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reviews 8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued


follow. There is a mixture of little mini cartoons, big chunks of text, pictures and questions which all keep you on your toes as a reader. You can dip in and out of the book but the double page for each remarkable woman gives you a great flavour of their life with salient points which you can then follow up with more


reading.


Fonts and colours change according to the content and life of the person in question-at one point you have to turn the book on its side to read about Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. The illustrations are all just right, very sparky. This collection of remarkable women spans centuries and continents: from Hatshepsut to Mary Wollstonecraft,


Ada Lovelace, Josephine Baker and Pocahontas. Some of the facts are better known than others but there is lots of excellent information. Lots of the women were incredibly brave and don’t all get to live the life they deserved but the pictures and doodling style make sure it’s not depressing. Instead it’s celebratory; laying out key messages in an attractive and engaging way to inspire a new set of admirers. SG


The Children of Castle Rock HHHH


Natasha Farrant, Faber, 309pp, 9780571323562, £6.99 pbk


A boarding school in remote Scotland, a disparate group of friends gradually


coming together, dangerous high


jinks after lights-out, an end of term parents’ day bringing the year to a triumphant end – so many of the usual clichés but coming over here as fresh, captivating and, until a silly ending, utterly convincing. Eleven- year-old Alice, a remarkably controlled new pupil whose mother has died and whose father is hopeless, steadily makes her way as a new girl, well supported by sympathetic teachers, her own obstinacy and most important of


all, by an author who clearly


likes and admires her. Frequently addressing her audience directly in a manner familiar from E. Nesbit to Enid Blyton, Natasha Farrant writes like an angel and psychologically never puts a foot wrong. So


why only recommendation? a four The reason:


star a


10 – 14 Middle/Secondary A Different Dog HHHH


Paul Jennings, ill. Geoff Kelly, Old Barn Books, 978-1-9106-4642-7, 82pp, £6.99, pbk


Unexpectedly witnessing the aftermath of a fatal road accident presents the main character in this story with big problems; how will he call for help when he can’t speak and what will he do about the dead driver’s strange dog? Referred to throughout only as ‘The boy’ he is desperate to help the dog and desperate also for a dog of his own since the loss of his own beloved Deefer


years before.


Gradually the boy’s story is revealed, we find out about his mother’s struggle with money and that it was the boy’s own fault he lost his beloved Deefer, his fault that after releasing him Deefer killed a neighbour’s pets. Since then the boy has been unable to speak to another human about what


happened or indeed about


anything, only speaking to himself or to animals. Now he has found a new dog to care for and he decides to take him home. A perilous journey follows during which the boy discovers this is no ordinary dog; it is a performing dog with a repertoire of tricks in response to key orders. Others are searching for the missing dog and he is recognised by an unkind group of classmates who torment and exhaust the dog by making him constantly perform his tricks. Eventually the boy and dog reach home and he finds his voice in order to claim the dog as his own and he teaches the dog, now named Chase


to ‘unlearn’ his tricks. The


beginning of a new life together. A well-crafted short novel with an


unusual story from highly acclaimed Australian writer Paul Jennings. This would be a great independent read for children in upper key stage two or lower secondary and a great book to prompt discussion too, exploring the


effects of trauma, the way people


respond to others who are different and the ethics of making animals perform tricks. SMc


The 1,000 Year Old Boy HHHHH


Ross Welford, HarperCollins Children’s Books, 978-0-0082-5694-4, 400pp, £6.99pbk


Ross Welford has already received critical acclaim for his debut Time Travelling with a Hamster, which was


shortlisted for the Branford


Boase Award, and for his second book What Not to do If You Turn Invisible; but The 1,000 Year Old Boy is something really special. The story of a boy and his mother who, thanks to an alchemical potion, are ageless, though not immortal, it’s a skilfully constructed adventure story, full of excitement and humour, and it leaves readers with lots to think about too. Alve, or Alfie to use his 21st century


name, has been eleven for centuries, ever since he used the magic livperler and stopped the ageing process. He should have waited until he was older, but children aren’t generally patient. Since then he’s lived as quietly as possible, he and his mother (and cat Biffa, also accidentally given eternal life) watching the centuries go by. He accumulates vast knowledge, without ever going to school, and meets some interesting people, Charles Dickens for example. Two things happen that make him decide to undo the magic: he loses his mother, and he makes a real friend. To restart his body clock, Alfie must


find the last surviving livperler hidden by his mother hundreds of years ago. It’s not easy – of course – especially when social services get involved (it’s one of the many clever and satisfying aspects


of the book that from limiting opportunities for adventure actually increase them).


