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reviews


the main differences between these viewpoints. Big questions to provoke discussion are raised, such as can war ever be justified and what is prison for? We find out about how change happens in politics, including the history of protest. There is a call to action with readers encouraged to become informed by reading widely (and beyond the ‘shouty’ headlines) and to get involved through lobbying, joining an organisation,


debating


ideas. There is helpful guidance on how to argue a point without losing your temper. The book design and layout and attractive with key


is varied


facts introduced on each page and then illustrated and explained with examples and comic strip style images.


The Usborne Quicklinks


online resource provides lots more related information and material, you can take a virtual tour of the Houses of Parliament for example. This is a very useful book which


will give children greater insight into politics and how decisions are made. It will hopefully encourage children to ask questions and may encourage some to become actively involved in politics in the future as well. SMc


Chicken on the Roof HHHH


Matt Goodfellow, ill. Hannah Asen, Otter-Barry, 96pp, 978 1 91095 990 9, £6.99,pbk


This is a varied collection with poems of all shapes and sizes; some are very brief


such as Advice which


offers a tip for climbing Everest – never rest! Word play abounds and the illustrations add to the humour but there are poems which give the reader lots to think about as well. Poems such as The Green Man


and King of the Birds are drawn from folk law with footnotes which provide source information. There are poems based on observations such as Rain Snake, watching water drip down a window and poems based on musings such as Walk thinking about what might be happening in a plane above your head as you walk down below. There are poems reflecting childhood such as ‘Can’t I please just stay in bed?’ which is written in the voice of a child or teen. Hide and Seek recalls the fun of childhood games and An Excellent Stick sparks the imagination; a stick can become a sorcerer’s wand or a ‘thunder forged sword’. There is a sprinkle of magic with I was born a Unicorn. The mood changes with Gone which describes the


loss of a friend (or possibly


girlfriend), and Where our School used to be which tells of time passing and childhood over. There is a poem in praise of libraries and a poem to celebrate hugs. Ending the collection with a poem about bottling memories of a visit to the seaside is an effective choice.


8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued Several of the poems, including


the eponymous Chicken on the Roof (inspired by an actual event) would be a delight to perform- with a friend, a parent or in class. The writer’s experience as a performer shines through


in this enjoyable poetry collection. SMc


The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole


HHHH


Michelle Cuevas, Nosy Crow, 226pp, 978-1-4711-7018-8, £6.99 pbk


Everything you think you know about black holes will be challenged by this thoughtful drama from Michelle Cuevas. Did you know, for example, that


black holes particularly like


devouring fluffy, furry things (like hamsters)? Or that they can be trained to sit and to roll over? Stella didn’t know any of these things either, despite her impressive knowledge of


astronomy. When a dark and


mysterious creature with two bright eyes suddenly arrives in her garden, it is the start of a bizarre and beautiful journey of self-discovery. The book is written as a letter from


Stella to her father, who is no longer with her and is missed deeply. Stella describes


the sadness, emptiness


and darkness that she has felt since his passing: ‘Dark like a shadow’s soul...dark like The Memoir of a Seed.’ Her sad, empty and dark new pet certainly seems to suit her mood. However, Stella soon learns that there are many challenges to owning a pet black hole, chief of which being how to stop it consuming the whole world! There are also a host of advantages to enjoy, though; disposing of garbage, unwanted clothes and any of your annoying little brother’s toys is easy when you have a pet black hole! As Stella navigates these pros and


cons, she is also coming to terms with her own grief. She learns the significance of memory, and what can happen when you try to forget painful things completely. Readers learn that it is not always easy (or necessary) to


discern between


painful episodes from the past and cherished, happy memories, and a beautiful, bittersweet ending portrays this perfectly. There


are many ways to read


and to enjoy this out-of-this-world adventure. Older, ambitious readers will love it as an exciting, existential sci-fi trip. Unanswerable questions and frightfully


clever facts about


the universe accompany moments of deep sentiment and heartbreak. Younger readers will enjoy it, too, as Cuevas also includes many moments of juvenile comedy. The giant stinking hamster


is especially funny, as


is Stella’s weird yet wise younger brother, Cosmo, who poses questions of the universe while puffing on his toy Sherlock Holmes style pipe! Like Cuevas’ previous novels, The Care and Feeding


of a Pet


Black Hole is simultaneously a funny and entertaining adventure, and a meaningful and emotional contemplation


of one of the


challenges children face growing up – in this case coping with loss. It’s also simply a great read for anyone who loves getting geeky about science and space! SD


