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reviews 8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued


his son, the writer of this picturebook. Jordan Scott grew up to become a poet, and it was this experience by the riverbank that stopped him trying to ‘overcome’ his stutter and led him towards a better understanding of his own, unique way of communicating. This picturebook ends with a similar idea. The boy returns to the classroom to talk about the visit to his favourite place: the riverbank. And in telling everyone about the river, he talks like the river – with all its stops and starts, its rush and babble and its many moments of calm. This poetic and deeply memorable picturebook has a quality that stops you in your tracks and pulls you in. It addresses one child’s experience of stuttering, but categorising it as an ‘issue book’ or expecting it to provide a quick-fix message for children who stutter would misrepresent this book’s intention and appeal. I Talk Like a River is a personal account of discovery: one that takes us to the heart of an experience and shows us what it’s like to live another life. It’s affecting and accessible, and offers different


learning opportunities,


depending on our needs. Sydney Smith is known for his ability


to play with light, and for the dark line that has characterized his work thus far. Light falling through windows, onto water, and – memorably – through earlobes is still a major feature here, but, eager to capture the essence of Scott’s poetry, Smith has pushed his own boundaries in this book. Gone is the dark line, to be replaced by watercolours that feel less certain, together with a range of approaches that communicate intense emotion – just look at the spread where the clearly-delineated classroom on the left-hand page dissolves into a sea of faces on the right, or the close-up that follows, dominated by the boy’s enormous ikon-eyes and sgraffitoed with lines depicting the crows and pine trees in his mouth. These images don’t just show us


how the boy feels, they make us feel it, too I Talk Like a River is a lyrical and intensely visual exploration of how it feels to struggle to speak out. It has something of universal importance to communicate, and will resonate with readers of all ages. CFH


Stars with Flaming Tails HHHH


Valerie Bloom, ill. Ken Wilson-Max, Otter-Barry, 96pp, 978 1 91307 467 8, £7.99, pbk


Here is another excellent, varied collection from Valerie Bloom. The subjects are perhaps familiar enough in poetry for children. Family, friends and animals feature quite a lot, but the poet approaches each poem with rare empathy and often a sly humour that doesn’t simply play to the gallery. Her images can be fun too. In the opening poem “Welcome”, I love the idea of a baby encountering


an elderly relative as “a wrinkled face [that] unwrapped empty gums above her”, as if a sweet might be coming rather than a toothless grin. There


are sensuous poems that


are filled with wonder at the beauty and variety of the world, and the poet also approaches more difficult subjects directly and subtly, and firmly within a child’s experience. She is comfortable writing about how time ‘creeps like a baby’ when you are hungry and lunch is an hour away, yet flies like an arrow when you are with ‘mates out at play’. And she is equally at home writing about the feelings of a child with separated parents, ‘I only wish they could love me together’, or a child soldier: ‘the mortal enemy he hunts/ are members of his own family.’ She has a playful side too. She clearly relished the poems in which she rehearses her repertory of short poetic forms (is that still required by the national curriculum?) including riddles that had me guessing and limericks that do what limericks should. In ‘Names’ she has great fun with words that have more than one meaning. It begins: ‘There is no brim on the cap of my knee, / No keys for the locks in my hair’ and goes on in the same vein for four stanzas and sixteen lines. Perhaps the tour-de-force of the collection is ‘The Isle of Negatyves’ in which we


encounter all the monstrous


attitudes that might dismay or belittle us - the Kantdos or the Incredulous – and how we might combat them – ‘Mix certaynties with Iwontlissen’. By far the most inventive and least po- faced exhortation to self-assertion that I have come across. CB


Daydreams and Jellybeans Poems to Be Read Aloud


HHHH


Alex Wharton, illus Katy Riddell, Firefly, 64pp, 9781913102432, £5.99 pbk


‘I saw sounds at night/altering the shapes leaves/


of home,


trees...’ –‘When she her


footsteps/are


whispers upon/stone...’ – these are just a couple of opening lines from poems in this anthology by the poet Alex Wharton. What a delight. The title proclaims ‘Poems to read aloud’ – and this the case. The forms may seem traditional – frequently


four


line stanzas that while seeming to conform to a traditional metre are subtly edgy and offbeat – like speech. Then there are poems that might even be prose – take the wonderful Spiders – others that are shape poems tracing the subject visually on the page. There is no one way to appreciate Alex Wharton’s work. Humour is often seen as the key to attracting a young audience. There is plenty of humour here but married to a reflective lyrical approach around subjects ranging from the


world to the homeless man on the corner


and the trapper


who worked in the mines. Katy Riddell’s deft, lively illustrations add to the pleasure, picking out details, expressions,


