Charlie and Me: 421 Miles from Home

This is a brilliant, emotional that

focuses on the

8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued On their way to St Bernard’s, the


Mark Lowery, Piccadilly Press, 261pp, 978 1 84812 622 0, £5.99, pbk

story relationship

between a young boy and his brother, as they embark upon a huge journey from their family home in Preston all the way to their favourite holiday destination in Cornwall – just to see a dolphin! They are on their own and they have very little in the way of food or money, but they are utterly determined to make it to all the way to St Bernard’s in time for dolphin o’clock. The story is told by Martin, long- suffering older brother

to Charlie,

who is, to say the least, eccentric. Seriously ill as a child, Charlie has an endearingly weird and wonderful approach to life, chatting merrily with complete strangers, eating ham-and- jam sandwiches and pretending he has CCTV in his belly button.

boys have to contend with fastidious ticket attendants,

scary teenagers

and very hungry tummies. Martin does his best to keep them on track, but Charlie’s tendency


spontaneous acts of stupidity (such as leaving the train when he sees someone he doesn’t like the look of!) make things even harder. The sibling relationship between

the two main characters is thoroughly absorbing. Martin utterly

loves his

brother but can barely tolerate him...a sensation many readers with siblings will recognise! Mark Lowery describes the closeness between the boys with heart-warming detail, and

unnecessary sentiment. Though the story has plenty of funny

and playful moments (two children stuck on a train for hours proves to be a surprisingly rich source of comedy) the overall feeling of the book is one of emotion and drama. This is achieved through Lowery’s wonderful use of first person. Martin shares all his emotions with the reader, whilst

keeping key details hidden, and the result is very

affecting. He offers

flashbacks to the last family holiday in St Bernard’s, and each chapter begins with one of Martin’s own poems. These offer extra clues about the narrative and about Martin’s character. The poems themselves are varied, lively and engaging, and arrive like welcome rest breaks on a long train journey. In Charlie and Me, Mark Lowery has delivered a very special story. Readers will cry with laughter and sadness in equal measure, as they share in the journey of two children on a mission to rediscover whatever the magic ingredient was that made an old family holiday so special. SD


How Billy Brown saved the Queen


Alison Healy, ill. Fintan Taite, Little Island Books, 114pp, 9781910411957, £6.99 pbk

Nine-year-old Billy Brown feels that he is no good at anything, except maths, and who wants to be brilliant at that. But when the country’s beloved Queen Alicia struggles to understand

10 – 14 Middle/Secondary The Goose Road HHHHH

Rowena House, Walker, 375pp, 9781406371673, £7.99 pbk

This is an astounding first novel. Based on a short story which the author has expanded, and set in France during the First World War, it tells of Angelique and her belief that her brother Pascal will return from the First World War trenches, to take over the family farm. She is determined to keep the farm and the herd of geese he loves so much safe for him. When her violent father dies at the front, she discovers that he had mortgaged the farm to pay for his drinking and gambling, and makes the difficult decision to raise the money to buy it back by taking the geese to the north of France to sell to the highest bidder.

Dressed as her

brother and accompanied by her Uncle Gustav, Angelique makes the perilous journey with her precious geese and the gosling, Amandine, she had raised to lead them. From the very first page, the reader is in a small rural village in France, with its group of widows in black, and immersed in Angelique’s difficulties when she cannot in all conscience be sad that her violent father is dead.

Angelique learns of the family history, that

violence begets

Gradually through the story violence, and

comes to understand why her mother still loves and misses her father. The scenes where she meets Gustav’s wife, her father’s sister and comes to see her childhood through different eyes are particularly well done. Angelique’s journey through war-torn

France to Etaples is harrowing. The

reader feels the cold and the hunger. In Etaples she encounters British as well as French soldiers and sees the effect the war has on them, and in a hotel bar she sells her geese driven by her need for the money to pay the debt in an uncharacteristic tour de force. This is an extraordinary novel,

one this reader could not put down, a story of courage and love of one’s country and family, and of the geese, especially There

