous a bunch as you are likely to meet this side of Libya, are determined to dispose of him and his family by whatever means necessary. With the Hardings gone, they can take control of fairy beauty spot Hopping Hill, and the gold that is underneath it.
At least Tom’s mother is safe, hidden in a jar of sun-dried tomatoes in the
care of the genie who runs the Casbah Café and kebab shop on Kentish Town Road.
The book is hugely inventive, often very funny and highly readable. There are depths to the story beneath the fun too: the book shines a light on corrupt government, and the nature of resistance movements; there’s social satire too in the descriptions of Tom’s fairy godmothers, botoxed Dahlia in par ticular; the development of a friendship between Tom and his fairy cousin Pindar is convincing and touching.
Saunders maintains the suspense throughout, and there are some startling revelations as we find out what’s really been going on in the realm, not to mention a surprise dragon! This is a satisfying and cheering read for children and one they could return to time and again.
Hunefer and his Book of the Dead 48pp, 978 0 7141 3142 9, £4.99 pbk
The Complete Book of the Dead of Hunefer 8pp, 978 0 7141 1994 6, £3.99 pbk NON-FICTION
Richard Parkinson, British Museum
Two books about a book – the Papyrus of Hunefer – one of the most popular and beautiful items on display in the British Museum’s Egyptian collection.
Hunefer, whose name means Mr Happy Day, was an official of high rank living in Luxor over 3,000 years ago, who commissioned the papyrus in an attempt to secure his safe transition to eternal life. The papyrus, or Book of the Dead, is in fact a book of spells buried with him that he hoped would transform him into a spirit who could emerge from the tomb into the daylight like the rising sun. There are spells for escaping from demons, for turning into a snake or a heron, for not having your head cut off or for allowing you to drink water. Richard Parkinson, curator of Egyptian antiquities at the BM, proves an excellent guide, explaining how to read the papyrus and to decipher the hieroglyphs, pointing out fascinating details, tenderness between husband and wife, poetry and mystery, and clearly he has a passion for his subject. A simple uncluttered layout gives details from the papyrus, with photographs of other Egyptian ar tefacts. The companion booklet reproduces the entire length of the papyrus (in reality 5.5m long), which now only exists in the Museum as eight separate sections. A short introductory text accompanies the pull-out scroll. Together the pair make an inspired guide for children studying Ancient Egyptian beliefs about life, religion and death, ideal in preparation for a visit to the Museum. I am now heading straight to Great Russell Street to look at it with fresh eyes!
SU 10–14 Middle/Secondary Blade: Risking All HHHHH
Tim Bowler, Oxford, 160pp, 978 0 19 275601 5, £5.99 pbk
The eighth and final book in the sharply written ‘Blade’ series, Risking All sees 14-year-old Blade prepared, and ready to kill having tracked Hawk down to his country estate. He makes the journey across the woods to the big house, avoiding Hawk’s thuggish bodyguards along the way. He climbs the building, right up to the tower, which – the scene of painful memories – he refers to as Hawk’s nest. Sure enough, Hawk is there, enjoying the night sky view from the large glass dome. Blade has planned to the last detail this scene for their final meeting, and there’s no way that he can be outwitted or ambushed by Hawk. But then he witnesses something extraordinary – and, as his well thought-out plans unravel, something happens that is, ultimately, to alter the course of his life.
The story is taut, intimate and wholly gripping, written as a first-person narrative addressed directly to a larger transcending presence called Big Eyes. Suspense builds in the first half of the book as Blade moves ever closer towards his enemy, and the reader shares his anxiety and suppressed excitement. The writing crackles with tension as a fragmented
jumble of thoughts and memories – conveyed through staccato-like phrases, incomplete sentences and slang – spill over to form a highly charged narrative that provides an insight into Blade’s troubled psyche, his toughness but also his sensitivity.
Mostly set in the past, the story fast- forwards seven years to the present in the concluding pages, neatly ending what is a remarkable and riveting series of eight books on juvenile crime. AF
Eighth Grade Bites (The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod 1)
Heather Brewer, Penguin Razorbill, 182pp, 978 0 14 133406 6, £6.99 pbk
Razorbill is Puffin’s new imprint for teens. Launched in response to the success of Twilight and the myriad supernatural romances currently dominating bookshop shelves, it promises readers not literary quality but unputdownable commercial teen fiction.
Eighth Grade Bites, with its super cool cover, sassy mix of vampire lore, gore and love-lorn adolescents, cer tainly delivers on that front. The first in a series, it introduces Vlad Tod, high- school geek with all the usual
26 Books for Keeps No.187 March 2011
problems: at school he’s bullied, mocked, or ignored.
But Vlad has a whole set of totally unique problems too. He’s half- vampire, afflicted with ‘fear of the sun, craving for blood, inability to enjoy Italian food’.
Although both his parents are dead, Vlad copes pretty well, living with kindly Aunt Nelly. Nelly it is who smuggles pre-packed pints of blood for him from local hospitals, because feeding off his neighbours is never
going to win him any friends – ‘just think of the looks he might get at the next block party if he got caught. Pointing, accompanied by frantic whispers, “Isn’t that the kid who ate Billy”’ Things become much more difficult however when the arch- enemy of his vampire father arrives, determined to put an end to Vlad once and for all.
The plot unfolds gleefully and rapidly, preventing any lingering over the language or dialogue, which is perhaps just as well, and despite one unpleasant vampire attack, it all feels strangely innocent and endearing. The bite – sorry – when it comes is satisfying though: after spending most of his eighth grade year in hiding, Vlad suddenly realises he’s tired of bullies, whether they be class mates Bill and Tom, or the ruthless vampire D’Ablo. He finds depths of strength he never knew he had. It’s great fun, made the more so thanks to a sly reference to Scooby-Doo.
In fact Heather Brewer keeps the vamp in vampire throughout, inter- spersing the action with a sharp teen humour that is much harder to pull off than she makes it look. Vlad Tod is a hero who is happy to laugh at himself and his situation. He’ll win lots of fans, deservedly so.
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