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too, in the choice of subjects. Yes, it’s a collection for girls, so you would expect sections on Friends and Family and Love and Animals and even Nymphs, Mermaids, Fairies and Witches, but there is nothing saccharine, rather there is a sense of wonder, tenderness and fun. There are moods that are missing or only glimpsed, of anger, bitterness or fear; but these omissions, and Jacqueline Wilson’s charming introduction, only add to the sense that you really are sharing her favourite poems and somehow gaining an insight into what makes her laugh, cry and dream. (8+)

John McLay, Artistic Director, The Telegraph Bath Kids LitFest

Ruby Redfort: Look into My Eyes Lauren Child, HarperCollins, 978 0 0073 3406 3, £12.99 hbk Hey, busters! It was a long time coming after news of this fiction deal was first announced in 2009. Normal life was a total yawn while we all waited for the first ‘Ruby Redfort’ novel, the super-awesome new creation from multi-million-copy bestselling author Lauren Child. But is it any good? Was it worth the wait? Do you want to know? Of course you do, bozos!

Well, it is pretty good, in fact. A definite favourite of mine and touch of light relief amidst the darkness and dystopia of so much of the other fiction published alongside it. Ruby is an old-beyond-her-years genius code-cracker, a daring detective, and a gadget-laden special agent who just happens to be a thirteen-year-old girl. She and her slick side-kick butler, Hitch, foil crimes and get into loads of scrapes with evil comic-book villains, but they’re always ice-cool in a crisis in this first book of a series.

Does it stretch credulity? Yes! But who cares? It has a lovely lightness about it. A genuine, child-friendly readability that is engaging and refreshing. I warmed to it instantly and look forward to reading the next instalment! I’m very much hoping it will not be quite as long a wait. (9+)

Julia Eccleshare, children’s books Editor, The Guardian

The Unforgotten Coat Frank Cottrell Boyce, Walker, 978 1 4063 3385 5, £10.00 hbk

At a time when so many books are heavily descriptive and overly-long, Frank Cottrell Boyce’s trust that readers can imagine a story and take the sense of it without him having to tell or even show them everything is delightfully refreshing. Apparently almost a fragment rather than a full blown novel, The Unforgotten Coat is nonetheless a gem of a story. And an important one, too. The superficially lightweight feel is accentuated by the physical appearance as it is written as if in an exercise book by Julie who looks back on an extraordinary incident that happened when she was in Year Six. In her account she describes the unexpected arrival at the school of Chingis and Nergui, two brothers from Mongolia. When they ask her to become their ‘Good Guide’ and show them what they need to know, Julie gets completely caught up their stories and the imaginary and all too horribly real dangers they face. There is some fantasy to make it all palatable but no fake sentimentality or ducking of the harsh reality of the boys’ situation. Frank Cottrell Boyce’s familiar warmth and underlying compassion enable him to make moral points about

society’s need to be tolerant and understanding without ever preaching. (9+)

Philip Pullman, Carnegie Medal winner

The Magic of Reality: How we know what’s really true Richard Dawkins, ill. Dave McKean, Bantam, 272pp, 978 0 5930 6612 6, £20 hbk

Richard Dawkins has become known in the past few years more for his opposition to religion than for his great talent as an explainer of science, which is a pity. In this book he manages to combine both interests, but the more important one wins. He takes a number of creation myths (how the rainbow came, why we have seasons, and so on), and looks at the science behind the matter concerned. The explanations he gives for these great natural phenomena are so clear and vivid that the only word I can find for them is beautiful.

His purpose in writing the book is clear: he wants to persuade the reader, young or old, that science has better explanations for things than superstition or religion do, that it’s not just much more likely to be true, but more fascinating, more wonderful. His explanations would do that by themselves without his debunking of the myths, but he includes a passage on David Hume’s scepticism about miracles, which is well worth reading for its own sake.

Dave McKean’s illustrations are not just decorative, they are explanatory in the best possible way. This is a marvellous book. (9+)

Nicholas Tucker, Honorary Senior Lecturer in Cultural and Community Studies, Sussex University

VIII H.M.Castor, Templar, 336pp, 978 1 8487 7499 5, £10.99 hbk

You might have thought that enough fictionalised history had already been written about that old rogue Henry VIII, particularly during the last decade. But this fine novel proves any such assumption wrong. H.M.Castor re-creates Henry as an utterly convincing character, a victim not just of vanity and oafishness but also to memories of an affectionless childhood and a conviction that his sacred mission is to re-occupy England’s disputed territories in France. There is also the succession to make sure of, with everyone fearful of a return to pre -Tudor lawlessness in the absence of a strong, succeeding male king. Henry’s separation from Catherine is touchingly described, with neither party wanting it to happen but realpolitik winning out in the end. Vivid historical detail abounds, with glimpses of jousts, hunts and pageants as well as fine clothes, exotic jewels and rarefied food. More a flawed human than the bluebeard of popular report, Henry’s moody personality dominates from first page to last, with no-one – either at the court itself or else reading the book now – ever quite sure what he is going to do next. Read and enjoy. (10+)

Alan Gibbons, children’s writer and organiser, the Campaign for the Book

Killing Honour Bali Rai, Corgi, 336pp, 978 0 5525 6211 9, £6.99 pbk

Sometimes you pick up a book that stares in the face of an uncomfortable reality and delineates its every feature with fearlessness, honesty and integrity. Bali Rai’s Killing

Books for Keeps No.192 January 2012 5

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