10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued Monstrous Devices


Damien Love, Rock the Boat, 352pp, 978 1 78607 752 3, £12.99 hbk What kind

of boy expect present might a

grandfather? Well, in Alex’s case it’s always the same, a toy robot

the arrival of both the

from a long absent from

somewhere abroad; his grandfather feeding Alex with his own obsession with mechanical toys. And time,

this toy

The Unstoppable Letty Pegg HHHH

Iszi Lawrence, Bloomsbury, 978-1472962478, £6.99 pbkk

The 100th anniversary of the

Representation of the People act in 1918 prompted a number of really good historical novels (Sally Nicholls’ Things a Bright Girl Can Do for example, Star by Star by Sheena Wilkinson), now here’s another one.

and grandfather is the start of an adventure that takes Alex and the enigmatic old man across Europe, pursued by and pursuing a crew of sinister figures, including a girl with piercing eyes, a tall dark man with shadowy features, a squat toyshop owner, and two beefy bald heavyweights. For all of them, the prize is Alex’s birthday gift, a toy robot that has a life of its own and seems to exercise a cruel and seductive power; and which, it turns out, is itself only the means to an even more dreadful end. It’s an ingenious tale, the familiar fight and flight scenario kept interesting by the figure of grandfather, a kind of ageing James Bond, dispensing health and safety advice which he knowingly ignores; an array of menacing miniature

machines Letty Pegg’s mother is

an active member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, or as Letty prefers to call them, Whizzpoo. Her father, a policeman, is decidedly less enthusiastic, particularly when their activism puts his wife in danger, and Letty’s grandma is violently opposed. Letty finds herself quite literally caught in the middle when she follows her mother to a demonstration, and witnesses the suffragettes suffering beatings and brutality at the hands of the police (not her father). Yanked from the melee, she makes friends with her rescuer who then enrols Letty in special Jiu Jitsu classes for women: yes, some suffragettes learned Jiu jitsu and used it to defend themselves and their leaders against the police. That’s probably the single most fascinating piece of historical information in the book – it was certainly news to me – but readers are given a very wide-ranging view of the suffragettes’ struggle generally, as well as insight into what life was like for women at the time, both the working and upper classes. This is Lawrence’s debut children’s

book; for her day jobs she’s a stand-up comic, historian and radio presenter. She puts all to good use here to tell a rollicking good story full of moments of humour and excitement, while also creating a vivid sense of the early 1900s. Letty and her friends and rivals are great characters, as are the real life people she comes across at different times in her adventures. Thoroughly recommended. AR

Read our Q&A interview with Iszi Lawrence.

equipped with whirling blades and deadly arrows; a mystery that it takes the whole book to gradually unravel, with quite a bit still unrevealed; and a properly


life that brings conflict and tragedy off the court as well as success on it. Kwame Alexander divides the novel into quarters like a game and scatters Dad’s ‘Basketball Rules’ throughout. Rule 1, for instance: ‘In this game of life your family is the court and your ball is the heart. No matter how good you are. No matter how down you get. Always leave your heart on the court.’ This homespun wisdom, from a man who was a considerable success in his basketball career but whose main focus is now his family, grounds and directs Josh’s fireball energy, which comes across not only in Alexander’s words but in Anyabwile’s illustrations. The novel rejects

the traditional

comic-strip presentation for a bold interweaving of text and illustration in black and orange which has the dynamism and excitement of


game itself and in which Anyabwile shows himself well able to match Alexander’s potent mix of character, drama, humour and pathos. As a term, ‘crossover’ might also refer to the teenage years themselves. Josh and his brother are only just starting out on the game of life but there’s certainly enough in this year to both tax and teach them: ‘As coach likes to say, you can get used to things going well, but you’re never prepared for things going wrong’. CB


Ele Fountain, Pushkin Children’s Books, 256pp, 978 1 78269 255 3, £7.99 pbk


finale in Prague. The book itself has had its own strange journey. By a Scottish author, it found its first publisher in the United States (it still retains occasional tale-tell American turns of phrase) and returned


these shores only after success over there. Its sequel, The Shadow Arts, is simultaneously published this month in the U.S.A. CB

The Crossover graphic novel HHHH

Kwame Alexander, illus. Dawud Anyabwile, Andersen Press, 224pp, 978 1 78344 959 0, £8.99, pbk

