I felt the need for a new page; a separate page for books for newly competent readers. Roughly speaking, these are books for ages 5 to 8 years, and their friends…or for those who like a really good story. Some are wordier; for a more accomplished reader, while some are much less wordy. Some are short, some are long. This can be a difficult reading level to find good books; ones that tell a great story, keep a reader engaged and don’t let them down. See what you think! (Personally, I think they are great!)
WALKER: THE MYSTERY OF THE MISSING MILLIONS
author/illustrator: Shoo Rayner
Firefly Press (25 March 2021)
Walker can talk to dogs. And he actually understands everything they say. But he isn’t allowed to have a dog of his own because his Mum is allergic. So he walks other peoples’. With his unique talent, Walker finds himself drawn into investigations that only dogs can solve. Together, they solved the case of crooked multi-millionaire, Arlington Wherewithall and the illegal puppy farm at Foxley Manor. Arlington is now safely behind bars and another mystery is coming to light….what did he do with his money? His wife, Jazzaminta is distressed and completely broke, and his dogs, Thor and Loki are starving! Walker agrees to help Jazz crack the clues and find the money, with a lot of help from his friend Anje and the dogs. But she’s not the only one after the missing millions. Arlingtons’ solicitor, Crispin Lightfoot and evil groundskeeper, Osmo will stop at nothing to get their hands on that money! Soon, Walker and Jazz are in real danger. Can Walker, Anje and their canine companions catch the crooks and find the millions before it’s too late?
This is a zany adventure that every young dog-lover (or mystery-lover) could want; notorious bad guys, an unsolvable mystery, dramatic and madcap chase scenes, worried parents, a flummoxed police force and hero dogs! Walkers’ unique gift mystifies everyone around him, but gives him the ultimate advantage in solving this crime. He is bold, brave and not afraid to take chances because he knows he has strong allies, even when the going gets really tough. A fast-paced plot peppered with wonderful word-play makes this a story that is so much fun to read! You’ll laugh and gasp and stay on the edge of your seat. Thrilling, funny and absolutely delightful book for young competent readers! (And you’ll love the first one, too: Walker: The Boy Who Can Talk to Dogs.) https://fireflypress.co.uk/books/walker-missing-millions/
MONSTER MAX AND THE BOBBLE HAT OF FORGETTING
author: Robin Bennett
illustrator: Tom Tinn-Disbury
Firefly Press (18 February 2021)
Max is really just a slightly scruffy, ordinary kind of boy…until he burps, that is. When he burps, he turns into a huge, hairy monster who can leap over buildings, roar really loudly and eat entire dustbins. Being a monster is great! He can go where he wants (who’s going to stop him?) and do what he likes. And Max has made a super-hero kind of vow to only “protect and do good stuff.” This usually works out okay. Until he sneezes, which turns him back into an ordinary boy, and sometimes he finds himself far away from home in only his pants…that’s a little awkward. But when something starts causing a lot of damage in his neighborhood and Monster Max is getting the blame. If only that pesky kid, Peregrine…a kid Maxs’ age who has invented a portable operating omni-prison machine (or POOP, for short), would stop stalking him, Max might be able to uncover the real vandal.
This book is HILARIOUS! But it’s also well-written, full of action, drama and a hefty amount of monster-sized heart. Chocked full of word-play, irreverent humour and unlikely circumstances, it speaks to the little monster-hero in everyone. Max is a fantastic character; one that readers will want as a best friend; with a different kind of outlook on life, due to his monstrous side. His sidekick (or maybe minder) Frankenstein the cat is completely glorious. And Peregrine, that frustrating, misunderstanding kid from down the road acts as the perfect comic foil for all of Maxs’ adventures. Oh, yes…and his parents have their weird secrets, too. I didn’t stop laughing from start to finish in this brilliant, madcap adventure. Attention grabbing, heart-warming and completely bonkers! https://fireflypress.co.uk/books/monster-max/
THE BOY IN THE JAM JAR
author: Joyce Dunbar
illustrator: John Shelley
Bloomsbury Education (9 July 2020)
One day, Dylan had the strangest dream. It was like he was in a jar jam. Nothing sounded right; all echo-ey and muffled. And waking up didn’t change things. Just overnight, Dylan can’t hear very well anymore. His mother took him to the hospital, where they did all kinds of tests. Then the doctor said Dylan needed hearing aids. Dylan doesn’t want to be different from his friends…why can’t the doctor just fix this? Dylan doesn’t know what to do! As his hearing grows worse, Dylan drifts further and further into his own sad world and isolates himself from people. Fortunately, Dylan has one friend who won’t let him disappear inside himself. His dog, Pluto is always there to pull Dylan back where he belongs and make him smile again.
Written by Joyce Dunbar, who knows what it’s like to experience hearing difficulties from a young age, this sensitive book is perfect for developing readers. Dylan is a wonderfully relatable character, expressed with a child-friendly, genuine voice as he faces this unexpected change in his life and faces all the emotions that come with it. The black and white illustrations give the reader a vision of Dylans’ perspective as he navigates this strange new world and are simple, clear and sympathetically rendered. A heartwarming, powerful story that brings comfort; and simply, a beautiful read for anyone. (This is an expanded review of the same book, included in Mind Yourself: the Mental Health and Wellbeing Reading Guide by CBI) https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-boy-in-the-jam-jar-a-bloomsbury-reader-9781472973955/
AGENTS OF THE WILD: OPERATION ICEBREAK
author: Jennifer Bell
illustrator: Alice Lickens
Walker Books (3 September 2020)
The Society for the Protection of Endangered an Awesomely Rare Species (SPEARS) has received an urgent distress call from its’ marine outpost in Antarctica. There is only one team they can send. Agents Aggie and Attie (“a seriously impressive and impressively serious elephant shrew) are soon bolting through the ocean in their omnifrog and find themselves immersed in an icebound mystery. Why are the local Adelie penguins behaving so strangely? Why are they all wearing glowing bow-ties? What is celebrity wildlife presenter Cynthia Steelsharp doing out there in the icefields? And what exactly is causing the tremors that are threatening to destroy the SPEARS rescue and rehabilitation centre for injured sea creatures. It looks like the Agents of Wild have their work cut out for them!
