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reviews 8 – 10 Junior/Middle continued


into a car park by Cashcorp. ‘It turns out that when your baddies are dressed in in suits and don’t use LASERS, but bits of paper and suitcases, they are much, much harder to defeat’. The fact that ‘Popular’ Serena’s Dad is the big cheese at Cashcorp is an added complication. With an idea from Gramps, and input from her classmate Ivy, who becomes a friend, of course the park is saved, but not before Pizazz has to use her “very embarrassing superpower”, which would be a spoiler if revealed.


The New Kid is in the pipeline. There


are


Another story: Pizazz vs copious cartoon


illustrations, and also comic strips for the parts where Pizazz has to rush off to save the planet. Sophy Henn has now written 32 books, for varying age groups, and was the World Book Day illustrator in 2015, so she is able to use all her skills as author and illustrator for this book, which is great fun to read and highly recommended. DB


Humans is a rollercaster adventure with some upsetting discoveries along the way, not least when Jefferson is compelled to spend a night hiding in an abattoir. It transpires that Mr Edgar was the mastermind behind a group of animal activists and was murdered by the men who Jefferson spotted


speeding away from the


scene of the crime. He is captured by the men and is


about to be murdered by them when Gilbert and the members of the coach party burst into the flat in which he is being held and save him. This is a riotous and heartwarming finale to the adventure and, in addition, Jefferson is not only elevated from murderer to hero but he also gets his girl. This book received a Pen award


and it is easy to see why. It is both charming and instructive, fast-paced and entertaining-but, most of


all,


these qualities combine to deliver a powerful message about the brutal slaughter of animals for meat. This is activism in soft but deadly gloves. The delightful


illustrations further bring


the story to life, giving readers the chance to know and identify with the characters. VR


Children of The Benin Kingdom HHHH


Dinah Orji, Dinosaur Books, 216pp, 978 1999336332, £6.99 pbk


Jefferson HHHHH


Jean-Claude Mourlevat,translated by Ros Schwartz, ill. Antoine Ronzon, Andersen Press, 233pp, 978-1-78344-969-9, £6.99 hbk.


This seemingly whimsical story is far,far more than meets


the eye.


When Jefferson Ponsonby-Smythe, a young hedgehog, is accused of the brutal murder of his long-time barber, the badger Mr Edgar, he is forced to go on the run with his closest friend, Gilbert the pig. Their mission is to find the real killers-but they have no idea where to start. Then, slowly they begin to acquire sent by Mr. Edgar


clues-a postcard to his niece(of


whom Jefferson is extremely fond) and Jefferson’s recollection of a car travelling dangerously fast with two villainous types inside it. The search for further evidence continues as Gilbert gets them both on his cousin’s package tour, with characters


described with a deft


and entertaining hand. Gilbert and Jefferson’s foray into the Land of the


This riveting historical adventure is set in 12th century West Africa. Ada lives with Papa Eze, a herbalist and healer who had found her as a baby and brought her home as his wife and child had died. Eze teaches Ada his knowledge and skill in the ways of the forest but she feels something is missing and wants to find out more about her ancestors. She knows that a special amber coloured stone buried among the trees was put there specially for her and as her curiosity increases, she


becomes more


determined to find out where she came from. While Eze is away consulting a diviner, Ada with the help of Mbe, Eze’s apprentice, risks a journey of her own to find some Golden-leaf bark as she has noticed Eze is becoming weaker. Along the way the children spy warrior hunters from the faraway forest city and speculate as to what they might be looking for. On her return Ada feels compelled visit her


to special stone and


accidentally unearths a package lying underneath. It contains a beautiful and finely carved amulet. Eze disturbs her and realises it is now time to tell Ada about her heritage as the daughter of a queen. As the story unfolds the children many dangers


face and much


treachery on their journey but Ada’s courage and self-belief forward and she


surprising revelations in her quest to find her true family. This is a fast-paced adventure story of a resourceful and feisty young girl


carry her discovers some


determined to find out where she came from and where she fits into society.


despite


friendship and loyalty and the bonds of family as a quest for identity.


