8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued Vi Spy Licence to Chill


Maz Evans, Chicken House, 327pp, 9781912626892, £6.99 pbk

Veggie Power HHHHH

Annette Roeder, illus Olaf Hajek, Prestel, 40pp, 978-3791374789, £14.99 hbk

Part information book, part art book, Veggie Power does to the mind and the eyes what spinach does to Popeye’s muscles.

Author Annette Roeder

opens with a scholarly but accessible double page investigation into what makes a vegetable a vegetable, and how botanists distinguish between vegetables and fruits. We then get double page features on familiar vegetables,

from carrots inventive to leeks

to sweet potatoes, where a page of elegant text is matched with an extravagantly


portrait by artist Olaf Hajek. The text explains where the vegetables were first cultivated and eaten, how they got their names and includes quirky facts. Did you know, for example, that in the Middle Ages people thought that eating aubergines would make you sad, or that the workers building the pyramids in Egypt were paid in onions and garlic, or that people used to eat asparagus with their fingers because the chemicals in it turned silver cutlery black? Memorable stuff, but nothing compared to the dazzling impact of Hajek’s illustrations. His stunning, folk-art inspired work turns

painting vegetables adventure. into an Acrobats and jugglers

gambol around giant spinach leaves; a man with an enormous spoon skips up a ladder to a bowl of broccoli balanced on a beautiful lady’s head, while a strongman brandishes a fork; beetroot grows between the elongated legs of a horse while a woman gathers corn accompanied by a handsome cockerel. If it sounds nonsensical or surreal, in fact the opposite is true and each page is the

perfect representation of the

vegetable. Visits to the supermarket vegetable aisles will ever be the same again! A unique and intriguing book and wonderful for sharing. MMa

Maz Evans’ new book is a spy thriller that delivers thrills and laughs in equal measure. Violet Day is the youngest in a long line of world-saving spies but her mother, Easter Day, has given it all up so that she can keep Vi safe. When Vi’s estranged father suddenly turns up (just in time to ruin Easter’s wedding to Vi’s teacher, Mr Sprout) Vi learns that she is descended not just from an awesome, deadly secret agent, but also from a dangerous and equally deadly supervillain! Lethal super parents notwithstand- ing, Vi’s life is very ordinary: all she wants is for the cool kids to notice her, to have a phone and a little independ- ence, and for her mum not to marry her teacher. Sadly, she faces signifi- cant challenges on all these fronts and, when she accidentally-on-pur- pose overhears her parents arguing about a new scary threat to the entire human race, she realises that she has a chance to prove herself as a spy and leave her normal life behind her. Though there are moments of tension, as Vi navigates


her way through the seedy world of super-villainy, this book is ultimately a comedy. Many characters are playful stereotypes

(the their

pensioners – whose members can triangulate the coordinates for enemy locations but can’t fathom how to video-call

grandchildren – is

particularly funny) and action scenes are full of silly slapstick moments. Vi is a character with whom

children will quickly fall in love. She is effortlessly cool and thoroughly believable. She makes mistakes and is selfish sometimes, and worries about her mum and dad in the same way that all children do. Young readers will be glad that she is making it her mission to save the world and will look forward to her next adventure. SD

The Day the Screens went Blank HHHH

Danny Wallace, ill. Gemma Correll, Simon and Schuster, 205pp, 9781471196881, £7.99 pbk

This comedy for children is less of the

post-apocalyptic dystopia that

its title and first few pages suggest, and more of a classic roadtrip. The sudden and inexplicable shut down of all screens forces the Bobcroft family to embark upon a trip across the country to check that Grandma is ok. Their long and eventful journey features petty theft, scary strangers and a great deal of pig poo, and it is narrated by Stella - the well-organised and sensible daughter of the family. Stella begins her story by shining a light on just how dependent upon screens we have all become. Before her father has even left the house for work, he has already failed to tell

