BfK 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued

The Forest of Moon and Sword HHH

Amy Raphael, ill. August Ro, Orion, 272pp, 978-1510108356, £7.99 pbk

Twelve-year-old Art Flynt lives in a village in Scotland with her mother, Agnes, who understands herbs and their properties, and makes potions for healing people. This is 1647 though, and such skill and knowledge are thought by many to mean that a person, usually a woman, is a witch. Sure

enough, word comes that

English soldiers are coming, and although they all hide, Agnes and five other women are loaded into carts and the five are immediately executed after a brief ‘trial’. Art had been more safely hidden, but, no longer welcome in the village, she discovers that Agnes is being taken to the Witchfinder General in Manningtree, disguises herself as a boy, and sets off to rescue her mother on Lady, her horse, armed with a sword, ropes, and her mother’s recipe book. The forest of the title seems to

spread over most of the East of England, as Art makes her way across the border, but it is in this forest that she meets people who help her. She rescues Mercy, whose mother was also a healer and was hanged, from being tested to see if she drowns or floats, and they become very close, and a boy who starts off as an enemy eventually changes sides. The girls have both learned about the healing properties of plants, and this binds them together.

Of course, Agnes is

rescued, but the events leading up to this are all very exciting. Art enjoys practicing walking a tightrope, and this turns out to be a useful skill, though she has to walk further than she has ever done before, and this is a nail-biting scene. The Witchfinder General, Matthew Hopkins, is indeed a character in this book, but in real life he retired, and did not meet his end as described here (and in the 1968 film!). Amy Raphael is a journalist and

writer of several books of non-fiction, but this is her first novel for children. It certainly is exciting, though a different title might be more enticing. The Moon seems to refer to moonstone amulets, and Art does have to use her sword a couple of times, but it gives little idea of the topic of the story. However, this small glimpse of life in another time, dramatically described, could be a useful addition to a library. DB

Fading Presences HHHH

Robert Hull, Beafred, 48pp, 978 09559279 4 2, pbk

This is a poetry collection focuses on the disappearance previously familiar creatures


which of


the natural world. The writer’s stated aim is to


with wildlife, greater knowledge of their names most explicitly in the

poem entitled Naming the Bird and to develop children’s awareness of the ways they are under threat or disappearing such as the opening poems Absconding Frogs and Bee Song. In The Finding Suggests, based on

a newspaper quote linking birds and dinosaurs the poet renames birds as dinosaurs cleverly


the idea that birds too may one day become extinct. Although many of the poems are

about British wildlife some take the reader further afield for example, Infant Elephant, Tiger Speaks and Rhino Story which shockingly tells the tale of a rhino hunted for its horn. Many of the poems are written as an observer but Grizzly and the opening of Tiger Speaks are in the first person as the animals themselves. Although many of the poems cover serious topics there is humour too most visually in Sloth which uses the placing of words on the page to emphasise the slowness of the creature. This is the first themed collection

from a very experienced writer for children. Some poems are specially written for the collection and some selected from earlier work. Although an unassuming volume the covers contain an excellent


powerful message. SMc Glassheart


Katharine Orton, Walker Books, 330pp, 9781406385236, £7.99 pbk

This dark, magical fantasy novel

makes perfect reading for a cold winter’s night, as it tells the story of Nona, orphaned in WW11, and her adopted uncle who travel to the wilds

of Dartmoor to restore the

stained-glass windows of a ruined church.

Nona discovers a powerful wild magic, mysterious

and a dangerous foe, the sinister Soldier. Nona is both vulnerable and courageous and draws on her own inner strength and newly discovered magical power to battle the disturbing Soldier and his terrifying army of skeletal Rattlesticks. This novel has a strong folkloric and

tone of

the recurring imagery glass, with its combination of

strength and fragility, is powerful. Themes of grief, loss, love, healing, and restoration combine with the supernatural

fantasy elements The Shark Caller HHHHH

Zillah Bethell, Usborne, 358pp, 978-1-4749-6684-9, £6.99 pbk

Blue Wing’s remote island home is all she has ever known, but it is beginning to change. Her parents were killed by the shark Xok and since then she has