It is also as much about The


book is rich in details of village life contrasted against the bustle and splendour of the forest city. This would be an excellent read for


schools and there a helpful factual section


at the back of the book


placing the story in context and giving more accurate historical details. JC


Moon Dog HHHH


Jane Elson, Hachette, 256pp, 9781444955712, £6.99 pbk


Tragedy comes in many shapes


and sizes, and Elson portrays some of the sadness in children’s lives in this expertly empathetic book, whilst managing to provide enough uplift and hope by way of the power of friendship, animal kindness, and community. Marcus is large for his age, and dealing with being an outsider


at


school because of his size, as well as struggling with difficult family circumstances, including a father suffering from depression


and over her a


mother who has run away. Delilah, small for her age and new to the area, is grief-stricken


father’s


death, and also coming to terms with how to deal with her mother’s grief and anxiety. Together, they form a strong bond over their love for dogs. When Marcus discovers an unnamed


dog in the empty house next door, the pair become caught up in the seedy undercover trade of puppy farms, and it isn’t long before their friendship and survival is put to the test. With alternating first-person


narratives (in different fonts to help a young reader), this is both an engaging, and satisfying mystery, drawing attention


to the plight of


illegal pet breeding and sales, but also capturing the stark emotions and difficulties that some young children face in the wake of difficult family situations.


Elson excels at


understanding the children’s actions and motivations, but also at drawing out those things that can help – patience, trustworthy and empathetic adults, and a truly caring friendship. Young readers with a love for dogs


will be attracted by the premise and the cover, but should be warned that there are distressing details inside, which may prove nightmare-inducing for sensitive children. But there is plenty within to rejoice in too, with glimpses of sparkling humour and cheer. The secondary characters are


particularly well drawn, from


Nana Sparrow, who runs a fruit and vegetable stall and deserves a book of her own, to Delilah’s angst-ridden mother, and Marcus’s patient and long-suffering teachers. Elson shows how family can come in all guises, and that sometimes family can be formed from strangers met along the way. A sense of belonging is key for children, and


the in these


dangers and losses children’s lives, Elson


shows how adults on the periphery can make a big difference. Rich cultural backgrounds and a sense of place are also neatly embedded in the story, and this leads to a fully-rounded heartfelt book, with a reminder of the solace and comfort animals can give. CZ


Life of Riley: Beginner’s Luck HHHH


Simon James Green, ill. Aleksei Bitskoff, Scholastic, 241pp, 9780702303623, £6.99 pbk


This comedy tells the story of ten- year-old Riley and his efforts to rid himself of a terrible curse. A


rather an


involving a fortune-teller, a pushy mum and


unfortunate especially


event snotty


sneeze results in Riley receiving a curse, which, he truly believes, is the reason that bad things happen to him. And bad things really do happen to Riley. In the first few chapters alone, he suffers disasters involving extra sticky glue, a banana skin, and pants-wetting. In fact, the beginning of the book features so many comedy mishaps in quick succession, that it has the feel of a comedy sketch show, rather than a story. This changes with the arrival of Brad Chicago. His timing is perfect: he arrives as the new kid in school, just when Riley needs a friend most, and catalyses the story into something far more interesting. The relationship between Brad and Riley becomes the heart of the book, as they navigate the tricky territory that is making friends at school, especially with classmates like the melodramatic Zaza and Telling Miss, who’s always telling Miss. Riley becomes obsessed


with the idea that Brad is a human


good luck charm, who can help him counter the curse, and he clings to him for dear life! That’s not


to say


that the unfortunate events stop completely, and neither does the humour. Simon James Green clearly revels in slapstick comedy, and his descriptions of Riley’s disasters are hilarious. He lines up potential laughs like seagulls,


dominoes (e.g. killer oversized swim shorts,


a dog called Shark) and then, just when you think one domino is about to topple, the entire stack explodes in one great comedy armageddon! Though the laughs are sustained


from start to finish, there is some depth to the drama in Life of Riley, too. The characterisation is original and refreshing. Riley is a labrador puppy of a child, resilient and loyal and impossible to calm down, especially when it comes to his passion for musical theatre. Brad is cool and level-headed and da bomb at football, yet the friendship of these contrasting unlikely


or


characters never surprising. What


feels they


have in common is simply a sense of humour and kindness, and Life of Riley proves that when you have these things, you don’t even need luck. SD


Books for Keeps No.244 September 2020 27


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