BfK 8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued

black humour. A gaggle of old, mean- minded village elders complete the picture,

including the vicar’s wife,

described here as a ‘sour-faced old grunion.’ The dictionary definition of this word is ‘a small silvery food fish.’ Its slang derivation, according to Urban Dictionary, is more startling. This is the first children’s book from

an author who has already won prizes in the adult market. In this story she rather over-does the sort of humour still making good use of farts and stink-bombs. She also periodically pokes fun at various aspects of the physical decline associated with old age. Roald Dahl did this too, but some time ago and perhaps this type of fun has had its time now. But there are plenty of other moments when the narrative runs smoothly with enough fresh invention to keep readers happy. Setting much of the story within a circus, as in so many past children’s book, raises the question of what exactly this might mean to modern children who have never visited such places given that traditional circuses along with animal acts hardly exist anymore. They may still enjoy this book though, and now the author has got into her stride where young readers are concerned who knows she may come up next time with an even better one. NT

Omar, the Bees and Me HHHH

Helen Mortimer, ill. Katie Cottle, Owlet Press, 978 1 913339 06 7, £7-99 pbk

In this lively book, the creators

feature a small girl called Maisie, who becomes the inspiration for a project

in their school. Their neighbourhood is grey, dark and noisy. At show and tell one day, a new boy called Omar brings in some of his mother’s honey cake. He tells

that his Grandpa

used to keep bees, that there were apricot trees and jasmine bushes in his sunny garden, far, faraway. This leads to the children making a paper floral display outside their classroom, and further discussions about honey and bees. It is not long before the children realise, with the help of their teacher, that they could make a REAL bee corridor, from their school to a garden where they knew there was a beehive. But they needed more help; the help of the whole neighbourhood. How they succeed in creating a bee corridor is well

told, for the wait is

long from when the community joins in planting flower seeds. But come Spring, the magic starts. Soon their gardens are full of buzzing bees, and the neighbourhood is full of activity and

colour. There are poppies,

cornflowers and foxgloves all the way from their school to the park. The final page has a simple recipe for honey cake…. I tried it and it was delicious! The illustrations

frame the story

well, and the book begins and ends with spreads of collaged paintings by the children, the bees all grinning ecstatically. Did you know there are more than 20,000 different types of bees? That there are beekeepers in every country in the world? The book reminds readers that every little can help, and by channelling the energies and enthusiasms of the very young, we can change our environments just a little for the better… and form their attitudes for life. GB

Circus Maximus, Race to the Death

10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued characters

although talk’ HHH

Annelise Gray, Zephyr, 352pp, 978 1 8002 40575, £12.99, hbk

The marketing claim for this novel, that

‘Ben Hur meets National

Velvet’, led me to believe that we might see a finale in which chariots hurtled over Grand National fences. Disappointingly, this doesn’t happen. But this tale of an expert teenage girl charioteer does drive a coach and horses through the accustomed gender

roles of ancient Rome.

And who’s to say that, given the opportunity, girls couldn’t do as good a job as boys at driving horses at breck- neck speed in a circle. If you forgive the resolutely ahistorical premise of the tale, it’s actually a cracking good adventure. There’s a lot of fascinating information

about base chariot racing,

the horses and the charioteers, the training regime, and the culture and fan

surrounding the races.

There’s even a historical supervillain: Emperor Caligula, no less. Dido is the daughter of the trainer of the Greens, a leading chariot racing team. She has ambitions to become the first woman charioteer in the Circus Maximus but, seeing her father murdered on the orders of Caligula (he is definitely a mixed blessing as a super-fan), she is forced to flee to North Africa, leaving Porcellus, her favourite horse, behind. How she returns to Rome to realise her ambition, to be reunited with Porcellus, and to thwart Caligula, has some satisfying twists and turns, memorable characters, late family revelations; and even a stand in for Messala, Ben Hur’s friend implacable


