reviews Middle/Secondary continued

one of the leading women’s sides in the country, often attracting huge crowds (53,000 on Boxing Day, 1920, at Goodison Park), raising funds for charity,

touring France

alarmingly hungry twins Dotty and Daisy), and the utterly terrifying (Piglet, so powerful he must be locked away in the basement). And yet, Jem and Tom are met with kindness and compassion, far more from these ‘monsters’ than they were receiving in the outside world and from their own family. Before long though, they must all confront a proper monster because something awful follows the children through the tear, a creature      and worst of all more than clever enough to turn the human neighbours of this strange community into an angry, threatening mob. Like all the best monster stories, Pádraig Kenny’s novel turns readers’ assumptions upside down, allowing us to shudder at the strange otherness of these creatures while recognising that the truly monstrous is something different altogether and perhaps even horribly familiar.

In a message that has

particular relevance for our times, he also points to understanding and empathy as the greatest tools to use against those who want to destroy us. As with the best monster stories too, the world he creates and its bizarre inhabitants are so well described that Rookhaven feels like a place we might already know or come across. It’s a work of astounding          ordinary and genuinely thrilling too. Congratulations to illustrator Edward Bettison whose black and white      add to the drama of the story. AR

Kicking Off! 

Eve Ainsworth, unclanpublishing, 282pp, 978 1 912979 20 2, £7.99 pbk

It’s surprising that the story of the Dick, Kerr Ladies football team is not better known to younger readers. The team’s origins in 1917 are at the centre of this novel.

They became

and the USA. Some of their star players became national celebrities. Their skills, commentators noted, sometimes surpassed those of men in the professional leagues. All this despite the chauvinism and hostility of the Football Association, who in 1921 ordered men’s clubs to refuse permission for women’s teams to play in their stadiums. A century on, given the growth of women’s football at club and country levels and its coverage in the media, this novel is timely. Hettie Blakeford is 15. Her family shares three rented rooms in a working-class terrace in Preston. Mam’s intelligence and liveliness are drained by keeping the family going and coping with the moody temper of Dad, in constant pain from an old accident but still grafting through long shifts down at the docks, except for the hours he puts in at the pub. Then there’s 10 year old Martha, quick and sensitive. All of them worry about Hettie’s brother, Freddie, only a year older than her but already in action somewhere in France. Hettie is called up to help in the

war effort at the nearby Dick, Kerr & Company Factory, packing munitions shells with explosive. She’s shy and anxious. The job is exhausting and        to handle the bustle and banter of      alongside? As things turn out, her way-in is partly through football. The men, those that remain, have their own team; but there are also plenty of women eager to play. Despite her slight physique, Hettie has the makings of a tricky winger; she used to love kicking a ball about in the street with Freddie, so long as Dad wasn’t watching. For him, football was a man’s game; girls who played brought shame on their families, upsetting the proper order of things. When the women take the men’s

team on in a match, they beat them. Supported by one of the managers, they challenge and defeat a women’s team from a neighbouring factory in a charity fundraiser on Christmas Day, in front of 25,000 spectators at Deepdale, Preston North End’s famous old ground. All this is historically accurate. Ainsworth tells the tale through Hettie; the warmth and energy of her story, her modest, engaging character and Ainsworth’s down-to-earth prose will surely draw in readers from a wide range of abilities. Just one reservation: in a book which works hard to create an authentic sense of period and place, words such as ‘smartypants’, ‘nylon’, ‘wolf- whistle’ or terms such as ‘striker’ or ‘an assist’ along with a reference to ‘the beautiful game’ are distracting anachronisms.

      reaches new understandings of her Mam, and even of her embittered, frightened Dad, enabling her to begin to stand up to him. She needs her newfound strength when Freddie, gassed and wounded, is invalided home. Young women playing football serves as a metaphor for their changing roles and their uncertain, but exciting futures; while glimpses of the suffragette movement offer a wider context. This story has been waiting to be

told to young readers for too long. They will surely welcome the promise of further episodes in the Dick, Kerr team’s history. GF

she thought had abandoned her. Nineteenth century London is sharply described, both diverse and narrow, and characters making cameo appearances in the story include the Duke of Wellington, the then Prime Minister, and Robert Peel; but it’s Sahira herself who really makes this special and readers will gasp and thrill at her adventures, and burn too at the injustice meted out to her and other vulnerable young people. LS

The Castle of Tangled Magic 

Sophie Anderson, ill. Saara Soderlund, Usborne 416pp, 978-1-4748-7849-1, £7.99 pbk

The Tigers in the Tower 

Julia Golding, Lion Hudson, 304pp, 978-1782643173, £7.99 pbk

In her Authorgraph interview for Books for Keeps, Julia Golding names The Little Princess as one of her favourite books as a child. There are      Burnett’s novel in her latest excellent historical adventure which features an orphaned girl, newly arrived from India, and soon left penniless and exposed to tyrannical treatment from adults. Sahira Clive sets sail for       father and Indian mother - escorting two tigers to the menagerie in the Tower of London. When her parents die of fever, the tigers become her only friends, and she quickly realises that London is just as much of a jungle as their original home. Despite the prejudice and cruelty she encounters, Sahira faces down the bullies, ‘they didn’t realize she was a tiger, not some stray dog they could intimidate’,      that ‘they haven’t met anyone like me before.’ It’s true too: with a head full of poetry, an acute understanding            protect her tigers and herself. As with the best adventures, it’s touch and go though, and for a while it seems that she might be defeated, until she      

Sophie Anderson, author of The House with Chicken Legs and The Girl Who Speaks Bear grew up with stories told by her mother and her Prussian grandmother, and delves into this heritage again to furnish this very exciting story with many elements of folktales and magic. Thirteen-year old Olia, short for Magnolia, lives in a castle with her parents, her beloved Grandma, whom she calls Babusya, and her new baby sister, Rosa. The castle is the only remnant of a once-royal family, and it sits on a hill overlooking the village where Olia’s friends, twins, Luka and Dinara, live. When a storm hits the castle, but not the village, Babusya knows that something is wrong, and Olia, who can see magical things, is the  Mila, wonderfully illustrated on the cover by Saara Soderlund, has many domes, but some are supposedly inaccessible. Of course, with the        to get into the Sun Dome, which later leads her to the Land of Forbidden Magic. Aided by the domovoi, Feliks, the guardian of the castle who lives behind the stove, and armed with a bag of Babusya’s bulochki, poppy seed buns, Olia must put right the wrong done by her ancestor Ludmila, restore normal life and save her family. She meets many magical creatures, including the rusalka, a water sprite, the giant, Golov, who turns out to be friendly and in need of help, and a house with chicken legs where Deda Yaga lives. She has to use all her courage and ingenuity, and her knowledge of riddles, to put things right. She sometimes does the wrong thing, and is often frightened and worried about the tremendous responsibility she has, and this is all too credible. Eventually, with the help of all her friends, both magical and human, and needing them to believe in magic, she returns to her family, and although some things can never be the same again, she has found out what is important. Russian words are always

explained, and the background is very interesting, both the magic and the  a sharlotka, an apple cake something        and the magical domes, including Air, Earth, Fire and Water, are little worlds

Books for Keeps No.245 November 2020 31

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