So You Think You Know About...Diplodocus


So You Think You Know About...Tyrannosaurus Rex


So You Think You Know About...Triceratops


HHHH


Ben Garrod, ill. Ben Garrod, Zephyr, 112pp, £6.99 pbk


So You Think You Know About... Dinosaurs is a new, collectable non-fiction series for children. It is written by television’s Ben Garrod, whose knowledge and enthusiasm for dinosaurs is both impressive and infectious. He combines clear and simple diagrams with conversational yet


informative prose and invites


dinosaur fans to dig a little deeper, beyond merely the most famous of dino-facts. In So You Think You Know About... Diplodocus, Garrod introduces the book by describing how finding worms in his back garden with his granddad inspired him to get into science, and young science fans will certainly be interested by the idea that making the most of the science all around them (collecting minibeasts, finding fossils, gazing at meteor showers) can eventually lead to a career talking about dinosaurs on TV. Eventually, the book delves into


some seriously scientific Diplodocus detail. A range of familiar and fun techniques are used to help young readers understand what are extremely complicated subjects. Cartoons


bring to life possible


battles between a Diplodocus and an Allosaurus, and the important question of whether or not a chicken is a dinosaur (!) is explored through a conversation with a teacher. Despite these efforts to make the


subject matter accessible, there is no denying that this book will take most readers far beyond what they already know about the Diplodocus. Did you know that the Diplodocus is just one member of a group of diplodocinae, from the family of sauropods? Or that they walked the earth during the jurassic period, millions of years before the arrival of Tyrannosaurus Rex? There will be some readers for whom


the depth and complexity of information on offer in this book is a little beyond what they might expect from the colourful, playful cover. However, most children will love the opportunity to show off lots of new knowledge. After all, there is no limit to how geeky one can get about dinsoaurs! In So You Think You Know About...


Triceratops, the famous three-horned herbivore


takes centre stage and offers plenty of surprises. For most


Guest review Billy and the Minpins


HH


Roald Dahl illus Quentin Blake. Puffin, viii, 104pp. 978-0-141-37759-6, £10.99


Much publicity surrounded the


publication of The Minpins in 1991, eight months after the author’s death: ‘told with all the skill and flair of the master storyteller’ (so the


publisher said). A ‘special


presentation proof produced in a limited edition [500 copies]’ was circulated and much play was made over the master’s choice of illustrator, Patrick Benson, after a competition. Dahl, it seems, ‘realised that this particular story would need very detailed and beautiful illustrations – quite a different style to that of Quentin Blake’ (who had been working on Esio Trot at the time). As it turned out, the presence of Benson was the only element worthy of celebration in this final book. The narrative motor was running on idle. The reachmedown plot had the usual bright boy escapes


elements: from over-


caring mother, meets with a Red- Hot, Smoke-Belching Gruncher in the forest that adjoins his garden (funny that nobody knew it was there) and we never meet the other threatened inhabitants with their tired old names: Whangdoodlers, Snozzwangglers and suchlike. Chased by the Gruncher, the boy is instrunental in saving a (similarly unknown) huge population of little people – the Minpins – who live in the forest trees and get about wearing Suction Boots, first invented for the Gremlins who figured in Dahl’s first book. (I never found out if these Minpins were related to the Minnipins a tribe of little people in Carol Kendall’s story of that title published in 1951.) Patrick Benson did indeed do


marvels with this half-baked piece of storytelling. He chose, or was given, a quarto format to work with and responded with masterly watercolours that varied from leafy decorations, to sensitive portrayals of boy, Minpins, and birds who play a role in the destruction of the Gruncher, and there were several full-page depictions both of the details of Minpin life and of Gruncher atmospherics. The brief text, under a new title


and chopped up into ten short chapters, has now been reissued in octavo format, accompanied by workaday pen drawings by Quentin Blake. One must assume that this has been done to complete the totality


of


(it is not widely realised how many illustrators preceded


in


the Dahl/Blake series Quentin


the Dahl oeuvre). It does nothing to infuse new life into the limp story but it is good to know that Patrick Benson’s gallant


attempt


at a rescue operation is to remain in print, presumably with its original title and format. BA


Books for Keeps No.229 March 2018 25


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