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reviews


Editor’s Choice


The Story of the Blue Planet HHH


Andri Snær Magnason, ill. Áslaug Jónsdóttir, Pushkin Children’s Books, 144pp, 978 1 78269 006 1


Only children live on the blue planet until a grown-up arrives in a space ship on Brimir and Hulda’s idyllic island. Until the arrival of Gleesome Goodday, an intergalactic vacuum cleaner salesman, the island children had been happy enough enjoying the natural world around them, particularly the mass annual flight of the butterflies and the glittering rainbow in the giant waterfalls. But Goodday promises to make their greatest wishes come true. And he does, stealing the dust from the butterflies’ wings so that the children can fly; nailing the sun to the sky so that it’s always daylight; and creating a dust and water repellent skin coating from the waterfall rainbow so that the children never need to wash again. There is a price, of course: for each “improvement” in the children’s lives, Goodday harvests and stores a little of the children’s youth. That doesn’t worry them unduly. It is only when Brimir and Hulda find themselves on the other side of their planet, where the children have been cast into eternal darkness, poverty and starvation by the nailing of the sun that questions form in their minds and they return determined to make changes to Gleesome Goodday’s regime. This environmental fable is the work of one of Iceland’s foremost writers and filmmakers. With attractive illustrations by Áslaug Jónsdóttir, which have gained her international recognition, The Story of


matters, they make clear how little is actually known, how much is informed guesswork, and the way that explanations can be drawn from evidence. They even offer glimpses into some of the wilder speculations about the origins of Stonehenge .With a two page glossary and a timeline on the endpapers, it’s an excellent introduction to its subject that touches on the awe and mystery that the monument still inspires. Most important, the comic empathetic touches in the illustrations, as, for instance, the stone lifting team contemplating with dismay an incoming rain storm, bring the people of the past to life.


CB


Tuesdays at the Castle HHHHH


Jessica Day George, Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 234pp, 978-1-4088-3198-4, £5.99 pbk


Every Tuesday, Castle Glower changes. Sometimes it grows a new room, a new corridor or a new staircase. No one knows how or why it does this or even how big it really is. Princess Celie is trying to map it. She loves the castle and she seems to be its favourite. Suddenly disaster happens, and the king and queen are ambushed whilst returning from seeing Celie’s elder


the Blue Planet has already been made into a play and translated into sixteen languages from the original Icelandic, before finding a publisher here in Pushkin Press, a company newly established with the express purpose of “sharing the very best stories from around the world.” This is an excellent choice to kick off their list. Ambitious and intriguing, it creates a fable whose contemporary relevance will be easily grasped by its intended readers. In its mix of social satire and religious overtones, it reminds me of Wilde’s fairy tales. In this English language version, the humour feels a little forced at times, as if you are not quite in on the joke, which makes the story’s didactic purpose rather more apparent. And I have a nagging feeling that there may be cultural references that I am missing. Is Brimir and Hulda’s killing and eating of a seal at the opening of the book one of them? Nevertheless, there is nothing that I can think of in contemporary English language writing for children that has this kind of ambition.


CB


family, lived happily on a Terra fel Fuego island until the day when he was bought from his parents for the cost of one pearly button. Transported to Victorian England to be transformed from a wild child into an English gentleman, he was educated and introduced to middle-class manners. During his stay, Jemmy even attracted the attention of the King and Queen.


Some years later he was returned to his home island (coincidentally on the same ship as Charles Darwin who wanted to study him in his native habitat), in the hope that he would spread his knowledge of Victorian civilisation amongst the natives. Delighted to be home, Jemmy immediately removed his clothes, relearned his native language and became part of his own culture again.


There is minimal text in this book, which relies on detailed, thoughtful images to convey the story. Despite initial appearances, this is a very complex picture book which introduces issues way beyond its apparent simplicity. It is definitely a book which will provoke discussion and debate about cultural identity, the rights of an individual (particularly a child) and the power of a dominant culture which can disregard both issues in pursuit of its own agenda. GR


Captain Valiant and Me: Revenge of the Black Phantom


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Adam Britten, ill Arthur Hamer, Piccadilly,192pp, 978-1-84812-311-3 £5.99pbk


brother Bran at wizardry school. Everyone thinks that they are dead and Celie’s brother Rolf is crowned king. However, the throne is threatened by the evil Prince Kelsh of Vhervhish. He is trying to seize power with the help of the Emissary. Celie will need all of her courage and ingenuity to help find her parents, protect the her brother and sister and save her kingdom. Will she succeed and will the castle help her?


