reviews 10 – 14 Middle/Secondary continued

her classmates had had the courage to report their teacher. Now she is bolder, and would call out the person who claims that they do not see colour in their classroom as someone who denies diverse children their heritage - colour should be recognised, and not ignored. However, a racist incident on the street could be challenged, and filmed on a phone- she tells the reader their rights in this instance. Even the police, who might ask for filming to be stopped, do not have to be obeyed. Stories are told of the racist murders of Stephen Lawrence and of Trayvon Martin, and of Richard Loving, a white man who married a black woman, Mildred. In Virginia where they lived, and in 20 other states, they were not allowed to be married, and had to move to Washington, but eventually they succeeded in getting the law changed. Racism can be challenged, and racist rules and practice can be changed. Tiffany Jewell uses an ’x’ for plurals,

e,g, Latinx, which is gender neutral, and the reader should get used to it. Chapter headings are clear: for instance, dealing with Ethnicity, Racism as Personal and Institutional, and Prejudice.

Later, in ‘Choosing

my Path’, she lists her superpowers, which include ‘baking bread’, but also ‘interrupting when someone is being racist or not understanding that they are being racist’. To pick just two strong words out of the Glossary, people of colour do not have to assimilate, but they have agency - the ability to make choices, and the power to make effective change. This encourages young people to make a difference, but also states, ‘I am leaving the door open for you. Please leave it open for the folx who come after us’. This book would definitely be a useful addition to a school library. DB

This Book will help Cool the Climate


Isabel Thomas, illus Alex Paterson, Wren and Rook Publishing, 192pp, 978-1-5263-621-4, £6.99 pbk

An entertaining and informative book packed with fascinating facts and figures as well as practical ideas for children who want to learn more about climate change and the implications of global warming.

Cleverly written

to engage children with its humour the book never loses sight of its aim to inform and demonstrate how we can all help our planet, tackle climate change

and reduce our carbon

footprint. A book to dip into or read from cover

to cover the bite sized

sections make the information easy to digest and the illustrations and diagrams enhance the text. The book doesn’t shrink from tough subjects,

encouraging its readers

to challenge some of the common myths surrounding climate change as well as equipping children with solid fact based arguments against climate change deniers. Full of projects that

children can involve themselves in both at home and at school – from rewilding a garden to starting a school campaign to encourage pupils and staff to become more eco-friendly – this is a timely and valuable resource for children everywhere. AB

A Cake for the Gestapo HHHHH

Jacqueline King, ZunTold, 256pp., 9781916204201, £7.99 pbk

It is sometimes easy to forget that part of the United Kingdom was occupied by the Nazis during the Second World War, but here is a novel that reminds us of that fact. Spinner, Clem, Ginger and Joe form a club, the Trotter Club, to ‘fight’ the Germans in their own way.

It starts off as a game almost,

with catapults and stones which they learned to bounce so that the source could not easily be found. But as the occupation bites it becomes more serious and much more personal when Viktor a particularly nasty Sergeant takes up with Percy’s mother, a French resistance fighter is executed, Percy is taken to France, escapes and returns and the group see what has been done to him and to others. Meanwhile some of the adults are fighting in their own way, and matters come to a head when Clem takes one of the hidden guns. Gradually the

The Threads of Magic HHHHH

Alison Croggon, Walker, 379pp, 978-1-4063-8474-1,£7.99 pbk

Pip and his sister El live alone in the unsavoury streets of the city of Clarel, existing on what Pip can acquire by picking pockets. When a silver casket he steals contains a dried- out heart he has no idea that in the wrong hands this strange object will unleash ancient forces so dangerous that the fabric of the world will face destruction. All he knows is that the heart seems to know him and respond to his touch. Pip and El do not, however,

have the monopoly on dreary lives. Princess Georgette, living in royal luxury, is miserable at the thought of her impending arranged marriage to the ghastly King Oswald, from which there seems no escape. The politically motivated

union will enable her

father-the equally ghastly King Axel- to rid himself of his barren second wife and thus have another chance of siring a son to inherit his kingdom. Yet nothing is as it seems in these or any other parts of the kingdom. Enter the forces of magic, in

the shape of the witches who are wrongly reviled

because they are

not understood. They work to keep the world safe from Spectres,those creatures who are nor

