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reviews Meerkat Madness HHH

Ian Whybrow, ill. Sam Hearn, HarperCollins, 208pp, 978 0 00 741153 5, £4.99 pbk

Uncle is bringing up three young Meerkat kits in a burrow. A born raconteur who cannot resist the chance to tell his charges a story, the kits are devoted to him. But how about the rest of the family? How will they react when the kits are brought out to meet them? Not very well, as it happens... and is their faith in their Uncle intact? Well, let’s say an element of doubt creeps in – but throughout the adventures that befall them, the stronger elements of affection and trust keep them together. And that’s not to mention the appearance of a squeaky toy and various other mysterious items, one of which even releases a foul stream of brown liquid into the atmosphere. Never at a loss for interpreting the world through Meerkat eyes, the Meerkat kits and their uncle bumble through a succession of adventures some amusing and some dangerous until they find an ideal place to live and Uncle’s stories are finally put to the test. An amusing but overlong book which will appeal to readers who have developed reading stamina but still retain a taste for simple but unsophisticated humour.


Tales from Witchway Wood: Crash ’n’ Bang


Kaye Umansky, ill. Nick Price, Bloomsbury, 224pp, 978 1 4088 0188 8, £5.99 pbk

Kaye Umansky has started this new series featuring minor characters from the popular Pongwiffy series, their previous adventures being referred to in footnotes. The premise here is that an ill-assorted bunch of trolls, fiends,

and her ghastly dress sense, has a terrific voice, they set off for certain glory. All of course comes to grief when a thunderstorm drives their audience away, but they realise that they don’t care anyway, they’ve enjoyed it so much.

Unlike most contemporary books for this age group and of similar readability, the swashbuckling humour here masks some deeply felt but lightly conveyed values relating to the trappings of celebrity and wealth, the importance of friendship and having fun, the ease with which one can be deceived by appearances or the promise of a good deal and the value of living for the moment rather than holding to tradition. A lot more meat than is usual, slipped in incidentally by an experienced, confident writer. AG

Casper Candlewacks in Death by Pigeon


Ivan Brett, HarperCollins, 224pp, 978 0 00 741155 9, £5.99 pbk

Casper Candlewacks is the only person living in the village of Corne-on-the-Kobb who is not stupid; even his teacher can’t read. When a visit by the famous magician, The Great Tiramisu, ends in disaster Casper’s father is blamed and sentenced to death by pigeon. Can Casper and his friend Lamp Flannigan and their washing-up liquid buggy save the day? This is a first novel by Ivan Brett and would probably appeal to all those children to enjoy Andy Stanton and Roald Dahl type stories. It moves along at a fast pace with plenty of silliness and jokes along the way. DF

Magnus Fin and the Moonlight Mission


Janis Mackay, Kelpies, 224pp, 978 0 86315 796 7, £5.99 pbk

This is the second story about Magnus Fin and his friends. Magnus is half selkie, part human and part seal, and in this story he discovers illegal rubbish dumping in the sea is killing his seal family and polluting the ocean. This is a gentle story which will be enjoyed by children who want a straightforward adventure tale where fantasy and environmental issues provide the young protagonists with the chance to outwit evil adults. There are also elements of accepting and enjoying being different and how families work together.


Gill Lewis, Oxford, 240pp, 978 0 19 275623 7, £8.99 pbk

dragons and leprechauns have formed a band, specialising in their own special brand of ‘crash ’n’ bang’ music.

Usually hired for tamer stuff, they decide to enter the Battle of the Bands and bring the joys of their music to a bigger audience. Joined by werewolf Tallulah who, despite her provenance

‘Nothing prepared me for seeing her right in front of me. It was as if the lochs and the mountains and the sky were folded deep inside her, as if she was a small piece of this vast landscape and none of it could exist without her.’

‘She’ is a rare osprey who has nested in a pine tree on the loch. The loch is above the farm belonging to Callum’s family in the Scottish Highlands, but it

is fey, gypsyish Iona who has discovered the osprey and then reveals her whereabouts as a precious secret to Callum. Iona is an outsider in village society, left with her eccentric grandfather by a ‘feckless’ mother. But Lewis reveals that sometimes it is the ‘outsider’ who sees most. In this moving story, Iona is the one who is deeply in tune with the natural environment, able to stalk a red deer to within a hand’s breadth and catch trout with her bare hands. She leads the already sensitive Callum to see his own world more vividly, but the initial price is his friendship with his old laddish gang.

