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BfK 8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued

burglar trap, by smuggling Barry the cat onto the ward.

The stories are very funny, in language and in predicament. Told from her point of view, Penny’s experiences show her to be warm, intelligent, feisty and entirely original in her response to the world. Humorous illustrations, varying font sizes and capitalization of key words and phrases add extra cheeriness to these highly entertaining and exuberant stories.


Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever


Jeff Kinney, Scholastic, 224pp, 978 0 1413 4188 0, £12.99 hbk

This is the sixth instalment of the best-selling ‘Wimpy Kid’ Diaries. The format is the usual one; text ‘handwritten’ on lined paper, interspersed with cartoon drawings that suggest that the author’s age. The plot hinges on Greg’s ability to get into trouble – usually inadvertently – with the humour very much relying on the gulf between adults and children and the

misunderstandings that arise as a result. It is the very everyday nature of the problems facing Greg – bullies, efforts to correct a mistake that go horribly wrong, siblings who inevitably get away with everything – that will attract the young reader who will identify with Greg while, at the same time, feeling superior to him. Greg is after all an eleven-year-old wimp. With its undemanding conversational style and anecdotes that draw out the funny side of life, this novel becomes an attractive and easy choice for the younger readers at whom it is aimed. This is an age group that will not be too concerned with the lack of character development, the comedy stereotypes or the absence of any tension in the plot – they are part of the club, privy to Greg’s thoughts and with him facing a world full of adults who just don’t understand.

FH The Road to Stonehenge HHHH

Jan Shirley, ill. Gordon Redrup, Ragged Bears Publishing Ltd, 128pp 978 1 8571 4450 5, £7.99 pbk

Abandoned as a small baby, Krenn was found and taken in by a tribe. Now it is time for her to leave her adoptive tribe in search of her true tribe, but will she be able to find them in time? For Krenn is not quite eight years old and on her own for the first time in her life. Or is she? As the story progresses, Krenn finds help where she least expects it, and by using her wits is able to survive. Meeting up with another tribe whose customs are more advanced than hers proves to be a turning point in the story - and her insights into adult behaviour and ways of life should spark off plenty of discussions in class or at home. A map at the back of the book and a postscript provide interesting supplementary background information - in fact, the whole book is a treasure

expectations and

trove of fiction woven together with fact. Well worth the read.

RL Opal Moonbaby HHHH

Maudie Smith, Orion Children’s Books, 224pp, 978 1 4440 0478 6, £6.99 pbk

Primary schoolchildren Mar tha and Chloe are best friends who run a club called the Secret Circle and play games together. Then Colette arrives. She is ostensibly more grown-up, interested in fashion and boys. She woos Chloe away from Martha. Eventually Martha is forced to surrender her Secret Circle membership badge. So hur t and humiliated is Martha that she vows never again to make a friendship.

Martha’s single parent mother is hard up. Her brother Robbie is at a loose end, since his best friend is away on holiday. When Martha’s mother takes a job in a hairdressing salon, Martha and Robbie have to go and help. The work is boring and the boss Alesha puts on a phony Italian accent, as well as referring to hairdressing styles as ‘head refurbishments’. Making too much noise, the children are expelled from the salon. They see a strange creature emerging from some unoccupied flats. The creature turns out to be the Mingle (or companion) of Opal Moonbaby. Opal is vaguely human-looking except for her purple eyes. She is from the planet Carnelia, engaged on a mysterious quest to Earth about which she is distinctly cagey. In the remainder of the book the reader must discover what the true nature of Opal’s quest is, whether she can accomplish it and how Opal and Mar tha must change their preconceptions about life and people so that the quest can be accomplished.

With fantasy stories like this, the most serious critical question is whether the willing suspension of disbelief is sustained. Here the characters are believable and their actions and responses ring true. Many of the interactions are marked with genuine humour. Opal has superhuman psychic powers and uses them to strip pretensions from those human characters who ring false. The language used in the narrative is appropriate and consistent, with one or two daring insertions that work pretty well.


