Macavity, the Mystery Cat HHHHH
T.S. Eliot and Arthur Robins, Faber & Faber, 32pp, 9780571312122, £6.99 pbk
Re-imagining a text that already has an established image through the illustrations is always a little risky. Since Nicolas Bentley first populated Old Possum’s book of Practical Cats with his dapper cats-about -town, other illustrators have presented their view, notably Edward Gorey and most recently, Axel Scheffler. Now Arthur Robins has taken up the challenge in this picture book edition of Eliot’s much loved poem about Macavity. The result is great fun.
Here Macavity is very definitely disreputable - and frequently not there, his tail or paw disappearing off the page to the delight of young readers, who, encouraged by the text design, can all join in with the chant. The rhythm of Eliot’s words carry the reader from page to page - what a brilliant introduction to poetry - and there is nothing worthy about it; even the font has a suggestion of anarchy while remaining clear and legible; no gimmicks here. Macavity, himself, is gloriously unkempt, with a wicked glint in the eye. He is a cat for today, a street moggy, and very much in control.
This is a very welcome addition to any bookshelf, whether library or at home. The picture book format ensures it will appeal to the youngest as it should. However, the very modern illustrations suggestive of familiar cartoon worlds, combined with Eliot’s genius, make it a book for all ages. Let us hope that there will be more from this partnership.
Don’t Poke a Worm till it Wriggles
Celia Warren, Bloomsbury, 64pp, 978 1 4729 0023 4, £4.99 pbk
What better way to introduce young children to rhythm and rhyme and the various verse patterns than with this cheerful solo collection of 54 poems in which the humble worm achieves celebrity status. As the assortment of worms – happy and pensive, artistic and brave, and even a bookworm – wriggle through the pages, they have plenty to say about themselves and the world. One per page and cheerily illustrated, the poems take on different forms. There are couplets and shape poems, list poems and tongue twisters, alphabet and narrative poems – and more besides. Written with flair, they all emphasise the richness of sounds and words. Many are based on the familiar patterns of nursery rhymes, chants and action verses – among them Sing a Song of Sixpence, Hey Diddle Diddle, Mary Mary Quite Contrary and Incey Wincey Spider.
The author, an established poet, has also written extensively on the teaching of poetry in the classroom. Both skills are apparent in this collection. While the parodying of nursery rhymes adds much to the jollity of the poems, it also stimulates children’s enjoyment by building on their existing knowledge. A witty and thoroughly enjoyable collection, perfect for dipping into, it also has a place in the classroom as a stimulus for children’s own poetry
writing, for performing, in project work and for learning by heart.
8 – 10 Junior/Middle Dunger
The Ghastly McNastys: Raiders of the Lost Shark HHHHH
Lyn Gardner, illus Ros Asquith, Piccadilly Press, 192pp, 978-1848123632, £6.99 pbk
The Ghastly McNastys: Raiders of the Lost Shark is the second book about Gruesome and Grisly McNasty, the ghastliest and nastiest pirates ever to sail the Seven Seas. They’re searching for Captain Syd’s lost treasure, rumoured to be buried in Little Snoring castle. There happens to be a pirate movie, Raiders of the Lost Shark, being filmed at the castle and lots of the villagers are auditioning to be pirate extras. They’re all dressed for the part, so the McNastys blend in nicely! But children Tat and Hetty know are determined to get to the treasure first, and they come up with a plan to trap the McNastys.
This really is a brilliantly funny book. There’s an array of wonderful characters – a cat called Dog, a one-legged parrot, poor Mrs Slime who has a persistent cold, and a very bossy film director, among others. The story is littered with jokes and asides, and the illustrations provide some wonderfully silly touches – ringed doughnuts fly through the pages, there’s a picture of Hetty with a beard (‘Hetty definitely didn’t have a beard, although this is what she would look like if she did’), and a chapter heading running away. What I think is particularly impressive is that, even with all this hilarity going on, the book still manages to have a strong storyline with a very satisfying climax. MM
Charlie Merrick’s Misfits: in Fouls, Friends, & My World Cup
Dave Cousins, Oxford University Press, 224pp, 978019273659, £6.99pbk
If ever a press release has put you off, it must be this one. ‘The first book featuring the ‘misfits’ – a multi-racial, mixed-sex group of regular children,’ it reads. Please. Why are girls and ethnic minorities misfits exactly? Shouldn’t that status be reserved for the short kid with glasses? Oh look, there’s one of them too.
The proof manuscript is little better. Boasting that it has been published in order to coincide with the 2014 World Cup doesn’t scream ‘must-read’, but rather ‘money-spinner’. Surely that’s the last thing you tell the reviewer?
After this inauspicious start, Charlie Merrick’s Misfits is a much more enjoyable read than anticipated. Here is the age-old tale of the underdog team, the North Star Galaxy under-12s, attempting to save themselves from relegation, and testing their friendships and themselves in the process. The story itself is diverting, while Dave Cousins’ own illustrations, comic strip-style additions, match reports, fun fact boxes and more, do actually add to the reading experience and feel like little extras to help the reader on their way. Recommended for reluctant readers.