You children’s literature aficionados may know the term ‘crossover’ as it applies to books that have both a child and adult audience but, unless you play basketball, you may not know that it also applies to a move in which a player dribbles a ball quickly from one hand to another. Stick around with this graphic novel, and you will learn a whole lot more: not only about basketball, but that what it takes to succeed as a player may be exactly what it takes to succeed in life. The narrator is Josh Bell, one of the teenage basketball crazy twins who play for the Wildcats, a Junior High School team. Nicknamed Filthy McNasty by his dad for his prowess on the court, Josh not only has a way with a ball, he also has a way with words and he treats us to both his enthusiasms as he takes us through a year in his

28 Books for Keeps No.241 March 2020

The first couple of pages are set in italics. The speaker is a scared child. She, or maybe he, is being chased by a guard wielding a baton, dodging passengers, hurdling luggage on the platforms of a railway station. The rolling stock is cream and blue. People yell at the child: ‘Little rat’ or ‘Watch out, rat’. Then, ‘Monsoon clouds burst,’ we read, ‘spilling soft rain on the city.’ Ele Fountain never tells us which

city, but everything coincides with a reader’s image of India – the crowded station,

its street children, the

weather. The fear of the child in those opening paragraphs is a nightmare which readers might well recognise; and the anonymity of place and child may give us a sense that this story is not limited to the sub-continent. Lola is 13. She has had a privileged childhood, though one cruelly marred by the death of her mother in giving birth to her young brother, Amit. She has a loving Dad. She mostly likes life at her private school, where her friends have affluent homes, staffed by numerous servants. Those friends enjoy their music, films, travel and luxury

holidays. Overnight stays

featuring makeovers are a favourite weekend pastime. Admittedly, Lola’s family is less wealthy than those of her friends, and her more modest home is some distance

from the

school and its neighbourhood. One Saturday, her Dad goes off on

a business trip to another city to buy material for his clothing factory. Lola and Amit spend the day together.

Amit is entertaining company; he’s only eight, but he already goes to a school for the performing arts; his voice is so good he has his first film audition lined up. Dad fails to return that evening. And the next. The days go by with no word. The ready cash is running out. The landlord sends his agent round, demanding the rent. They have no contact with relatives – we learn later that Dad’s family didn’t approve of Mum, and he’d had to make a choice. Over several short chapters, piece by piece, the fabric of Lola’s life tears apart. Just before the bailiffs arrive, she has no choice but to take Amit onto the streets. Before long, she loses Amit in a crowd. So here’s that nightmare. Imagine.

No family, no friends, no food, no money. No home. No safety net. Sounds like the Victorian Underclass to a British reader, you might think. Though maybe not, if you know about food-banks or sleeping on the streets. Children living through the blitz in World War II sometimes dreamed an air raid took all their family, leaving them utterly alone. And, each night on TV, the orphans of Idlib? Maybe it’s the worst of youthful fears. Ele Fountain’s prose is the more

powerful for its simplicity as Lola’s fall continues until all she has left is herself and the stained clothes she stands up in. She doesn’t know where she’ll spend the next night, find the next stale crust. It is only then, helped by the cunning and friendship of the likeable Rafi, who’s been on the streets for a year already, that she begins the long climb back. Pushkin Children’s Books’ declared aim is ‘to share tales from different languages and cultures with younger readers, and to open the door to the wide, colourful worlds these stories offer.’ Their unusual list is worth checking online. Many of their titles are in translation, but Ele Fountain is a UK author, already much praised for Boy 87. Lost opens a door into a tale, told without cliché or sentimentality, of what matters and what doesn’t as you’re growing up – and beyond. Wherever you might live. GF

This Book Is Anti-Racist HHHHH

Tiffany Jewell, ill. Aurélia Durand, Frances Lincoln, 64pp., 9780711245204, pbk £8.99

Malcolm Duffy has set out to write Aurélia


Durand’s of

people varying

brightly coloured of

shades of colour, and the layout of this book with lots of text boxes at varying angles, make this much more fun to read than might have been expected. Tiffany Jewell encourages the reader to research his/her own history, to look at the history of prominent people of colour, ‘to wake up, take action and do the work’. She remembers a white teacher

of her 9 year-old self being racist, not allowing a Latino boy to leave the class to go to the toilet until it was too late, and criticising a black African boy who had the temerity to correct her spelling, and wishes that she and

Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32