Young Middle Grade

Younger fiction and young middle-grade round-up: March 2019

Younger fiction and young middle-grade round-up: March 2019

Amelia Fang And The Half-Moon Holiday by Laura Ellen Anderson

Amelia Fang and her Rainbow Rangers troop are off to Sugarplum Island. They’re going to earn their Food Foraging Badge by making meals from bobbin-berries, frillyflowers img_8471and dung pods of all sizes. After eating plums from a curly branch, something strange happens. Amelia and her friends shrink to the size of insects. They need to break the curse, but suddenly the island feels like a huge place. 

Packed with humour and adventure, Amelia Fang and the Half-Moon Holiday is the latest installment in the hit series. 

This is my first Amelia Fang book, something which I can’t comprehend given the popularity of the series on my bookish Twitter network. Parents, teachers and librarians all report is as being a big hit with their young readers, and I’ve noticed that is has transcended age divisions to be a big hit with older readers. The setting must play some part in this. With its band of supernatural friends, the adventure island and the strange things which grow there, The Half-Moon Holiday is exactly the sort of world I would have adored as a pre-teen. There is something Studio Ghibli about the assortment of beings and worlds contained within a single location. 

Laura Ellen Anderson’s illustrations are amazing to the extent that this is worth buying for the art alone. The book makes me want to sketch imaginary worlds, or design costumes or start a mood board. I love how the amount of space the illustrations take up on a page is so varied, from the best part of a double page spread to a small illustration at the bottom.

This will doubtless delight fans of the series and as a new reader I was spellbound. 

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Little Lion Rescue by Rachel Delahaye. Illustrations credited to Artful Doodlers.

Fliss is disappointed on a school trip to the zoo when the new lion cubs are asleep. Keeper Jonty offers Fliss a sneaky peek at the end, and Fliss finds herself transported to the Serengeti where she comes across a lost lion cub. Her knowledge of wildlife helps her to come up with a plan and she and the cub set out across the plains. There are all kinds of dangers for a girl in the wild. Fliss must overcome hunger, thirst and stampeding bison to reunite the cub with its pride.

Little Lion Rescue is the first in a new series which follows aspiring vet Fliss on magical adventures which bring her into contact with wild creatures. Although Fliss is transported to different locations via a portal – in this case the zoo – her powers are entirely based on real-world knowledge.

This will appeal to readers who love animals, and what makes it special is that it differentiates between finding toy animals and animal videos cute and really appreciating animals for who they are and learning to recognise their communication ranges, habits and needs.

The book is well written and introduces a promising series.

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Vlad The World’s Worst Vampire by Anna Wilson. Illustrated by Kathryn Durst.

Vlad is a vampire but unlike his family he isn’t the slightest bit scary. He hasn’t found his super strength. He’s also been going to a human school in secret. 

When the school play is announced, Vlad is delighted to find he has been given the main part, but then it causes all kinds of problems. Having his photograph taken is tricky for a start, as vampires really can’t deal with camera flash. And how will he ever keep it a secret from his parents? 

A wonderful series about fitting in and being comfortable with your own identity. Vlad doesn’t want to go to a special vampire school to study fitting in with humans. Not when he fits in perfectly well with his friends. He is under constant pressure to be as good as his cousin Lupus, but his parents fail to see that Vlad has different strengths. At times they don’t get the chance. Vlad is desperate to keep his place at human school a secret. 

I adore the illustrations which are very character-centric and make great use of exaggerated facial expressions. I also love how the spooky vampire castle is full of homely touches, like a roaring log fire in the living room and a pair of socks on the floor beside Vlad’s coffin bed. 

Make friends with Vlad and you’ll root for him from the word go. 

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Isadora Moon Has A Sleepover by Harriet Muncaster

What fun is staying up until midnight when vampires do that every night?

img_8577Half vampire, half fairy Isadora is off to a sleepover at her friend Zoe’s. A school baking contest has been announced, and Isadora hopes her magic wand can her entry the edge so that she and Zoe can meet television personality Whippy Mcfluff. However, when the lights go out, Isadora is unable to sleep. Her conscience is bothering her and the cake doesn’t seem so magical after all. They bake a different cake, but it seems Zoe has other ideas about which one they should enter.

A charming tale about friendship, honesty and cakes galore.

The first thing I noticed about this young reader was the design. It balances pink and glitter with bat wings and black. It would be perfect for the smallest readers who want to explore their inner vampire without letting go of the pink and glittery. After all, Isadora Moon can be two things at once.

The supernatural details are grounded by a story set in the ordinary world. Isadora goes to a human school, has human friends and likes to the same things as anybody else. It would be lovely for young readers who want to explore fantasy while feeling secure in the known world.

Although most small children have never used magic, most will, at some point, push the boundaries with cheating. Learning why cheating is unfair, and that it doesn’t feel like much of a win without the achievement, is a big step.

An attractive book with a relatable storyline.

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Shifty McGifty And Slippery Sam – The Aliens Are Coming by Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton

Three mysteries with our two favourite baker dogs.