The Peppers and the International Magic Guys


Sian Pattenden, HarperCollins, 240pp, 978 0 0074 3001 7, £5.99 pbk

Twins Esme and Monty are spending the summer with their uncle. Not a happy prospect? Far from it; Uncle Potty is a magician with more enthusiasm than expertise; or is that just because he is worried? The International Magic Guys organisation is faced with closure unless its members can really impress the formidable Nigella Spoon. But

26 Books for Keeps No.192 January 2012

everything seems to be going wrong – can the twins pull something off?

Mr Gum in the Hound of Lamonic Bibber


Andy Stanton, ill. Dave Tazzyman, Egmont, 256 pp, 978 1 4052 5822 7, £9.99 pbk

This is a light, undemanding story ideal for younger readers who have already developed a good level of reading stamina. Full of the type of slapstick enjoyed by children – especially when the subjects are adults – there is the added attraction of magic tricks. Indeed, instructions for a number are interspersed between chapters providing the possibility of actually trying some out! Light on characterisation, the plot races at a farce-like pace which leaves little time for reflection thus ensuring its young audience will be carried along. They will also be reassured by the production – clear font with good spacing, short sentences, an absence of prolonged description and plenty of illustration to break up the text. If this novel is enjoyed it might be a good idea to suggest some Lemony Snicket titles. FH

To Be a Cat HHH

Matt Haig, Bodley Head, 320pp, 978 0 3703 3206 2, £10.99 hbk

Initially this breezy novel seems to have a lot going for it; nice big print, the ever-popular idea of a child transported into the body of a domestic animal and an evil headmistress of Dahlesque proportions. It is also written in an approachably matey style, with the author occasionally addressing his readers direct. The only trouble is a plot that never quite catches fire. The humans who change into cats stay engaging enough but the cats that in response change into humans remain shadowy figures whose function is never really explained. But Barney Willow, the twelve-year-old hero and narrator, is an agreeable presence both as human and animal, and there are moments when slapstick gives way to something more nuanced as Barney’s father decides that on balance he would after all prefer to stay a cat even while his son is appealing to him to change back. An interesting experiment, then, but this is an author who could perhaps do even better next time.


Well, you thought you knew all about Mr Gum and his mates, didn’t you, you dreadful little swipers? Thought he came in one of those thick little books. Well, not this time. He’s in a thick big book with lots of extras, like stickers, and a recipe for Plum Ruffian, which is like Christmas pudding but isn’t, and a story about how Mr Gum met Billy William III in the Spit Shop when they was just boys. Course, if any of you disgusting items is awake, you’ll know the story about the Hound of Lamonic Bibber appeared first on World Book day a couple of years ago, so you’ll be buying it purely for the extras, and I wouldn’t blame you, if you has money to chuck around at this merry time. Course, it could be that Andy Stanton and his mate Dave Tazzyman is getting a bit tired of enter taining you undeserving, miserable little nose pickers and are off to run a bank or something. I hopes not. They needs to be kept at this thankless task. Except I am thanking them and they do get paid, so it’s better than coming round to my house in the snow with a lantern on a stick and singing Away in a Mangle, when you will get only a free bucketful of cold water. I dunno why I’m giving them a lot of stars. Might be because I have a house full of stars and if I don’t give some away, I can’t get to the toilet. Might be because they are inimitable, even when they is somewhat repeating themselves.

CB Furball and the Mokes HH

A.N. Wilson, ill. Luisa Crosbie, Corvus, 256pp, 978 1 8488 7954 6, £7.99 hbk

Chum is a hamster, reliant on Kitty for her every need. But life changes with the advent of a family of mice who rename her Furball and encourage her to escape from her cage. Following the mice into hiding, she discovers a strange world of freedom but also of danger. Meanwhile Kitty is devastated by the loss of her hamster. This family crisis is soon followed by another when Kitty’s mum finds mouse droppings all over the kitchen floor. She’s determined to set traps, but what of Chum – might she stumble into one?

This story is long and convoluted and the characters, both human and animal, don’t really come to life. The mice speak in a vernacular with cockney overtones that is old-fashioned and exaggerated – class distinction at an anthropomorphic level.


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