BfK 8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued

of engineering they represent; there’s a terrific scene in which the two lucky children get to witness the train take on water from a water trough for example. Traditional though the setting and plot are, it’s thoroughly modern in tone and approach and should

deservedly become a real

favourite with readers. LS Butterflies for Grandpa Joe


Nicola Davies, illus Mike Byrne, Barrington Stoke, 96pp, 978-16-78112-882-4, £6.99 pbk

An engaging and tender story about a young boy’s determination to rescue his grandad from the numbing grief he is suffering after the death of his wife and return him to the warm and vibrant person he used to be. Grandpa

Joe The Highland Falcon Thief HHHHH

M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illus Elisa Paganelli, Macmillan Children’s Books, 978-1529013061, 256pp, £6.99 pbk

Stolen jewels, of adventure Scottish

this hugely story is the


stowaways – The Highland Falcon Thief has them all, but key to the success

enjoyable Highland

Falcon itself, a gloriously described steam locomotive (an A4 Pacific if you want to be really precise, and by the end of the book you definitely will). Young Harrison ‘Hal’ Beck is a reluctant passenger on the Highland Falcon as she makes her last journey ever, from Kings Cross up to Scotland and then back down the west coast before crossing east again to steam into Paddington. his journalist and their


He’s a guest of uncle

wonderful bunch of larger than life characters, from the

fellow passengers are a bullying self-

made millionaire to the glamorous actress and, on the home journey, a prince and princess no less. Hal initially deems trains ‘boring’, but his attitude changes, particularly when he meets Marlene (aka Lenny), daughter of the driver and an absolute train buff. Before long the two are working together to solve a crime that has to have been committed by one of the passengers.

The crime is expertly plotted, suspicion falling on each of the passengers – even Uncle Nat is in the frame for a while – and a desperate rush to identify the true culprit leads to all sorts of adventures for Hal, including a death-defying scramble over the roof of the train as it rumbles through the Somerset countryside. It all makes for first-class reading. Hal and Lenny are thoroughly engaging central characters and authors M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman do a great job capturing the romance of steam trains and the amazing feats

used to love

butterflies. Every weekend Ben would visit Grandpa Joe and Granny Lou helping Granny bake cakes while Grandpa Joe would go off ‘on safari’ in his large flower filled garden searching for new butterflies to snap with his camera. In the evenings Ben would play cards with his grandparents and Joe would make everyone laugh, playing tricks and hiding cards up his sleeves.

But since Granny Lou

passed away Joe has changed and is no longer interested in anything except staring at his TV screen with the sound turned down. Ben cannot bear the idea that his Grandpa is slipping away and considers what he can do to bring ‘Grandpa Joe back to life’.

After considerable thought Ben

literally ‘hatches’ a plan – needless to say butterflies are heavily involved Ben’s Mum, Stepdad and two little

sisters also have important roles to play which both help and hinder the outcome of Ben’s scheme. Despite the difficult subject matter Nicola Davies injects such lively charm into the characters of Ben and his family that the story never becomes maudlin or sentimental. Told with real warmth this is a endearing tale of family relationships. ABl

Ghoul Scouts Welcome to Camp Croak


Taylor Dolan, Guppy Books, 978-1913101060, 160pp, £6.99 pbk

The last couple of years have seen a welcome resurgence in illustrated fiction for youngsters and Taylor Dolan’s Ghoul Scouts is an excellent addition to a growing list of super-cool reads (Amelia Fang, Witch Wars, Goth Girl etc). It’s distinguished not only by the eye-catching, mid-century artwork but by its quirky subject matter and ebullient telling. Lexie Wild is off to Scout Camp for the summer, so far, so normal, but her camping trip turns out to be anything but ordinary. Her fellow campers are a mixed bunch – there’s a werewolf, a cutie pie ghost named Marshmallow, a zombie and – certain