Have aliens really landed? How does Red Rocket manage to win the sandcastle contest without putting in any work? How is Miss Peachy Pie’s Cafe attracting so many customers? This collection of stories sees the heroes use their quick wit, daring … and skills at running away, fast.

There is something Scooby-Dooish about these mysteries. They are just the right level of scary with plenty of laughs thrown in. The heroes are fallible and mysteries are not their whole lives – rather, they interrupt everyday life at the bakery.

The illustrations use a minimal colour palette to great effect – different shades of grey, black white and lime green. The green runs throughout the book and makes it different to others in the series. This is a lovely way of making books quickly findable. It is easier to remember that a story was in ‘the red book’ than to recall a title.

Tracey Corderoy is a master of humour for younger readers. Shifty and Sam have already featured in picture books and it is lovely to see the characters in a different format. A big thumbs up for laughs and for memorable main characters.

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The Rescue Princesses – The Amber Necklace by Paula Harrison. Illustrations credited to Artful Doodlers.

Princess Zina loves the lemurs and their forest home, and she would do anything to protect them, but she finds herself with a fight on her hands. The carnival is passing through the kingdom of Ramova but the floats are too wide pass. A team has been contracted to cut down the trees, but this will leave the lemurs without a home. Can Princess Zina and her friends persuade the demolition team to step back, or is there a magical stone which will save the day?

The latest in a popular series about a group of princesses who use their knowledge of magical gemstones to protect the wildlife.

This story will appeal to readers who like their princesses with some social responsibility, determination and a hint of magic. The illustrations look so much like a particularly beautiful colouring book that they would make a lovely gift for anyone who likes to colour in their own readings books (nb. This is not always advised. Only if the book belongs to you and you especially want to add colour.)

A story with a strong environmental message, a beautiful setting, and a great group of friends.

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Magical Kingdom Of The Birds – The Missing Fairy-Wrens by Anne Booth

Maya loves her new friends in the human world, but she is always pleased to be called img_8576into the colouring book to meet her bird and fairy friends. Maya is excited to see the new fairy-wrens, who present their mates with petals, but more than half the birds have gone missing. As guardian of the book, it is Maya’s duty and pleasure to help. 

Maya sets out towards the fairy castle to find out whether villainous Lord Astor is up to his usual schemes. 

The Missing Fairy Wrens is the third book in this delightful series, and it just keeps getting better. 

It is lovely to find a younger book about fairies and petals and sparkles which is totally palatable and attractive to a large number of readers. Stories about fairies can lapse too easily into sentimentality, but this series is genuinely well written, the threat level is just right and the world is unique and interesting. 

The fact it teaches readers about birds is an added bonus. Fairywrens are real Australian birds with beautiful plumage. With the ability to identify birds dwindling among adults, it is important that this knowledge is passed down to younger generations. Introducing birds through stories and illustration is a great idea. There is a reason we are all familiar with robins regardless of how many we see. It is time this was extended to a wider range of species. 

A real favourite series. The books are a joy from start to finish. 

 

Many thanks to Egmont UK, Nosy Crow Books, Oxford University Press and Stripes Publishing for gifting the titles reviewed in this feature. Opinions remain my own.

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Young Middle Grade

Young Middle-Grade And Younger Fiction Round-Up (Early 2019)

Young Middle-Grade And Younger Fiction Round-Up (Early 2019)

Captain Cat And The Treasure Map by Sue Mongredien. Illustrated by Kate Pankhurst.

Sometimes pirates are useless.

img_8230Patch the pirate cat is always having to get her pirates out of trouble. From pirates overboard to spilled potatoes, there is always something going on. Patch is pleased when the pirates find a treasure map until it turns out the map is cursed. Captain Halibut won’t take anybody’s warnings, so it is up to Patch and her friends to stop the pirates before disaster strikes.

A hilarious first adventure about a pirate crew who would be sunk without their animal friends.

Patch the cat, Ginger the monkey and Cutlass the parrot run the Golden Earring. Captain Halibut thinks he does, but he’s lazy and unwilling to listen to anyone else’s views. This was a lovely new approach to the familiar adventure of pirates in possession of a cursed treasure map. There’s lots of humour in this story. Think silly pirate songs and wordplay and regular jokes from Cutlass the parrot.

Kate Pankhurst’s illustrations bring the story to life and the facial expressions on her pirates and animals give a lot of character.

A brilliant first in the series from a wonderful author-illustrator team.

 

Bee Boy – Curse Of The Vampire Mites by Tony De Saulles

img_8229Melvin Meadly is half bee, half boy. Bee Boy is back, and this time the hive is facing a deadly threat. A plague of vampire mites has taken over beehives all over the planet, wiping out entire colonies. There’s another more local threat too. The local bee-keepers are disappearing. Is this down to the hive-checkers who are checking for the vampire mites, or is something strange going on? The Bee Club is on to the case.

The third book in the popular Bee Boy series.

With real bees disappearing in such numbers, there has never been a more important time to educate children and adults about respecting and caring for bees. Bee Boy is filled with facts about bee-keeping and about the science of pollination which will open the eyes of both children and their adult readers.

