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BfK 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued windows.


This is Hogwarts meets Stephen King’s The Shining. The remainder of the book is devoted to the quest undertaken by Arthur and George, to set the imaginary friends to rest and to understand the relevance of Arthur’s personal history to the curse.


The characters of Arthur, George and their housemaster Mr Toynbee (a figure strongly reminiscent of Albus Dumbledore) are instantly credible and likeable. The atmosphere of a mixed gender boarding school is credibly maintained. The facilities seem pretty costly compared with a normal comprehensive, but then in schools of this type they very often are. The book includes chapters quoted from the school history written by George’s grandfather. Against the odds these sections fit in well without diminishing the pace of the book, the pace being fast enough to command attention.


I would add one comment. On the front cover of the book we see Arthur gazing at the prospective reader, looking a little like Draco Malfoy. My initial plan was to send my review copy of the book to the eight year old son of a friend, whom I know to like school stories such as the Potter saga. The text is actually much too dark, the nature of the menace too psychologically adult, for such a young reader and for readers of twelve and up. RB


Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact


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A.J Hartley, Razorbill, 448ppp, 9781595144812, £7.99 pbk


For Darwen life has been turned upside down and it is not getting any easier. Following the death of his parents, he finds himself moved to Atlanta Georgia, to live with his aunt. For a young boy from a small town in northern England this is a huge change and going to an upmarket private school, where they mock his accent, does not help. Then one day he stumbles across a weird mirror shop in the local shopping mall and meets the owner, Mr Peregrine. What follows takes Darwen to a magical parallel world where evil forces are trying to break through to our own. With the help of two new friends he must battle to save our world.


This is an imaginative and well plotted book. Like many books dealing with magic it is really about the fight between good and evil, but it is also very much about being different, and finding your own place in the world. Darwen is being forced, although not deliberately, to change his whole personality; it is only when he is allowed to be himself, such as in the football match, that he is able to show his skills and true potential. He is also coming to terms with his parents’ deaths and only towards the end of the story does he start accepting this.


The idea of using mirrors to travel


between worlds has been with us since Lewis Carroll, but this gives a fairly original twist to the concept. This is the first in a series of books and no doubt


Darwen will continue to grow as a character as the series goes on. I look forward to the next offering and to the adventures it will bring.


MP


Geek Inc. Investigating the Impossible: Technoslime Terror!


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Mark Griffiths, ill. Martin Chatterton, Simon And Schuster, 288pp, 978-0-85707-537-6, £6.99 pbk


Barney has just moved north to the town of Blue Hills. In need of something to do at lunch break, he joins Gabby in a club called Geek Inc. Geek Inc. aims to find rational answers to improbable and impossible events. Recently, there has been a lot of weird things going on in Blue Hills. First of all, Lewis Grome, the scruffiest boy in class is behaving oddly. Then there is a grandfather clock that moves and a paper plane that has come to life. All these things have occurred since a lorry, carrying a top-secret formula, crashed. Barney and Gabby set out to find out what is really going on. Can they work out what is happening and stop sinister newspaper editor, Gloria, from using the top-secret formula to take over the school?


Geek Inc. Investigating the Impossible: Technoslime Terror! is written by Mark Griffiths who also wrote the Space Lizards series. Once again, this book is very cleverly written and funny, but though aimed at a slightly older reading age. The fantasy is a bit more involved and the science is a bit more complicated. Despite this, explanations of these elements are simple, clear, and interesting without being intrusive, and it’s always a fast-paced and enjoyable read. Here, as in the Space Lizards series, the main protagonists are both a boy and a girl, making the story an extremely fun and accessible read for both sexes.


ARa Soldier Dog. HHH


Sam Angus, Macmillan, 288pp., 9781447220053, £5.99, pbk.


This is Sam Angus’ first novel and she has chosen to write a story based on the work of the Messenger Dog Service established in 1917, to provide a vital messenger service from the trenches of the First World War. Stanley is the second son of a man who has been changed beyond recognition after the death of his wife. Stanley’s elder brother Tom is at the Front, and Stanley lives a hand to mouth existence helping his father breed and train dogs and horses. But he runs foul of his father after Rocket is allowed to run free on heat and as a consequence have mongrel pups. Stanley tries hard to keep Soldier, the runt of the litter but after he thinks he has seen his father drown the pup, runs away at fourteen to join the army and search for Tom. He is encouraged to join the Messenger Dog Service and trains Bone for this vital work. He is eventually sent to the Front, despite his Commanding Officer’s misgivings


28 Books for Keeps No.198 January 2013


because of his age.. In a harrowing piece of the story, Bone dies after valiantly getting a message through, and Stanley vows to return home, but is persuaded to take on a new dog, Pistol. Against the background of the Battle at Villers-Bretonneux, Pistol is sent out and against all the odds makes it back, through a mustard gas attack and a huge advance by the German troops. But Stanley also suffers under the gas attack and is blinded. He is separated from Pistol whom he thinks has died. Eventually he is repatriated to St. Dunstans where he regains his sight and suffers no ill effects from the gas. There too he is miraculously reunited with his father and Pistol who turns out to be Soldier all along.