The two children name the osprey, Iris, after the Goddess of the wind and sky, and Iona’s watchfulness helps to save her when Iris is caught by fishing wire. This involves revealing Iris’ existence to Callum’s parents and Hamish at the local nature reserve. As part of a project to monitor ospreys, Hamish tags the bird with a transmitter so that her migration pattern can be tracked. Then events take a tragic turn and Iona falls victim to meningitis…

In dealing with his grief, Callum has to re-evaluate his friendships and let others share his secret, while in mourning Iona’s death, the villagers are also confronted with their attitudes to others.

In an audacious narrative twist, Gill Lewis now widens the scope of her book, as Callum and friends track Iris’ perilous journey to overwinter in the Gambia via her satellite position on Google Earth. On arrival, the bird falls ill from her old foot injury, anxiously monitored long distance by Callum and his friends. In desperation, Callum appeals to as many organisations as he can in the Gambia and receives an unexpected reply from a young Gambian girl, Jeneba who is lying sick in hospital.

Lewis now draws the threads of her story tightly together, as co-operation between the widely distant communities of the Scottish Highlands and the Gambia work to transform the life, first of wounded Iris and then of Jeneba herself. In helping Jeneba, Callum both brings his community together and finds a resolution to his own grief for Iona.

A bare outline of Sky Hawk makes it sound schematic, but Gill Lewis’ beautifully understated writing gently sweeps her reader along and the story, itself, quietly and lyrically conveys her moving and timely message of the interconnectedness of people with nature and people with people – whether within one village or across the earth. This is a beautiful book which will have resonance for many readers beyond its target readership.

CH Small Change for Stuart HHH

Lissa Evans, Doubleday, 288pp, 978 0 385 61800 7, £10.99 hbk

Things change for ten year old Stuart Horten who is unwillingly spending his summer holidays in his father’s home town when he starts looking into his family history and discovers he comes from a long line of stage magicians.

Further research aided by Alice, one of the triplets living next door, makes it clear that the spirit of his great uncle, once the most famous magician of his age, is willing him on to discover the whereabouts of a long lost collection of stage tricks. Beating off some adult rivals also looking for the same thing, Stuart finally wins through after some extraordinary adventures. This bright, action-packed novel is Lissa Evans’s first for children, and perhaps more time could have been spent on character where she can be very witty, and less on ever-escalating plot developments. Even so, this is a promising debut with much both to excite and amuse.

NT One Dog and his Boy HHHHH

Eva Ibbotson, ill. Sharon Rentta, Marion Lloyd Books, 288pp, 978 1 4071 2423 0, £10.99 hbk

Incredibly funny and touching, this is the last story by a much-loved author whose books show extraordinary insight into the mind of a child. All Hal has ever wanted is a dog. But his wealthy parents refuse, throwing at him instead all sorts of fancy, expensive toys. When his disappointment gives way to listlessness, his father has a brainwave – he’ll let Hal choose a dog from Easy Pets, a dog agency that hires out pets for special occasions. Of course, he doesn’t tell Hal that the animal is only for the weekend. Overjoyed, Hal chooses a scruffy little mongrel called Fleck. Life is blissful – until, a few days later, he discovers that he’s been tricked and that Fleck has been returned to the Agency in his absence. Outraged, Hal runs away.

The story is deeply understanding of child readers of this age group. Every obstacle – and there are many – that Hal’s runaway adventure throws up is successfully – and happily – resolved so that the story is suspenseful yet gently reassuring. Acutely observant, the book is brimming with humour – affectionate towards the children and dogs, and biting towards the adults who treat them as possessions and accessories. Characters both human and animal are real and sharply defined. Adding further enjoyment to this richly entertaining story are Sharon Rentta’s expressive line drawings capturing the flavour of each chapter. AF

Cat’s Cradle HHH

Julia Golding, Egmont, 400pp, 978 1 4052 4305 6, £5.99 pbk

Cat is back in London after her adventures in America and the Caribbean. Awaiting her is a letter that may provide her with information about the mother who left her as an infant on the steps of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Unfortunately, the writer lives in Scotland. Undaunted Cat sets off to find the truth and in so doing is once again catapulted into situations that call upon all her resourcefulness and courage.

This is the seventh in the Cat Royal series and follows a similar pattern to

Books for Keeps No.189 July 2011 25

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