BfK 8 – 10 Junior/Middle Book HHHHH
John Agard, ill. Neil Packer, Walker, 978 0 7445 4478 7, 144pp, £12.99hbk
A few years ago E.H. Gombrich’s A Little History of the World was republished in English by Yale University Press. Originally published in German in 1936, it is one of the classic children’s information books. It is a triumph of synthesis, simplicity and clarity, conveying its astonishing erudition, imagination and humanity with a storytelling style that is never patronising but assumes in its reader an inexhaustible curiousity. I mention it now because John Agard’s brilliant little book reminds me so much of Gombrich, even if about a much smaller subject, It begins, ‘My name is book and this is the story of my life…’; and for the next 140 odd pages, Agard, in this eloquent disguise, holds us spellbound as he takes us from stories round the campfire and cave paintings to the e-book. Simple, direct and conversational, this is a tale nevertheless told with wit, passion and ingenuity: the art that conceals art. It is supported by some equally brilliant black and white illustrations by Neil Packer, and design and production from Walker that does justice to author, illustrator and subject. It’s more than fifty years since an information book was even considered for awards like the Carnegie and Greenaway. Next year, I will be nominating this one for both. CB
Werewolf Club Rules HHHH
Joseph Coelho, illus John O’Leary, Frances Lincoln Children’s Books, 9781847804525, 96pp, £6.99 pbk
Poetry for children is dead. Really? Not when there are young poets like Joseph Coelho. It is probably true that the nature of poetry for children has changed, but that is as it should be. Just as novels for young people today reflect the world they live in, so does their poetry. Humour rather than reflection has become very much the order of the day. However, the poets that stand out are those who combine humour with subtle thought; who play with words.
This is Joseph Coelho’s first collection. Taking the familiar world of the primary school he explores relationships with teachers, the events that make up the school day, the children and the parents in succinct, contemporary verses. Throughout them all runs an awareness of language and a love of words, their colours, their sounds, their playfulness and depths. Deceptively simple, these are poems that really do need to be read out aloud to be fully appreciated; it is perhaps, relevant that Joseph is a
performance poet himself. Young readers are already familiar with stars such as McGough, Rosen, Ahlberg and Magee. Let us hope they will become as familiar with Joseph Coelho’s work as he develops. FH
Chris Hill, Chicken House, 9781908435149, 220pp, £5.99 pbk
This is an enchanting tale of Lucky, a young red squirrel who finds himself living with a clan of grey squirrels after being abducted and then dropped by a bird of prey. His new home is totally unfamiliar and full of dangers, not least from other clans of squirrels who are competing for the same food supplies and territory. It is a story about family, loyalty and friendship but with the obligatory villains who are out to gain power at any cost; evil uncles exist even in squirrel society. Importantly these are real animals and behave as such, rather than being pseudo-humans. Whilst the squirrels are the focus of the main plot they have a supporting cast of dogs and a young city fox who must be a great trial to her mother!
Lucky is the first published work by Chris Hill and it augurs well for her future as a writer for young children. It is full of adventure and action giving us a real desire to follow the story. The characters are delightful and whilst there are moments of danger and even bloodshed, there is also friendship and humour. This follows on the tradition of so many other animal based stories but its setting in a park allows for a mix of the wild and the tame; emphasizing how animals have adapted to their environment over the years. It is so good to find such well written books being produced for the newly confident readers. There is an excellent plot, well-paced, and with strong characters and a sense that this has an important underlying message to us all. I look forward to seeing more from this author. The book itself will do very well with lower KS2 pupils and younger children who are strong readers.
The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard
Julia Lee, Oxford, 9780192733696, 320pp, £6.99 pbk
When Gully meets Agnes Glass, the over-protected daughter of his employer’s best customer, he little realises their friendship will not only lead to danger and adventure, but also to the discovery of a very useful gift; for Gully can ‘find’ things that are lost. He can ‘see’ them. This will prove to be crucial as Gully becomes embroiled against his will in the criminal plans of Nathan Boldree. How will it end?
This is Julia Lee’s second book, and 24 Books for Keeps No.208 September 2014
Mountwood School for Ghosts
Toby Ibbotson, Macmillan, 9781447271000, 272pp, £12.99hbk
The Great Hagges are bored - and disturbed. The quality of hauntings has declined, today’s ghosts are letting the side down. Their solution is to set up an exclusive school for ghosts: so Mountwood School is founded and students invited to register.
Toby Ibbotson takes up the pen which his mother, Eva, laid down. The result is a story full of the vigour, fun, warmth and easy storytelling that are the hallmarks of her writing. There is nothing new - the plot follows well worn paths in which a group of ill-assorted ( and often rather hideous) ghosts each with their own tragedy (usually somewhat ridiculous) band together to help humans in distress. The situation has been created by greed and the selfishness it generates - a favourite theme in Ibbotson’s books. The villains are suitably nasty; there is little room for gray. The values of family and community are firmly upheld. Our heroes Percy,
once again features the wonderfully chaotic Marvel family. They are characters that readers will want to meet again and again from the flamboyant Tiffany trying to establish a career as a dancer to the self-sufficient Impey - and, of course, Gully with his unusual gift. Set against a Victorian background, the plot is as over-dressed as the period. However, it moves at such a pace the reader cannot help but be swept up and swept along in the action. The twist and turns are labyrinthine - but it all ends well. A lively style presenting lively characters all a bit larger than life makes this a thoroughly enjoyable read for confident readers in KS2 moving to KS3. I look forward to more.
Violet and the Pearl of the Orient
Harriet Whitehorn, illus Becka Moor, Simon and Schuster, 192pp, 978-1471122613, £8.99 hbk
Violet and the Pearl of the Orient is Harriet Whitehorn’s debut children’s book, but it is an adventure brimful of charm, told with brio and a good deal of panache.
Violet lives with her parents in a ‘very stylish and incredibly tidy flat’. They share the garden with all the other children and grown-ups who live around it. An illustrated double page spread introduces the cast of characters to the reader by telling us about their favourite things to eat, a typically economical and clever bit of description. At first everything in the garden is lovely, well except for Violet’s best friend Rose’s mean older brother Stanley, but then a new family move in. Violet takes an immediate dislike to the Count and Countess Du Plicitous and their daughter Isabella, and no wonder: they’re snobby and thoroughly unpleasant. When the Countess starts talking jewels and mentions her favourite costume jeweller Mr. Frederick Orger, readers’ suspicions should be aroused. Sure enough, when a valuable piece of jewellery is stolen from Violet’s favourite neighbour, former Hollywood starlet Dee Dee Derota, the finger points at the Du Plicitouses. Violet can see this, but she’ll have a hard job to convince her parents, let alone the police.
Crime solving children are nothing new of course, but the setting and Whitehorn’s writing, as stylish and
Daniel and Charlotte together with the indomitable Mrs Wilder are easy to like; you want them to succeed. While adult readers might look for subtlety, young readers will be very satisfied with the certainties of the storytelling. This is made particularly accessible by the humour which pervades the whole. Like Dahl, the author understands the value of making your audience laugh. A more than worthy addition to the canon and one to be welcomed by fans, young and old. FH
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