24 Books for Keeps No.241 March 2020

to be everyone’s favourite – a talking skeleton named Bébé, ‘pronounced Bay-Bay because it’s French,


hear?’ Despite her (understandable) early

misgivings about the camp,

Lexie is soon having an absolute ball, but all changes when the charming scout leaders, Rosemary, Parsleigh and Sage (three heads, one body between them) are

the Career

thinking really hard about the career you would want

badge for


husband… Clearly, she has to go and the Ghouls get onto it sharpish. The dialogue is an absolute treat from beginning to end and sets the tone for

an irresistible and very funny

adventure, with a thoroughly modern sense of girl power. Sophisticated fun like this demands to be read aloud (brush up on your southern belle first for best results). LS

Read our Q&A interview with Taylor Dolan.

Mark Anchovy HHH

William Goldsmith, ill. William Goldsmith, Piccadilly Press, 297pp, 9781848128613, £6.99, pbk

In this modern take on the classic detective genre, a pizza delivery boy with an unusually good memory joins a secret network of young investigators. Colin Kingsley’s family own the pizza delivery and, tired of


cycling people’s dinner all round town, he dreams of something more, and fancies himself as an amateur sleuth. The pizza delivery/private detective crossover

caters for a somewhat

niche market, but, nevertheless, Colin draws the attention of the Golden Spatula League - the most important crime-fighting agency you’ve never heard of.

Colin is thrilled to learn that

not only does there exist a covert collection of secret agents who are all vendors of fast food, but they have a headquarters just round the

suddenly and

strangely incapacitated and a new leader, Euphemia Vile, takes charge. Her idea of badges is distinctly retro, so

comprises future

corner from his house! The League are impressed by the perception and memory skills that Colin shows during the initiation phase, and give him his very own code name (Mark Anchovy), a mentor from the local kebab shop (Princess Skewer) and a mission to stop the fattest gangster on the planet from stealing a priceless painting in Rome. Fortunately, his school happen to have organised a field trip to Italy just at the right time. The book is packed with action

and revels in the classic tropes of traditional

secret agent Villains are garish and menacing,

heroes are brash and confident, and settings are dominated by dark shadowy corners - you can virtually hear the echoing footsteps as the characters chase one another across courtyards and up and down concrete steps. are

Goldsmith’s a these

perfect accompaniment dramatic

scenes, monochrome, and clearly

drawn in inspired

by the clean lines and expressive characterisation found in the comics of the most famous boy-detective of all, Tin Tin. The powerful nostalgic effect of Goldsmith’s writing and art might go slightly over the heads of younger readers, but they will certainly be engaged by the relentless speed of the story and by the extent of the danger...and the massive explosions. The fast

slightly tiresome and is only sustained through

large example,

somewhat convenient gangster’s for

that the

It’s the

favourite food is pizza, and


Spatula League has an unbelievably massive budget


of teenagers in the service industry. Mark Anchovy is dramatic

exciting with well-crafted set pieces and striking illustrations

captivate many readers: it’s just a shame it has such a silly premise! SD

Max and the Midknights HHHH

Lincoln Peirce, ill. Lincoln Peirce, Macmillan, 279pp, 9781529029260, £6.99, pbk

The front cover of Max and the

Midknights features testimonials by Dav Pilkey and Jeff Kinney, whose enormously

successful Captain

Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series are easy comparisons to this new adventure comedy. Max is an apprentice to her uncle, a

medieval troubadour of questionable quality. She is ambitious for more and has her heart set on becoming a knight: not a career path available to girls in the Middle Ages! Yet Max is fearless and decisive and, when her uncle is kidnapped by the evil King Gastley, she leaps at the chance for adventure. Saving her uncle means heading

to the centre of Byjovia and finding a team of willing warriors to help her restore kind King Conrad to his rightful throne, from where his usurper, Gastely, has enchanted the hapless

for an organisation and will


illustrations to

food context becomes coincidences.

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