10 – 14 Middle/Secondary Edgar & Adolf


Phil Earle & Michael Wagg, OUP, 140pp, 9780198494911, £7.99 pbk

This moving story of an enduring friendship is a work of fiction but is inspired by the real lives of two footballers, Edgar Kail, who played for Dulwich Hamlet FC, and Adolf Jager, who played for the German club Altona 93, based in Hamburg. The encounters between the


players and their teams take place in the 1920’s and 1930’s and the imagined special bond that unfolds is broken by WW11. The chapters set in the 1920’s and 30’s detail matches, press

between chapters

reports the

are and two players. interspersed

conversations These with

the framing device of chapters set in Scotland in 1983 as German teenager Adi fulfils the mission set by his late grandfather Adolf to return a

and achievements All boiling up to

a show-down in the Circus where Dido is posing as a North African princess and driving a mean team of horses. CB

The Queen’s Fool

football badge to its original owner, Edgar. Adi’s quest becomes


emotional journey of discovery as he learns more about his grandfather’s fame


Edgar’s poignant memories. This is a fascinating and deeply

affecting story, mingling fact and fiction, and told in a simple style with short chapters that is perfect for less- confident readers. This is a Super- Readable Rollercoasters title, a series produced by collaboration between OUP and Barrington

Stoke and

featuring Barrington Stoke’s dyslexia- friendly font and layout. There are useful pages at the end of the book with a ‘What to read next’ list, ‘What do you think?’ questions, a word list, a quiz and background information from the authors. This is an engaging, accessible, and beautifully told story about an intriguing episode from football’s past. SR

26 Books for Keeps No.247 March 2021 HHH

Ally Sherrick, Chicken House, 303pp., 97819912626151, £6.99 pbk

Cat is different and in the times of Henry VIII such differences matter. When she follows her sister Meg who has been taken from the convent where they both live to London, Cat finds that without the shelter of the convent walls where she is known life can be cruel. Fortunately she meets Jacques who himself is different, although not in the same way and together they become involved in a plot

to disrupt the peace meeting

of King Henry and King Francois of France at the Cloth of Gold tented city near Calais. This is an exciting adventure set

against the background of the Tudor court with a plot that twists and turns very intriguingly. Jacques is not really Jacques but Isabelle and has his/ her own back story to complicate matters. Both

are well written Cat’s ‘baby is increasingly annoying and

slightly patronising and unnecessary to explain her difference. Attitudes to a child with learning disabilities are made

clear, although Queen

Katharine for example simply finds Cat’s ability to sing and play her bird whistle attractive in her own right. There is a real sense of history and of place within the story and enough of the political background to make clear mutual distrust between England and France at that time. JF

The Twisted Threads of Polly Freeman


Pippa Goodhart, Catnip, 243pp., 9781910611227, £6.99, pbk

Polly and her Great Aunt sail very close to the wind, living by their wits and sewing, but when they are sent to Workhouse in 1838, and they are separated. Great Aunt Jemima goes to the lunatic ward and Polly is sent to the girls’ ward where she spends her days splitting tar covered rope and things look very black indeed. Polly dreams of escaping but luckily for her, this comes with the cart taking children to work in the cotton mills. But when her friend Min dies from an horrific accident while collecting the fluff underneath the machines, Polly decides to make her escape again, and be re-united with Great Aunt Jemima. Her plans do not go just as she had hoped but all ends well, setting up for a sequel perhaps? This seemingly does

tale turned go quite

light-hearted deeply


the appalling conditions both at the St. Pancras Workhouse and also at the mill, based on the Quarry Bank Mill. Pippa Goodhart has done her research, and details on which she based the story are at the end of the book. Modern children will be horrified at the conditions under which the children worked, not to mention the age at which they started, and the very real danger pointed out by Min’s death. It is not until almost halfway through the book that Polly’s heritage is mentioned, and the trail to her missing father appears which adds another interesting dimension to the story. Polly is a resourceful


with the added interest of being very good at sewing especially embroidery which gives her the way out to be reunited with Great Aunt Jemima. The tools of sewing, embroidery and the fabric flowers made by the Great Aunt decorate the pages and the cover by Helen

Crawford-White. The ending

is rather convenient which does let the story down a little, but does not take away the impact of the story of poverty stricken and abandoned children in Victorian England. .JF

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