moments – another


dimension to the words. (And a bonus – a final flourish – a


couple of winning poems from two young poets). FH


Flyntlock Bones: The Eye of Mogdrod


HHH


Derek Keilty, ill.Mark Elvins, Scallywag Press, 176pp, 9781912650675, £6.99 pbk


It would be understandable to think that Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has already been re-invented in every conceivable way – but that’s not true! In Keilty’s swashbuckling trilogy for children, the world’s most famous detective is re-imagined as a young pirate called Flyntlock Bones, whose crew-mates sail the seven seas in search of mystery. This is the second instalment of


the trilogy and Flyntlock, after leaving the


orphanage at Baskervile, has


become an established member of the crew on the Black Hound. When Captain Watkins receives a message from chief of the swampy Bog Islands, Fergus McSwaggers, lamenting the loss of a priceless golden chalice, the game is afoot! Like all good mysteries, Flyntlock’s


search for the chalice features political intrigue, shifty-looking suspects and fights with dangerous villains. In the Bog Islands, marauding tribes maintain uneasy alliances through lots


of grog-fuelled feasting, but


Egfart the Oderous and the chilling Ice Pirates have their own plans that Flyntlock must fathom – a task made all the more challenging by the rather distracting presence of an enormous, monstrous cat with giant fangs! The contrasting genres


of


detective story and pirate adventure complement


one are another all present, more


than one might expect and Keilty does an impressive job of juggling all the necessary tropes. Obligatory stereotypes eye-patched


from parrots to peg-legged


boatswains, and parents will enjoy adopting all of the characters’ pirate voices when reading aloud. The story races along at a great rate of knots and Flyntlock’s quick wits mean that readers never have to wait long for the next conundrum to be cracked so that the action can continue. Young


readers will love generously-detailed Lively, monochrome Elvins’


illustrations. cartoons


accompany most pages, and occasional full-page spreads arrive like gifts just in time to draw children further into the most dramatic scenes. Full of chaotic energy and exaggerated characterisation,


the pictures are


comparable in style to those of Chris Riddell, and add enormous value to the overall enjoyment of the book. Flyntlock Bones is a playful


natural children


adventure book whose illustrations, including a


brilliant gallery of characters and two detailed maps, are the most enjoyable element.


Though Flyntlock himself is admirably brave and kind, characters are not all memorable – but there is certainly enough high-seas fun to last for one last episode. SD


Saving Hanno HHHH


Miriam Halahmy, ill. Karin Littlewood, Otter-Barry Books, 128pp, 9781913074685, £7.99 pbk


This heart-breaking story is subtitled A Refugee Boy and his Dog and is told


German Jewish boy, who is sent to England for


by nine-year-old Rudi, safety in early 1939


for UK


via the Kindertransport. The book originally appeared in the US and has now been published


readers by Otter-Barry Books. Rudi’s beloved dog Hanno also makes the journey to England, with the help of a sympathetic lorry driver, and, after quarantine, the two are reunited at the home of Rudi’s foster family in London. Rudi and Hanno then face the trauma of separation again with the government instruction that pets be euthanised at the beginning of the war due to bomb threats and rationing. Rudi manages to join with a group of local children who plan to hide pets safely then find refuge for them until the end of the war. This book is strongly empathetic


as the author conflates two aspects of the pre and early war years, the Kindertransport programme and the “great pet panic”, to focus on the fear, confusion and sense of displacement and loss felt by children in wartime. Rudi’s direct, child-centred narrative voice


compellingly portrays the


feelings of a child refugee facing the loss of everything familiar. It has a modern resonance for the plight of child refugees all over the world. The combination of simple text and


gentle illustrations by Karin Littlewood make the difficult themes of loss, dislocation, and necessary resilience accessible to younger readers. There is extra background information at the end of the book. There are no easy resolutions to Rudi’s story as he and Hanno still face indefinite separation, but hope, courage, and resourcefulness, as well as loss and fear, play a large part in this moving story. SR


Everyday Magic HHH


Jess Kidd, Canongate, 286pp, 9781838850203, £6.99 pbk


This lively story reads very easily and does not feel as if it took a long time to write. Hogwarts references, conscious or not, abound, with its bespectacled


nine-year-old orphan


hero Alfie Blackstack having to cope with a bewildering new world of magic. This is after he has been sent to live with two witch aunts in Switherbroom Hall, set in the remote village of Little


Snoddington. His


only friend is Calypso, a circus girl and trapeze artist his own age. Up against them is an evil Head Witch who is also allowed moments of


Books for Keeps No.247 March 2021 25 a


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