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


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


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.


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


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


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


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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