Another brilliant read for young wildlife enthusiasts, this fast-paced and fun chapter book will leave readers intrigued and laughing. Details of unusual animals, weird and wild landscapes and seascapes and inventive gadgets fire the imagination and add a taste of real-life drama to this Bond-esque adventure. Our heroes are quick, clever and quirky; the baddies truly villainous and the cast of wildlife characters mesmerising. The two-tone illustrations throughout are attractive, humourous and are a welcome visual treat for young eyes. In the back, pages of facts about endangered species and things that even the youngest among us can do to help make this book a full package. The second in the Agents of the Wild series (please read Operation Honeyhunt, as well), this book is fascinating, funny and oozing with heart. https://www.walker.co.uk/Agents-of-the-Wild-2-Operation-Icebeak-9781406388466.aspx
author: Nicola Davies
illustrator: Cathy Fisher
Graffeg Ltd (4 August 2020)
Maxy is trying her very best, but life is really upside down right now. A health scare on her parents’ farm left them with no animals; her mother having fallen ill during pregnancy and is now in hospital. Maxy is very upset. She escapes by looking after her ‘pretend cows,’ keeping watch over them from high up in the biggest apple tree. It’s a good place to get away, When her father decides to start keeping chickens, it brings another challenge for Maxy as she tries to encourage a stubborn hen to lay eggs. While it may give her something new to focus on, Maxy does wonder if life will ever be normal again.
Another in the ‘Country Tales’ books by Nicola Davies, a series of circumstances beyond Maxys’ control have left her overwhelmed and waiting for change. Her imagination, combined with the reality of life on the farm lend a sense of stability and calm, even when everything seems ‘wobbly.’ Here we find a story of family life and all its’ challenges reflected in the farm animals. Through her engagement with them, Maxy renews her sense of belonging and comes to terms with the shifting events of life. The eloquent, clear story-telling and Cathy Fishers’ drawings together create a connection that makes it easy to become engaged with the tale. I am loving the Country Tales series and this one seems particularly timely. Warm, thought-provoking and utterly enjoyable; a wonderful book for young readers. https://www.graffeg.com/product/pretend-cows-by-nicola-davies/
WALKING WITH BAMPS
author: Roy Noble illustrator: Karl Davies
Graffeg Publishing (26 March 2020)
Bronwens’ grandfather didn’t mind being called Bamps. It was the second word she ever said. Bronwen loves spending time with Bamps. He comes every Saturday morning (even if it’s raining) and the two of them set out on long walks together; Bamps with his walking stick and Bronwen holding his hand. Bamps shows her the world; the sheep, the wild ponies, the stars and the moon. And everything Bamps shows her has its’ own story. If something has her worried or someone has been unkind to her, Bamps always gives her his best advise, “rise above it, don’t be dragged down…” When Bamps needs an operation because of his limp, it takes him away from Bronwen for six long weeks and she realises how much she misses her walks with him. But Bamps comes back, better than before and off they go…
This charming, gentle book is filled with love and encouragement A quiet story, it shows the importance of the relationship between generations for both the young and the old. The adventures Bamps and Bronwen have on their walks share a good deal of knowledge about the natural world with humour and wonder. Told in Bronwens’ voice, the writing reveals a genuine, childlike quality in expression and thought, guiding the reader along as we journey through their personal world. The illustrations are child-friendly, colourful and full of comical details that make them a pure delight. This is an ideal read-together book, humourous, easy to follow and relate to, and celebrates the bonds of family and interest in each other. Heartwarming, sincere, just lovely.
THIMBLE WONGA BONKERS
author: Jon Blake illustrator: Martin Chatterton
Firefly Press (Dragonfly) (20 February 2020)
Mum is away for the week, leaving Jams at home with his kids-books author Dad, Thimble the “helper” monkey and only £30 for groceries. Dad makes a shopping list that will see them through…that is until they get to the shop and Thimble goes a bit, well, bananas. You’d think that would be the worst of their troubles, but no. Soon, a downed telegraph pole, a swallowed money box key, an angry taxi-driver and a hefty fine for damaging public property leave Dad and Jams in a right mess. They need money and fast! But will Dad end up selling his soul to make ends meet? And can they sort this out before Mum gets home? It’s up to Jams and Thimble to save the day!
This is the third in the Thimble series and it’s even more unlikely and hilarious than the first two. The crazy antics, mischievous mishaps and fast-and-furious oneliners are perfectly targeted to score a direct hit on a childs’ funny-bone. Lead character, Jams is great; quick-witted, practical, full of adventure and intelligence and always ready to get stuck right in. The fact that he has cerebral palsy doesn’t stop him. In fact, it allows for some keen observations. His Dad has got to be the funniest, most impractical father ever, leaving it to Jams and Thimble to sort out much of the mess; which they do with great aplomb. And if you’ve ever dreamed of having a “helper monkey” (who hasn’t?)…well, while Thimble does always come good in the end, it certainly adds a lot of mayhem. Packed with wonderful drawings that add much to the tale; full of fun, personality and laugh-out-loud funny scenes, this book is the bomb!
BOOT: THE RUSTY RESCUE
author: Shane Hegarty illustrator: Ben Mantle
Hodder Childrens Books (20 February 2020)
Since Boot came to live in the abandoned Dr Twitchys’ Emporium of Amusements, he’s had a lot of adventures, made fantastic new friends and learned what real happiness is about; though he still doesn’t really understand humans. And now, a new adventure is afoot! While searching for a new nose for Gerry, Boot and the gang discover a rusty, broken old robot in the back of the testing lab. Rusty won’t last must longer. Soon to be tossed down the chute to ‘Robot Heaven’, Boot has to save him! There’s something unique about Rusty; he has to have a chance at happiness. But will Boot and his friends be able to rescue Rusty and help him find his real robot-self?Fast, funny and heartfelt, this is a delightful adventure. The perfectly paced action kicks off straight away and keeps rolling as the reader travels along throughout the book. There are daring feats, hilarious foibles and surprising heroics, but at its’ core, this is a tale of friendship, belonging and what it means to be human; to be just who you are. While the story is told by Boot himself, each character shines individually, bringing variety and perspective to the tale. Boots’ musings add extra emphasis, giving pause for thought and a good laugh as the drama builds. Well-crafted storytelling coupled with wonderfully expressive black-and-white illustrations at the turn of every page, create a book that is not only easy to read, but an utter joy. The 2nd in the series, it’s marvelous to read alone or share!
