reviews 8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued

Byjovians into a gormless trance. Luckily, the magic can’t affect children, so Max is able to find a brave group of youngsters who, with a little help from a rather unconventional (and elderly)

wizard, set about

restoring Byjovia to its former glory. Peirce’s pedigree as a cartoonist is indisputable. Having enjoyed huge success in books and newspapers, previously, his new characters are drawn with a flamboyance and confidence that is rare for series openers. Max and

his friends’ personalities are

immediately clear, thanks to Peirce’s inimitable

style: few illustrators can

create such characterisation through simple line drawings. Tiny details like the location of an eyebrow, or a well- positioned question mark,

tell much

more of the story than the prose that links the pictures. Max’s quest gallops along at speed

and the jokes, most of which are visual, will keep readers chortling through the pages in anticipation for the next gag. Max and the Midknights is funny, fast and full of mischievous villains and courageous


Neither the story nor the style are especially original, but children will love this new offering from a comic author/illustrator at the top of his game. SD

beauty of it, using metaphors and personification to paint pictures of it in readers’ minds. Most of the poems, though, are narrative, with a hugely personal feel. Stories are written of a frightening encounter with a smack of jellyfish, of scrumping for pears, and travelling over the summer solstice, and all of them are told with such an open heart, and with such generous description,


be autobiographical. Older readers will not be able to resist reminiscing about their own childhoods, young

readers will ponder which

details are the poet’s memories and which are invented. Like all Wide Eyed publications,

A Year of Nature Poems is beautifully illustrated, with calm yet vibrant pictures that are perfectly sympathetic to the poems’ ecological themes. They also add complimentary detail that will help young readers to understand the figurative language, and will make it easy for children to flick through the book and find their favourites to share with their parents. A Year of Nature Poems is a peaceful and moving anthology that reminds

readers how rewarding

and worthwhile it is to look after our natural world...every month of the year. SD

Viking Voyagers HHHH

Jack Tite, Bonnier Books, 64pp, 9781787414198, £16.99 hbk

A striking design and its square, large format helps this book stand out on the bookshelf. The muted,

limited A Year of Nature Poems HHHH

Joseph Coelho, ill. Kelly Louise Judd, Wide Eyed, 32pp, 9780711249943, £6.99 pbk

In this illustrated collection of nature poems, each month of the year is given its own special dedication. The twelve poems are all unique but are united by their celebration

of the

natural world and by the poignancy of the messages and memories they share. Each poem celebrates an animal, plant, or

natural event that is

prominent that month. Starlings in January, fruit trees in August and hibernation in November, for example. Though there is a variety of style and metre, a love and admiration of the natural world is shared by them all. Some of the poems take one detail from the month (a daffodil;

falling leaves) and shine a light upon the

colours are interesting. I know these appeal to adults but I wonder if they appeal to children in the same way? The design has tones of a slightly more grown up appeal as it is stylised in the form of many books at the moment – almost folk art style. However, what is actually drawn is not flowery in any way and when you inspect closely you see Viking symbols and clues to what the book is about. The book is one that is perfect

for picking up and putting down and picking up and dipping in to again. It has multiple ways of working with flap down parts, big pull out sections to keep you on your reading toes. The author worked very closely with an expert from the Jorvick Viking Centre so it is a very well researched book with much to extend thinking about the Vikings. It’s not

just a

headline grabbing plunder and scary figure heads book. It gives the oft missed side that Vikings often settled in England and that they lived in a really

own gods and systems like the other ‘peoples’

learn about in schools. It would certainly be a great book

for any school studying the Vikings and a great history book for keen historians even if they weren’t – a super information book. SG

interesting culture with their primary school


Empire’s End: A Roman Story HHHH

Leila Rasheed, Scholastic, 192pp, 9781407191393, £6.99 pbk

Camilla enjoys a privileged childhood in Leptis Magna, one of the great cities in the Roman province of Libya. Her

philosopher a boyhood friend of the Emperor Septimus Severus, the first African Emperor

summoned to rejoin his friend

of Rome. When in

Rome he is delighted – Camilla is old enough to contract an advantageous marriage. Camilla is less sure – but their arrival in Rome sees the family faced with a very different future – they must accompany their Emperor to the distant northern province of Britannia. What does the future hold? This is an addition to the Voices

series which aims to bring history alive through the immediate voice of their protagonists. Here Leila Rashid conjures life in the Roman Empire in the 2nd century AD. We are not in the militaristic world of the legions, marching victoriously

over father is a respected and

The House of One Hundred Clocks


A.M. Howell, Usborne, 330pp, 978 1 474959568, pbk, £6.99

they must surely

In Edwardian Cambridge, Helena, her beloved pet parrot Orbit and her father, recently bereaved after the loss of Helena’s mother, begin a new life in the home of the enigmatic Mr Westcott. They have been charged with looking after the many clocks which crowd Westcott’s

and with which he appears obsessed. Helena

is not enthusiastic

townhouse about

this venture and even less so when she discovers the harsh nature of the contract her father has signed. If any of the clocks stop during her father’s stewardship, they will forfeit all their possessions. This Helena discovers was the fate of the previous incumbent. There are many questions to which seeks

Helena answers, including

the reason the contract her father had to sign was so harsh, what has happened to the belongings of the previous timekeeper, why drawings of flying machines keep appearing on the walls and who the mysterious child called ‘boy’ often seated silently in the corner of a room really is. The need to solve the mysteries in this strange household is intertwined with the compelling urgency to prevent the clocks from stopping. Helena dreads this happening as it will lead to the loss of Orbit, her remaining link to the mother she has lost. As

this narrative absorbing unfolds, the grief and fear of we

well-crafted discover

further loss the

conquered nations. Here we see what it was like to be a girl – albeit a girl who has enjoyed education and has been encouraged to think and to question within the social mores. Yes, she does accept slavery, it is the norm – but Rashid also allows her to experience doubt – and a level of understanding. We

are also introduced to the

turbulent background to the Roman world. The world is not as stable as we like to imagine and the provinces – Britain for one – are very far from the centre and vulnerable. Camilla tells her story as memories for her son as Rashid imagines what might be the background to archaeological finds that reveal that even then Britain was a diverse society. The language is neutral – contemporary without jarring; the history introduced subtly through dialogue and personal observation. There are few heroics, just an immersive experience of the past. FH

which fuels Mr Westcott’s irrational superstitions and the motivation and resentment of his sister, Katherine. Witnessing these revelations leads to greater understanding between Helena and her own father as she begins to come to terms with her mother’s death and learns to look forward to a new life. In addition to the sensitive

exploration of grief, depression and obsession,

historical themes rights to education, are

threaded throughout the story: the beginning of female emancipation and


attempts at flight and the plight of the poor with the ever present spectre of the workhouse. A compelling and very well-crafted

story, highly recommended. SMc The Pear Affair


Judith Eagle, Faber, 274pp, 978-0-5713-4685-1, £7.99 pbk

Nell Magnificent is very unhappy. Her grotesque parents, Melinda and Gerald, despise her, sending her to a ghastly boarding school to get her out of their sight and, worst of all, her beloved French nanny, Pear, has been dismissed by them for no apparent reason.

When Nell’s

announce that they are off to Paris for a business meeting, they are horrified when Nell insists on accompanying

Books for Keeps No.241 March 2020 25


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