I love the style of the illustrations. Although this is an illustrated story, it put me in mind of graphic novels and this will be popular with readers who prefer different formats. There is plenty of detail in the pictures for keen eyes, and I love how many conversations could be started from a single picture.

 

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Little Rabbit’s Big Surprise by Swapna Haddow. Illustrated by Alison Friend.

Little Rabbit is bored. Her family and friends are all too busy to play. When her grandfather Big Rabbit asks her to help with some jobs, Little Rabbit is confused. Big Rabbit doesn’t have a job. Surely he spends all day with his friends? Then she joins him on a visit around friends and neighbours and finds out how much her grandfather does to make sure nobody in the community is overlooked. Inspired by his kindness, Little Rabbit makes herself busy and soon she and her friends are spreading warmth and kindness too.

A delightful story about generosity and sharing.

I always loved animal stories when I read books of this size as a child. From Bramley Hedge to Beatrix Potter, if the story involved dormice or rabbits I was twice as likely to listen. This is exactly the sort of story I would have loved, with its community of residents in their various burrows and dens.

Alison Friend’s beautiful illustrations bring so much to the story. Her work is so fine that every blade of grass seems to move in the breeze and the animals are made real by the texture of their fur. Their expressions are gorgeous too. They capture something of human facial expressions without distracting from the animal nature of their subjects.

I love this new format of books. The stories have a couple of short paragraphs on every page and would be suitable for the earliest reader. Although they look like early readers from the outside, they maintain everything that is wonderful about the picture book format.

 

Two Sides by Polly Ho-Yen. Illustrated by Binny Talib.

Lula and Lenka are best of friends. They have different habits and tastes and personalities, which is all fine until the day everything goes wrong. It starts with something small – a broken promise and a forgotten pencil-case – but soon it escalates into breaking friends and swearing never to see each other again. As their personalities clash, both Lula and Lenka become increasingly unhappy. Will things ever be right between them again?

A lovely story which shows how different personalities clash, and how different personalities help each other to grow.

This is another book in the new Colour Fiction range, and it couldn’t be more beautiful. Everything about the book, from its endpapers to the story inside is beautifully crafted.

As well as being a story about friendship which will be relatable to a younger audience, this is a wonderful book for exploring the craft of writing. How do we make one character different from another? The fact that the two girls’ thoughts and reactions are shown in different fonts makes it easier to show how their choices show their different personalities.

This shows how beautiful and how creative younger fiction can be.

 

Jasper & Scruff by Nicola Colton

img_8383-1Jasper likes everything to be of top quality. The one thing he wants more than anything else is to join the Sophisticats, the society for sophisticated felines. Finally, he is invited to a Dinner Party where his merits will be tested. As he prepares to make his best impression, he meets Scruff. Scruff likes sloppy licks and rolling in mud and chasing after balls.

During the dinner party, Jasper finds himself spending the evening at the beck and call of the Sophisticats. Only Scruff is prepared to see him without judgement, but Scruff just isn’t up to Jasper’s standards.

A heart-warming story about the true meaning of friendship.

This book couldn’t be more needed. In the age of social media, judgment is no longer confined to dinner clubs. We’re all at it. What makes a likable profile or picture, what standards we expect to see if someone wants to be considered beautiful. If they put their food or their home up for judgment. It has never been more important to learn early that there are other values which matter more. That friendship shouldn’t begin with a talent contest and a judging panel.

The story also examines themes of inequality. Is it right that the Sophisticats have multiple-course meals when others are starving?

I adore the illustrations with their muted purple-and-orange pallete and their sketchy style. They are the sort of pictures which look effortless but take great skill. I hope they will encourage young artists to pick up their pencils and draw townscapes and indoor scenes.

 

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Ellie And The Cat by Malorie Blackman. Illustrated by Matt Robertson

Ellie is obstinate and rude and bad-tempered. She doesn’t want to stay with Grandma and she’s not afraid to let people know it. When her behaviour goes too far, Grandma plays a trick of her own. She uses magic so that Ellie is forced to switch places with Jolly the cat. She challenges Ellie to find a lost ring if she ever wants to be a girl again.

Suddenly Ellie needs the help of those around her like Dimple the mouse and Vinegar the spider, and she’s not going to get it by being rude. They’ve also got to contend with the real Jolly, who quite enjoys being a girl.

A brilliant read from a classic author.

This reminds me of stories I read in my childhood, particularly of stories by Dick King-Smith. The adventure takes place over a short time period, it is set in a place familiar to the protagonist and it still manages to have excitement in every chapter. These stories are lovely for newly-confident readers. The challenge must be to keep the reader hooked without overcomplicating the plot. Malorie Blackman has done this to perfection and I highly recommend this to newer readers.

 

Laura Norder – Sheriff Of Butts Canyon by Guy Bass. Illustrated by Steve May.

Long ago in the Wild West, a place called Butts Canyon was run by Laura Norder. After seeing off the fearsome Ten Gun Ben, Laura decides that she and everyone else will live by her ten golden rules forever. That’s when the real trouble starts. People keep breaking Laura’s rules, and as her enforcement gets stricter, rebellion stirs. The mysterious Duncan Disorderly leaves messages all over town in protest at the Golden Rules.