(reviewed for Inis Magazine (Childrens Books Ireland), issue 59)
author: Lucy Courtenay
illustrator: Sheena Dempsey
Andersen Press (6 February 2020)
Marnie Blue is getting ready to start her first day at Lady Sealia Foams’ Mermaid School and boy, is she worried! She’s worried about making friends; and what if she has to ride a seahorse? Marnie is really afraid of seahorses. And what will everyone think when they discover that Marnies’ aunt is Christabel Blue, the famous singer and DJ? The other young mermaids might think it’s great, but Aunt Christabel was also a big trouble-maker when she was in Mermaid School. And it seems trouble is never far away from the Blue family. A stray eel in her bookbag; accepting a dare from mean girl, Orla and Marnie is already in detention. She just wants to be good! But when Orla goes missing, can Marnie bring herself to break all the rules and go to Orlas’ rescue?
This fabulously fishy and fun adventure is the first in a new series and just perfect for fans of The Worst Witch, Bad Mermaids and the My Secret Unicorn series. The charming story perfectly captures all the worries and anxiousness of first days, and shows that, no matter how alone you feel, there’s always someone there for you. Friendship, family and working together are the central themes, with that bit of mystery folded in to bring the spark. The drama adds an excellent opportunity to explore concepts of understanding, empathy and compassion. The inclusion of expressive black and white drawings on each page, full of character, make it come alive and accent the story. The next one in the series, The Clamshell Show, will be released in May. It won’t take long for young readers to get hooked on Mermaid School! Wonderful, lovely and really fun.
author: Sophie Dahl
Illustrator: Lauren O’Hara
Walker Books (3 October 2019)
Mabel lives in The Mermaid Hotel, a little guest house with a back door that opens onto the sea. Her Mum and Dad are the managers, but it’s Mabels’ job to keep an eye on the guests. As she is an adventurer, her days are very busy. One day, an unusual new (old) guest arrives. She is old, old, OLD with red hair and bright red lips; two dogs, a cat and a tortoise…and so many bags and trunks it is clear she will be staying for quite some time. Not knowing what her name really is, Mabel decides to call her Madame Badobedah. It’s the perfect name for an international jewel thief, or a super-villain. Mabel is definitely going to have to keep a close eye on this particular guest. But, even super-villain have a soft side and a story to tell. Before she knows it, Mabel finds herself in the middle of Madame Badobedahs’ world…and sharing her adventures with this strange old woman as she finds out exactly who Madame Badobedah really is.
This is a lovely, well-written story of friendship, imagination and quiet adventure. Expert chacterisation coupled with a concise, yet eloquent descriptive text make it a book that is impossible to put down once started. Heart-warming and quirky, there is wonderful warm insight as the friendship between these two generations grows, highlighting the interest and compassion Mabel and Madame Badobedah develop towards each other. The gentle humour rolls throughout the story as our two friends embark on amazing, whimsical adventures together. And what makes this story shine all the more are the wondrous illustrations. Free, vibrant and expressive, they echo the story perfectly. A wonderful story to read aloud, or for readers of any age who simply want a story to curl up and escape into. Simply wonderful.
THE CLOUD HORSE CHRONICLES: GUARDIANS OF MAGIC
author/illustrator: Chris Riddell
Macmillan Childrens Books (19 September 2019)
“For as long as anyone can remember, children have looked up at the billowing clouds…and made a wish on a cloud horse…”
Bakers’ apprentice Zam Zephyr climbs out of bed early to get a start on his work. In the kitchen, he discovers a magical runcible spoon and creates, quite by accident, a Sugar-Spun Princess and Gingerbread Man; both quite alive. And the rats of Troutwine are now after them all.
In Parthenope, young musician Phoebe Limetree talks quietly with her magical cello. But the mechanical beetles overhear and soon, she is pursued by the evil Clockmakers’ Tin Man army.
Orphan Bathsheba Greengrass straps her enchanted sword to her belt and leaves the Boot House Orphanage on the outskirts of Beam in search of Giants; but not to slay them.Convinced the Giants are simply misunderstood, she wants to help them. All three children find themselves in the midst of a sinister plot to destroy the Great Wood and all the magical trees that exist within it. Especially the Forever Tree. It becomes their job to put an end to this mindless destruction. All they need to complete their tasks is the help of the Cloud Horses…
Weaving together the stories of these three children; a magical new adventure series begins! With the future of magic in danger, especially the magic of nature and the powerful Forever Tree, the children emerge as new, bold heroes; believing in the impossible and fighting for what is time-honoured and sacred. The tale moves easily from episode to episode; flowing gracefully through an extraordinarily built world of our old fairytales and dreams. Along the way there are glimpses of familiar faces; the Gingerbread Man, the Pied Piper, the Tin Man, the (more than) Three Bears and so many more…all cast in different roles and viewed anew. This makes this story extremely accessible, thought-provoking and enjoyable with that twist that immediately makes the story well-loved; one to read over and over. The children, like all children, don’t understand yet how powerful they really are…but they will. It is just so wonderful; and a beautiful book with Riddells’ illustrations throughout that really add to the sense of time, place and character. Lively, enchanting, exciting…a incredible book to share and make you believe that wishes can come true.
