reviews 8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued At this stage the story turns more

conventional, with Joy and Benny discovering that their tree is now facing destruction in order to build a new school. Their protest against this is instantly successful and they now have a lot of support, including their initially hostile teacher. So much, so unlikely, but this is a story more about personality than local politics. Before coming to Britain Joy had a dream childhood, exploring far off countries year by year as part of a family whose members also enjoyed each other. This privileged existence could have turned her into a superior show-off, but her clever author Jenny Valentine effortlessly bats away any feelings of envy. Over- flowing with good humour and a fount of lively suggestions when it comes to devising new imaginative games, Joy deserves her happy ending. She even manages to bring crusty old grandpa round just as so many other small fictional children have always managed to do with their

grumpy elders from Heidi

and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm onwards. NT

I am Every Good Thing HHHHH

Derrick Barnes, ill. Gordon.C. James, Egmont, 32pp, 978 0 7555 0270 7, £6.99 pbk

This powerful picturebook, first published in the USA in 2020, is already a prize-winning book and New York Times best seller. The pose of the figure depicted

on the cover strikes a defiant note, daring the reader to contradict the title. Open the book and we discover an exuberant superhero zooming across the page. And here the text begins, a first-person narration led with ‘I am’ statements proclaiming the

potential of black boys

everywhere, speaking of their energy, creativity and thirst for knowledge. Text and illustration depict the lives and dreams of black boys, from everyday fun and scraped knees to a determination to achieve their ambitions and make a difference. The historical context and struggles of generations throughout Black history is suggested in the phrase ‘I am my ancestor’s wildest dream’. Though mainly hopeful, upbeat and positive there is a hint of fear, with the need to stand up to name calling, which by implication we assume to be racist. The inherent value of all black boys is emphasised, they are worthy of success, to live safely and to be loved. Love is a strong thread

throughout the book. The reference to every black boy being someone’s son or brother - a real person hints at the way black youth can be all too frequently be linked to crime statistics. The author’s dedication lists seven black boys shot dead in the US in the last decade.

The poetic text, full of imagery is

perfectly matched by the warmth of the vibrant, painterly illustrations. Joyful and at times poignant this is an aspirational, motivational and moving celebration of black boyhood. SMc

The Hatmakers HHHHH

Tamzin Merchant, ill. Paola Escobar, Puffin, 343pp, 9780241426302, £12.99 hbk

Tamzin Merchant has succeeded brilliantly in creating a captivating and magical fantasy world in this debut novel. Readers will find themselves transported to an alternative Georgian London where Maker families weave spells to craft items such as hats, cloaks, boots, gloves, and watches for the

Royal Family. Cordelia

Hatmaker is the youngest of a long line of magical milliners and when her father’s ship is lost at the end of a voyage in search of exotic hat-making ingredients she determines to find him. But her remaining family have no time to help her as they are tasked with making a Peace Hat just as the King is incapacitated by a malign enchantment, Maker family rivalries are re-surfacing and war threatens the realm. Brave, resourceful Cordelia, with allies Goose, of the Bookmaker family, and streetwise

combine to rescue the King and Princess, unite the Maker

thief Sam, families,

and foil a villainous plot to start a war. This is an exhilarating read, full

of fast-paced action and adventure, sparkling magic, witty word- play and humour. The world is inventive, and the

building storytelling

accomplished. The idea of making hats as though they were cakes, with cleverly named magical ingredients, is enticing and the descriptions are full of literary and historical allusions which add to the sense of immersion in a well thought out fantasy world. The child characters, especially Cordelia, are appealing and resourceful and teach the adults about the importance of cooperation, courage, and kindness. The beautiful cover and illustrations by Paola Escobar enhance the magical atmosphere of this very welcome addition to the fantasy genre. SR

A Shelter for Sadness HHHHH

Anne Booth, ill. David Litchfield, Templar Books, 40pp, 978 1 78741 721 2, £12.99 hbk

