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BfK 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued

after the war. One of these artists was Friedl Dicker-Brandeis who held secret classes for the children in which she taught them to draw and paint, create collages, stitch and sew puppets. ‘There was something about her way of teaching that made us, for the moment, feel free of care,’ wrote one of the children who survived.

Terezín was dressed up as a model camp, a sickening lie that masked the daily horror of disease, overcrowding, tor ture and famine. Families were divided up, Jewish Elders forced to choose which individuals would join the transports to the death camps. When a delegation from the Red Cross visited the camp in 1944, the Nazi stage management of newly painted barracks and hastily erected shops and cafes duped the visitors into believing that it was a ‘model Jewish settlement’.

And yet, amid the squalor and deprivation what sings out is the strength of the human spirit, the will to survive, and the solace and comfort provided by the concerts, operas and plays performed by the inmates, many of whom were professional musicians and conductors.

This is a powerful and moving account of a little known part of Holocaust history, largely because it is told through the voices of those involved. Ruth Thomson is to be congratulated on her meticulous research in piecing together the evidence and presenting the story in such a compelling and graphic way. SU

Midnight Pirates HHHH

Ally Kennan, Scholastic, 227pp, 978 1 407129 88 4, £6.99, hbk

and a potential shipwreck. Really, it’s as unlikely as the tales of fifty years ago with which it shares its basic plot, but Kennan carries it off with humour, attention to detail, some cool characters and touches of realism, particularly about the atmosphere of small West of England seaside resorts, that make the whole thing appear entirely possible. The relationship between the three children is particularly well done. Cal, the eldest of the three siblings, talks in surfer argot (glossary at the back); Jackie, the youngest, is a boy whose daring and sang-froid frequently exasperates his brother and sister, who have to pick up the pieces of his recklessness; and it’s all seen through the eyes of Miranda, a seal loving girl, whom we meet in a brilliant first chapter being fired from her job as a mermaid at Myrmaid Wyrld. Altogether, it’s a book that should have its readers smiling at the children’s predicament, sharing their enjoyment of a special place, wondering about the sinister turn in events, and, finally, thrilling to the twists and turns of the cleverly orchestrated climax.

CB Sea of Whispers HHH

Tim Bowler, Oxford University Press, 224pp, 978-0-19-272839-5, £12.99 hbk

Hetty is an outsider, always at odds with the close-knit community on the island of Mora, where the population is less than 100. Her parents drowned when she was a baby and the 15-year old has grown up with a strong sense of independence, as well as a sensitivity to what she perceives as messages sent from the sea. She collects washed up sea glass in which images of faces appear to her – but what could they be trying to say? Such eccentric behaviour and her protectiveness over the strange old woman who is washed up on the shore after a storm make the island folk suspicious of Hetty. As the community rounds on her, she takes matters into her own hands to save the woman’s life and discover something of her own fate.

This highly atmospheric novel draws the reader into a time before instant communication and life on a tiny island battered by storms, where the sea rules everyday life. Visually, the novel emits darkness, as if you were reading it by candlelight beneath a threatening sky. There is quite a cast of characters, and it be difficult to keep track of them, but island life is evocatively imagined. Hetty’s own history – orphaned, chastised, misunderstood – should demand our sympathy, but her character is steelier than this. When Hetty sets off on her own path, she opens up to the reader as to herself.


Here Ally Kennan updates some adventure story clichés. Three children (and a dog) are, through a series of accidents, left alone in a (possibly haunted) hotel on the Cornish cliffs. Mysterious guests arrive. There are strange goings-on in the caves that riddle the cliffs. Eventually a ship appears in the dead of night and the children help foil an attempt at piracy

Tree of Leaf and Flame HHH

Daniel Morden, ill. Brett Breckon, Pont, 90pp, 978 1 84851 387 7, £9.99, hbk

The origins of the Mabinogi, the mysterious tales of ancient Wales, as Daniel Morden explains in an afterword,