(Book one of The Cloud Horse Chronicles)
THE DRAGON’S BREAKFAST
author: Vivian French
illustrator: Marta Kissi
Walker Books (5 September 2019)
Princess Persephone Stephanie Tiffany Jane (call her Pom) absolutely HATES being a princess! And who can blame her? Her parents have no time for her because her mother is too busy pampering her obnoxious little brother, Prince Dribble and her dad, the King of Struggen, is only concerned with plotting against the neighbouring kingdom of Thrum. When a kind orphan boy, Billy Boiler loses his job in the palace (because of Prince Dribbles’ tantrums), Pom decides they should run away together and seek adventure. And she knows right where to find it! Rumour has it that Bullion Island is a storehouse of ancient pirate gold. It’s guarded by a fearsome dragon, but Pom isn’t worried about that. She isn’t afraid of anything. Billy is a little more cautious and Jangle, the former jester and new Prime Minister of Thrum is an outright coward. And, as it turns out, Pom ends up with more adventure than she bargained for.
French is a story-teller who knows how to grab hold of the reader and send them spinning through a tale, adding a bit of drama and loads of laughter to your reading adventures with an utterly mad-cap cast of characters. Pom is wonderful; bold, clever and spontaneous, she never hesitates to take action. Billy is her perfect companion, considerate, good with a plan and well able to think on his feet. And the dragon! The dragon is an outstanding character; full of contradictions and a lovable personality. There are many little twists and turns to hold interest in this rollicking book, and a few lessons on the effect of world-events and how to maintain compassion and resourcefulness that give pause for thought. The kids win the day here and cleverly outwit the adults in charge to the endless entertainment of the reader. Throughout the book, you’ll find charming and compelling black and white illustrations that add a great deal to the tale. Fast-paced, funny and truly intriguing, this is one to share with everyone!
Out on 5 September 2019.
(From the team that brought us The Adventures of Alfie Onion, Tom and Tallulah and the Witches’ Feast, The Cherry Pie Princess)
ARIKI AND THE ISLAND OF WONDERS
author: Nicola Davies
illustrator: Nicola Kinnear
Walker Books (4 July 2019) ISBN: 9781406369809
Ariki longs to be out on the beautiful turquoise blueness of the sea. But instead, she is stuck inside, staring into a bowl working on her lessons. As soon as her guardian, Arohaka steps out for a few minutes, Ariki runs off to find her friend, Ipo. They ‘borrow’ a boat and sail off, just for quick sail. But a sudden storm drives them far away to an island the never knew existed. Now shipwrecked, Ipo and Ariki discover they are now the first ones to meet this fate. Rescued by the strange, but kind Crusoe McRobinson, they explore an island of glorious wonders; giant blue Mweep birds, butterflies of amazing colour, a rich, lush rainforest with a tangle of leaves and vines. But there are dangers on the island, too; in the form of a fearless and fearsome creature they have never seen before. And their bid to get home may be harder than they think.
A truly gripping adventure, this story is so beautifully written you will feel as if you are actually there. The descriptions of landscape, wildlife and weather are evocative and imaginative. The sense of the storm and the sea is full of texture and delight. Ariki is bold, intelligent and filled with personality. Ipo is more cautious and practical. When faced with the unknown, together they make an unstoppable team. The beautiful cover and black and white illustrations throughout the book set the scene and bring this amazing island fully to life. The message woven within the story is thought-provoking; one of the cost and concern of human intervention in the natural world and our role in the lives of endangered animals. It lies subtly in the background of an exciting, dramatic adventure that is just waiting to sweep you away with a quality that can only be called magic. An incredible companion to their previous book, Ariki and the Giant Shark, this book just shimmers with life and wonder.
MOUSE and MOLE
author: Joyce Dunbar
illustrator: James Mayhew
Graffeg Press (16 May 2019)
Those great friends Mouse and Mole always spend their days together. But what will they do tomorrow? That all depends on what sort of day it is. If it’s lovely and fine, they plan for a picnic with cheese and cucumber sandwiches, taking their new picnic basket to a nice, quiet spot in the sun. If it’s a wintry sort of day, they will just stay home in front of the fire and toast muffins and roast chestnuts. But what will Mouse and Mole do if it’s an in-between sort of day? Well…something in-between, like tidying up. It always needs to be done. It doesn’t really matter what they do, as long as they are in it together.
Such a wonderful, warm, gentle series, Mouse and Mole are perfect for sharing, reading aloud and for young, newly competent readers to read on their own. The adventures of these two friends are full of quiet humour and witty banter, bringing delight to even the gloomiest and most restless sort of days. They are quite philosophical in their own right and do touch on concepts that require consideration; friendship, environment, being flexible when settling disputes, allowing feelings to be what they are and compassion and understanding; without making a huge noise about these things which would spoil the tale. Mainly, they are charming, holding attention with their depiction of everyday life. I love the chapters on ‘tidying up’, pointing out the frustrations and feelings of the task…so typical, yet so funny. Mouse and Mole hold their own alongside the great characters and stories of childrens’ literature. The intimate world view of these two friends give a nod to the world of The Borrowers, with the small cosiness infused in the pages. There are echoes of Wind in the Willows, with the antics of the animal community living quite a human life. And of course, they hearken back to those other two animals friends, Frog and Toad, the series for young readers written by Arnold Lobel in the 1970s (a big favourite in my house.) Mouse and Mole are even dedicated to ‘dear old Frog and Toad.’ The simple, funny, sometimes poignant text of Joyce Dunbar sits alongside the wondrous full-colour illustrations of James Mayhew gracing every page; with exquisite detail and expression creating illustrations that take the reader directly into the world of Mouse and Mole…and trust me, you’ll want to stay there. Wonderful, wonderful tales that will win the hearts of children and adults alike; quietly joyous (and don’t we all need that?). Simply timeless.
