BfK 8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued
to be a witch and adores her new familiar, a kitten called Jinx. The only thing she is worried about is the fact that she has to keep it secret from her best friend, Holly. Holly desperately wants to be a magician but is not very good at magic tricks. She is also very shy and does not want to do a magic trick in the school talent show. Trix really wants it to be a success for Holly, but should she use her magic to help?
The Witching Hour is the first book in the Magic Trix series. Its fun story underlines the importance of kindness and friendship. It is also designed to appeal strongly to girl readers. The witchcraft theme is extremely engaging and follows the current trend for magical fantasy. Finally, the book can be read alone by confident readers.
Tom Gates Genius Ideas (Mostly)
Liz Pichon, Scholastic, 320pp, 978 1 407134 50 5 £6.99 pbk
Tom Gates uses words and drawings, scribbles and doodles to recount his everyday experiences of school and home. In this, the fourth book in the series, sports figure large in the telling. To Tom’s deep embarrassment, Dad starts working out, dressed in bright blue cycling shorts, and teacher Mr Fullerton shows his competitive streak by getting his class to practise endlessly for sports’ day. At the same time, auditions for the talent show competition are underway, classmate Marcus continues to annoy and sister Delia’s hair turns green.
The first-person account, mainly in the present tense, is very funny and spontaneous, with one event or portion of the day folding seamlessly into the next. It is also effective in creating strong and convincing characters. Tom comes across as fully rounded – and someone with whom we’d like to be friends. He’s cheerful, friendly and observant, intelligent and good-natured – and has a very special outlook on life. In this story – as in the whole series – pictures and visuals have as much importance as words and even form part of the sentence structure. Fonts in varying size and style and the use of capital letters add exuberance to every page, a trait reinforced if you flip through the pages quickly, which will make the bug
in the right-hand corner start to dance. This is a thoroughly original, joyous and addictive read.
AF Queenie HHHH
Jacqueline Wilson, Doubleday, 416pp, 9780857531117, £12.99, hbk
This is the book Jacqueline Wilson was born to write. Born, in the sense that it is her first fiction to feature a child of the 1950s, as she herself was. And as you might expect, she pulls it off splendidly. Like a hanky drenched in the Coty’s L’Aimant perfume favoured by the mother of its heroine, Queenie positively reeks of a seemingly far off era when TB was the blight of many children’s lives. And yet the immediacy of its telling reminds present day young readers that it is also a time very much in living memory, over which our own same Queen presided.
Elsie Kettle lives in a small basement flat with her beloved Nan, the mainstay of a life into which her glamorous but flighty mother flits only occasionally. It is 1953, and Elsie and Nan are excitedly planning a trip to London to see the Coronation. But then disaster strikes when both grandmother and granddaughter contract TB, and whilst Nan ends in a sanatorium, in a bad way and coughing up blood, Elsie is dispatched to a children’s orthopaedic hospital. With months of bed rest on the cards, a traumatised Elsie struggles to adjust. But she soon befriends kind Nurse Gabriel, and Queenie, Blyton Ward’s majestic white cat, and before long she is cheering up the other children by telling them magical stories every night. Sadly, Elsie has to miss the Coronation. But one day shortly afterwards, a very special visitor arrives.
This is not Jacqueline Wilson’s most compelling story, and nor does it have the raw urgency of many of her contemporary dramas, although Elsie’s floozy of a mum is a fitting 1950s counterpart to the neglectful mother in Lily Alone. But as an engaging and touching evocation of the period, it is a consummate treat. Reading it is like curling up with the satin beribboned box of chocolates, given to Elsie by one of her ‘uncles’. The story is crammed throughout with other delicious period details too: tinned peaches and evvapy milk, Frankie Vaughan, Tizer, Muffin
the Mule, Butlin’s and Girl comic (revealed in Jacky Daydream as Wilson’s own favourite).
From “the wind might change and you’ll be stuck like that”, to “she’s no better than she ought to be”, Wilson has also trawled her childhood for amusing turns of phrase of the day. Yet at the same time, she also manages to provide her young readers with a remarkably detailed crash course in child orthopaedics, and a sobering account of a time – not so long ago - when modern medicine still hadn’t conquered TB, and many children were doomed to walk in callipers.
Queenie is the perfect book to share with a grandparent who remembers the 1950s first-hand. And, enrobed in one of Nick Sharratt’s most scrumptious cover treatments to date, it’s a fitting Coronation commemorative too.
Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom
Wendy Meddour, ill. Mina May, Oxford University Press, 170pp, 978-0-19-279463-5, £5.99 pbk
bottom. Unfortunately, the crocodile creates mayhem when it goes on stage. Next, she has to go and watch her best friend, Florence’s, dance class. Wendy accidentally gets drafted in to dance because of her sensible shoes, but she and Florence cannot appear in the production because Florence is allergic to face paint. Finally, Wendy achieves the fame she so desires when she dresses up for as a girl with the plague for a school project, and then captures the school rat, Kevin. The whole episode is a complete disaster but Wendy manages to get her picture in the local newspaper.
Wendy Quill is a Crocodile’s Bottom is a hilarious and highly entertaining story about a little girl’s attempts to get famous. It is split into three chapters. Each chapter contains a separate episode or adventure about school, friendship and family life. Its chapter structure is helpful to newly confident readers. Finally, it is the first standalone book in a series that is designed to appeal to girls.
Pip Street A Whiskery Mystery
Jo Simmons, ill Steve Wells, Scholastic, 176pp Scholastic 978-1-407132-81-5 £5.99 pbk
When Bobby moves to Pip Street, it seems at first to be an ordinary street. However, it doesn’t take Bobby long to discover that things keep disappearing, mostly cats, including his own. With the help of Imelda, his small and comical next door neighbour, who has a ‘look in her eyes as fierce as lemons’ and a fondness for dressing up, he sets out to solve the mystery, quizzing the peculiar collection of neighbours: Jeff the Chalk, the Rhubarb family and Mother Pie to name but a few. Of course after careful investigation and a bit of good luck they unravel the mystery and the missing cats are rescued.
Wendy Quill wants to become a little bit famous. However, there are quite a few pitfalls to overcome in order to do this. First, she fails to get a lead role in the school production of Peter Pan. However, this does not put her off. So she puts all her energy into being the crocodile’s
A humorous story, this is Jo Simmons’ debut children’s book, with the next one already planned for release later in the year. A small chunky format will appeal to young readers, and the black and white illustrations on every page add humour to the proceedings. As an added bonus the reader will find activities in the back of the book such as a quiz and wordsearch. An entertaining and easy to digest book, although perhaps a little too much toilet humour for some readers’ tastes.
LR 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary Moon Bear HHHH
Gill Lewis, Oxford, 304pp, 97801927935539, £8.99 pbk
Bear bile, extracted from the gall bladder of black bears (moon bears), is in traditional Chinese medicine, credited with the ability to heal a myriad of adverse conditions, from cancer to hangovers. The bile is usually obtained by capturing bears in their native SE Asian countries. This appalling, though lucrative, practice is carried out in ‘bear farms’, such as the one Tam, aged 12, is sent to work in when his father dies in a landmine explosion. Tam’s family has
been exiled when their village’s land is seized in the cause of ‘progress’. The death of his father means that Tam, too young for the hard work of farming the inhospitable land of their new home, is now the wage-earner for his family.
Moon Bear is not for the faint-hearted. Conditions for the caged bears in the city bear farm are brutal, and conditions for Tam, exploited by ‘the Doctor’, his boss, are not good either. Nursing a sick baby bear gives Tam a purpose; the developing rapport between him and the young animal makes Tam determined that somehow he and his charge must get away from the farm, providing an edge-of-the-seat story as he struggles to outwit the cruel Doctor.
26 Books for Keeps No.200 May 2013
Lewis delicately captures the misty, beautiful air of the mountain landscape of Laos and the contrasting bustling traffic-filled streets of the city. Description is not overdone, but anyone who has been to the magical land of Laos, or seen documentaries about it on television, will easily visualise the settings. This contrasts with the brutality of the conditions in which the bears are kept.
Moon Bear raises questions about the exploitation of indigenous people in the cause of modernisation and the exploitation of animals in the cause of traditional medicine. Tam’s story has a happy outcome, but it will rightly cause readers to reflect on issues such as these.
VC A Twist of Fortune HHHH
Barbara Mitchelhill, Andersen Press, 240pp, 978-1849395625, £6.99 pbk
A Twist of Fortune is a vivid, enthralling historical adventure by an author so skilled in the field that she makes it look easy. Our young narrator Sam Pargeter lives a humble but happy life in the English countryside. All is well until his father loses his job on the local farm and leaves for America, hoping to make his fortune. Within a few short months, his family have lost contact with him, and Sam’s mother falls ill and dies. Sam and his younger
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