Can Laura unmask Duncan Disorderly and reinstate her rules?

A brilliant read which will be highly relatable to many children. It can be difficult accepting that, although our ideas of how to manage the world come from the right place, there is no way to enforce them. Management belongs to specific spaces at specific times of the day. Outside of those, there is no manager. It is not for us to enforce order. Doing so not only makes us unpopular, it causes real hurt.

The story achieves a brilliant balance in showing that Laura’s feelings come from the right place, but to be a real sheriff, she needs to learn the responsibilities and limitations of the role.

Illustrations from Steve May add extra humour. Think fat mayors and mean bandits and all the characters familiar from cartoons.

 

Toad Attack by Patrice Lawrence. Illustrated by Becka Moor.

One morning a toad lands on Leo’s head. Soon the toads are turning up all over town. They’re not ordinary toads, either. These are flying toads, the like of which have never been seen before. Rosa’s Dad Raj is making a special nature programme about the toads and he thinks they’re related to the cane toads which eat everything in their path. Leo and Rosa will have to act fast before the Exploders eradicate the toads.

A wacky and wonderful tale which brings an old plague to the modern day. Animal plagues have been around since Biblical times, but never before have they been captured on smartphones. This is a story for the latest generation.

Becka Moor’s illustrations are as lively and brilliant as ever. Spotting the flying toads will bring amusement to young readers.

 

Arlo, Miss Pythia And The Forbidden Box by Alice Hemming. Illustrated by Mike Garton.

img_8319-14X, now 5P, is back. Their last teacher came from the Stone Age, but even though Mrs Pythia doesn’t wear animal skins, she’s definitely not normal. For one thing, she always seems to know what is about to happen. And can it be a coincidence that she shares her name with the prophets of the Ancient Greek world?

As 5P rehearse for their play of Pandora’s Box, they must fight the temptation to open Miss Pythia’s very real box. Once again, it falls to Arlo to be the leader and keep his classmates safe, but can he do it all alone?

Another hit from the author and illustrator of Arlo, Mrs Ogg And The Dinosaur Zoo.

This looks set to be a brilliant series, following Arlo, his classmates and a string of teachers who don’t exactly come from the age of OFSTED. I kept turning the pages to see whether the box would be opened and once again I loved Arlo’s distinctive voice.

This author-illustrator pair is a perfect match. It feels as if the drawings sprung up to match the text and they add to the humour with extra details and brilliant facial expressions.

A series to look out for, and one which will be popular with teachers introducing historical time-periods.

 

The books in this post were gifted in exchange for honest review. Opinions remain my own. Thank you to Macmillan Children’s Books UK, Oxford University Press, Stripes Publishing, Barrington Stoke and Maverick Arts Press for the gifted copies of your books.

 

 

 

 

Young Middle Grade

Young Middle-Grade round-up: January 2018

Young middle-grade round-up: January 2018

 

Bramble The Hedgehog by Jane Clarkebramblehedge

Bramble the Hedgehog has a wobbly tooth. Dr Kitty Cat’s advise is to eat lots of sticky food. When the little animals go to the funfair, Bramble embraces this advice. He eats lots of sticky sweets until he feels very poorly.

This is the latest title in a charming range which is perfect for children at the Squishy McFluff reading stage. The Dr Kitty Cat series incorporates pictures of real animals into the illustrations and is guaranteed to interest animal-lovers or to hook readers on cute factor alone.

The stories also include basic first aid and medical advice. I think this is a fantastic idea as too many people grow up unable to respond to basic first aid situations.

 

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The Perfect Kitten by Holly Webb and Sophy Williams 

Abi has always wanted a kitten, so she is really excited when Mum phones the rescue shelter. Unfortunately, the family lives on a main road where cats have been run over before. The shelter isn’t willing to house a cat there.

Then a deaf kitten arrives. Flower will never be able to go outside, so she is the perfect pet for Abi’s family … if they can only keep her indoors.

As the companion of two rescue cats, this story warmed my heart. I know that animals are as much a part of the family as humans, and how very much we worry about them when they go outdoors. What I liked about this story was it made clear that the needs of our animal friends come above our own wants.

 

Shine – Sara’s Dream Role by Holly Webb and Monique Dong 

Sara is so pleased to have got a place at Shine stage school, but her parents would have preferred her to go to a normal school. If her marks aren’t perfect by the end of term, she will not be able to carry on at Shine. 

An audition comes up for the stage version of Mary Poppins. It is a role Sara has always wanted, but can she beat competition from fellow pupil Lizebeth?

The second book in the Shine series looks at parental pressure and rivalry from fellow pupils. It also sees Sara befriend a boy. For most readers, this series will be wish-fulfillment, but it always shows the hard work which goes into forming a talent.

 

Star Friends – Poison Potion by Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming 

The latest installment in the series picks up where the last book left off. Three of the four friends still don’t trust new girl Essie, but she and her Mum are starting to settle into the village. Essie’s Mum even sells her own anti-aging potion. 

Then all the adults in the village start acting like children, and it is up to the friends to work out why. 