THE WRONG END OF THE STICK (Stitch and Fetch Investigate)
author: Philip Ardagh illustrator: Elissa Elwick
Walker Books (2 May 2019)
When Granny Stick has to go to hospital for an operation, Sally and her clever dog sidekick, Fetch find themselves setting up a temporary Detective off at Uncle Bobs’. They aren’t there very long before another case reveals itself…and another…and another. There certainly are a lot of mysteries for Stick and Fetch to solve! Like what has become of Uncle Bobs’ glasses? Is there a lamp-post leveling beaver loose in the town? Who is the infamous handbag snatcher? Even with a spate of accidents, mistaken identities and a lot of confusion, the determined pair still manage to catch a real, live criminal! All in a days work for Stick and Fetch Detectives.
What a fantastic and entertaining book! This wonderful little ‘chapter book’ is well-written and speaks directly to its’ target audience with brilliant characters, lighthearted drama and loads of funny, silly adventures that will leave the reader chuckling and completely engrossed in the tale. (My favourite is the chapter about the possibility of a beaver chewing down lamp posts. That was laugh-out-loud-on-the-bus funny.)It is written so that the story encourages the young reader to increase their own vocabulary (through investigation), sense of logic, deduction and determining a sense of ‘what comes next’. It’s child-like wonder is perfectly paired with a real sense of tension. Ardaghs’ trademark word-play really comes to the fore in this book and leads to some hilarious conclusions that go right over the heads of our heroes. The illustrations really stand out, adding to the humour and bringing a vibrant expression of the tale to each page of the book. While clearly aimed at younger readers, older children and even adults will find the stories very, very funny. And full of imagination and curiosity, it’s sure to inspire some budding ‘detectives’. Engaging, delightful, charming and simply wonderful!
(Read also: Barking Up the Wrong Tree)
SCAVENGER HUNT (Cass and the Bubble Street Gang)
author: Erika McGann
illustrator: Vince Reid
O’Brien Press (March 2019)
Cass, Lex and Nicholas are over the moon with excitement! (Well, Cass is anyway…) Mr. McCalls’ partner Graham has decided tohold a Scarecrow Festival at the McCall Mansion, complete with an all-day Scavenger Hunt. Because they are world-class detectives, the Bubble Street Gang is sure to win. But with the NaSaJi Club working to sabotage them and one of the crucial items going missing early on, it turns into a mystery they need to solve. In the meantime, over at the local nursing home where Cass’ Dad works, one of the residents has lost her treasured locket and it looks like there may be a thief on the loose! Don’t worry…the Bubble Street Gang is on the case!
This is book 4 in the series and it is just as exciting; just as brilliant as the other three. A mystery (two, actually) filled with humour and drama and a childs-eye view of the world, it immediately picks up and carries the reader on a raucous roller-coaster through the pages. Engaging dialogue and a rollicking pace make sassy Cass and her friends come to life. The story is easy-to-read, but never dull. The characters warm, sympathetic and so real you’ll swear you know them; or maybe you are them! While the story is filled with loads of madcap scenes that have the potential to put Cass, Lex and Nicholas in all kinds of trouble, there is a logical (but never dull!) sense of practical development. These books are just soooo good, with a well-crafted plot and strong sense of relationship. The black and white pictures throughout bring a real spark of life to the tale. This one may be my favourite so far…they just keep getting better and better. A great mystery, very funny and full of heart.
LITTLE MOLE IS A WHIRLWIND
author/illustrator: Anna Llenas
Templar Publishing (May 2018)
Little Mole really is a whirlwind. He can’t stop moving, is always fidgeting, breaks things and constantly forgets what he’s supposed to be doing. His classmates avoid playing with him. Little Mole is ‘wearing so many labels he doesn’t know who he is’. His teacher doesn’t know what to do. His parents, at the end of their rope, eventually find an advert in the paper: Serena the Forest Bunny can make learning fun. Over time, Little Mole and Serena play, make things, and talk. Little Mole tells Serena all about his feelings, his worries and the problems he has at school. Can Serena help Little Mole in time for him to finish his special end-of-year project?
With a concise story that moves as quickly as Little Mole himself, this picture book brings humour and reassurance to children and parents alike. This book deals with ADHD, hyperactivity, and other (often undiagnosed) conditions with a very positive, understanding and spirited outlook. Showing Little Mole’s point of view; how it really feels for the child to be ‘labelled’ is particularly moving. The illustrations are lively, expressive and fresh, using a collage/mixed media approach that creates a very child-friendly atmosphere throughout the book. The colour palette changes as Little Mole receives acceptance that allows him to focus better and become more confident. All the while, it is telling an enjoyable and fun tale that needs to be told. It’s about time! This is a very special book.
(Also reviewed in Inis magazine online:https://childrensbooksireland.ie/review/little-mole-is-a-whirlwind/ )
THE EEL QUESTION (Shadows and Light)
BEE BOY AND THE MOONFLOWERS (Shadows and Light)
author: Nicola Davies
illustrator: Max Low
Graffeg Ltd (1 November 2018)
From the Shadows and Light series by Nicola Davies:
In Bee Boy…, Azins’ family lives a nomadic life, traveling a desert landscape and relying on the beautiful, illusive Moonflowers to keep them alive. When the Elders fall ill, it is up to Azin to guide the bees to the Moonflowers and return with their honey. But there are others who seek this magic and wish to rob Azin of the a living and a life. And they will stop and nothing. The Eel Question, orphan Nant is filled with curiosity; always asking questions. She is bound to serve a cruel, violent master, but longs for a life of freedom beyond the marshland. When autumn comes, the silver eels return and with them, Nants’ questions. When her master is gravely injured and dies, Nant is branded a witch. But what will one silver eel give up to free her?
These folk tales are the final two in the series that explore a deeper and sometimes darker human connection to the natural…and supernatural world.Amazing and wondrous, they are inspired by a love of nature and the understanding of the true magic that reveals itself within. Max Lows’ evocative illustrations add a contemporary twist to these ancient tales, sending the reader on an imaginative journey through this connection and through human history and beliefs. These stories ask as many questions as they answer and highlight the strong ties that exist between nature and mankind; they beg us to seek a little deeper. Thought-provoking, haunting and swimming with the diverse beauty of the natural world.