32 Books for Keeps No.246 January 2021 to

create an atmospheric, imaginative, and intriguing read. SR

In this remote landscape spirit creatures


poems with very effective imagery, sophisticated

language and a

lived with the island’s shark caller, Siringen. His wisdom and compassion and his deep respect for the old traditions have been subverted by Bigman, the



leader. When Western tourists visit the island with the intention of killing a shark as a trophy to take home, Siringen is forced by Bigman to take them to the shark roads and facilitate their kills. Bigman is interested only in bringing money to the island in order to increase his wealth and extend his already huge compound. When Atlas and Maple Hamelin-a and daughter-come

father America and are installed from in Blue

Wing’s family’s former hut she is furious. She is given the responsibility of looking after Maple and out of mutual antagonism a strong friendship slowly grows. Maple’s mother has recently died, too and this bond proves to be the starting point of their friendship. Synchronicity is threaded through narrative, as are the

the sharp

contrasts between the old way of life, respecting nature, taking care of the land, observing centuries-old traditions, and the new. Maple comes to see the island through Blue Wing’s eyes, as does the reader, and there is a distinct sense of loss at the fading of the old ways and the introduction of western commercialisation in their place. Blue Wing wants to learn how to summon Xok in order to kill him and avenge her parents. Atlas Hamelin is searching the ocean for a Japanese plane shot down in the 2nd World War, which he believes contains a document which will show him how to reverse time so that he can bring his wife back from the dead. Both plans fail to come to fruition and Blue Wing realises that Xok has only become a killer because of the cruelty inflicted on him when he was held captive by shark hunters. Atlas Hamelin sees his precious document crumble to dust in the water and comes to understand that it is the living who matter-his daughter must be his priority now. Blue Wing forgives Xok and swims with him and it is then that the story takes a poignant and unexpected turn. This is a book about love and loss

and how to cope with them, about tradition and respect, about change and acceptance. It is one which should not be missed. VR

Another Twist in the Tale HHHHH

Catherine Bruton, Nosy Crow, 257pp, 9781788005999, £7.99 pbk

The author’s admiration for the writing of Charles Dickens shines through this witty and accomplished feminist take on Oliver Twist. In this version the Other Twist is Oliver’s twin sister, not taken to the workhouse like her brother but abandoned on a rubbish heap to die, as an economically worthless girl. The baby is rescued by a kindly kitchen girl, given the name of Twill Jones, and raised in the kitchen of a gambling den. Twill eventually finds herself on

the streets of London in a dazzling and gripping story that sees her encounter the Artful Dodger and outwit a devilish plot by Fagin to enslave street children into forced labour. The clever title and cover of this

novel set the tone for a skilfully written and engaging historical adventure which captures

the atmosphere of

Dickensian London perfectly. Dangers, threats, and mysteries lurk everywhere, particularly for women and children, and there is no welfare safety net for the poor. Twill is a courageous protagonist with a strong sense of justice, a feisty attitude and plenty of good ideas. The storytelling is masterly, introducing new and familiar characters and following gripping and intertwining plot threads through short, fast-paced chapters with dramatic scenes and witty, authentic dialogue.

Catherine Bruton has managed to

capture the essence of Dickens and distil it into an accessible and intriguing story full of memorable characters and reflecting contemporary takes on such issues as the status of women and the slave trade.

This book is

highly recommended as a brilliant, funny, pacy, and immersive read and an excellent way into a classic author for young readers. SR

The Acrobats of Agra HHHHH

Robin Scott-Elliot, illus. Holly Ovenden, Everything with Words, 312pp, 9781911427149, £8.99, pbk.

Robin Scott-Elliot’s first novel The Tzar’s Curious Runaways was a terrific debut story for children and this new one does not disappoint. Set against the background of the Indian Mutiny in 1857, it does not skate over the horror of that part of the history of the British in India, but at its heart is the story of an orphan girl taken from her Granny in Scotland to join an aunt in India after the death of her parents there, where she will be reunited with her baby brother George.


is a rebel and at the circus on her arrival in Agra she sees her dream come to life in front of her eyes, to be an acrobat in a circus.


as this may seem, events allow her to encounter the Great Romanini and together with Pin, the Indian boy who turns the pages of the books of her uncle, the Governor, and Tonton the tiger they set out to find George, and along the way Beatrice becomes an acrobat. This is an adventure story with

everything one can possibly imagine within its pages, a plucky heroine, a French

high wire acrobat, a

resourceful Indian boy who can see a different life for himself, and of course the tiger. There are some very thrilling passages, also some which reveal the hatred engendered by the mutiny, and including the marvellous figure of the Rani. The heat of India pulsates from the pages and the descriptions of the palace at Agra make the reader want to see it for herself. It is so good to read a book that is so different in its background, not glossing over

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