BfK 8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued

mighty power. Unfortunately, he can’t easily control where or when he turns back into a boy: it happens every time he sneezes and sometimes results in him being stuck far from home without any clothes! Despite these monstrous wardrobe

occasional malfunctions,

Max is determined to make the most of his gift. He wishes to protect his community and do good - to save children from fires and chase away bad guys. However, things aren’t that simple. He’s not the only mysterious creature in town and something else is marauding around causing chaos and destruction. Max’s family are eager for him to avoid the blame. This is the first book in a new

Monster Max series and it does a tidy job of setting things up. Max’s family are a fun mix of humdrum and weirdness (like a much less violent Adams Family) and they have a mysterious past, which includes a

heartbroken werewolf and the

magical bobble hat of forgetting, both of which seem likely to feature in upcoming sequels. The book also introduces Peregrine, a nerdy neighbour with an arsenal of monster- catching equipment, who quickly becomes Max’s nemesis and a barrier to his plans to protect the community. As well as a fun way of establishing

new characters, the story delivers several good belly laughs through its slapstick comedy, and there are lively action scenes that will set readers racing through the pages as if they were being chased by a monster themselves. There’s just enough in this series opener for children to get their monster teeth into. SD

Brand New Boy HHH

David Almond, illus Marta Altés, Walker, 312pp, 9781406358087, £10.99 hbk

This novel starts with a lively description of a primary school lesson led by a good -humoured teacher encouraging his class to respond in kind. Like the Social Services schools still too often come off badly in children’s fiction, reflecting lazy stereotypes from the past rather than anything more interestingly topical, as Almond achieves here. But this bright introduction proves to be a false dawn with the entry of George, a new pupil so obviously a robot any normal child would have rumbled him in just a few minutes. Protected by two technicians in disguise with the connivance of Mrs Hoolihan, the school’s rather too silly head teacher, the intention is to see how well George manages. This will be both in class and after hours going home for tea with Daniel, the story’s junior narrator. Despite largish print and Marta

Altés’s lively and abundant black and white illustrations, things only take on a more urgent tempo once George is finally revealed for what he is and then dismantled in front of the class

Space Oddity HHHHH

Christopher Edge, illus Ben Mantle, Chicken House, 234pp, 978-1-912626-86-1, £6.99 pbk

Every young boy gets to an age when his father is just an embarrassment, behaving like something from another planet. But what if your father really is from another galaxy? Wouldn’t that be a great excuse for turning green and really showing you up in front of your

friends? This entertaining

book cleverly combines science with humour to persuade us that there is life out there among the stars. Unbeknown to Jake, his father Ion

landed on Earth by accident, thinking that David Bowie’s song Star Man was a distress call and thus defying the Cosmic Authority who were determined to find and punish him. Jake’s mother, a paramedic, saved his life, they fell in love and married and Ion tried hard to learn about life on Earth, but made mistakes which embarrassed Jake. When Ion took Jake on an outdoor pursuits weekend to tell him the truth about his origins the Cosmic Authority

tracked him down and took him to their ship. With 28 Books for Keeps No.246 January 2021

to be packed away for spare parts for use in future robots. His former school friends

then decide to intervene,

kidnapping and then hiding him away from his handlers, desperate to get him back. Almond makes this an issue of morality, with the children insisting that George is still in a sense a child and as such worthy of protection and some sort of life. But he has such very limited responses this crusade for his rights never rings true, with genuine sentiment eventually giving way to something closer to sentimentality. There are still some good moments as one would expect from a writer of Almond’s calibre. But this is not him at his best – laboured rather than fluent, sending out mixed messages that only become more confused as his story struggles towards its end. NT

the help of his two friends Amba and Damon, Jake decided to rescue his father.