I am a big fan of this series, with its slightly folksy and magical feel. It does scary antagonists in a way which is just scary enough for its young audience. It is also firmly grounded by reality. There is at least one day-to-day issue such as peer pressure or friendship problems in every story. Unlike many of the younger middle-grade stories, these are best read in order as one story runs into another.) 

 

hotelflamingoHotel Flamingo by Alex Milway

Anna arrives at Hotel Flamingo to find it in a state of disrepair. The Hotel hasn’t had a paying guest for years because it can’t compete with it’s rival, the Glitz. Anna thinks this is a great pity because Hotel Flamingo had a reputation for welcoming all animals. She thinks there is space on Animal Boulevard for a hotel which is friendly and welcoming. 

She assembles a team and they get to work. Can they restore the hotel to its former glory and bring sunshine back to Animal Boulevard before the hotel inspector shuts them down? 

A bright and cheery story suitable for the youngest of middle-grade readers. I love the vintage style glamour of the hotel. It reminded me of Tiana’s diner in The Princess And The Frog. This will raise lots of laughs as Anna and her team try to meet the needs of every animal (the cat wants a litter tray, for example, while the Flamingos need access to a swimming pool). 

 

Thanks to Oxford University Press, Little Tiger UK and Piccadilly Press for the titles featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.

Blogmas 2018 · christmas · Young Middle Grade

Younger Middle-Grade – Christmas round-up.

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Unicorn Academy: Olivia And Snowflake by Julie Sykes. Illustrated by Lucy Truman. 

Olivia is happy to be at Unicorn Academy, but life would be even better if she could bond with her unicorn, Snowflake, ahead of graduation, otherwise her friends will leave her behind and she’ll be stuck with the horrible girls. Olivia is also hiding a secret. She doesn’t want her friends to find out her family is super-rich. Meanwhile, someone at Unicorn Academy is causing trouble with dangerous spells. Can Olivia and Snowflake save the day?

This will capture the attention of all young readers who love unicorns and sparkle, but more to the point it is a well-written story. We care about Olivia and Snowflake, and want to see them graduate alongside their friends. There are also messages about kindness and empathy which will resonate with young animal-lovers. 

 

Snow Sisters: The Silver Secret by Astrid Foss. Illustrated by Monique Dong

The Keepers Of The Lights keep everything in balance. It is their job to guard the Everchanging Lights which shine in the sky. Triplets Magda, Hanna and Ida know that one day it will be their responsibility. The Shadow Witch has returned and she is determined to steal the lights from the sky. When their parents fall into trouble, it is up to the girls to hunt for the three snow globe which will keep the Lights safe. If they don’t act fast, the Kingdom will fall under an evil power. 

The first in a new series, this story is full of the same magic as Frozen – lights in the sky and arctic animals, a palace with stained-glass windows and sisterly love. The world is clear from the first word and young readers will want to join the sisters as they venture through this landscape. A strong quest-narrative which will keep the reader hooked across the series. 

 

Snow Sisters: The Crystal Rose by Astid Foss. Illustrated by Monique Dong

With The Keepers Of The Light trapped buy the evil Shadow Witch, it is up to Magda, Hanna and Ida to protect the Everchanging Lights from harm. With one orb found, the girls have two to find before they can save their Kingdom from harm. Their mother’s clue sets them on the trail of the crystal rose and the blue orb. 

This book is the second in the series, and continues the quest began in The Silver Secret. This is a very strong quest story for very young readers. There is enough threat to build suspense but nothing which would overwhelm the audience. The world is enchanting and we learn more about the main characters as they develop. 

 

The Dog That Saved Christmas by Nicola Davies. Illustrated by Mike Byrne. 

Jake hates Christmas. There’s no routine, everyone acts differently and the flashing lights fill his head so he never has a break from them. Even school is disrupted by preparations for the Christmas show. Nobody cares about all the facts Jake can contribute to the nature show – they just want the kids to dress up in animal-costumes. Jake decides to take on Christmas … and causes a lot of damage in the process. Then Jake meets a stray dog, and Christmas no longer feels so unmanageable. 

This story shows how Christmas can disrupt the lives of people on the autistic spectrum. It also shows that, although people with autism sometimes behave in a way which appears frightening, it is often because they themselves are overloaded, confused or frightened. The bond between Jake and Susan shows the instinctive empathy many autistic people have with other animals, and slowly the people around Jake begin to see how Christmas feels from his perspective. 

A brilliant read for empathy. 

 

Frost by Holly Webb. Illustrated by Artful Doodlers. 

Cassie thinks the Foxes that live near her block of flats are beautiful, especially Frost, the fox with the white-tipped tail. One night, Frost leads Cassie out of her home and into the streets of 1600s London. The Frost Fair may be fun, Cassie needs to return to her home and help her neighbour. 

A winerty time-slip adventure which captures the magic of London’s historical frost fairs. 

I loved the relationship between Cassie and Mrs Morris. It begins with misunderstanding and grows into true empathy and a shared-secret.

 

One Snowy Night (Anthology). Illustrated by Alison Edgson. 

