reviews 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued

gone so wrong. Why are the new state orphanages so very punitive,


that most of the other adults in this story still seem sane enough, apart from the dreaded ‘Hubbers’ manning the ever-present spying systems? And having the children finally bring down a tyrannous government in addition to making it over the border is surely taking several steps too far. Yet if the final version is both too long and too unlikely, there are still some excellent moments from a writer worth keeping a respectful eye on in the future. NT

Tortot, The Cold Fish Who Lost

His World And Found His Heart HHHH

Benny Lindelauf, ill.Ludwig Volbeda, translated by Laura Watkinson, Pushkin, 237pp, 9781782691549, £12.99 hbk

This powerful fable about the madness and absurdities of war is written by a multi award-winning Dutch children’s book author.

It tells the tale

Wars between unspecified European empires.


interminable prides

himself on

being detached and unemotional and on always being able to switch sides at just the right moment.

But one

day Tortot finds a surprise hidden in a barrel of gherkins, a boy soldier who has lost his brothers and his legs in battle. Tortot nicknames the boy Half- George and, gradually, his cold heart begins to thaw as affection grows and memories of his own childhood return, leading him to use his wit and culinary skill to bring the never-ending war to a close. This is an unusual book, difficult to

categorise and place in any particular age range.

It is at once grim and

moving, blackly humorous and harshly violent, a timeless fable and a sharp skewering of the absurdity and vanity of power struggles. to

It should appeal thoughtful readers from older

juniors, through teens to adults. It will particularly appeal to those readers who love to pore over minutely detailed illustrations as the production of the book is stunning, from its distinctive oblong shape to the complex, intricate illustrations and diagrams that surround and expand the text. The sheer achievement of Dutch illustrator Ludwig Volbeda, here illustrating his first children’s book, is remarkable and the combination of witty, bleak, fantastical and meandering text with world-creating illustrations should fascinate readers and compel thought and attention. SR

Defenders: Pitch Invasion HHHH

Tom Palmer, ill. David Shephard, Barrington Stoke, 105pp, 978-1-7811-2731-5, £6.99 pbk

Seth is a young lad who has special sight-he can see into the past. He has a friend who is fascinated by history


Tortot, a field chef cooking wonderful food for whichever army is currently winning the


and helps him place what he sees into a context. This is the basis of the Defenders series of which Pitch Invasion is the third. The series is part of the Conkers list for Barrington Stoke which offers a good story with high quality fiction to support older children who struggle with reading. The book is a mystery story with added human interest about relationships and also contains a timely message about tolerance and humanity in general. Seth’s Mum is waiting for


results of recent tests to find out whether she finally has the all clear from cancer. Instead of waiting at home she takes Seth to a village in Cornwall where she used to spend her childhood holidays. The relationship between her and Seth is written in a very touching way. Seth’s Mum knows he has this special sight as his Dad also had it before he passed away, so he is able to share what he sees with his Mum and also his friend. He sees a very gory sight on an old fort site-a severed head on a stake. He consults with his friend and she explains this would have been a defence against intruders in an iron aged fort. He

also refugee boys

befriends two Syrian when

in Cornwall

and their story and the Iron Age village story are intertwined cleverly throughout the book. Seth needs to bring these two parts together in order to gain peace for everybody. The story is indeed a good, pacy

read with illustrations to help it along and support understanding. It’s perfect for an older reader who really needs a decent gripping story but might be overwhelmed by too chunky a text. I’d be happy to go backwards in time and read the other two now –Seth is a likeable character and I think readers will be able to empathise very well with him and others in the story. SG


Andy Mulligan, Pushkin, 245pp, 9781782691716, £10.99 hbk

This edgy, unsettling story features talking animals and their


relationships with the human world. Even fleas and moths are granted adult understanding and voices, yet at other moments they behave like the animals and insects they are. This paradox sometimes jars, as when Spider, the supremely intelligent and articulate dog of the title, suddenly and inexplicably decides to wreck his young master’s room, thereby putting everyone in grave danger. But Mulligan is a good writer and always manages to convince. He treats his motley cast of characters with a cool detachment reminiscent of a Russell Hoban or Richard Jefferies, spinning his fictional web with all the skills of Thread, a malicious spider who is another main character. Human-animal stories often tend to end happily on a note of mutual

congratulation, species to species.

This story ends cheerfully too after some last moment melodramatics it could have done without. But it remains a troubling tale. Descriptions of

general misery accompany

moments of terrible danger arising from bullying, misunderstandings and a capacity on both sides, human and animal, to do the wrong thing without wishing to. There are also questions that are not always answered. Is it fair to blame the spider for capturing and ‘torturing’ a moth? Are there really industrial plants that melt down stray animals into pet food? If Tom, the eleven-year-old hero of the story, won’t talk to his estranged mother when she phones every day for six months, how about a home visit? But never mind; this is still good, original writing that in every other way remains grippingly readable right through to the end. NT


Andrew Norriss, David Fickling Books, 264pp, 9781788450096, £10.99 hbk

This novel tells the story of 15 year-old Floyd Beresford, a major tennis star in the making who suddenly decides to quit the game for good. Coached by his enthusiastic but basically caring father, always referred to in the text as Mr Beresford, Floyd is compelled to make this move by the increasing appearances of Mike, a figure around the same age who can only be seen by him. Once Mike actually stops him serving during an important match, it is time to call in the psychologist. Enter Dr Pinner, a figure much given

to consuming tea and cake during his consultations. He and Floyd work out that Mike is in fact a projection of Floyd’s hidden dissatisfaction with tennis as an all-consuming future career, a state of mind he has up to that point kept secret both from his parents and himself. Told in curiously flattened prose, this

could read like an unusually interesting case history, with Floyd very much a patient rather than a rounded individual. We hear almost nothing about his time at school, and his feelings for his peer group and the opposite sex also hardly come into it until he meets Charity, a charming American girl of the same age. But now things are getting more complicated, with psychology straying into parapsychology. Because Charity can see Mike too, and this normally taciturn but occasional conversational Spirit also starts helping Floyd make decisions based on what has yet to happen while also revealing an inexplicable mastery of Ancient Greek. All works out well at the end, and the basic plot remains intriguing even while Floyd, his parents, Charity and a few other bit parts remain two-dimensional figures. Reminiscent in its measured prose and general tamping down of emotions of a benign ghost story written a hundred years ago, there is still much to enjoy though potentially troubling possibilities never get raised. Would other characters really accept the presence of Mike so readily even if he remains invisible to them? And what if Mike sometimes gave Floyd bad advice? Part psychological study, part ghost story, this readable but enigmatic story hovers between the two without ever quite deciding which genre finally to plump for. NT

14+ Secondary/Adult Star by Star HHHHH

Sheena Wilkinson, Little Island, 987-1-9104-1153-7, £6.99 pbk

Set in 1918 at the end of the WW1 this is the riveting tale of a young woman fighting for what she believes in with determination and passion. Stella has been brought by up her single mother, a suffragette who has recently died from the ‘flu pandemic raging through the country. Her aunt whom she has never met takes her in and the story opens with Stella’s journey to the boarding house her aunt runs in a coastal town not far from Belfast. Cliffside House is a far cry from central Manchester where Stella grew up and her modern ways and outspoken views are a bit of shock to the few inhabitants of the boarding house.

But Stella, keen to

help soon proves to be invaluable clearing the garden and helping with the housework and even coaxing the young soldier Sandy who is recovering from his trauma at The Front out of his room.

Stella also tracks down her

mother’s best friend Rose who had become estranged from her mother and she finds out a lot more about

Books for Keeps No.228 January 2018 29

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32