THE LITTLE MISTAKE (Country Tales)
FLYING FREE (Country Tales)
author: Nicola Davies
illustrator: Cathy Fisher
Graffeg Ltd. (4 October 2018)
From the Country Tales series by Nicola Davies: In Flying Free, young Colin is in a hurry to grow up as quickly as he can. When his older brother gives him an air rifle for his birthday, he can’t resist acting out his hunting fantasies and shoots a hawk. Colin soon realises that shooting an animal is much different than shooting at cans on a wall. He accepts responsibility for the hawk, helping it to recover and discovers a powerful emotional understanding of the world around him and what it really means to ‘grow up.’ In The Little Mistake, Rosie finally gets a sheepdog pup of her own to raise and train, but it isn’t your typical sheepdog. Puppy was a ‘little mistake’; a word Rosie has heard her parents use to describe her! But Puppy teaches her that something unexpected isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it can be exactly what you need.
In these two stories in the Country Tales series , Nicola Davies explores how intertwined we are with the natural world and animals and how nature has a lot to add to our lives. Lessons in responsibility, identity, belonging and social/family issues are revealed with eloquent writing and captivating story-telling. Cathy Fishers’ expressive drawings set the mood and atmosphere that allows the reader to easily walk into the tale and develop an emotional connection. Engaging, compelling, thoughtful and simply lovely. They will become favourites!
THE KING WHO BANNED THE DARK
author/illustrator: Emily Haworth-Booth
Pavillion Books (4 October 2018)
Once there was a young boy who was afraid of the dark. That’s not very unusual because lots of children are afraid of the dark. But this boy was a Prince and one day, he became King. When he became King, he decided to do something.He banned the dark. Bright lights and an artificial sun are installed in the kingdom, anti-dark laws are strictly enforced and the dark becomes a distant memory. At first, the people are thrilled and the King is certainly happier at having found a solution to his greatest fear. They no longer need to worry about crime, monsters or things that go bump in the night. They no longer need to be afraid. But then reality sets in. The people can’t sleep. They are exhausted and become very angry. A revolt is brewing…but how can they convince the King to change his mind and bring back the dark?
This picture book for ages 5-8 tells a timeless tale of courage, creative solutions and facing fears. But it also creates an open discussion about stubbornness, consequences and responsibility. The thought is put forth that perhaps we need the dark, for what would the light be without it. The story is driven by the simplest concern, but also presents a timely tale about a dictator who acts purely out of his own interests and the effect that has on his people. Filled with light and dark, fears and bold actions, imaginings and realities; it is well-woven with its’ twists and turns and is an utter joy to read. The illustrations have a lively graphic style with a limited palette that explodes to brilliant colour in the end, precisely accentuating the text. Beautiful, clever, quirky and full of unexpected wonder.
(I also reviewed this book for the Inis Reading Guide 2018 https://childrensbooksireland.ie/reading-campaign/ )
MR TIGER, BETSY AND THE BLUE MOON
author: Sally Gardner
illustrator: Nick Maland
Zephyr (4 October 2018)
Betsy K. Glory is the daughter of a mermaid and an ice-cream maker. He is the best ice-cream maker anywhere in the world.When Betsy and her father come across an enchanted toad (really a princess under a terrible spell), they learn of the magical Gongalong berries, from which an ice-cream can be made that will grant wishes…but these berries can only be picked under the light of a Blue Moon, which happens almost never. Of course, the toad needs the wish to turn back into a princess and free Gongalong Island from her evil sister. But Betsy has a wish of her own. When Mr Tiger and his magnificent Gongalong acrobats come to town, he may just have all the answers they need. ‘Tigers have their secrets and their whiskers, their tails and their tales.’ So they set off on their quest to turn the moon blue, gather the Gongalong berries and make wishes come true.
This book has all the right elements to have the reader hanging on every word. The descriptions are glorious; the characters,very unusual and well-developed and the pace is pitch-perfect to create this exceptional fairy-tale adventure. Betsy is a wonderful character, quick-witted, determined and full of spark. The dream-like landscape buzzes and each page is alive! The illustrations scattered throughout the book add to the depth, humour and joy of this truly imaginative story. Also, please take note that the book is printed in blue ink in Dyslexie, a font that makes it much easier to read…and much more fun! Written as a chapter book, this makes it perfect to read aloud and share, or for those young readers who just want to lose themselves in a great story. The first of a new series by Sally Gardner. (Great for about age 6+ years…or to share.)
CELESTINE AND THE HARE: BERT’S GARDEN
author: Karin Celestine
Graffeg Limited (6 September 2018)
Say ‘hello’ to Bert, the Dad of the Water Vole family. Bert loves to garden and has an allotment where he grows all kinds of marvellous plants for his family, friends and all of the creatures that live near by. In his spare time, he loves nothing more than a cup of tea, a biscuit and a quick nap in his allotment shed. Then it’s home to his family for dinner and bedtime. But something keeps waking Bert up. It’s a black clock beetle scritching and scratching by the bed! Bert must do something so he can get some sleep. But how can he solve this problem?
I absolutely love this little gem of a book! With clear text, it tells a nature-based story with quiet intrigue and drama. There is true kindness of character and wonder in this thoughtful and thought-provoking, simple adventure. But the real star of this book are the illustrations. Through the use of small animal figures and hand-crafted houses and furnishings, the characters come to life and invite the reader into their tiny world with great believability. Even the presentation of this book is wonderful and just the right size for little hands. But that is not all! Bert’s Garden encourage even the youngest to explore and understand the natural world, and to support nature wherever they find it. There are instructions for building your own bug house, where to look for natural materials and how to make your own small patch a healthy and diverse garden. Genuine curiosity sings from the pages. Charming, considerate and filled with utter delight in every way, you will want to live in Bert’s Garden.