This last passage is where the author has let herself down. In trying to give the story a happy ending she has stretched the reader’s incredulity too far and it is a great pity as this is a good story, well told, with graphic descriptions of the Front and most importantly of all, about the bond between boy and dog. Stanley’s story is a poignant one and his character shines through, as does the friendship and care of his fellow soldiers, looking out for one so obviously under-age as must have happened at the time. The toll of the fighting at what was not one of the great battles of the First World War is clearly told and this puts this story at the top end of the age range. The author has done her research and the notes and bibliography will encourage readers to read on.


JF Scramasax HHHHH


Kevin Crossley-Holland, Quercus, 260 pp, 978 1 84724 940 1, £12.99, hbk


Here Kevin Crossley Holland continues the story of Solveig, the redoubtable Viking girl, which he began so memorably in Bracelet of Bones. The previous novel followed Solveig’s epic journey from Norway through the land of the Rus to join her father in Constantinople. Now she accompanies him, the Varangian Guard and an allied force of Greeks in an assault on Muslim Sicily. Once more, in an adventure story that mixes political intrigue, heroic battles, the gentler fascination of new faces and new places, and, for teenage Solveig, a first tragic love, Crossley Holland explores the preoccupations that implicitly characterised his previous book and the four books in his Arthur sequence; asking questions about human conflict, the possibilities of diverse societies and faiths co-existing peacefully and about the differing natures of men and women. These are essentially questions from our own time posed in the past and Crossley Holland is a good enough historian to recognise the difficulty he sets himself, for example, in sending a teenage girl out with a Viking war par ty. Solveig, understandably, does not want to be parted again so soon from her father, but her request is initially firmly rejected by the Viking leaders, including her father, because it has no precedent in Viking custom or legend. It is made possible only because Solveig’s fate is caught up in the power struggle between Harald, the Viking commander and the


Byzantine Empress Zoe: Zone’s determination that Solveig should remain in Constantinople provoking Harald into taking her to Sicily. Crossley Holland once again recreates a plausible historical world through accurate detail and an immersion in what remains to us of Viking culture, revealing a way of thinking and behaving that, although sometimes shocking to Solveig and to us, par ticularly in its cunning and brutality, is nevertheless heroic in its own terms. If Solveig is in some ways, a kind of modern traveller in an ancient land, so strong and clear is Crossley Holland’s characterisation, so deep his knowledge and so beguilingly deployed, that he can convince us that even in such an utterly strange place, there are people entirely like us; and that, in Solveig, we have met someone remarkable both then and now.


CB


101 Poets for Children: A Laureate’s Choice


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Carol Ann Duffy ed., Emily Gravett illus., Macmillan, 194pp, 978 1 4472 0516, hbk £9.99


The laureate’s collection of mostly other people’s poetry is, in some ways, quite conventional, and, in other ways, as a collection for children, rather radical. It’s conventional, perhaps, in concentrating on the pastoral, devoting many pages to the natural world and its creatures. Unconventional in that this a contemplative, even meditative poetry, quietly humorous sometimes, but usually closely observed, precise and evocative, requiring concentration and inviting thoughtfulness from its readers, and only rarely revelling in the sensuousness of sound and rhythm. It’s a mix of the classic and contemporary, although there is a preference, I think, for the modern; and, whether old or new, most of these poems are nor usually found in anthologies for children. Some of the exceptions are poems that I suspect Duffy remembers from her childhood, like The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly and Jabberwocky. There are poets that will be new even to child poetry aficionados and unfamiliar work from poets they do know. Women poets are properly well represented. Duffy gives space to the quirky and to nonsense – Carroll and Lear for instance – but she has little place for the drama and comedy of home, school and leisure time that is the stuff of so much of the best and worst of modern poetry for children. While there are poets here, like Adrian Mitchell, Charles Causley, Jackie Kay and Ted Hughes, who have written children’s collections alongside their adult work; there are none here who write just or predominantly for children, so don’t look for Rosen or Zephaniah. This may reflect Duffy’s own reading. It certainly fulfils her aim of creating a collection that ‘a child can live with for a long time – some poems are lying in wait for future years.’ This is poetry that takes you away from the everyday or, if beginning there, invites you, with Blake, to contemplate a world in a grain of sand. It’s characterised, even in moments of absurdity, by wonder and mystery and tinged with feelings of loss or nostalgia. Emily Gravett provides lively decoration.


CB


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