Middle Grade Reviews

Review: Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum.

Review: Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum.

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Extract:

We are the Jensen & Jenson Troofriend 560 Mark IV. We are The Better Choice For Your Child. She no longer needs to play with other human children, who might bully or harm or lie or covet or steal or envy. We are programmed only for fun and goodness. 

(Troofriend by Kirsty Applebaum. P2.)

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Synopsis:

Imagine having a friend who never disagreed with a word you said? A friend who did everything that you wanted. A friend, like a TrooFriend 560 Mark IV, who wasn’t even human.

Sarah’s parents are often absent, and her friend’s complicated family situation means that she is regularly out of town. Sarah has another friend, but the complicated rules of High School popularity mean that they can no longer hang out together. As a result, Sarah is lonely.

Her mother is convinced that android Ivy is the solution, but Sarah isn’t so sure. At first, she turns the android off when nobody is looking, but over time evidence convinces her that Ivy is something more than other technology. That she is almost human.

As Sarah uses Ivy in a bid to win popularity at school, a factory recall puts Ivy’s existence into danger. There are people out there who reckon Ivy shouldn’t exist, and if they track her down, she will be destroyed.

A complex and philosophical story about popularity, taking account for our own actions, and what it means to be human.

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Review:

Technology is taking over our lives. It is now the norm, where is wouldn’t have been several years ago, to look at smartphones and tablets during conversations with other people. Increasingly we consult search engines about our problems before we talk to an expert. The story demonstrates the effect all this technology has on our social skills and imagines things one step further, where children are actively encouraged to replace human friendships with technology.

Sarah is a relatable character. Transitioning to secondary school can be painfully hard. What makes someone popular, and what makes a person likeable, isn’t often taught in a way that is obvious to all children. Being treated as unpopular – being shunned, for example, for some imperceptible flaw -isn’t always treated as bullying by adults in the same way it might have been in a primary school. Sarah, the protagonist in the story, is desperate not to be labelled as unpopular, but her quest to be liked by the ‘right people’ leads her to behave in unkind ways to her old friends.

What I loved about Sarah was that her behaviour wasn’t perfect. She was like so many kids, struggling with day-to-day life, and the story shows her moving from selfish and desperate behaviours to an acceptance that she has to take ownership of her actions. The quest to be popular is no justification for behaving unkindly.

Ivy’s quest to prove that she is unique is also touching. It reminded me in many ways of the characters in Never Let Me Go, using art to communicate their inner selves. Troofriend is a great adventure, but everybody I have spoken to who has read the book is especially moved by the themes.

The reader is constantly challenged to think about their own stances. When the androids are recalled it seems obvious that Ivy should be helped … except that some very real children are being hurt by the android’s actions. This conflict makes for a real page-turner. How can such a conundrum possibly be resolved?

A moving and philosophical story told in such a way that it is impossible to put down. I had high hopes for this after reading The Middler, and I wasn’t disappointed. Kirsty Applebaum is a skilled literary writer and Troofriend confirms her as a real talent.

 

Thanks to Nosy Crow Ltd and Clare Hall-Craggs for my copy of Troofriend. Opinions my own.

 

 

Blogmas 2019 · christmas · Picture Book Reviews · Picture Books

Review: Santa’s High-Tech Christmas by Mike Dumbleton. Illustrated by Angela Perrini.

Review: Santa’s High-Tech Christmas by Mike Dumbleton. Illustrated by Angela Perrini.

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Santa’s work doesn’t all happen in a single night. Long before he sets out on Christmas Eve he touches up the paintwork on his sleigh and checks the presents off on his modern, new-fangled Techno-Pad. With all this gadgetry to help him do the job, what could possibly go wrong? 

Quite a lot, it turns out. When the pad drops from the sky and the screen goes blank, Santa doesn’t have a clue how to get it working again. He does what any self-respecting adult does during such a crisis – he pokes the screen several times and then accepts the help of a young person. 

Jasmin knows exactly what she is doing and Santa rewards her with an early present. The trouble is, it leaves him nothing to deliver for Jasmin to open on Christmas day. Luckily Jasmin is two steps ahead as always …

A witty story that will gain laughs from children raised with smart technology at their fingertips. 

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Given that adults design the stuff, it is strange how, whether it is GameBoys in the 1990s or laptops in the noughties, or the latest smart technology today, children are, as a whole, always more fluent in the use of electronic gadgets. It helps, of course, when they have never known a world without them – so children born today learn to navigate their way around apps at the same time as learning the alphabet. Even so, I reckon this book will gain plenty of laughs over Christmas as adults hand their new gifts over to nearby young people for configuring.

This story of new-fangled things is illustrated with retro-style pictures. This contrast works beautifully because it hints at the idea that Santa himself has been around … you know … for quite some time. It suggests a nostalgia for days of earlier technology – except, of course, that this was revolutionary in its era. 

A new take on the Christmas Eve delivery story just perfect for anyone who loves their technology. 

 

Thanks to New Frontier Publishing for my copy of Santa’s High-Tech Christmas. Opinions my own.

Non-Fiction

Review: The Language Of The Universe by Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadía.

Review: The Language Of The Universe by Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadía.

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Maths can feel confusing. At times in my childhood, it felt like nothing more than memorising a string of processes, the use of each was more obscure than the last. Yet maths is the language of the universe. It is written into nature, into the laws of physics and into modern-day technology. 

This beautiful book introduces the places where maths can be found. It reminds us that maths is about more than examinations. It is a magical, complex language. One waiting to be explored. 

Four sections divide the book into topics: 

  • Maths In The Natural World
  • Physics, Chemistry and Engineering. 
  • Space. 
  • Technology. 

Within each section, different concepts are explored through beautiful double-page spreads. 

There are gems of information inside this book which will make you look at the world in a whole new way. Did you know that female pufferfish examine the patterns a male makes in the sand on the ocean floor? The female looks for the most geometrically perfect patterns when selecting a partner. And did you know that you could lift the Earth up and turn it (if only you were positioned with a lever billions of light-years long)? Fascinating facts like this make it impossible to not want to know the principles. 

The illustration and design is undoubtedly part of the attraction of this book. Pages are cleverly divided into different sections with shapes and colours which attract the eye. The retro-style pictures are attractive and fun and make spreads which deal with complex ideas feel more welcoming to novices. 

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What also makes the book fantastic is that is doesn’t once water down its subject matter. The book is certainly aimed at a younger audience, but it doesn’t ever give the impression that children might be reluctant to learn. Sections of text are kept short – one or two paragraphs at a time – but the principles are explained and illustrated in sensible and engaging language. The book takes its readers seriously, unlike so many books on complex subjects which resort to heavy-handed humour to engage readers. If information is presented in an engaging way, people are often eager to know more. 

A stunning introduction to the way mathematics underpins our world. Numbers are part of our history, of our make-up and of our communication. Books like this remind us that to study them is a great adventure. 

 

Thanks to Big Picture Press for my gifted copy of The Language Of The Universe. Opinions my own.