neither dead alive but who exist in a the In reader sees the

situation develop. Each chapter and some sections have a date and time which gives a slow and deliberate build -up of the pressure on these young people. At the beginning of the story they are all at primary school, but Clem and Ginger then go off to secondary school, and each in their own way has a reason to hate the Nazis. Joe’s mother dies partly for lack of the insulin she needs, Spinner’s mother was trapped in England at the beginning of the war, Ginger’s father is in the Royal Navy and Clem’s brother has been killed. Percy who had bullied Spinner particularly, reveals himself to have been a victim too and their reaction to this is credible and heart-warming. The rawness of their emotion is not hidden, hence this story being for the top end of the age range.

The death of Joe’s mother is

described in detail as is his grief. There is light relief with Peggy, the

very obstreperous pig, used to haul the cart and partial to the seats of German uniforms, and the forming of the music group to annoy the occupying force, but then Ginger plays the Marseillaise as the young Frenchman is taken to his death and suddenly the seriousness of their actions hits home for the reader. At the end the young people were reminded of the seriousness of what they were doing and the danger they were in by Spinner’s father, himself risking his life by spying for the English government. This is a very fine book indeed,

difficult at times to read, but also a realistic and credible picture of that time. It has a real sense of time and place. a fine achievement. JF

Between, needing to marry and have robust children whose spirits they can consume in order to live in their bodies. Croggon weaves many eponymous

threads into her narrative and the supernatural is the most feared and powerful of them all. One of the many admirable things about this book is the interweaving of fantasy and real life to illustrate the close proximity of the two and the subsequent insecurity of the characters. There is compassion too - for the witches who were wrongly tortured, but most of all for Clovis, killed by his father for his own ends. Pip becomes his home and


haven-a metaphysical representation of the care we might give to others in desperate situations. VR

Orla and the Serpent’s Curse HHHHH

C J Haslam, Walker, 304pp, 978 1 4063 8848 0, £6.99 pbk

Sometimes it can feel as if all story concepts have already been written for this age group, and a family holiday where witches surface, and four children and a dog come to the rescue on a Cornish coast, doesn’t sound terribly original. And yet, this is a stormingly brilliant read filled with wit, passion, pace and perfect characterisation. It is bold and it is different. Orla and her two brothers are taken

to a Cornish holiday home in lieu of a family holiday in France, little realising that they and their mother have been lured there by a coven of witches. Orla is descended from one of the most powerful witches to have existed, and the witch’s ancient curse is poisoning the

land, destroying wildlife, and

killing people, and apparently only Orla can undo it. But first, she’ll need to decipher who she is and what exactly she needs to do, and she’ll also need the help of her brothers, new friend Raven, and her intelligent dog, Dave. Haslam

is The Sunday Times

Chief Travel Writer, and here setting is crucial to plot and character.The Cornish coast is acutely delineated, but Haslam also throws in familiar story tropes, such as an out-of-the-way holiday cottage, dark and threatening woods, and stormy seas. But his most memorable settings are the witch’s houses; each is disturbing with an assortment of bones and herbs and strange

souvenirs cluttering the

rooms in the witches’ attempts to ward off evil spirits. Against this backdrop sits the

very real Orla, fresh from the 21st century, and simply delectable with her matter-of-fact outlook, and her constant

levelheadedness, as she

proclaims how she’s just a Londoner on

holiday. Pitted against the

superstition, curses, and witchcraft of her new surroundings, this constant rubbing against the modern outlook of Googling, messaging, and fact- stating makes for a humorous and compelling read. At times, Haslam veers off into

Dave the dog’s point of view – the family’s chief of security, and whereas in another instance this may seem twee, here the tiny glimpses of his voice are pitched perfectly – they add wisdom and hilarity to the sometime horrific circumstances: the horror of nasty untimely deaths, dark menacing shadows, and life-sucking jewellery. Original and bursting with life, there

are still nods to the canon of children’s literature – Enid Blyton, Susan Cooper and more, the pace besting that of Blyton, and yet the vocabulary and emotional intelligence, as well as tropes of good and evil, competing with The Dark is Rising. There’s also the slight metaphor

for the witch’s

curse of the earth being parallel with our own pollution of the environment, and looking to youth such as Greta Thunberg to save it.

Books for Keeps No.241 March 2020 29

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