(Look out for more of the CelestineA Small Song; Bertram Likes to Sew; Finding Your Place; Honey For Tea, etc.)
author: John Chambers
Little Island Books (6 September 2018)
In Ireland, a long, long, LONG time ago, there lived a boy named Manchán. Now the country has (supposedly) gone Christian and Mancháns’ mother wants him to be a monk, like his uncle, Brother Abstemius, who brings great honour to his family. Manchán isn’t so keen on the idea. He’d rather spend his days fishing, making up songs and exploring the forests and the bog with his pet pig, Muck. And for all the Christianity around, there is still a lot of magic, fairy music in the air, berries to be picked, salmon in the rivers… Being a monk would mean penance and prayers and turnips (yuck!) and chanting. With all the wild, magical adventures to be had, Machán would much rather be mucking about! But of course, his mother has other ideas.
Mucking About is a great book for younger confident readers who just want a really good story. Machán is a well-developed character; one that the reader will easily recognise in themselves. He pulls you right along on his journey, being fearless and sometimes clueless, but determined to do things his own way. The family relationships are delightful and real. Ingeniously written with a fantastic voice, the story allows the reader to understand that, while this may have happened long ago, some things really don’t change that much. Chambers has built a tangible world for the reader to enter, with a wonderful sense of the people and environment. Honestly, you will laugh out loud. Adventurous, fast-paced, hilariously funny and full of delight. For ages 7
MAD GRANDAD AND THE KLEPTOES
author/illustrator: Oisín McGann
O’Brien Press (13 August 2018)
Lenny arrives at Grandads’ house on Saturday morning, but he can’t get in. There’s Grandad snoozing away in his favourite chair! Lenny climbs in through the dog-flap and discovers that Grandads’ alarm clock his vanished…again! Lots of things are disappearing from Grandads’, but he’s old (and a bit mad, if we’re honest.) But when they settle down; Grandad for another nap and Lenny to read a book, Lenny thinks he may have figured out why. It’s the Kleptoes! Climbing out from under the couch cushions, they’re here for another raid. Grandad and Lenny catch them in the act and chase them into their lair…but what dangers await them down the back of the sofa?
First published in 2005, this has now been re-issued with a new cover, but the same great story. Fast-paced, adventurous and really funny (though, to be fair, the Kleptoes are really creepy), this is exactly the kind of tale young children who are just coming to grips with reading alone are looking for. The story is exciting, and features a wonderful and warm dynamic between Lenny and his Grandad. A very imaginative portrayal of the ‘Kleptoes’ may give a few chills, but it also helps active understanding of problem solving and builds a strong storyline that the reader can really sink their teeth into.Gripping, humourous and well-written, I love the Mad Grandad stories. Read them all!
DIARY DETECTIVES (Cass and the Bubble Street Gang)
author: Erika McGann illustrator: Vince Reid
O’Brien Press (23 July 2018)
Cass has a new mortal enemy. Ms. Lee is new to Berbel Street and she has some big ideas. She has formed a Residents’ Association and now, they are trying to outlaw fun! The Bubble Street Gang are on the case, determined to stop this catastrophe. Just as they start, they discover a new mystery. At the local carboot sale, Cass discovers an old diary full of wicked deeds. Who is the mystery writer from the past? Which one of their neighbours is hiding a dark secret? With the Gang on the case, it won’t be too long before they find the Wicked Writer, but Cass may have a real shock in store when they uncover the identity of this doer of dastardly deeds.
Filled with fun, laughs and a great mystery (or two) to solve, the third in this series is even better than the rest. An engaging story, Diary Detectives is easy to read, but still challenging as it pulls the reader along through these childrens’ world at a pitch-perfect, absorbing rate. You feel as if you know these people. Cass and her friends are realistically drawn and the adults in the story are seen through real childrens’ eyes. While there are loads of wacky episodes, there is also a strong sense of realistic, logical thought and good detective work as they work their way through another mystery. It has that sense of childhood wonder and adventure that makes it a joy to read at any age. The drawings are whimsical and lively; adding life, imagery and a strong feeling of time and place that allows the characters and the story to jump off the page. So funny, sassy and warm, you’ll want to join in!
BUMPFIZZLE THE BEST ON PLANET EARTH
author: Patricia Forde illustrator: Elína Braslina
Little Island (1 June 2018)
Bumpfizzle has come to Earth from Planet Plonk on a mysterious and dangerous mission. Masquerading as a 10-year-old boy, he has wiped the memories of his ‘host’ family so he fits in and sends reports back to Great Master Hornswoggle. His observations of the humans leave him very confused; the amount of attention they lavish on The Baby (even though he does nothing of importance), the different foods they eat (including cat food he takes from his 4-legged, furry brother Mr Sooty), this thing called “school” and his discovery that the teacher isn’t really edible (and she doesn’t like being bitten.) But the Great Master is not happy with Bumpfizzles’ progress. Things take a very sinister turn when the Great Master decides to launch an invasion! Planet Plonk needs food and the humans sound good enough to him. What will Bumpfizzle ‘diddly-diddly-do’?
A delightful well-told story that keenly observes what life is really like in a family. Bumpfizzle is a marvelous character that runs through the range of emotions in a very funny and yet utterly believable way. His family, friendships and point of view ring very true while entertaining the socks of the reader. As a grown-up, your understanding will centre around the impact that a new baby brings to a family. But is Bumpfizzle actually 10-year-old Daniel in a family that doesn’t really seem to have time for his shenanigans; or is he really a vicious alien warrior from a conquering race? I leave it for you to decide. The easy and fluidity of the text, quirky, expressive drawings, the made up words (worthy of Roald Dahl) and the delight and poignancy of the tale make this one of the best young novels I have read in a long time. (Look out for the scene with the goat…my absolute favourite!) Fast-paced, intriguing and simply hilarious; prepare yourselves for brilliant adventures! A great read for newly-confident readers or to share as a family.
author: Adam Stower
David Fickling Books (4 May 2017)
When Ben Pole is running away from uber-bully and his arch-enemy Monty Grabbe, he accidentally falls into a secret forest right in the middle of the city. The forest is ruled by King Coo; a rope-swinging, tree-house living bearded girl with a pet wombat called Herb. Ben has finally found a friend! But Monty and his gang follow Ben into the forest one day, and come up with a dastardly plan to kidnap Herb, blame him for the sink holes that have been appearing in the city (kind of true) and destroy the forest along with Bens’ friendship. But Coo is very clever and has a great plan. Ben is not going to give up on the best friend he’s ever had!