Why pick one wintery animal story when you can have ten? This charming anthology brings together some of the strongest writers of younger middle-grade fiction including Sita Brahmachari, Linda Chapman, Holly Webb and Candy Gourlay. From a trip to Mongolia to see snow leopards in the natural surroundings to the story of a baby-panda who gets separated from her mother on the journey down the mountains, this anthology is full of animal tales. 

Some of the stories are about humans who come into contact with animals, while others focus on animal-characters. All are well-written and my favourites were the ones which taught us about real animals in real habitats. As an anthology for very young readers, it could not be better – there is something to suit everyone and every one of these stories would be a perfect read in assembly or ahead of bedtime. 

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Books, Stripes Publishing and Barrington Stoke for the books featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.

Middle Grade Reviews · Young Middle Grade

Review: The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo. Based on the original story by Raymond Briggs.

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Review: The Snowman by Michael Morpurgo (Based on the original story by Raymond Briggs.) 

Once upon a Christmas, a little boy called James and his Grandma snuggle up together and wish for snow. When that snow comes, there is one thing James wants most of all – to build a snowman. 

When that snowman comes to life and takes James on an adventure he will never forget, he returns home desperate to share the magic with his Grandma. 

The Snowman is a staple of British Christmas, and this year marks the fortieth anniversary of the original picture book by Raymond Briggs. For many adults, there has never been a Christmas without The Snowman. There are several things which make the story so successful, and I think one of those things is it speaks equally to people watching together as to those watching alone. Its poignancy makes it effective even for those who are not having the happiest of Christmases. Its key message is about how short and precious time is – Christmas comes, it melts away, and it comes around again, except we can never be children again. 

This adaptation is a short chapter book suitable for children of all ages. It is extraordinarily faithful to the original story, changing very little, but it develops the characters. James is a modern-day child who lives on a farm. He has a stutter and wants a bike just like cool-kid Paul. 

The other key change is the relationship with Grandma. In the original story, James’s family know very little about his adventures but in this adaptation, Grandma is well aware of what James is up to. I don’t want to spoil the plot – this is a book which lots of families will want to read together -but I thought it was a heartwarming addition. Children can get caught up in the excitement of Christmas and the story reminds us that memories created with grandparents are precious. 

 The illustrations are equally faithful to the original, picking out moments which we all recognise such as the flight and the circle of snow-people. I loved the pictures of a rural childhood, where a garden might have views of the mountains and hills beyond.

This is a story which never loses its magic. It works for every generation and the new adaptation will bring it to a young audience. Whether you share it with someone special or cuddle up alone, I think this will be a favourite this Christmas. 

 

Thanks to Puffin Books for my proof-copy of The Snowman. Opinions my own.

 

Round-Up · Young Middle Grade

Young Middle-Grade round-up: September 2018

 

 

Violet And The Mystery Of Tiger Island by Harriet Whitehorn and Becka Moor

These may be the most photogenic books for younger middle-grade readers and I love everything about this series.

Violet and her friends are invited to a wedding on a tropical island. Tiger Island used to be an animal sanctuary, and now it is a luxury hotel. It has tree houses, gourmet food and even a tame tiger.

It is paradise … until Violet’s old enemies show up.

The Du Plicitouses have a history of stealing rare objects so they are top suspects when a valuable figurine goes missing. Violet and her friends set out to investigate and a race begins to figure out the truth before the wedding day is spoiled.

These books are perfect – they are as engaging as any middle-grade mystery but suitable for younger readers. They would make a brilliant quick-read for older mystery fans. I loved the set-up – we’re introduced to different hotel guests and our attention is then turned on the Du Plicitous couple. Harriet Whitehorn is a master at dropping hints while drawing the reader’s attention on to red-herrings.

The illustrations are fab – Becka Moor is a total star of young-MG and it is lovely to see her pictures in colour. Her characters are a delight – I feel as if I am reading the pictures at least as much as the worlds. This is so important for readers of this age – decoding words is still an effort and the pictures offer a quicker way into the story.

Five shining stars.

 

Vlad The World’s Worst Vampire by Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst

Vlad is the world’s least-scary vampire. He’s afraid of spiders, he’s afraid of the dark and he’s especially afraid of looking like a failure next to cousin Lupus.

Lupus upholds all the Vampire traditions, like drinking blood. He keeps a raven near him at all times and he has mastered all the flying skills. Nobody seems to notice that he is rude and horrible. Nobody except Vlad.

Is Lupus really as perfect as he seems? Is there any chance he could be friends with Vlad?

This is a lovely series, perfect for newly-readers, and would make a lovely bedtime story. The events of the story are much like any book about friendship and family, except the family happens to have fangs. And ravens. This would be a great Halloween read for children who don’t like scares but love a touch of the gothic world.

 

Night Of The Living Ted by Barry Hutchinson and Lee Cosgrove

Zombie Bears! Ghost Bears! Witch Bears! Alien Bears!

Lisa-Marie is adjusting to having a step-parent and living with her new step-brother Veron. Vernon can be nice but he won’t stand up for his new step-sister.

When Lisa-Marie makes a witch bear at Create-A-Ted, she gets more than she bargained for. Henrietta is alive and she is dangerous. In fact, there is a whole army of Halloween-bears on the loose, led by the terrifying Grizz.

