tidy as Violet’s flat, give this particular appeal. Young readers, particularly fans of Lauren Child, will be very taken with Violet and her world. Illustrations by Becka Moor match the lively style perfectly. There are more adventures for Violet to come.
LS Billy’s Blitz HHHH
Barbara Mitchelhill, Andersen Press, 9781783440856, 240pp, £6.99 pbk
Billy longs to ride round the streets on his father’s milkcart drawn by Mr Asquith, the horse. But it doesn’t look likely. War has been declared and his father has left to fight in France. Life changes, but Billy still has his mum, his little sister and his dog. Then a bomb falls on the shelter. Can Billy keep his little sister safe and find their mother? He will have to be brave and resourceful.
This is an enjoyable and very readable addition to the shelf of novels about World War II. Set firmly in London - indeed, specifically in Balham - during the Blitz, it does not feature daring escapes across foreign territory. Rather it is a realistic portrait of what it must have been like to live in London at the time. Billy is a very ordinary boy, someone young readers will easily recognise. Though details of his life may be different, and the situation in which he finds himself extraordinary, nevertheless it is not unimaginable. Billy’s reactions are both human and believable. The London setting adds to the immediacy; it would be easy to follow Billy’s journey on the map. Recommended.
FH Quest HHHHH
Aaron Becker, Walker Books, 978 1 4063 5766 0, 40pp, £12.99 hbk
Two friends have a surprising encounter as they interrupt their bike ride to shelter from rain in a park. A strangely dressed king emerges from a doorway and urgently thrusts a mysterious map in their hands before being whisked away by two soldiers. Armed only with the map, a few magic crayons and an exotic purple bird as companion the friends go in search of the king, narrowly escaping danger at every turn as they are pursued themselves.
In this beautiful wordless picture book Aaron Becker continues the adventure begun in his earlier, highly acclaimed book Journey. Through the narrative power and beauty of his detailed watercolour illustrations Becker creates a magical world of fantastic castles, underwater ruins, tropical islands and snow topped mountains with echoes of ancient or lost civilisations.
Becker enables his characters to have control of their own destiny; with their magical crayons the children draw various contraptions and amazing creatures to help them escape capture; including an
elephant, an octopus and a gigantic dragonfly. However it is the power of light and colour which eventually prevails when the purple bird accompanying the children flies off with their crayons creating a brilliant rainbow which dazzles and overpowers their adversaries. This leads to the King’s rescue and brings light and colour to his dark and gloomy kingdom.
Quest is a fantasy adventure story celebrating not only the power of imagination, but also the power of art to create magical worlds and tell wonderful stories. This book is the second in a trilogy by Aaron Becker, so more delights to come!
The Story of Money: From Bartering to Bail-out.
Martin Jenkins and Satoshi Kitamura (ill.), Walker, 978-1-4063-2458-7, 64pp. £12.99 hbk
‘It can be a string of shells, or a bundle of special cloth. Nowadays it’s likely to be a row of ones and noughts in a computer somewhere’.
This most engrossing and original book asks the question : why, when human beings managed without it for a very long time, was there a need to invent money? The sixteen chapters answer this question and explore the history of money beginning with bartering. They go on to describe how clay tablets were used to acknowledge a debt and how precious, and later base, metals were used to make coins to store value and made trading easier. Difficult concepts like ‘interest’ , ‘taxes’, ‘inflation’, ‘ currency exchange rates’ and the functions of banks are all clearly explained.
Why is this book particularly welcome? Well, peruse the non fiction shelves of a children’s bookshop and you will find many books are organised round multimodal double spreads which combine a collage of drawings, pictures, cartoons and shortish blocks of writing. Nothing wrong with this approach : in fact a medley of pictures and writing can work well to make meaning and capture interest. However, older primary school pupils also need the challenge of books which present a sustained written explanation of new and difficult notions and which develop a coherent analysis. This book does this superbly well. The writing style is conversational but a huge amount of information is communicated – and in such an engaging and often witty way. Young readers are invited to reflect and join in the author’s speculations. Satoshi Kitamura’s illustrations clarify the narrative, help explain difficult notions and support the writer’s speculations in ways that are full of fun and humour. I particularly liked the illustration of the effect of inflation on the price of a chicken in ancient Rome. This author goes beyond the bare facts and his speculations to add a philosophical dimension to his analysis which will encourage young learners to ponder
and discuss. He suggests that essential as money has become, necessary for trading and carrying on business, some valuable things cannot be bought . If people come to feel that all you need in life is a lot of money – ‘I don’t know what you think, but I don’t think that’s a very good thing at all’.
