44 Tiny Secrets by Sylvia Bishop, illustrated by Ashley King

44 Tiny Secrets, cover image by Ashley King, published by Little Tiger

Betsy Bow-Linnet is not a coward! Unfortunately for her, she carries the knowledge that her mother considers her “A Terrible Disappointment” and regardless of the number of times that Grandad says it doesn’t matter, it is a cloud that hovers over her whenever she sits at the piano. You see, Betsy’s parents are Bella and Bertie Bow-Linnet, world-famous concert pianists and Betsy lives with them and Grandad in a grand London townhouse filled with grand pianos and ferns. Sounds very grand, doesn’t it?

Well, not for Betsy. She has had piano lessons since early childhood but her playing does not meet the levels of brilliance expected  by her parents. Even more tragically the malicious journalist Vera Brick, gossip columnist at the London Natter, broadcasts Betsy’s lack of talent after hearing her play at one of her parents’ famously glamorous and musical parties. As Betsy gloomily reflects on being a Terrible Disappointment, she receives a letter from a mysterious well-wisher, Gloria Sprightly, who claims to have heard her performance at the party and offers her a fail-safe “Method” to improve her interpretation of classical pieces. This Method involves daily practise with the eponymous 44 Tiny Secrets and builds to a crescendo of hilarity at The Royal Albert Hall!

This book is an absolute delight, Sylvia Bishop’s elegant writing is wonderfully complemented by the coloured illustrations throughout created by Ashley King (I particularly loved the diagram of the inner mechanism of a piano and the ferns which occasionally appear in the gutters of pages). The interactions of the characters and the layering of family secrets are combined with the precision of a symphony; it entertains at surface level and then you can dig deep into the themes of  expectation, honesty and acceptance. The way that the text is broken up and the addition of green into the illustrations will make this an immensely enjoyable reading experience for readers of 8+. I cannot wait to recommend it to the many young musicians at school in September.

Thank you to Little Tiger for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

#MGTakesOnThursday: A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog.

To take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Author: Elle McNicoll

Illustrator: Kay Wilson

Publisher: Knights Of

Favourite sentence from Page 11: This sentence is how the main protagonist Addie introduces us to one of her older sisters, Keedie:

“Her voice is all one colour, a beautiful molten gold”

This book in three words: Autism – Bullying – Solidarity

This week, instead of my usual policy of looking back to a book or series that I shared with one of my own children, I am reviewing a book which I only read last week as it was the #PrimarySchoolBookClub choice for July.

A Kind of Spark is an important #OwnVoices book about autism, highlighting the value of being true to yourself and also of standing in solidarity with those who are persecuted just because they are perceived as “different” in some way. The author Elle McNicoll is autistic and parts of the book are based on her own experiences – both good and bad – at school. I was delighted to see the publisher, Knights Of, winning awards last week because they are giving us all a huge empathy boost by bringing diverse voices to our attention and encouraging us to re-evaluate our attitudes and behaviour.

The main protagonist, Addie, is in her final year at primary school and feeling very lonely as her best friend has deserted her for spiteful Emily who delights in bullying her and horrifyingly the class teacher Miss Murphy contributes to, and it would appear, encourages the bullying behaviour of certain pupils. Fortunately Addie has two allies at school, the librarian Mr Allison who is kindness and patience personified, and Audrey who has recently arrived from London and therefore seen as an outsider by the close-knit community of a small village outside Edinburgh.

The “outsider” theme is expanded as Addie becomes intrigued by the stories of women from the village who were tried and executed as witches several hundred years earlier. At a subconscious level Addie feels some kinship with these women and the theme of her determination to have a memorial plaque erected for them in the village is cleverly interwoven with her daily battle to “mask” her behaviours and fit in at school.

The third strand of the story is based around the dynamics of Addie’s family. Her mother and father are both working long hours and are incredibly supportive of her needs. She is also cared for in contrasting styles, by her older, twin sisters Keedie and Nina. I thought that Keedie was the absolute heroine of this story, autistic herself, she had obviously experienced an even harsher time at school than Addie and does her best throughout to protect her younger sister from the slings and arrows of ignorant bullies. despite being exhausted by trying to cope with her university challenges. Nina is not neuro-diverse and as such sometimes feels left-out in the family unit. Although at times she is less patient and less considerate of Addie’s needs, there is no doubt about her love for her two sisters.

One of the most striking things for me about the writing was Addie’s description of the sensory assaults that everyday situations caused for her. So for example the school bell is described as “screeching loudly” and other loud noises “feel like a drill against a sensitive nerve.” The power of this kind of writing to help you walk in someone else’s shoes for a while and understand just how differently they experience and therefore react to external stimuli is so valuable for us all and I am immensely grateful to Elle McNicoll for inviting us into her world. Additionally, the story makes clear that autism should not be seen as a disability, rather that the ability to experience the world differently provides unique opportunities for creativity and should be celebrated.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone of 9/10+, children and adults alike.

