Middle Grade Reviews

Review: The Dragon In The Library by Louie Stowell. Illustrated by Davide Ortu.

Review: The Dragon In The Library by Louie Stowell. Illustrated by Davide Ortu.

The dragon In The Library

Synopsis:

When Alita and Josh suggest a trip to the library, Kit is majorly unimpressed. What is there to do at the library? Won’t she just die of boredom? She’s reckoned without her own magical powers, the amazing librarian Faith and the dragon who lives beneath the bookshelves.

Suddenly the library doesn’t seem like such a boring place after all.

When it is threatened with closure, and the magic is threatened, Kit and her friends know they must do everything within their power to save it. Because libraries are magical places which should never be threatened by men in suits.

 

Review:

A magical adventure about the power of reading by prolific non-fiction author Louie Stowell. This is a story which will have broad appeal. Bookworms will love it because it celebrates that special magic which can be found in any place with bookshelves. People who dislike reading (at present) will relate to Kit. A bad early experience with words can be enough to frighten people away from a lifetime of magic. Luckily librarians like Faith know that people who are afraid of books are often the ones who enjoy a good story.

Kit is the Wizard. The one with special story-related powers. Not bookish Alita or polite Josh. This is an empowering message and it is particularly appropriate in a book which could be enjoyed by readers of all ages yet has a lower reading age than standard middle-grade books (like the early Harry Potter books or stories by Robin Stevens).

Deciphering the words is a skill. Getting into the story is very real magic.

The antagonist in this story is a businessman who intended to turn the library into a shopping centre. During my last year in London, my local library was reduced in size to accommodate a gym on the bottom floor. While this was far less drastic than the loses suffered by other communities, it still felt like an attack on the space where I had grown up and dreamed. Baddies, as bookworms generally know, don’t always have magical powers. In fact, they are usually very mundane people who can twist a situation to their advantage and back themselves up with powerful friends. Showing this all to real kind of nastiness in stories is important. Even if most people aren’t wizards, they can, like Kit, find good friends who also refuse to bow down to injustice.

Louie Stowell’s message is clear. Libraries are magical and those who seek to take them away are greedy, villainous tyrants. At a time it too often feels that all the power is in the hands of such people, this book offers a healthy dose of hope along with the adventure.

Black-and-white illustrations by Davide Ortu add extra sparkle to the story. He is especially good at bringing out the hidden traits of his characters. Librarian Faith looks like she is prepared for adventure at any moment, while Mr Salt has meanness brimming out of him like an exaggerated Lord Business (of Lego Movie fame).

A delightful story which states loudly and clearly that the magic of reading belongs to everyone. I’m looking forward to more fiction from Louie Stowell.  

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Ltd for my proof copy of The Dragon In The Library. Opinions my own.

 

 

 

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.

 

youngmg6

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.

img_7679

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.

Round-Up

Round-Up: Children’s books for Halloween.

Witch Girl by Jan Eldredge

IMG_E7056Evangeline Clement is almost thirteen and there is no sign of her familiar. She’s afraid it will never come and she will turn out to be a middling with no magical powers. Magic has been handed through her family for generations and she spends her days learning from her grandmother.

When the pair are called to an old mansion, they are confronted with a terrifying case and Evangeline finds out secrets about her family’s past.  

This has serious Princess And The Frog Vibes. Set in Louisianna, the landscape is all swamps and cypress-trees and rivers. The language, too, reminds me off The Princess And The Frog – Evangeline wears gator skin boots and lives for her Grandmama’s pecan pie. 

I liked this version of witch-craft – it was less about waving wands and more about talismans and forcing dark spirits along on their journey. The magic has been handed down for generations and I always like stories where the character learns about their family history through the adventure. 

IMG_E6915The Trouble With Perfect by Helena Duggan

There are two types of people in Town – the ones who believe only perfect people should be allowed, and the ones who believe there is no one ‘right’. Since Perfect was liberated from the Perfectionists and renamed Town, the two groups have lived alongside each other.

Now strange things are happening in Town.

First objects go missing, then children. Violet’s friend Boy is blamed, and old questions are raised about whether certain people should be locked away for the good of others.

This was the perfect book to read ahead of Halloween – it has vibes of Dianna Wynne Jones. Town is often painfully ordinary – with committees, schools and day-to-day activities – that the stranger things, like the eye-plants which are used as a security-system – stand out.

I love how the theme of diversity and acceptance was handled. It encourages the reader to think for themselves, to empathise with others and never to follow others blindly.

 

youngmgstripesseptember18

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.

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.

 

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.

 

Thanks to Scholastic UK, Stripes Books and Usborne Publishing for the books featured in this round-up. Opinions my own.

What are you reading this Halloween? Let me know in the comments below.