BfK 5 – 8 Infant/Junior continued

the kitchen, where the pea bounces and pings and dings around until at last he lands in the sink with a PLOP. Out comes the plug, and he shoots round the bend and down into the drain…. ‘WEEE! Cheers the pea. It’s all started again!’ This book has the magic ingredient that demands a child shouts ‘AGAIN! AGAIN!’ once the past page is reached. The balance

between rhyming text and boisterous pictures is perfect, and every page turn demands a study of what is happening. Youngsters will soon join in the predictable text as they follow the tale in the illustrations, and an inevitable ending to the tale is the demand to read it again! Lots of fun for reader and child alike. GB

8 – 10 Junior/Middle New talent The Wild Way Home HHHH

Sophie Kirtley, Bloomsbury, 256pp, 978-1526616289, £6.99 pbk

Fans of Stig of the Dump or

Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother series will very much enjoy Sophie Kirtley’s vivid, exciting and heart-warming Stone Age timeslip story. Charlie is confused and upset by the arrival of a new baby brother, particularly by the news that baby Dara is poorly and in intensive care. Running away into nearby words, Charlie finds a boy, hurt and on the point of drowning in the river. From then, things become very strange as Charlie realises that somehow she – or he, it could be either and we’re never told – has slipped back in time to the Stone Age. After a shaky start, not helped by the obvious problems of communication and understanding, the two children connect, and it emerges that they have quite a lot in common. The boy, Harby as Charlie calls him, also has a new baby sibling, who needs special and immediate care and attention. As they embark on a search for baby Mothga, they must confront wolves and other dangers of the forest, before finally finding her. By making Mothga safe, and helping Harby – or Hartboy as he’s really called – Charlie can find a way home. There’s a beautiful sense


nature, both in the stone age scenes The Midnight Swan


Catherine Fisher, Firefly, 192pp, 978 1 91310 237 1, £6.99 pbk

Catherine Fisher writes with a poet’s love and respect for language. This story, the last in her Clockwork Crow trilogy, is slight in plot but rich in atmosphere. Set in a version of Wales in some indeterminate time in the past where magic still runs deep, Seren, a young but resourceful girl orphan, has been taken into the local big house run by amiable Lady Mair and her equally easy-going ex-army husband.

Servants abound, with

tenants warmly invited each year to a Midsummer Ball.

when human characters need advice. Taking all this on board is made not just easy but also a real pleasure due to Fisher’s mastery of simple but memorable prose. Comparatively short, this story feels much longer because no reader would ever wish to hurry through this cornucopia of images magically coming to life in such an economy of words. And when something more earthy is required, there is always the Crow with his boasting, self-deception and general tetchiness. Previous installments in this trilogy have already won prizes; this title deserves one too. NT

Sofia the Dreamer and her Magical Afro


Jessica Wilson, illus Tom Rawles, 32pp , Tallawah Publishing, 9781527259096, £8.99 pbk

Every Sunday, Sofia’s mother does her hair – maybe styling it into twists, or perhaps into a glorious afro or cane row braids. As she does this, Sofia finds herself drifting off to find herself somewhere else – an Caribbean island beside a brilliant sea, a Los Angeles street surrounded by skyscrapers, an Ethiopian field full of corn, to meet people who open the door to her history represented in these hair styles; they all mean something and should be worn with pride. Even more important, as Sofia realises, creating these styles is an act of love. Tom Rawles’ bold, hyper-realistic

and the modern day ones, and I very much liked the descriptions of stone age life too. We’re not overwhelmed with detail but those details that are there – roasting of hazelnuts, strips of meat cooking over a fire, handprint paintings on a cave wall – feel all the more powerful and effective because of it. The mechanics of the timeslip are dextrously done too so that they never interrupt the storytelling; and Kirtley portrays the emotional truths of her story with equal skill, making Charlie’s sense of loss, love and home as vivid and affecting as the encounters with wolves.

