reviews 8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued

be further adventures to enjoy. LS Spy Toys: Out of Control


Mark Powers illus Tim Wesson, Bloomsbury, 207pp, 978-1-4088-7088-4, £5.99 pbk

The second in a new series, Spy Towers: Out of Control cleverly mixes action, adventure and the kind of humour that appeals to children and adults. It opens with evil hedgehog Professor

Doompickle and his

dastardly plot to take over the world. Fortunately for humankind, he has reckoned without the Spy Toys: Dan, a teddy bear with super strength; Arabella, a rag doll with a mean karate kick and an attitude to match; and Flax,

robot rabbit. These toy

super-heroes, rejects from the factory that made them but still possessed of computerised brains, now work for the Department of Secret Affairs, righting wrongs and generally putting baddies out of business. No sooner have they dealt with Doompickle than they are on to their next case: a rival toy manufacturer is out to destroy Snaztacular Ultrafun, the company that created them, and in spectacular fashion. Arabella

goes undercover

to work out who is behind this piece of crazed industrial espionage, and it all reaches a thrilling climax on an airborne helter skelter hurtling through the air towards a nuclear power plant: James Bond, eat your heart out! Daft as it sounds, the plot actually

makes perfect sense, and the three toys are

distinct and appealing

characters. Packed with super-hero and action-hero in jokes, and some sharp-ish digs at modern life, the humour works on different levels, and this will be favourite bedtime or story- time reading for children and grown- ups alike. MMa

A Place Called Perfect HHH

Helena Duggan, Usborne, 363pp, 9781474924160, £6.99 pbk

Violet does not want to move to the town of Perfect, but when her father is offered a dream job at Archers’ Opticians she has no choice.


quickly realises that life in Perfect is not so perfect at all as everyone in the town has to wear rose-tinted glasses, supplied

by the sinister Archer

brothers, to stop them going blind. All behaviour is expected to be creepily perfect and the town’s population is unwittingly controlled via the free provision of delicious Archers’ tea. As Violet’s own sight starts to decline, her mother turns into a baking automaton and her father disappears, Violet sets out to save her family and the town, aided by the invisible Boy and her own courage and resourcefulness. This quirky, creepy mystery

adventure story is an original debut that should intrigue 9+ readers who like their stories with an offbeat,

uneasy atmosphere. There are plenty of macabre details, particularly


do with eyes, and some fast-paced action but the plot does become rather over-complicated by the end and readers will need to concentrate. This book provides plenty of dark humour amidst the action and some key messages about not following the

crowd, being brave, looking

beneath the surface and resisting controlling bullies. Those readers who are hooked into the strange world of Perfect can look forward to the sequel indicated at the end of the book. SR

Abel’s Island HHHHH

William Steig, Pushkin, 128pp, 978-1-7826-9147-1, £8.99, pbk

When Pushkin Press is not bringing us wonderful stories in translation, it’s giving re-issues to once-loved English texts that have unaccountably dropped- out of print. This, by idiosyncratic American author and illustrator William Steig, which first appeared forty years ago, is a quirky take on the theme of desert island survival. The castaway is Abel, a rather self-satisfied mouse who lives a life of genteel turn of the twentieth century respectability. Picnicking on champagne and caviar with his adored wife Amanda, they are overtaken by a horrendous storm; and, chasing Amada’s fly away scarf, Abel is swept away down river to land up on an island. To begin with, he is smugly confident of his ability to survive, but, after various attempts to escape have failed, he sets to making himself a shelter and finding food, all the while rather resentful that no one has arrived to rescue him. In text and illustration, Steig follows Abel’s continuing schemes for escape, his thoughts of home and his love for Amanda, and his attempts to fill his time as summer turns to autumn and then to winter. From having led a privileged life, in which he has never done a day’s work, he becomes steadily more resourceful, more aware of the world around him, and, in a life changing moment, turns to sculpture, to give some tangible form to his memories of Amanda and his family. He lives through winter and avoids the attentions of an owl. He makes friends with a frog with whom he converses about the meaning of life. And then, after a year, he makes his escape and, surviving a final hair- raising encounter with a cat, returns home to Amanda a changed mouse. It’s a tale that, like Russell Hoban’s contemporary The Mouse and His Child, uses small animals (and toys) to make an existentialist approach to

life meaningful to a younger

audience, as we watch Abel grow into self-consciousness facing up to the challenges of survival, buoyed up only by his love for Amanda. But there’s no need for any reader to get out of their philosophical depth. Perhaps best shared between an adult and a child (or perhaps read by a thoughtful teenager),

there is enough real jeopardy, emotional insight and dry humour in the tale to keep anyone satisfied. CB