My Rhino Plays the Xylophone
Graham Denton, ill. Sean Longcroft, A &C Black, 9 781472 904560, 96pp, £4.99 pbk
Have you every wondered why computers are operated with a ‘mouse’ or if a virtual learning environment could include a virtual gym? If so you will enjoy this collection of humorous verse from Graham Denton.
A range of themes is explored in this collection from food, school and animals to getting up in the morning and fear of the dark. There are poems about real life situations and others about fantasy worlds with wizards, witches, dragons and ghosts.
A playful delight and curiosity about language shines through the poems in this collection. They are full of word play, from the glass blower with a ‘pane’ in the chest to the ghost having a ‘wail of a time’ and the duck who asked the cashier to ‘put it on the bill’. Humour is also derived from exploiting the literal meaning of well known phrases such as ‘a tossed salad’, ‘a dressed crab’ or ‘giving the game away’. The longer poems keep the reader guessing, enticing you to read on with punch lines at the end. The foot tapping rhythms and strong rhyming patterns make the verses fun to read aloud and very memorable. Children will enjoy sharing and returning to them as well. Sean Longcroft’s amusing black and white illustrations work very well, more of these would have been nice.
Some of these poems such as My Cat is in Love with the Goldfish have appeared in other anthologies but many are newly published in this entertaining first collection from Graham Denton.
Boyface and the Tartan Badger
James Campbell, ill. Mark Weighton, Hodder Children’s Books, 9781444918045, 124pp, £5.99 pbk
This is the second outing of James
Campbell’s young hero, Boyface, and this time the loveable ‘stripemonger’ is accompanied by the world’s worst pet…a tartan badger. In the previous episode (Boyface and the Quantum Chromatic Disruption Machine) Boyface learns the family business of taking stripes off things and putting them on different things. This time, a new, mysterious villain is introduced, a young boy in extremely peculiar dress, who appears to bear a terrible grudge against Boyface – for no
immediately obvious reason.
Trouble starts for Boyface with the arrival of a most unusual (and unpleasant) pet. The tartan badger does little to endear itself to his new owner. It scratches and bites Boyface’s feet, emits the vomitous odour of lemony hospitals and poos in Boyface’s underwear draw. “Is that why your pants smell of poo?” asks his friend? ‘Yes. Well. Usually. Yes.’
Ridiculous humour like this is used sparingly throughout the story and is very well timed – just when you think the narrative is in danger of lurching towards seriousness, someone will drop a telephone box full of water down a flight of stairs. There are plenty of giggles on offer for younger readers.
Despite the badger’s ‘qualities’, Boyface cares for the abusive beast with clemency and tolerance and is rather upset to find him missing one day, replaced by a mysterious, threatening letter and a clown’s red nose. Fortunately, there are plenty of people around to help Boyface solve his conundrum. It is Campbell’s characterisation of this supporting cast that is most charming.
Mandala Eyelash, for example, runs the local cafeteria and is described as ‘almost definitely the most tummy-flippingly scrummiest person you’ve ever heard of.’ She offers to help Boyface by reading his fortune (by cutting up and studying scones). Her boyfriend, Mr Perfect, is similarly generous and has rippling muscles ‘like ferrets in a pillow case.’
However, nobody helps Boyface quite as much as his extremely shouty friend, Clootie, who is introduced early on wearing a saucepan over her face. Clootie is desperate to ‘scrag’ the evil clown but Boyface is not a violent character and, instead, decodes various pearls of wisdom from his father that help him on his quest. In the finale, we are reminded that children with the extraordinary kindness and patience necessary to look after a tartan badger are capable of anything.
Jet the Rescue Dog and other extraordinary stories of animals in wartime
David Long, ill. Peter Bailey Faber, 978 0 571 30492 9, 232pp, £9.99 hbk
A timely collection of stories of animal heroism in war, several of the tales of bravery recounted here feature battles of World War I. David Long, whose books for adults include The Animals’ VC: for Gallantry and Devotion, turns his attention here to younger readers, reminding us that not all war heroes are human. Dogs, horses, cats, birds and even bears have been responsible for saving lives through instinct, intelligence, courage and devotion. Jet, the Alsatian dog of the title, rescued survivors of the Blitz, clambering over burning rubble and collapsing buildings. Several other brave dogs are featured in accounts of World War
Books for Keeps No.208 September 2014 25
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