The narrative speed is whizz bang

and of all the marvellous creatures which Jake meets the Gezhundhai are the most entertaining, since they communicate by smells and spatter slime whenever they speak. However, the story is more than just a rollicking adventure. It is a reminder that under our skins-whatever they are made of-we are all the same. It is also a powerful reminder that the way we express

ourselves-through music,

art, philosophy or smells, we have a common connection. With its striking cover and its ambitious intentions, Space Oddity would make a first-rate addiition to a school library-or a child’s bookshelf. VR

The Secret Explorers and the Comet Collision


S J King, DK/Penguin Random House, 128pp, 9780241442258, £5.99 pbk

The Secret Explorers are a team of young adventurers that every child would

love to join. After exciting

encounters with dinosaurs and with Egyption tombs, this episode sees two of the explorers, Roshni and Ollie, jettisoned into outer space to repair a space station near the planet Jupiter. The team’s mysterious,


about space to young

readers. Roshni regularly stops what she is doing to explain what Ollie can see and why it is important, and the book also features mission notes, a fact file and a substantial glossary. It is a fun addition to a series that continues to offer children engaging ways of exploring the world through stories. SD

The House at the Edge of Magic


Amy Sparkes, ill. Ben Mantle, Walker, 240pp, 9781406395310, £6.99 pbk


benefactor is the Exploration Station, and it calls all the explorers together before choosing two members to take on an epic challenge. This time, rainforest expert Ollie, and astronaut Roshni are chosen. Roshni knows all there is to know about space and is delighted when the explorers’ ship - the Beagle - transforms into a rocket and sets

off towards Jupiter. The

Beagle has unbelievable speed and they are soon at their destination and learn the details of their quest. The space station near Jupiter

is in need of some repair so that it can carry out its important research duties. It is clear that a space walk is required. This is a dream come true for Roshni who can’t wait to put on her space suit and get out into the unknown to fix the broken sections. It’s a dangerous and frightening mission, as becoming separate from the ship would leave her floating in space with no way of propelling herself back to safety. As if this wasn’t scary enough, a belt of comets is on the move and hurtling towards the explorers at intergalactic speed! As well as fending for themselves millions of miles from home, and completing daring engineering challenges, Roshni and Ollie have a serious problem with getting back home - posed by the comets. Ollie has to call upon all the navigational skills he learned in the rainforests if they are going to return safely. Though there

is a sense of adventure maintained throughout,

the Comet Collision chiefly serves as a way of introducing facts and

In a world that feels something like Victorian London, Nine is an orphan who survives as part of a group of pickpockets, living under the control of an old man called Pockets. When she steals a small ornament in the shape of a house, she thinks that it will bring her luck and some money, but she is not prepared for what happens next. The house begins to grow, until it is a large and very tall building but when the door opens to reveal a troll and a wizard, not to mention a Scottish talking spoon, she really thinks she is having a nightmare. The wizard Flabberghast and his companions are stuck in the house, because of a curse cast by a witch and only Nine can break the spell. How she untangles the mess, saves the day and finds a way to free the house occupants makes for an exciting and sometimes wonderfully funny story. This is a fantastic mix of Charles

Dickens, think of a female Artful Dodger and Terry Pratchett with the Tiffany Aching series, but it also has a magic all of its own. We get a real sense of the terrible conditions that people,

especially young children,

could find themselves in and the way that they had to try and survive in a world without any social care. Nine is a strong and feisty character, who accepts that her life is difficult but has found ways to make life more bearable. The one thing stopping her from running away is the fact that Pockets has her

only possession,

a small and beautiful music box, which she had when she was found at about three years old. This link to an unknown past is what keeps her staying with Pockets, but perhaps the mystery will be solved in a future story.

This is a truly delightful story,

with charming and often very funny characters and it is going to be a firm favourite with middle grade readers. MP

Mason Mooney. Paranormal Investigator


Seaerra Miller, Flying Eye, 72pp, 9781911171850, £12.99 hbk

Meet Mason Mooney, Paranormal Investigator par excellence. At least that is what he tells you. His one ambition is to beat the heart-throb Trent,

leader of the Paranormal Society – single-minded, heartless

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