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finds himself in a most unusual situation. The Toxic Spew is in need of a captain and so Harvey finds himself in command of a rabble and heading for danger with a hazardous cargo. With quick wits, drawing on his (limited) experience of captaining the Highford All Stars and a bit of luck, a safe and happy ending is had by all. This is a fast paced space adventure with its tongue firmly in its cheek. Readers will be amused by the jokey tone of the narrator, the slapstick behaviour of the crew and the disgusting descriptions of space rubbish (not for the squeamish). A fun read for boys and girls alike. LR

Hairy Horror HHHH

Sandra Glover, Andersen Press, 96pp, 978 1 78344 033 7, £4.99 pbk

Anna and her mum now live with their new family in a massive house in the countryside. Anna loves the house but avoids the creepy basement where her stepbrother, Hal, spends most of his time alone, playing about in his laboratory. He’s weird and a genius – or as Mum says, special and different. Anna’s in awe of him and scared of his strange experiments. One day, she has no choice but to enter the lab – and her worst fears are confirmed. There, curled up under a pot plant is an enormous black hairy-scary thing. It’s a female tarantula turned monster, which Hal has been feeding with growth hormones. Tula, as she’s called, is very intelligent, Hal explains, so he’s trained her to carry out household chores, which she loves. He adores the spider, certain that she’s the green solution to housework. But Anna has a long way to go before she overcomes her spider fears.

Divided into chapters, the story is very funny, energetically written and punctuated with easy dialogue. Characters are lively and varied. Anna, whose story this is, is big-hearted, her observations acute and her predicaments comic. She’s also a great problem-solver, as the brilliant ending shows. Hal, whose behaviour is perhaps somewhere along the autism spectrum, is a whizz kid obsessed with his pet, while she, Tula, the star of the story, has a huge and loving presence, in spite of her appearance. Readers who are likely to react as Anna did initially will, by the end of this quirky story, come to see her in an entirely new light!

AF Wild Thing HHH

Emma Barnes, illustrated by Jamie Littler, Scholastic, 240pp, 978-1407137957, £5.99 pbk

Readers will have instant sympathy with Kate. Her sister is a total tearaway, called Wild Thing by all who know her. With her dreadfully shocking behaviour, Wild Thing wreaks havoc all around her and Kate is mortified when her sister starts school and gets up to all sorts of trouble, including blocking the infant toilets with 17 toilet rolls. Meanwhile, Kate is concerned about her dad having sacrificed his musical career, including possible fame and fortune with his former band, Monkey Magic, in order to care for Kate and her sister after their mum died, and is trying to overcome her own shyness to play in a school band. The story ends with a series of satisfying resolutions and whilst there may not be undying sibling love in the house there is certainly some warm affection. Some may be shocked by Wild Thing’s appalling antics, others may just be relived they

do not know her! Readers are promised Wild Thing and Hound Dog coming soon.


Outdoor Wonderland: The Kids’ Guide to Being Outside HHH

Josie Jeffery & Alice Lickens (ill.), Ivy Press, 80pp, 978-1-78240-082-0, £9.99 hbk

This large book in portrait format is full of ideas to make being outside interesting and worth exploring. Organised in nine chapters, some of the activities are suitable for particular outdoor places : ‘In the woods’ , ‘On the street’ and ‘By the water’, for example. Other chapters home in on things to do in different weather conditions - ‘Sunny days’, ‘Rainy days’ and ‘Windy days’. Sometimes children, particularly those at the upper end of the suggested age range, will be able to follow the instructions for activities and creations themselves with a little adult help to get materials together. Making wind chimes following the stages set out under ‘Musical Airs’, ‘Rain Painting’, ‘Watch it Blow’ (making a wind sock), ‘Wild Photography’ and pressing flowers in the way shown in ‘Flower Power’ are all suitable for a child on their own or with a friend in the safety of the back garden. Some activities involve the use of tools that make adult supervision necessary and even planting bulbs needs some adult support (See ‘Ready, set, grow!’). The ‘Helper Bug’ signals that help is needed and when ‘Danger Bug’ is shown – extra careful supervision is essential.

Quite a few activities are appropriate for a family or school based project. Here I would include the idea for making an insect hotel (see ‘At the Bug Hotel’) where a structure needs to be created with crates or pallets. Pebbles, small logs and flowerpots are added to make an inviting habitat for insects which can then be studied. ‘Den building’, ‘Eco Art’ (including the lovely idea for an Autumn leaf chain), ‘The Secret Garden’, which involves creating a moth theatre after dark with a sheet and a light to attract the creatures, and the activities grouped under ‘Sun Time’ including making a sundial all involve careful planning and input from adults. Then there are exciting suggestions for group activities in open spaces like a park – see ‘On Your Marks’ about organising your own Olympics and ‘Park Life’ for instructions to do with and tree climbing

There is a sensible balance to be aimed at between allowing children to have fun and to learn from experience and making sure that enjoyable activities are also safe. There is advice here to get this balance right. This is a book which may spark keen interest in an aspect of nature or in creating a particular kind of art; the listed websites provide further information for young researchers.


The Wild City Book: Loads of things to do outdoors in towns and cities


Jo Schofield and Fiona Danks, Frances Lincoln, 128pp, 978-0-7112-3488-8, £9.99, pbk

Not every child lives in the countryside and so a book which opens up the wealth of nature- based activities that can be enjoyed in urban environments will be welcomed by families living in towns and cities. Like the other outdoor activity books by these authors, The

Stick Book and The Wild Weather Book for example, this one is well organised and inviting. The seven sections show the scope clearly: Wildlife in the city; Wild creations; Imaginative play; Celebrations & festivals; Storytelling & music; Wild streets and Games & trails.