Napoleon are questions about

Bonaparte! the

reasons for the geese dying, which sparked the original story, and may have been the origins of the Spanish influenza which killed so many, but in the end it is about so much more than that. JF

The Trilogy of Two HHHH

Juman Malouf, Pushkin Press, 200pp, 0781782692041, £7.99 pbk

Charlotte and Sonja are identical twins and musical prodigies. They live with Tatty, their adoptive mother and their home is the circus which travels

through the Outskirts. This

is a world that is being taken over by the cities and difference can attract the attention of the Enforcers. Increasingly their music results in strange talents

occurrences. disappear


Then the


their twins

find themselves in very real danger together with all those


love. The twins must embark on a desperate journey not only to save their world, but to find out who they are themselves.

and immersive fantasy that draws inspiration from the

This is a rich, sprawling, intricate wonderful

imagination of the Arabian Nights as well as such masters as China Miéville and Dickens. Recommend it to young readers who are adventurous and ready for something substantial. We are in a rain-filled dystopia in

which urban sprawl is overwhelming the world,

crushing freedom to

think, to imagine, to be talented, to be different. This is the aim of the Contessa and her son Kats Von Stralen – to capture the essence of Magic, keeping it for themselves. This is the importance of the Seven Edens – the realms of true to be preserved

and of good

imagination protected.

However, this is not just a fantastical adventure

versus bad,

freedom versus enslavement, Malouf is also

in the journey from childhood

interested in relationships, to

adolescence, the growing awareness that leads to maturity, the tensions that exist within families where bonds may be strong but not


members are worthy. The result is an exciting mix. The plot moves at a pace though the journey may take a labyrinthine route. The twins themselves are nicely differentiated with very distinct characters of their own. There is no danger in confusing one with the other and each have something important to add to the story. Adding to the narrative are the delicate line drawings by the author herself bringing together the exotic and the real. Malouf is a new voice to be welcomed. FH

Rebound HHHHH

Kwame Alexander, illus. Dawud Anyabwile, Andersen, 416 pp, 978 1 78344 720 6, £7.99, pbk

Kwame Alexander won the Newbery Medal for his previous verse novel Crossover, published in the U.K. 2015, also by Andersen. This is a worthy successor. Once more, basketball is a preoccupation. The title, like that of its predecessor, refers to a move in the game. It also has another meaning, of course. Charlie Bell’s father has died suddenly from a heart attack and, even more shockingly, right in front

of twelve year old

Charlie. You don’t rebound from that easily. And Charlie feels helpless and angry. He is withdrawn and insecure, arguing with his mom and, for the first time, skipping school. Yet we know, from the very first page, that there is more to Charlie than the pain which has knocked him off his feet like an unexpected move from an opponent; and a lot more than his constant desire for more fashionable trainers. We know this partly through the care of his friends and his regard for them, but also through his own passion for the game, and for life, driven underground but still flowing strongly. We see it in the solitary comfort he finds in superhero comics and his daydreams of dazzling feats on the basketball court, shown in vivid occasional comic strip by Dawud Anyabwile. But most of all we see it in Charlie’s love of language, the verve and drama with which he describes the world. We know this almost from

Books for Keeps No.230 May 2018 27

a very tricky maths problem Billy finds himself in the royal palace in the middle of the night explaining fractions

to the Queen while she

eats a boiled egg in bed. After this surreal encounter, Queen Alicia is so taken with Billy and his family that she decides to come and stay in their home and much hilarity ensues as she discovers the joys of such ordinary things as bottle banks and chocolate digestive biscuits. This first children’s book by Irish

author and journalist Alison Healy is a very funny read, enhanced greatly by Fintan Taite’s comic and lively illustrations.

Billy and the Queen

are both endearing characters who struggle with feeling different and with recognising their own strengths. The supporting cast of family members and royal staff are all memorable, especially Billy’s Gran, an ex-spy. The chaotic situations and colloquial dialogue are laugh out loud funny throughout and this short, sparkling book is highly recommended for any 8+ readers who enjoy a hilarious story with larger than life characters and a warm heart, especially those who find maths difficult. SR

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