Tuesdays at the Castle is a very engaging read. It is an enjoyable adventure story set in a magical world. The magical elements of the story are cleverly drawn, making it believable without


it becoming


over-complicated. The action is fast-paced and exciting, gathering momentum as the plot unfolds. The book belongs to the extremely popular fantasy genre and will definitely appeal to young girl readers. ARa


Jemmy Button. The Boy that Darwin Returned Home


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Alix Barzelay, illustrated by Jennifer Uman and Valerio Vidali, Templar 48pp 978 1 84877 222 9 £12.99 hbk


Jemmy Button, called Orundicello by his


Dynamic Boy is part of a family of superheroes, put on Earth as an Astral Guardian, part of an intergalactic police force. However, Dynamic Boy thinks his name is stupid and his costume silly. The rest of the family have the fun superpowers, whereas he can only fly and create illusions. In this adventure, he and his family must battle the dreadful Abaddon the Destroyer, using their special powers, a bit of quick thinking, and a bit of help. A fast moving tale, with some amusing moments, and a satisfying ending, there are a few rather graphic ‘monster’ scenes which would not suit the faint hearted. Black and white illustrations on most pages capture the tongue in cheek action of these superheroes and provide additional enjoyment to the story. LR


The Accidental Time Traveller HHH


Janis Mackay, Kelpies, 240pp, 978 086315 954 1 £5.99 pbk


One snowy morning in Peebles, just weeks before Christmas, Saul sets off for the nearby corner shop. On his way, he hears the screech of tyres, followed by the screams of a young girl as she falls at his feet in panic. She’s dressed strangely, in a long dress and ruffled collar, and talks in an old-fashioned, formal way. Her name is Agatha and – Saul soon discovers – she’s been catapulted accidentally from a different time, two hundred years ago, to the present. He agrees to help her, hiding her in a secret den that only his best mates know about. Simultaneously, he continues with his own life: supporting his harassed mum with the newborn twins, dodging the


secondary-school bully, Crow – and dreaming of a BMX bike for Christmas. As he figures out ways of returning Agatha to her past, he learns about life in the 1800s – so much so that he is inspired to enter the Scottish Borders young historian of the year competition.


This is a well-structured time-slip story that cleverly keeps its momentum and manages, largely through the sympathetic character of Saul, to draw the reader in. At the beginning of the story, he’s just an ordinary twelve-year old. He’s neither gifted nor especially popular. He’s fearful of Crow and frustrated that home life is now centred on the twins. Yet he’s friendly, generous and principled – traits that help him to grow in maturity and wisdom as his friendship with Agatha develops.


The ever-present landscape of snow and slush, thick fog and dark winter skies – and Christmas warmth – adds atmosphere to this enjoyable story.


AF


Super Sister and the Birthday Party


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Gwyneth Rees, ill. Ella Okstad, Macmillan, 224pp, 978023076777501, £7.99 hbk,


The sequel to Super Sister, this story follows Emma and Saffie, sisters who have the super power of animation: they are able to bring inanimate objects to life. While elder sister Emma is sensible, Saffie is always getting both of them into trouble and her mischievous spirit passes on to the dolls and teddies she brings to life too. With the neighbours getting suspicious, Emma and Saffie’s parents send them to stay with their grandparents for the holidays. The only trouble is, their granny also has super powers. She is able to help Emma to develop her gentle talent, but has more trouble convincing Saffie to reign hers in. When Saffie unwittingly animates a difficult doll, Queenie-May, the doll takes on a life of her own and chaos ensues. Will the girls be able to work together to put things right before their grandpa’s birthday is ruined? With plenty of action and adventure, as well as a few subtle moral messages about learning to take responsibility for your actions and the satisfaction of doing your own work, there is lots to admire in Gwyneth Rees’ latest book. Put upon big sisters are sure to recognise the dilemma in which Emma finds herself as her younger sister thoughtlessly creates drama. But there is something quite creepy about a naughty porcelain doll which comes to life bearing a malevolent grudge. Parents of sensitive children might be warned.


LF


Magic Trix: The Witching Hour


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Sara Grant, ill. Erica-Jane Waters, Orion Children’s Books,138pp, 978-1-4440-0777-0, £4.99 pbk


On the night of her tenth birthday, Trix sees a witch fly across the night sky. She thinks that she is imagining things until she goes for an after-school arts and crafts class and meets the very unusual librarian, Lulu. Trix discovers that she is also a witch and the arts and crafts lessons are to cover up the fact that Lulu is teaching Trix and four other girls witchy skills. Trix loves learning


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