If Lisa-Marie is going to stop them from destroying humankind, she’ll need help from her new step-brother Vernon.

The premise of this story is hilarious. A shop where children pick a bear-skin, add stuffing then provide the bear with a heart. What’s creepy about that?! Someone has clearly spent an hour too long in Create-A-Ted.

This story shows that ideas come from observation. I reckon children will love this spooky twist on their favourite shop.

The scares are softened with humour. I love that the humour is accessible to adults as well as children. Books of this length are often read aloud and it makes a difference to the child’s experience when the adults are laughing along too.

 

Anty Hero by Barry Hutchinson 

Ant is the total opposite of cool. He’s bony, has an obsession with insects, and wears shaded-glasses. In fact, Ant has a secret, and it is hidden behind those glasses which he refuses to take off.

When Ant’s science teacher glimpses what is behind those glasses, Ant’s life is in danger.

It is up to his friends Zac and Tulisa to save the day. Can they round up the insects of the school and rescue Ant?

Imagine if the thing which made you different put you in danger. Grave danger. Ant isn’t like the other boys at school. He counts insects among his friends and he looks at the human race objectively.

This story has some brilliant themes about perceived differences and human attitudes towards nature.

Like all Barrington Stoke stories, Anty Hero is printed in a way which makes it accessible to a larger number of readers. These books also make excellent quick reads for fluent readers.

 

Dirty Bertie – Frights And Bites by David Roberts or Alan MacDonald

Fangs! Scream! Zombie!

Experience three whole volumes of Dirty Bertie in one book. Know someone who loves Dennis the Menace and Horrid Henry? You need to introduce them to Bertie. He’s silly, he’s full of terrible ideas and best of all, he embraces all things disgusting.

The three books in this compilation are divided into stories which are about forty pages long. There are nine stories between the three books, which means plenty of silliness and troublesome events.

I love how the stories have recurring features. They quite often end with Bertie in some kind of bother – whether his head is stuck in the railings or he is running away, you can be sure the story will end on a memorable note.

These are perfect for newly confident readers. Finishing the short stories offers a high level of reward and there are plenty of hilarious illustrations.

 

 

Sherlock And The Baker Street Curse by Sam Hearn

It’s a new term at Baker Street Academy which means new adventures for Sherlock, John Watson (Watson, geddit) and Martha.

There’s something spooky going on at school. Caretaker Mr Musgrove has seen a ghost and some great, big, spooky letters appear on the side of a wall. Is the school really haunted by the Baker Street Ghosts? So begins an investigation which uncovers hidden treasure, and old legend and some dastardly deception.

This is Sherlock like you’ve never seen him before. He’s a totally modern kid – he has a smart-phone and he’s not afraid to use it. Moriarty is the school-bully and Baker Street Academy is like any school from this decade … except there’s a heck of a lot going on.

The format of this book will really appeal to comic-book fans and might attract less-confident readers. Cartoon strips are mixed with emails and speech-bubble chats (which are the most recognised form of communication among today’s pre-teens.)

Innovative format aside, the mystery is solid and the information is given in just the right places. I reckon kids would stand a chance of solving the puzzle but there is also huge satisfaction in identifying the clues.

 

Thanks to Simon and Schuster UK LTD, Stripes Publishing, Barrington Stoke, Scholastic UK and Laura Smythe PR for the books featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.

Have you read any great books for younger readers? Have any of the featured books caught your attention? Let me know in the comments below.

Round-Up · Young Middle Grade

Young middle-grade round-up – August 2018

 

youngmgaug

The Hounds Of Penhallow Hall by Holly Webb and Jason Cockroft

Penhallow Hall is full of ghostly dogs, waiting to wake up and share their stories. Polly is excited when she wakes up the ghost of a terrier called Patch. Can Polly help Patch remember what happened to his boy Jake? Did Jake run into trouble from the terrible Highwaymen of the 1700s?

This is one of the loveliest quick reads I have encountered in a long time. This series would be brilliant for introducing children to different time periods. We learn so much by empathising with a character. Young readers will turn the pages to find out whether Patch and Jake are reunited, and I adore the canine guardian of all the ghost dogs, Rex.

I recommend this series to people of any age who love time-slip. Think Green-Knowe with dogs. It may only take a couple of hours to read but this is brilliant storytelling. Although this is part of a series it could be read as a stand-alone.

Jason Cockroft’s illustrations bring the historical hall and forest to life. I feel as if I have been there. This is a dream author-illustrator pair.

 

Star Friends – Nightshade by Linda Chapman and Lucy Fleming

Maia and her friends are back for another adventure. Star Friends follows a group of children who have a special bond with magical animals. Together they protect the world from Dark Magic.

The woodland plants are dying because someone is creating potions with dark magic. Meanwhile, the girls are divided by new-girl Essie and her clique, and the grown-ups have all become seriously competitive. Can the girls put aside their differences and find the source of the dark magic?