Although it is made clear that adult supervision is often needed, the text ‘speaks’ directly to young readers. Large print introduces each activity and then there are bullet pointed steps. Few of the activities take up more than a side of instructions but everything is well explained. There are some imaginative ideas : miniature wildlife world, chalk pictures and conker & pine cone creatures. There are also suggestions for ‘techno trails’ and many children will enjoy using smart phones and other hand-held devices for adventures outside; photography apps such as Snapchat could be used by a group if children and lead to a display. Many of the activities provide opportunities for learning by encouraging careful observation of natural phenomena and investigation of animal behaviour. Some of the art based ideas are imagination stretching. My favourite? I very much like the ‘pavement storyboards’ in which children work in teams, each group using loose natural materials assembled to illustrate a story, song or rhyme. In the example sticks, grass and leaves suggest ‘Little Red Riding Hood’. When each group has finished their creation they explain it to the others.

The book has some pleasing aesthetic qualities: the pages are smooth and easy to handle and are well designed with variations in print size that help make things clear. The illustrations are attractive photographs – of the youngsters enjoying the activities, of the wild parts of the urban environment and of the exciting finished creations – and these pictures add greatly to the attractiveness and interest of the book. More activities are suggested on the authors’ ‘going wild’ website:


Sarah Duchars & Sarah Marks, Ill. Nicola Kent, ‘Buttonbag’, Frances Lincoln, 978-0711234895, 128pp, £12.99 pbk

If the boys in your household (or classroom) think that craft books are un-cool, overflowing with pink frilly cupcakes, fairy wings and tiaras, then this is the perfect antidote – a book filled with brilliantly inspiring projects for boys (and tomboys). Making use of stuff that would otherwise be heading for the recycling bin, here are projects to create medals for bravery, water bombs, bug hotels, jumper monsters, costumes for action figures and papier mache landscapes. There are creepy craft projects that will go down a bomb at Halloween – bats, rats and dead man’s fingers, vampire cloaks and zombie disguises. A number of projects are designed for parents to make with their kids, such as stilts or bird boxes, where some adult help is needed with sawing and drilling. As well as the woodwork and modelmaking, there are sewing and knitting projects, ranging from mini beanbags for juggling to giant ones for lolling on, as well as hats, kitbags and gadget cases. These sections include helpful guides to basic stitches and techniques, and photocopiable templates are given for many of the projects. The authors, founders of the inspirational craft kit

company Buttonbag, have a clutch of boys between them so they know from first-hand experience just what appeals. And it shows.

SU Aliens Stink! HHHH

Steve Cole, Simon and Schuster, 9780857078728, £6.99pbk

Now hear me out. The cover of Aliens Stink! definitely has a certain type of boy in mind. You know, that hard-to-reach reader who is unlikely to be browsing the shelves in Waterstones in the first place. The premise – that not only have aliens come to Earth, but they also really pong – similarly feels like a cynical sales pitch. It is the kind of book we think we know.

But here’s the thing. Aliens Stink! is a joyous read: funny and serious and slightly wild, with the pace of a thriller for age 8+.

Tim Gooseheart is a slightly awkward child who sees himself as the biggest freak in the world. All Tim wants is to be the same as everyone else. His dad is a loopy, leftfield scientist who shows no interest in Tim’s feelings. He thinks he has bigger issues to contend with, like saving the planet. But then some seriously strange stuff starts happening on Planet Earth. Pollution is cleaned up overnight.. A sweet smell pervades the air. But when the smell turns into a disgusting stink, it turns out Tim’s dad wasn’t so crazy after all. And Tim might just become a hero after all.

My advice: try not to judge this book by its cover. It may appeal to stink-obsessed nine-year-old boys, but its audience should be much broader than that. Here is a vivid, richly-imagined treat for all to enjoy. LF

The Tiffin HHHHH

Mahtab Narsimhan, Hot Key Books, 208pp, 978-1-4714-0292-0, £5.99 pbk

A young woman places a note in a tiffin box. It is a desperate message to her boyfriend. Unfortunately, the tiffin box is lost. This loss has far-reaching consequences.

Thirteen years later, a young boy, Kunal, is looking for his mother. His life is hard. He works as slave labour in a cafe. Kunal dreams of finding his mother and believes that a new life awaits him. He has befriended a dabbawalla (a man who delivers freshly prepared lunches in tiffin boxes) called Vinayak. One day, Kunal escapes from the cafe and goes to live with Vinayak. He badly wants to become a dabbawalla like Vinayak, but even more than that he wants to find his mother. He thinks that he will be able to find her with the help of the Tiffin service. However, Kunal’s search brings him to the realisation that the love he is looking for might be closer at hand than he thought.

The Tiffin is a thoughtful and beautifully descriptive book that brings both the characters and the story to life. The characters are engaging, but they are realistically portrayed with faults as well as virtues. Both Kunal and Vinayak make mistakes and misunderstand each other. Culture and life in Bombay is also vividly described. It is a vibrant and thriving city, but it can be hard to survive there. This is an extremely good book that involves the reader from the first to the last page. ARa

Books for Keeps No.206 May 2014 27

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