BfK 8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued

Demelza and the Spectre Detectors


Holly Rivers, Chicken House, 321pp, 9781912626038 £6.99 pbk

clearly set in the context of nineteenth century attitudes their capacities.

to women and The back of the

book includes activities introducing the

idea of coding produced C.J.Walker Builds by

Wogrammer who collaborated with Rebel Girls. Madam


Business is a fictional account of the

life of Sarah Breedlove, aka

Madam C.J.Walker, a remarkable woman whose life began in the cotton fields of Louisiana, the daughter of former slaves. It describes her journey to success and acclaim in the manufacturing business creating popular products for afro hair. Her determination and strength shines through as she works hard to gain an education for herself and her daughter, deals confidently with her main rival and prejudice within the male dominated business world. Through this achievement she transformed life for many black women. However, she was not content with this and became a philanthropist, generous in her efforts

to help and provide

opportunity for young black people in the community, even bequeathing her mansion in New York to this cause. In later life she also became an activist, using her fame and success to speak out against lynching of black men by white mobs which had in fact been the tragic fate of her beloved first husband.

An inspirational story of success

against the odds, this is an interesting read with beautiful colour illustrations in each chapter, a very attractive design and end papers. The back of the created

book contains activities, in collaboration with the

crowdfunding platform iFundwomen. com, encouraging young readers to think like a would-be entrepreneur, designing and advertising products. SMcG

11 year old Demelza, a red-haired orphan who lives with her Grandma Maeve, loves inventing gadgets, which sometimes means she gets into trouble, but she hadn’t expected the trouble that would ensue when she discovers that her family are spectre detectors: people who can, temporarily, bring a loved one back from the dead for a last meeting. There is a lot to learn when she becomes an apprentice to Grandma Maeve, not least the very strict rules about what may be done and how to keep safe. An unhappy school life with bullying twins and a fierce Headteacher who seems to hate her means that her home life is important, as is her friendship with Percy, a boy who has to stay at home and live on pills because of ‘his allergies and weak constitution’. Impulsive Demelza unintentionally reveals more than she should about what she is learning, danger looms and Grandma Maeve is captured. The price of her freedom could be Demelza’s own life, but Percy and unexpected allies help her to rescue Grandma and unmask the person attempting to make her use her powers for an illegal purpose. Her inventions do prove useful, particularly the robotic hand: ‘a miscellany of clock cogs, engine parts and kitchen utensils, all held together with blobs of solder and bits of sticky tape.’ Holly Rivers played the part of

Drusilla Paddock, best friend of Mildred Hubble’s rival Ethel Hallow, in the original ITV adaptation of The Worst Witch, shown about 20 years ago, and has since, among other jobs, been a children’s storyteller. She also used to love inventing, and now runs drama and bushcraft workshops for children. This is her debut novel, but Barry Cunningham at Chicken House knows a good story when it lands on his desk, and this is an exciting page- turner which bodes well for Holly Rivers’ future as a children’s author. DB

The Big Book of Birds HHHHH

Yuval Zommer (author & illustrator), Thames & Hudson, 64pp., 978-0-500-85151-3, £12.95 hbk

This large format book is an excellent introduction to birds and their lives, stunningly illustrated by the author. Starting with a double spread that turns

sideways, we have the bird

family tree, showing seven various types of birds, e.g. seabirds, birds of prey, flightless birds and so on. Turning the book back the normal way, we learn how to be a sensible bird spotter, then sideways again for a look at feathers and flying. This is really

interesting: 26 Books for Keeps No.240 January 2020 feathers are for recognizing each other, for warmth

and for showing off, as well as for flying, and the numbers are huge: 25,000 for a swan, 1,000 for a little hummingbird. The rest of the book is the conventional way up as we learn about migration, and then details of various familiar birds, with fascinating facts included e.g. a flamingo may perform a dance routine to impress a female with the help of up to 50 friends, and, if it gets too hot, it wees on its legs to cool down. A few poo details seem to help to keep children involved, but the facts are varied and definitely informative. Each double-page spread has little

blocks of text scattered about, mostly just one or two sentences, and lots of glorious illustration- it’s difficult to single any out, but the puffin page is fun, and the cranes are particularly good, flying, nesting, and courting. After the spreads on individual birds, we look at different shapes of beak and what they are used for, bird calls and songs, and how we can help look after birds. There is also a particular egg to look out for on 15 pages, and, if this proves too difficult, small versions of the correct pages with the egg ringed are given at the end, together with a glossary, called Bird Words, and a good index.