24 Books for Keeps No.247 March 2021 secret agency of

the time, check the weather, read his emails and messages and watch the news. The sudden blackout is such monumental news that neighbours are popping round to tell one another about it. As the magnitude of the event slowly dawns upon everyone, Dad realises that they are going to have to drive the ten-hour journey to Grandma’s house, as there is no other way of checking she is ok. Wallace has great fun exploring

the question of what happens to grown-ups when you take away their technological safety net. The answer, it seems, is that they will quickly end up lost, stressed, frightened and covered in poo. Without phones and sat-navs, the Bobcrofts are forced to rely on the kindness of strangers to find their way to Grandma’s house. This opens Stella’s eyes to the rewards that can be found from investing time in other people, rather than in screens. Among the strangers who help the family on their way are mad ‘Uncle Tony’ whose farm is going out of business, and a seemingly selfish wealthy widow who’s so glad of some company that she’s happy to lend her Rolls Royce. Stella learns that little acts of kindness are contagious, and that helping others feels great and often leads to getting something in return. Read within the current context of

lockdown and pandemic, the themes of panic, isolation and misinformation are very powerful. People try to make sense of what they can and can’t do, where they can and can’t go: the question of whether or not one should stay at home or risk travelling to see loved ones will be familiar for every reader. The Bobcrofts’ of laugh-out-loud slapstick enjoyable

journey is full moments

comedy, but the aspect

the of The Day the

Screens went Blank is the charming and emotive way that the family, like most during


pandemic, re-consider what is really important about their lives, and how easy it is to make magical memories together: no screens required! SD

Space Detectives HHH

Mark Powers, ill. Dapo Adeola, Bloomsbury, 172pp., 9781526603180, £6.99 pbk

This zany adventure in the gigantic space

station, Starville, includes

aliens from all sorts of places, like the Cow People from Neptune- or are they from Pluto? Lanky Connor knows, and energetic Ethan sometimes gets facts wrong, but is very good at the practical side of things. On Ethan’s hover-scooter, they chase a slimy purple Tufted Grotsnobbler to try retrieve a handbag for Edwina, daughter of the Supreme Governor- they fail, but

are invited to the

Governor’s very swish birthday party, at her house, and that’s when things get interesting. Asked for help with dressing to impress, Ethan’s Uncle Nick, an engineer who was sacked by the Governor in favour of robots, gives them smartsuits that can become any

and most

outfit they like, but they do sometimes malfunction, which is fun. It turns out that nothing Edwina

does is ever good enough for her Mum, but before they can find out more, there is an announcement that Starville is headed on a collision course straight

for the Moon, so

accurately that it must be sabotage! Connor’s love for the ‘thrill associated with covert

activities’, which Ethan

has to translate as ‘sneaking’, helps them work out a plan with the help of computer genius Edwina, but getting to the controlling computer involves going through the Zoo…It’s all great fun, as the children negotiate several potentially

dangerous situations,

until finally Starville is saved and the culprit is revealed. Dapo Adeola is the illustrator of the picture book Look Up! and draws, in cartoon-style, black characters (Ethan and his Uncle), white characters and various aliens with great skill. Another humorous adventure for the Space Detectives is imminent… DB

I Talk Like a River HHHHH

Written by Jordan Scott, ill. Sydney Smith, Walker Books, 40pp, 978-1-4063-9722-2, £12.99 hbk

The boy narrating this stunningly

beautiful picturebook wants to talk about the natural world surrounding him, but finds it difficult to say the words that fill his head. ‘The P in pine tree grows roots inside my mouth and tangles my tongue,’ he tells us, and on a ‘bad speech day’ he can’t find the right sounds to say anything at all. On one level, it would be true to

say that I Talk Like a River is about stuttering, but there’s so much more to the lyrical and intensely immersive experience it offers than such a label would imply. Feeling different or left out; expecting to be mocked; living with stomach-churning anxiety - these things will sadly strike a chord with children everywhere, and give this personal account its universal edge. After school on one particularly distressing day, the boy’s father takes him to the riverbank. Quietly they look for colourful rocks and water bugs. And there, watching the rush and churn of the water as it flows across the landscape, the boy’s father says something that shifts his world and makes him see things differently. ‘See how the water moves?’ he asks. ‘That’s how you speak.’ In a series of visual close-ups, the

river tumbles past the boy, and we sense change coming. Turning the page, we find ourselves face-to-face with him. Sunlight streams onto his shoulders and illuminates his ears, and broad lines suggest his brows and downward-looking eyes. As we open the gatefold a rush of pure energy is released, and we see him wading into water that shimmers with reflected light. That life-changing comment

pulled from the moment and intensely apt, but also somehow slippery – was made by a father to one specific child:

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