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.



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.

Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Star Friends – Secret Spell by Linda Chapman



The stag pawed the earth in alarm.

‘Someone is working dark magic near the star friends.’

The owl nodded gravely, ‘I’m afraid it appears to be as we suspected. Two shades have already been defeated by the Star Animals and their friends. But now more trouble is coming their way.’

(Star Friends – Secret Spell by Linda Chapman. P7.)


The Star Friends have faced trouble from dark magic before, but they always come through with their magical animal friends at their sides. This time they are uncertain. The girls fall out among themselves. Will they ever work together again?

Meanwhile mean old Mrs Crooks is acting suspiciously, and her garden gnomes look exactly like one which hid the dark magic shades on a previous occasion. Could Mrs Crooks be responsible for the casting the shades?

A story about friendship and overcoming fear.birdReview: 

Secret Spell is part of a series aimed at younger midde-grade readers. Four girls develop their magical powers with the help of their star friends – magical animals. Their friendship and magical powers grow alongside each other, but they come up against dark magic known as shades. These are feel-good books for newly confident readers. The fantasy element is not overwhelming – there is plenty of day-to-day life which grounds the story in a familiar world.

I liked the setting. The small village is safe for the girls to explore alone, meaning they go out into the woods and visit their neighbours without adults tagging alone. As someone who lives in a village, it is lovely to see this world represented in children’s fiction. It sounds quaint, but these places and childhoods still exist!

The main message of the novel was not to let fear cloud your perceptions. I liked the depth of the message – it explored how fear causes havoc if we fail to recognise and overcome it. This is a big lesson at a young age, and an important one. 

The novel shows the stresses and fears of modern childhood. The girls frequently find it difficult to arrange meetings due to their hectic schedules of clubs and tuition and music practice. Lottie is under particular stress as she is expected to pass a scholarship exam. This was a realistic portrayal of modern childhood, and it shows the price some children pay for these privileges. 

The story is nice as a stand-alone, but there are references to other Star Friends books. For this reason it might be better to start with book one, but I can see fans of the series enjoying the books in random order once they are familiar with the story. I loved The Sleepover Club as a comfort read when I was young, and I can see this series taking a similar place in on a child’s bookshelf. It would be easy for a child to imagine the Star Friends as their own friends, and great fun could be had making adventures and stories up to about these characters. Lucy Fleming’s Illustrations complete the book. They are fresh and modern and give both the animals and the friends wide-eyed appeal. 


Louise Nettleton

Huge thanks to Stripes Books for my review copy. Opinions remain my own.