26 Books for Keeps No.198 January 2013

The opening of the second instalment of Cornelia Funke’s new Mirrorworld sequence finds Jacob Reckless desperately seeking a cure for the Dark Fairy’s curse. This was imprinted in a moth-like tattoo on his chest in the first book and is slowly but surely counting out his life. There is no simple answer, and back in the Mirrorworld, and reunited with his shape-shifting companion, Fox, he finds himself

are lost in the mists of its mountains and valleys. It’s appropriate that this re-telling, which compresses all four branches into a single short volume, is the work of a storyteller, for it is probable that these tales were told in some form or another orally before they were written down over six centuries ago. Morden’s version can be read by someone as young as nine or ten and, while eschewing frills or pretension, has a sure grasp of the tales’ drama and mystery. They have a fascinating strangeness, compounded perhaps of Celtic myth and legend and medieval romance: a mixture of unpredictable magic, high adventure, and human nobility and fallibility, located in a Welsh landscape that is the gateway to another world of magic power and danger. I am not too keen on those of Brett Breckon’s scraperboard illustrations which offer por trayals of characters or critical moments. They are too comic book for me. And I feel that, with stories that have accrued elements from different historical periods, any attempt to pin portrayals to a particular time risks losing some of the fascination of the tales. I prefer the smaller enigmatic portraits of animals that appear at the head of each chapter and the full page illustrations that are more symbolic or stylised, like the tree of the title, which is one half leaves, and the other flame. Children, of course, may not agree. There is a useful pronunciation guide for English readers to the Welsh personal and place names in the stories at the back of the book.

CB Fearless HHHHH

Cornelia Funke, trans. Oliver Latsch, Chicken House, 435pp, 978 1 906427 26 9, £6.99, pbk

committed to a ghoulish quest to retrieve the head, hand and heart of Guismond, the long dead notorious witch slayer. Once made whole, the corpse promises somehow to reveal the whereabouts of a deadly crossbow. This weapon, while reputedly having the power to save Jacob if he has the courage to endure its bolt in his heart, is also the most potent engine of war ever seen in the Mirrorworld, with the ability to wipe out entire armies at a stroke. Consequently Jacob finds himself in a race with a rival treasure hunter, Nerron, employed by the King of Lotharaine, a monarch whose political ambitions are as twisted as his spine. Funke’s mining of the rich seam of European folktale, forged and refined by an imagination both fertile and devious (perhaps she, too, has made some diabolical bargain), once more produces a tale that is mesmerising and labyrinthine, rich in details of setting and character, way marked with danger and conflict, as violent and tender as its source material, and full of the thrilling unpredictability of magic and plain humanity, courage and cunning, loyalty and treachery. Funke is one of the few writers for young people who can sustain constant visceral excitement alongside subtle character development, work on a scale that is both epic and personal, and, while telling us only what we need to know, suggest the depth and breadth of a most ambitious creation. And it is not done yet. A third book is on the way. CB

Oblivion HHH

Anthony Horowitz, Walker Books, 672pp, 9781844286232, hbk £16.99

The King of the Old Ones has unleashed chaos on the world. Around the globe famine, natural disasters, exploitation ravage the civilised world. The only possibility of salvation lies with the Five, The Gatekeepers. These are the five teenagers, each endowed with a supernatural power who, in a previous incarnation defeated Chaos. To succeed they must be together. But they have been scattered; one may even have turned traitor. How is it possible that they will be able to meet and face their enemy when they must travel to the King’s citadel, Oblivion?

How do you complete a sequence of five books in which the first four each introduced new characters all vital to the plot; a plot in which adrenalin packed action is unremitting? If you’re Anthony Horowitz, you produce a 600 page blockbuster.

This is a bold book. Horowitz follows each one of his five protagonists as they struggle for survival and journey towards their goal overcoming dangers and personal trials on the way. Though it helps if the reader has followed the action through all the preceding books, Horowitz includes enough background detail to ensure that there is no difficulty in understanding what is happening or why. As a result, the story can seem quite slow moving at times, though there is plenty of explosive action to counter this and reward perseverance.

It is also a very bleak book. The author tackles themes of global warming,

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