Get ready for thrills, drama and loads of laughs in this utterly charming story. It is outrageous, chaotic, fast-paced and filled with fun. All the characters are well-drawn and thoroughly suit the action. Ben is wholly relatable and completely endearing. Coo is mad-cap (think Pippi Longstocking meets Peter Pan) and completely bonkers! Stowers’ incredible, zany ink and wash illustrations bring real life to the tale, with plenty of substance and texture. An absolute joy to read, you’ll want to read it again and again; and it’s the perfect book to make developing readers into confident readers. I love, love, love it!
MAKING MILLIONS (Cass and the Bubble Street Gang)
author: Erika McGann / illustrations: Vince Reid
O’Brien Press (11 September 2017)
The Bubble Street Gang are back! Cass and her best friends, Nicholas and Lex are solving mysteries, investigating crimes from their secret clubhouse in the hedge at the end of Mr. McCall’s field. (But keep the location to yourself…it’s a secret.) With school back in session, Cass has discovered a doozy of a mystery. There’s an invisible boy in her class! No one can see him, but Cass knows he’s there and he’s very, very cleverCass is on her own to figure it out. In the meantime, the Bubble Street Gang really need money, so they pool their resources and come up with some absolutely genius ideas to start their very first business. It’s Operation Make Loads of Money for Nicholas’ Art Class and Probably Become Millionaires! Together, there is nothing the Gang can’t do!
It is absolutely fantastic to get stuck in to another Bubble Street Gang story. Entertaining and filled with laughs and a great deal of heart, Cass and her friends simply leap off the page in this traditional style adventure for younger readers. It is action-packed and genuine; the kind of adventure every child can see themselves involved in. The illustrations scattered throughout the book add interest and life to an already lively text.The second in the series (review for the first on the Irish Books, Authors… page of this blog), I highly recommend it for ages 7-8 to read alone or for sharing with the whole family or classroom. Another big thumbs up from me!
TILLY AND THE TIME MACHINE
author: Adrian Edmonson illustrator: Danny Noble
Puffin (4 May 2017)
Tillys’ dad has built a time machine in the shed and there is only one place that Tilly wants to go. More than anything, she wants to go back to her 6th birthday, when she ate too many cupcakes, her mum was still there and it was the best day ever. But, while her Dad is testing it out, something goes wrong and he gets stuck in the past! It’s up to Tilly to rescue him. This would be hard enough, but with her teacher worried about her and government agents trying to steal the time machine (there are bad guys everywhere!), will Tilly be able to save him….and make it back in time for tea?
This is brilliant! Funny, poignant and packed full of action! Tilly is a great heroine and you really feel for her and her dilemma. As she travels back in time, she meets all sorts of characters… including Queen Victoria… all set in a hilarious, yet accurate depiction of their location in the past. The relationship between her and her Dad is warm and engaging. It is quite quirky and enjoyable with humour balanced very nicely with a touching back story. Easy to read for 6 -9 year olds and a great little book to share, you’ll be taken on a great journey through time and in search of cupcakes.
THE BOOKSHOP GIRL
author: Sylvia Bishop
Scholastic (2 March 2017)
Property Jones got her name because she was left in the lost property cupboard of a bookshop when she was five years old. Since then, she has lived in the bookshop with the owners, a mother and her son. It is very small and struggling to stay open, but Property loves it there…in spite of her terrible secret. Property Jones can’t read and she mustn’t let anyone know. So, Property can’t read the newspaper article article announcing a raffle with the most wonderful prize. A chance to win the Montgomery Book Emporium; the most glorious bookshop in the entire world! When her family wins, Property finds herself suddenly transported to the Emporium, and wondrous, magical place with floor after floor of of books and one very bad tempered cat. All is not as it seems, however. The Jones family soon finds itself at the centre of a sinister plot and in a lot of danger…and someone seems to know her secret.
This is a good, old-fashioned mystery, filled with drama, intrigue and laughs written for a younger, yet confident reader. (Also, it’s perfect for sharing.) There are echoes of such classic childrens’ fare as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with strong characters, an impoverished family, very bad baddies and a rather befuddles old gentleman. Good-pacing drives the tale through some fascinating plot twists and sends the reader on a wonderful adventure that builds to a very satisfying solution. The addition of a central character, Property, who can’t read echoes strongly throughout the book, adding a personal dilemma. Her cleverness and tenacity shines over her embarrassment. When the ‘big reveal’ is made, Property shows great courage and the reaction is pitch perfect and extremely reassuring. All in all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable story that deserves to be read over and over. It was plenty to offer every reader. I just loved it!
(RABBIT AND BEAR) RABBIT’S BAD HABITS
author: Julian Gough illustrator: Jim Field
Hodder Childrens Books (Sep 2016)
Bear has woken up early from hibernation. She is really a gentle, artistic soul; loving and kind and always willing to see the good in everyone. Her unlikely friend, Rabbit is the exact opposite; grumpy, abrasive and frankly, a bit rude. Restless and unable to get back to sleep, Bear decides to make a snowman.And so Rabbit decides he must interfere. He’s never made a snowman before, but surely he knows how to do it better. Bossy Rabbit starts telling Bear exactly what to do, and criticising Bears’ efforts. It isn’t long before Wolf shows up on the scene, and he doesn’t want to build a snowman at all. Wolf is hungry…and he wants Rabbit Pie for his dinner. Can Rabbit count on Bear to save the day?
Very funny and very honest, this is a great read for new readers. Packed with action and lots of word-play, Gough and Field have created a story that begs to be read again and again. The characters are lively and their unlikely relationship is really touching. It is sure to inspire a lot of discussion about patience, friendship and kindness…and manners…and poo; lots of poo. It is well-written and wonderfully illustrated. Never patronising or simplistic, the story is also filled with scientific information that will spark real interest in both children and their parents. It will make you laugh and want more!