The Snow Angel HHHH

Lauren St John, ill Catherine Hyde, Zephyr, 210pp, 978-1-7866-9589-5, £10.99 hbk

Makena longs to be a mountain

guide like her father and her dream is to climb Mount Kenya with him. Her most treasured possession is a jar of melted snow from a glacier her beloved Baba had brought back for her. On her first trek with him she is spooked by the cackle of hyenas at night but her feeling of unease is mitigated when she spots a beautiful bat-eared fox. Back home her parents leave her

in the care of friends while they go to look after a sick Aunt in Sierra Leone. Makena has never been apart from her warm and loving family before but after her parents do not return from their week away she becomes increasingly anxious and that is when she discovers Ebola has struck and her parents will not be returning. Makena is then farmed out to a half-uncle and his wife Pricilla who immediately uses her as an unpaid babysitter for her children and takes the money meant

for Makena’s

education to buy herself fashionable clothes. When Makena is thrown out of the house by her step-uncle as his wife is terrified of catching Ebola she decides to go back to Nairobi. Lonely and afraid she does not know who to turn to once there but is found by an albino girl, Snow who lives in the slums. They soon become firm friends and are enjoying a rare moment of happiness

on Makena’s birthday

when a bulldozer raises their part of the slum to the ground and they become separated.

In the nick

of time Makena is found by an aid worker and taken back to Hope 4 Africa Home for Girls. There Makena is slowly nursed back to health by Helen and her team but when she finally wakes up Helen has gone back to her home Scotland for a family bereavement.

Even when Helen

brings her to Scotland for Christmas Makena feels let down and cannot believe that anyone will want to care for her.

Everything nearly ends in

disaster until the magical fox comes back to save her. This is a life-affirming and moving

story which packs a similar emotional punch to a Michael Morpurgo novel. It’s a tad uneven in places and tough issues are not glossed over but it is such a compelling and compassionate tale that it carries you along willingly. Courage and love shine through the heartbreak. Lauren St John’s skill in setting the scene is evident in her depiction of both the warmth and colour of Africa and the colder but equally dramatic landscape of the Scottish Highlands - so evocative and visual you feel you are standing there with Makena. This is a gem of a book. The illustrations will be gorgeous too

judging by the few seen in the proof.JC

The Island at the End of Everything


Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Chicken House, 250pp,978 1 910002 76 6, £6.99 pbk

This story is set on Culion, an island off


real leper colony existed for many decades. mother

helping her mother

Phillipines coast where a Ami lives with her adored special

Nanay who is ‘touched’ plant

flowers to attract the butterflies she loves in their meagre garden. Their lives are changed forever by

the arrival of a Government official Mr Zamora who decrees that the island must be divided into clean and unclean - sano and leprosa.


children are to be taken from their families and sent to an orphanage on the next island in the belief they will be offered a better chance in life. So Ami finds herself ripped from all she knows and packed off on a boat with other children to the neighbouring island Coron along with Mr Zamora and his butterfly collecting paraphernalia as he is also a lepidopterist. Ami takes the smallest boy Kidlat under her wing as he is heartbroken to be leaving his family. Although the nuns on Culon are kind Mr Zamora rules with a rod of iron. He is horrified by leprosy and avoids

the children for fear he might catch the


coming into He

room are cruelly

them letters from home and has a particular dislike for Ami. Zamora’s

hundreds of

butterflies – the children are shocked to find he is chloroforming them to kill them and study them – the evidence pinned to the wall of his hut in rigid rows yet he becomes so animated when talking about them. Ami soon becomes firm friends with a rather lonely girl Mari. When Mari defies Mr Zamora and brings Ami a letter she found addressed to her friend hidden in a box he threatens Mari with the workhouse.

The letter carries bad

news for Ami as her mother is ill so the children decide their only way back to Culion is to escape. repair a sunken boat and set

They off

joined at the last minute by Kidlat who had secretly followed

Although Mari and Kidlat them.

They manage to reach the island surviving the many dangers along on the way.

are captured by Mr Zamora who is furious at the children’s defiance the kind nun Sister Margaritte creates a diversion to allow Ami some precious time with her terminally ill mother. The story ends ties up loose ends in an epilogue 30 years later. It took a little while to get into

the story but the beautifully written and jewelled prose creates a vivid picture of the prejudices, ignorance and everyday cruelties inflicted on a marginalised bonds

community. of The

shine through although at times the emotionally

family love and loyalty charged story feels a

Books for Keeps No.226 September 2017 25 contact with

denies In Mr

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