And someone else is after Alfie too, a man whose story is closely interwoven with his own. In all of this, Alfie has his new friends Roxy and Aidan – particularly Aidan – there to help. The story is told in alternate chapters by Alfie and Aidan, their voices providing a wonderful contrast, and each one leaves us eager to read the next. A sense not just of history but of


time permeates the book: Alfie’s yearning to grow up, to have proper birthdays, friends that grow up with him, a family of his own, drive the plot. And there’s the revelation of the one thing that he understands more than anyone else on earth: without death, life is just existence. It’s wonderful stuff, yet for all the wealth and depth of ideas, the plot never slows and this is a hugely enjoyable page-turner. MMa


Spirit HHHH


Sally Christie, David Fickling Books, 280pp, 9781910989302, £10.99 hbk


Sally Christie is a special writer. She has the knack of making the everyday seem so much more than its parts but when something extraordinary does take place it is then described almost casually. The younger teenager characters she creates sound just like the real thing but are also given moments when they transcend their normal selves. Their kind parents and teachers also occasionally surprise by saying or doing the otherwise unexpected. This particular story involves shy,


the


intervention of modern life, mobile phones and digital data included, far


taciturn Matt almost committing social suicide when he insists during a game of Truth or Dare that he had actually seen a spirit in a nearby wood. Only one girl in his audience believes him, and along with her younger sister the trio spends time away from everyone else attempting to raise the spirit again. Jazzy, the older girl involved, is also playing Ariel in the school


production of The Tempest, but her former best friend Tash, now feeling discarded, is out for revenge. What finally takes place in the


woods occupies numbers of pages and is confusing for all concerned, including readers, but this is the only time that Christie falters in her narration.


Otherwise Shakespeare,


fairies, teenage romance and a pet dog who is the only one who really knows what is going on all merge into a near-magical story that also manages to keep its fictional feet firmly on the ground. The result is an imaginative treat from an author of true originality who never disappoints. NT


Running on Empty HHHH


S.E. Durrant, Nosy Crow, 226pp, 978 0 85763 740 6, £6.99, pbk


“The thing that makes me different from other eleven-year-old boys, apart from my fantastic running ability, is my parents have learning difficulties. It’s no big deal for me. Really it isn’t. I don’t look after them. We look after each other.” There you have it – the warm heart of this novel: the family relationships; the domestic horizons of the plot; the everyday voice of AJ, its narrator; and a couple of the most important features of his life, since he is indeed both an excellent runner and an intuitive carer for others. That narrative


voice is more


complex than it seems. Certainly, AJ’s language will be accessible to a wide range of readers, as will the setting of his story - his home, his street, his school and the local park, all close to the site of the London Olympics. But AJ is in a difficult place when we meet him. He’s moving from primary to secondary and just at that challenging time he loses his Grandad, who has provided loving stability for AJ’s parents, helping them negotiate the complexities of daily


Books for Keeps No.229 March 2018 27


bafflingly unlikely plot development, fortunately only towards the end of this story, involving


jewel thieves,


cryptic messages, pistol shots and a final huge reward. An author with such a talent to make the everyday seem


endlessly enthralling really


has no need of reaching for such ludicrously over the top heroics. This is not the only novel for this age group published recently that seems to think it is essential to end on an increasingly desperate note of high adventure. But more can also mean less, whatever the audience. Real life can always be made to seem quite interesting and diverting enough in the hands of a gifted novelist, and Farrant is most certainly one of those. NT


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