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BfK 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued

becomes clear that this camera does not only show living people but also those departed this life. Penny agrees to act in the film as Amelia but it turns out that Amelia’s ghost is determined to come back to life and that she is Edward Gold’s long dead girlfriend.

This is a fast paced story, full of action, twists and turns, though I have to confess that I spent a lot of it thinking that in 1900 films did not appear in colour or with people talking! This is all part of the clever set up however as the ending reveals! Penny is a suitably plucky heroine and the appearance of the ghosts in the film are quite creepy enough for the reader to believe in their existence, and add a frisson to the story. Edward Gold is a rounded villain, with a credible motivation. The one criticism is that the price of a still photo (with ghost) is advertised at 5 shillings which in 1900 would be beyond most people’s reach, especially at a fair, but the reader does feel back in the early days of cinema, and the last line is a gem!

JF Back to Blackbrick HHHH

Sarah Moore Fitzgerald, Orion, 240pp, 978-1-4440-0659-9, £9.99 hbk

This brave and charming story tackles the ever-present threat of Alzheimer’s disease, reminding readers that there are some positive elements in this distressing condition. Cosmo is devoted to his Grandfather Kevin and when, after his brother’s accidental death, his mother leaves to work in Australia it is his grandparents who take him in. He turns to advice sites on the internet to try to stop his grandfather’s mental deterioration but the authorities step in, insisting that if his condition worsens he must go into residential care while Cosmo will be sent to live with his bad-tempered uncle.

As Cosmo slides towards despair and impotent anger his Grandfather rallies briefly, giving him an ancient key to the gates of Blackbrick , a long-derelict country house, telling him that if he opens them, he will be on the other side. Convinced that his Grandfather is beyond help, Cosmo never theless keeps his promise and discovers, to his amazement, that the gates are a portal and he has travelled back in time to meet 16 year old Kevin.

Fitzgerald proves herself an enter taining storyteller as events unfold in the house and Kevin’s history is revealed. Cosmo finds himself trapped in the past when the key is taken from him by the bombastic bully, Lord Corporamore but they are restored to him by an unexpected act of kindness from Corporamore’s daughter, who he later discovers to be his grandmother. His attempts to manipulate past events in order to influence the present have no effect and he cannot reverse the death of his brother but he learns important things about his ancestors and realises that even though people you love may go

from your life they remain a part of you always.

This is a lively story in which a great deal happens and it is full of small surprises. It also contains a good deal of wisdom, gently dispensed and makes a significant contribution to stripping away the fear and confusion surrounding Alzheimer’s disease and its effects on lives and families. VR

The Horse Road HHHH

Harrison, Troon, Bloomsbury, 312p, 9781408819357, pb.

The heroine of this story is 13 year old Kallisto, who lives a privileged life in the city of Ershi, in what is now Uzbekistan. The time is about 100BC and the prosperous area is under threat by the Chinese who have designs on the famous horses bred by the local tribes. Kallisto’s mother is a horse breeder and her father a Greek merchant; the girl has been taught to ride and fight on horses and has a degree of independence unusual for girls of her social position. When the Chinese arrive at the gates of the city and Kallisto’s beloved horse ‘Swan’ is given to the invaders, she decides to go to the rescue.

This is an unusual story, but based on historical fact about the region and the horses. It is told in the first person and we get a real feel for Kallisto’s feelings and her thinking. There is fear, outrage, tenacity and bravery on show as she tries to save her horses. She is totally focused on her intentions and this means that she sometimes lets it outweigh other concerns, such as when her mother is injured by a tiger. We really feel that she is impatient, even though she has a real love for her parent. The story also makes think about the position of women in ancient societies and how difficult it was to have any say in your life. I enjoyed this book more that I thought I might and will look forward to reading the two other linked stories which are intended. This will be very popular with those who love horses and those fascinated by a history different from our own.


Bartolomé, the Infanta’s Pet


Rachel van Kooij; trans. Siobhan Parkinson, Little Island, 200pp., 9781908195265, £6.99, pbk.

For the November 2012 edition of Books for Keeps, I reviewed a historical novel about a dwarf at the court of the Spanish Infanta in the Netherlands. It was the first time in 40 years that I had encountered a historical story about a dwarf, but here is another one!

The cover portrays the painting of the Spanish Infanta, daughter of Philip IV, by Diego Velazquez, and Bartolomé ends up as a plaything to this very spoilt little girl. His father is a coachman to the Infanta, and when the family are offered accommodation within the court, Juan wants to leave

26 Books for Keeps No.199 March 2013

Editor’s Choice

In the Land of the Giants HHHHH

George Szirtes, ill. Helen Szirtes, Salt Publishing, 84pp, 978 1 84471 451 3, £6.99, pbk

This is only the second of George Szirtes’ books of poetry for children, and represents a selection from 25 years work. His first, The Red All Over Riddle Book, published as long ago as 1997, was a book I always took with me when, as a visiting librarian, I went to schools to tell stories or read poems: a small book packed with fascinating examples of that most venerable way of looking at the world sideways. The present collection, which includes poems by other poets that Szirtes has translated from his

native Hungarian, continues to show his own fascination with the quirkiness of English. A sub- section of the book, entitled ‘The Bee’s Knees’, conjures poems from similar common usages like ‘The Wall’s Ears’ and takes off into even stranger realms with ‘The Sun’s Toes’ and ‘The Bicycle’s Wrists’. In the sequence, ‘In the Land of the Giants’, the poems are sometimes weirder and darker, as he explores the relationship of children and adults. To my mind, he is the very best of poets for children (and adults, for that matter). Never showy or superior, equally comfortable with or without rhyme, and showing us the mystery, wonder and humour of the world with clarity and elegance. He observes and transforms, beginning with the everyday and ending somewhere else, inviting us into the poems, showing us what we thought we knew and revealing that we knew more than we thought. In this collection, there are over sixty poems to enjoy and share. Don’t miss it.


Bartolomé behind, ashamed of his son who is not only a dwarf but severely deformed. Isobel Bartolomé’s mother persuades her husband to take the boy with them on the understanding that he will hide so as never to be seen by anyone else. Bartolomé finds this hard and when his brother tells him he has seen a dwarf as secretary at the court, he decides he must learn to read and write. His brother Joaquim carries him secretly to the monastery where Bartolomé learns his letters. But when

Bartolome accidentally falls out of the basket in which he has been carried he is seen by the Infanta who wants him as her ‘human dog’. This humiliating move has to be carried out, but Bar tolomé makes friends in Velasquez’s studio and his talent for drawing earns him an escape.

This is an affecting portrayal of a severely disabled child at a time when children such as Bar tolomé were hidden away, often considered the work

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