This is

Sophie Kirtley’s debut novel and very impressive. AR

So much so traditional. But

throw in a grumpy, desiccated schoolteacher

now transformed

into a mechanical crow and add the constant threat posed by Them, the malevolent Fair Family fairy force insisting on its getting its own way, and things soon start

to look very

different. Seren has vowed to turn the vain and somewhat ungrateful crow back into who he once was. But this necessitates a perilous journey set off by a pen that writes itself, taking in a parliament of fowls en route and ending at the Garden of the Midnight Swan. She is loyally supported by Tomos, son of the house, plus a few talking animals, always so helpful

24 Books for Keeps No.244 September 2020

images capture both the characters that people the pages and Sofia’s dreaming, as well bringing their backgrounds to vivid life. They are powerful message,

of colour, positive, presenting real

taking up whole pages or else cropping up mid paragraph. This current title is the last volume in her Wizards of Once quartet, describing the struggles of young Xar and Wish as they seek to restore their troubled land the wildwoods to its former peaceful

and prosperous state.

Their bitterly divided parents are no help here but fortunately there are many others, including an animated spoon, firmly on their side. Danger is provided by assorted witches and villains such as Brutal the Heartless, but there is always a way out even when the existing odds would strongly suggest otherwise. This story begins somewhat statically

with some preliminary

explanations of what has gone before but after that things really let rip at a pace never less than hectic. Extreme violence while often threatened is nearly always avoided in favour of last minute rescues. Characters are more human than heroic, as often as not possessing a fragile dignity that never quite succeeds in covering up their faults however hard they try. The only exception is Looker, Xar’s older brother, happy to exhibit his essential selfishness until the very end. At this point it gradually becomes clear that all the main characters are in fact junior players in the future court of King Arthur. But the unhappiness and division that is now bound to follow as they get older is not part of this jolly story’s remit. Readers can simply sit back and enjoy rollicking fun from an author-illustrator working at top form as well as high speed.

The perfect

images for a powerful full

vibrant, people.

Jessica Wilson’s text is as positive as the images that accompany it. It does not shout, rather she leads her young readers on a journey. This journey gently, positively

choice as the current Children’s Laureate in 2019, her tenure has now been extended to June 2022. Children are lucky to have her, and so are we. NT

Sky Pirates Echo Quickthorn and the Great Beyond

HHHH and imaginatively

offers an insight into histories that they may not have heard but which should be recognised and celebrated, for ‘Knowing your history is important’ – it opens the door to respect, a sense of unity and confidence – and flowing through it a love that is a gift. This is a welcome addition to any

classroom in any school. Sofia is a very real, recognisable girl and her dreams could give rise exploration

and discussion introduction for all

to further both

within classrooms and homes. Here is an excellent

children to the rich culture of our world today.FH

The Wizards of Once. Never and Forever


Cressida Cowell, Hodder, 381pp, 978 1 4449 5640 5, £12.99 hdbk

Cressida Cowell is a phenomenon, producing volume after volume of fantasy

adventure stories without

ever losing quality or zest. She also illustrates them in wild black pencil, with cartoonish figures sometimes

Alex English, illus Mark Chambers, Simon and Schuster, 978-1471190773, £6.99 pbk

There’s a lot to be said for proper, honest-to-goodness

Eleven-year- children’s

adventure stories, and all of it can be said about Sky Pirates.

old Echo Quickthorn is an orphan and a ward of thoroughly unlikeable King Alfons of Lockfort. Lockfort itself is positioned on the edge of the

Barrens and its inhabitants

believe that beyond the Barrens is nothing, just cloud, mist and a very big drop. Why King Alfons is so eager to promulgate this belief is one of the mysteries of the book and it’s part of Echo’s destiny to disprove this piece of fake news. Unlike bookish Prince Horace, the only other child she’s allowed to be friends with, Echo dreams of escape so the unexpected arrival of a hot air balloon containing an

eccentric explorer Daggerwing provides exactly

Professor the

opportunity she’s longed for. Before you can say “second star to the right”, Echo has rescued the professor from Lockfort’s dungeons and is sailing

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