This is a

lovely book to browse through, or to find particular information, and will be a useful addition to a school library, or for a budding ornithologist. DB

Mickey and the Animal Spies HHH

Ann Miller, ill. Becky Moor, Oxford University Press, 170pp, 9780192773630, £6.99, pbk

This is a detective story about a school girl, Mickey, whose passions for cracking codes and deciphering clues lead to membership of an elite network of spies - COBRA. Mickey is a little young for this

covert unit, and that’s not the only reason she stands

out from the

other spies: she’s the only human being. Mickey is a dedicated problem solver, though, and soon convinces the monkeys, rats, sloths and snakes that she has what it takes to join the squad...just in time to help them crack the case of the stolen diamonds and the missing dog. It’s a seemingly simple case of

theft and the team set about finding the clues that will lead them to the diamonds and the dog. However, thanks to Mickey, they soon realise that the plot is much thicker than they’d anticipated,

and conventional

An early focus on the joys of

codebreaking is not sustained, which is a shame as this adds an enjoyable

extra dimension to the

book. Moreover, the characterisation of Mickey and her friends is somewhat shallow, with little attention paid to the source of Mickey’s quirky hobbies, for example. With lots of elements of Mickey’s life left unexplored, and an infinite number of animal characters that could join COBRA’s cast, Mickey and her team could certainly reform again soon to crack their next case. SD

Son of the Circus: A Victorian Story


E.L. Norry, Scholastic, 196pp, 9781407191416, £6.99, pbk

This historical drama is part of the narrative non-fiction series, VOICES, which uses

storytelling to teach

children about periods from the past and the extraordinary lives lived by the famous and the not so famous. From this book, young readers can learn about the first black circus owner in Victorian Britain, Pablo Fanque. The story is told by Ted, who lives with his mother and ill brother


Bradfield, until he is visited by the mysterious Pablo Fanque and learns that his absent father is a circus owner! Despite much anxiety, Ted is whisked off for a life at the circus, where he is introduced to a totally different world, and readers are taught about Victorian circuses, how they were run and the acts that were performed. Ted doesn’t find it easy to adapt to

his new world, despite the somewhat reluctant tutelage of Larkin (a young boy who is determined to fight with Ted for Pablo’s attention). The learning curve is steep and Ted finds it hard to believe that he will ever have what it takes to make it at the circus. Adding to his worries is the fact that the circus is clearly not succeeding in the way it once did, and Pablo is concerned for its future. There is some excitement and


emerge over which members of the team they can truly trust. This book works well as a detective

jeopardy in Ted’s journey with the circus, and his race to master the tightrope in time to save his father’s company. However, more compelling than this main story arc, is the achievements of Pablo as a trailblazer and the challenges faced by Ted as a young man of mixed race in Victorian Britain, which is captured poignantly in a tense and dramatic scene involving a small group of violent racists. The narrative on the whole predictable,

is somewhat story - a genuine

whodunnit for animal lovers - with plenty of intrigue and a narrative that twists and turns all the way to the final chapter. Mickey’s sense of adventure and love of codebreaking make her an interesting lead character, and her rapport with the animals in the story is humorously observed. The lethargic sloth

and over-attentive monkey are particularly fun. spider with few

genuine surprises, and some readers may be disappointed that there aren’t more opportunities Victorian

to learn about life beyond the

circus. However, the story of Pablo Fanque is unique and engaging and this book is a welcome introduction to his story. SD

The Undefeated HHHHH

Written by Kwame Alexander, ill. Kadir Nelson, Andersen Press, 40pp, 978-1-78344-928-6, £12.99, hbk

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