Beautiful in both text and illustration, this lyrical picture book has much to teach us all about sadness. Sadness has come to live with a little boy, and he builds it a shelter to keep it safe and to give it all that it needs, whether that is quietness or noise, sitting or running about, looking out of the window or pulling the curtains, being alone or sharing time with the boy. Sadness is portrayed as a semi- opaque creature with a tiny pink heart inside, egg shaped, but fluid, and he

and the little boy have become best friends because they are, essentially, the same being. Sadness is the boy’s way of coping with his loss, whatever that may be. This is never explained, but the reason for the sadness is a serious one. The story was inspired by a quote from a Jewish woman who died during the Holocaust, Etty Hillesum, who wrote that sorrow needs ‘space and shelter’ to fulfil its needs, otherwise it can turn to hate and revenge, which will only bring on more sorrow in the world.


little boy and his sadness are doing their best to find within themselves the peace and comfort they need in whatever way necessary at their time of sorrow, and they have no thoughts of hate – just love and imagination to get them through.

Magical pictures

are wholly appropriate, full of light and dark, reflecting the text in every way. Superb. ES

How to Be a Hero HHHH

Cat Weldon, illus Katie Kear, Macmillan Children’s Books, 256pp, 978-1529045031, £6.99 pbk

Two outsiders star in this lively, comic Viking saga. Up in Asgard, Lotta is in training to be a Valkyrie and she is struggling with almost every part of the curriculum, from fighting to horse riding to transformation. That’s no fun when your teacher is the hard-as-a- battle-axe Scold, and you have sneaky bullies Flee and Flay as classmates. Meanwhile, down in Midgard, orphan

Whetstone is determined to make a name for himself in sagas and stories, and if that’s for being a thief, so be it. The two meet when Lotta gets separated from the Valkyrie party heading to a battlefield to collect dead heroes to transport to Valhalla and picks up an unconscious Whetstone as the best she can manage. His arrival in Asgard sets in train a whole series of events and is not the wild stroke of fortune it first appears: trickster Loki is very interested in Whetstone and the magic cup he’s stolen, and even Odin gets involved. It’s certainly lots of fun and makes excellent use of Norse myths and beliefs, weaving stories, details and famous characters into the framework of the adventure. Being a Valkyrie has never seemed so appealing, while Whetstone’s journey to decide the kind of hero he wants to be is also given room. And there’s a fantastic battle with a dragon – what more could you want? This is part one in a trilogy and will be much enjoyed by youngster getting to grips with the Vikings. MMa

Too Small Tola and the Three Fine Girls


Atinuke Illustrated by Onyinye Iwu, Walker Books, 96pp, 9781406388923, £6.99 pbk

Tola lives in Lagos, Nigeria, she is the smallest in her family, so she is known as Too Small Tola. But this does not stop her from being mighty - whether it is stepping up to help earn some money when Grandmummy is ill, sorting the gravel from their rice so it is ready to cook – or just not making a fuss when her dreams of ruffles on a dress will never be fulfilled. This is the second collection of

stories built round Tola and her family in Lagos; it is a delight. Atinuke is a storyteller herself and these are stories that demand to be read aloud. They are just the right length, full of atmosphere, built round situations that

arise out of Tola’s everyday.

While carrying the shopping on your head may not be the norm for some, nevertheless carrying shopping is a universal task- and Tola’s


will strike a chord. Older brothers and sisters do not

differ wherever they

may live; irritating would be Tola’s opinion echoed by many others - and yet they are family. Nor do the stories need to be read in a particular order – Atinuke (good narrator that she is) ensures that just enough background is included in each to introduce Tola, her family and her home; again ideal for that moment when a storytime is in order. The Nigerian background is vibrant and real, bringing to life another country and city, perhaps opening a door to family stories and showing that people do not differ so much wherever Iwu’s illustrations

they live. Onyinye are a further

delight, adding an characterful visual element whether as a full page or as a lively vignette. Tola’s beaming smile is one the reader will remember and recognise. This is a partnership, that I hope, will continue. FH

Books for Keeps No.247 March 2021 23

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