The story in Star Friends continues from one book to the next so if you are new to the series I would recommend starting at book one. I can see this series being very popular with 7 – 9 year-olds. Tween girls can develop a real interest in friendship groups and life-stages. This story explores current-age friendships while looking at the girls’ future ambitions and goals. This installment looks at popularity and competitiveness.

A series with the magic of Harry Potter and the cute-factor Animal Ark.

 

Shine – Chloe Takes Centre Stage by Holly Webb and Monique Dong 

 Chloe is desperate to go to The Shine School for the Performing Arts. It is only when she gets in that she realises she won’t be the only funny, confident and talented student. How do you stand out at a school where everyone is talented? Chloe goes overboard to make people laugh but her jokes backfire when the teachers complain about her behaviour. Will Chole ever fit in at The Shine?

This would be a lovely story to introduce the subject of secondary school transfer two or three years ahead of time. It would also be a nice book for talking about behaviour and friendships. Secondary school transfer can be difficult and low self-confidence or social skills can quickly turn it into a nightmare.

It was lovely that one of the characters didn’t make it into The Shine but plans to achieve her ambitions via a different path. No child should feel like a failure at eleven. Children need to see that success can come at the end of infinite different paths.

 

Pet Defenders – Invasion Of The Giant Nits by Gareth P. Jones and Steve May

Earth has been invaded. Gadget genius Annascratch and her army of NITS (Nano Inventive Trained Soldiers) have invaded Earth and it is up Pet Defenders Biskit and Mitzy to stop them. Aided by Agent Daley they set out on their mission, but the NITS keep getting bigger. Do they have a weakness? Can the Pet Defenders find it before it is too late?

Animals, aliens, gadgets and burp-jokes combine into a laugh-out-loud funny adventure. The humans are totally unaware that their pets are fighting dangerous invaders so the reader feels as if they have been let in on the secret. I can see lots of children being unable to resist this combination of action, humour and favourite animals. I loved the lead pair and their discussions about animal fiction (Why are cats always cast as the baddies? Why is it never a dog?)

Steve May’s illustrations are brilliant. Any child who likes drawing their own monsters or robots will be inspired by these creations.

Funny books are the way forward.

 

St Grizzle’s School For Girls – Gremlins And Pesky Guests by Karen McCombie and Becka Moor. 

Headteacher Lulu reckons it is time for the pupils at St Grizzle’s to make friends with the children at Twittering primary. When a flood temporarily closes Twittering School, Lulu invites them to stay at St Grizzle’s. Mr Puddock and the pupils at Twittering primary are not so keen to make friends. Their school is as modern-looking as St Grizzle’s is old-fashioned. The pupils at Twittering primary wear uniforms and follow the rules whereas life at St Grizzle’s is just a little chaotic. Can the two schools come to a truce?

This is at the longer end of young-MG and combines humour with a warm-hearted story. It also gets a big thumbs-up in terms of representation. The children are as diverse as children in a modern-day primary. Do you remember wishing you could go to a fictional school? I imagine kids will be tickled by the slightly madcap way of life at St Grizzle’s. 

The illustrations capture the story perfectly. They are the sort of pictures you get lost in, looking for details. I found myself reading the illustrations as much as I did the story. 

The narration is chatty and casual and something happens on every single page. This hit series has already gathered lots of fans who will be delighted to see it back for another story. 

 

legendofkevinThe Legend Of Kevin by Phillip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre

Max has always wanted a pet but he lives in a top-floor flat. Not having a pet makes Max sad. Then Kevin arrives. Kevin is a flying pony who blows to Bumbleford during a storm. During the same storm, Bumbleford is flooded. All sorts of strange things happen when the sea monkeys and mermaids move in. Can Max and Kevin set things right?

How can anybody resist this book? One look at Kevin’s cute little face and I was sold. Sarah McIntyre’s drawings always make me want to reach for a pencil and I imagine they will have the same effect on young readers. They are so imaginative and sweet and full of energy.

This is imaginative and gentle and would make a lovely bedtime story.

 

Dino Wars – The Trials Of Terror by Dan Metcalf and Aaron Blechadinowars2

Adam Caine and his friends have found two Dilotron Crystals so far, but they need two more to deactivate the deadly Coda Program. One might be at the heart of Pteratopolis, the city of the pterosaurs. Will siblings Adam and Chloe be able to work together to get it?

Dystopia can be suitable for very young readers. Dan Metcalf has proved this with Dino Wars, a series set in a future in which humans and dinosaurs live together and a reactivated bio-weapon threatens to wipe out all dinosaur life. This is the second book in the series. Adam is having issues with leadership. It was his fault the weapon was reactivated so he must be responsible for saving the dinosaurs.. right? His sister Chole doesn’t reckon so and she is going to challenge him all the way.

Like all great dystopia the children see signs of ruined civilization all around them – ruined cars and huge rubbish dumps. It is so important for children to start questioning how they treat the world from an early age and dystopia is way into these issues. The stories are suitable for very young children. While they touch on deep issues the primary goal is to save the good dinosaurs.

These adventures will leave children desperate for the next installment.

 

A big thanks to Stripes Publishing, Maverick Arts Publishing and Oxford University Press for sending copies of the books in this feature. Opinions my own.