LF 26 Books for Keeps No.206 May 2014
Joy Cowley, Gecko Press, 156pp, 978 1 877579 46 2, £6.99, pbk
Joy Cowley writes a beautiful account of two young digital natives – Melissa (14) and William (11) who must overcome their primordial sense of fear when faced with no electricity after being sent to their grandparents’ bach (holiday home) to help out in return for cash. To top off their horror at this unexpected trip, they encounter a cupboard full of mouse-poo, no running water and an outhouse full of spiders. The children battle with their surroundings and their grandparents who, despite constant squabbling and ill health, manage to entice the children to help out and learn new skills.
Cowley creates a world that is rich with love, humour and New Zealand goodness – and is a treasure to read. The only dunger (Hanything out of date or useless) that must be addressed is the stereotypical gender roles that the children end up playing out. William learns to drive, fix and fish whilst Melissa learns to cook, roll wool and look at family photos. These activities are empowering for the children yet, in celebrating traditional values and learning of skills, it’s a shame that these roles could not have been expanded to go beyond narrow perceptions of gender.
SH Maya’s Secret HHH
Holly Webb, Nosy Crow, 160pp, 978-0857631053, £5.99 pbk
From popular children’s author Holly Webb comes a new series of stories on the theme of friendship. Maya and her friends are working on a Fair-trade project at school. The girls become interested in Fair-trade clothing and decide to put on a fashion show to raise awareness and campaign to change their school uniform supplier. (Readers will become well informed about Fair-trade issues as they read!) Maya’s secret is that her mum is a famous singer and she does not want the celebrity attention that goes with having a famous mum so keeps her true family identity hidden. However, it is Maya’s secret that saves the day when the fashion show runs into problems. The theme of friendship runs throughout the book, but perhaps because the series is aimed at 7-9 year-olds it is explored in limited depth. This will undoubtedly be popular with established fans of Holly Webb and new readers in this age group who are often keen on series fiction.
LR Angels Next Door HHHHH
Karen McCombie, Penguin, 240pp, 97801413445322. £6.99 pbk.
12 year old Riley and Tia, friends since they were six years old, are finally and irrevocably separated when Tia’s family move to New Zealand. This leaves Riley devastated - Tia is her best and only friend, the one she shyly hides behind as Tia breezes her confident, enthusiastic way through life, the one in whom she confides every detail of her life. Riley’s life has had its own upheavals - after the death of her mother 11 years earlier she and her father had been a self-contained and
supportive unit, until he met Hazel. She and her endearing small daughter Dot have moved in and, though she loves Dot dearly, Riley feels tolerated, when she longs to be loved.
Without Tia, school goes from bad to worse as she is targeted by the class bullies and trapped in a locked room with her teacher about to give birth! However, help is at hand from the new family who are now occupying Tia’s house: eccentrically named triplets: Sunshine, Pearl and Kitten. Strange things happen around them: a bully is given a taste of her own medicine; the sisters’ foster father is saved from a catastrophic fall; glitter suddenly appears in strange places. When their wings begin to unfurl, Riley knows she has angels - albeit trainees - on her side and this gives her the confidence to be herself, instead of hiding comfortably in Tia’s vivacious shadow.
The book is peopled with instantly recognisable characters who will appear in the rest of the series, giving a sense of belonging and continuity to young readers. Most importantly of all, it wades in chest-high and confronts the fears, preoccupations and problems common to us all - the loss of a friend, the horror of bullying and the loneliness when friends are no longer there. The accuracy and sensitivity with which these issues are explored reveals a writer who knows and likes her audience.
VR Cowgirl HHHHH
G R Gemin, Nosy Crow, 272pp, 978-0-85763-281-4, £6.99 pbk
Gemma’s fed up: life on the estate is bad; Sian is a bully at school; and Gemma’s dad is in prison. But things start to change after Cowgirl (Kate) brings a cow for Gemma’s gran to look after. Then Cowgirl brings down the rest of the herd, and so there are 12 cows being looked after on the estate. This creates a sense of community, and people start to stand up to the antisocial behaviour and the petty crimes that have been making the estate a bad place to live. However, Cowgirl’s dad needs the cows back. He wants to sell them to Mr Mostyn to clear a debt. Now that the cows are part of the community, no one wants to give them up. Can Gemma come up with a solution that helps everyone, or will the cows have to go back to the farm and then the slaughterhouse?
Cowgirl is a funny and appealing book, and Gemma is an engaging and very human protagonist. Humour runs throughout the book, but the narrative does not shy aware from social issues such as antisocial behaviour, bullying and prison. The novel is set in south Wales, and it creates a great sense of atmosphere and of place. Finally, G R Gemin has completely captured the voice of a 12-year-old girl.
Harvey Drew and the Binmen from Outer Space
Cas Lester, Hot Key Books, 192pp, 978-1471402234, £5.99 pbk
Harvey Drew is an ordinary boy with a normal obsession with outer space. When he is suddenly and unknowingly teleported aboard the Toxic Spew, an intergalactic garbage spaceship, he
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