Encouraging Exploration 1: Gregory Goose Adventures by Hilary Robinson, Illustrated by Mandy Stanley

Cover image by Mandy Stanley, published by Catch a Star
Cover image by Mandy Stanley, published by Catch a Sta

With so much evidence based research pointing to the positive benefits of reading on mental health, educational outcomes and development of empathy it is so important to encourage a love of books in children from a young age. These two latest titles in the Gregory Goose series are perfect for sharing with toddlers and pre-schoolers to help develop an intrinsic love of books. As with everything from Catch a Star/New Frontier Publishing they are made with the highest production values; printed on quality thick card, with eye-catching shiny highlights on the covers and made to a perfect size for a pre-schooler to hold comfortably.

I had the privilege to meet both the author Hilary Robinson and illustrator, Mandy Stanley earlier this year and I know how much effort they put into their collaboration to perfectly combine the simple rhyming text and pictures so that they perfectly complement each other. Hilary’s text is written with precise rhyme and rhythm and I love the way that she does not compromise on vocabulary so that children are introduced to words such as chalet, clinging and zooming. Mandy’s illustrations are full of colour and energy and feature the most sartorially elegant fowl in fiction! The end result are books which will give endless hours of pleasure to children and adult readers alike.

The pictures are full of detail, in stunningly vibrant colours blending simple shapes with more detailed artwork. For example in Gregory Goose is on the Loose Up the Mountain the pine trees are portrayed as both simple green triangles and also as beautifully detailed branches of pine needles and pine cones. Triangles are in evidence throughout this book, as flags on the ski slopes, the rooftops of chalets and of course Gregory’s beak. This gives opportunities for discussing shape and number as well as the huge opportunities for chat about the action taking place on every page. In Gregory Goose is on the Loose At the Fair the pictures are full of circles: lights on the rides and attractions, round windows on the rocket ship ride, toffee apples and the Hoopla hoops. Finally, I should mention that these are “seek and find” books with the challenge to discover Gregory’s whereabouts on every page – there are hints in the text, but it is not always easy! With so much detail to observe, Gregory Goose certainly encourages children to concentrate on the page, thus building a stamina which will be required to develop reading skills.

If you are the parent, grandparent, Godparent or in any way related to pre-school children, do put these on your Christmas/birthday shopping list, you will be making a hugely positive contribution to the future of any child with whom you share these books.

For my reviews of other books in the Gregory Goose is on the Loose series, please click here.

I am grateful to New Frontier Publishing/Catch a Star for sending me copies of these titles in exchange for an honest review.

#20BooksOfSummer Book 4: Gargantis by Thomas Taylor

Gargantis cover image by George Ermos, published by Walker Books Ltd

I have fallen rather badly behind with my blogging schedule this summer as I have had to spend a lot of “holiday” time sorting out my school library to ensure that it is ready for use under new guidelines from September. Fortunately I know that the #20BooksOfSummer challenge hosted by wonderful Cathy at 746.books.com is very flexible and forgiving, so I will be doing my best to review 10 books before the end of the month.

Gargantis was the #PrimarySchoolBookClub choice back in June but I would have read it anyway as I loved the first book in this series, Malamander, so much (you can read my review here).

Once again the author, Thomas Taylor, takes us back to the seaside town of Eerie-on-Sea where Herbert Lemon the lost-and-founder at the Grand Nautilus hotel is about to encounter another mysterious and ominous stranger. Deep Hood, as he becomes known, leaves a mysterious mechanical hermit crab and a sense of impending upheaval on Herbie’s counter, before disappearing into the blackout. This book immediately serves up two things I adore in a mystery adventure – a map and a head-first plunge into the action.

The town of Eerie-on-Sea is cracking apart, metaphorically and literally, in the face of a violent tempest. Old tales have resurfaced of St. Dismal, the first fisherman of Eerie-on-Sea and the current fishermen, described as having “beards that you could hide hedgehogs in” are heard to mutter his prediction “Gargantis wakes, Eerie quakes” When the local beachcomber Wendy Fossil is dragged into the hotel, tangled in fishing nets and clinging to a strangely shaped glass bottle, inscribed with ancient Eerie-script, Herbie finds himself at the centre of a dispute over the ownership of this piece of lost property. In trying to decide on the competing claims of Wendy, the fisherfolk led by fearsome Boadicea Bates, teenage outcast fisherman Blaze Westerley and museum director Dr Thalassi, Herbie finds himself drawn to “The Cold, Dark Bottom of the Sea”; the only book he has ever had prescribed from the Book Dispensary.

I do not want to reveal any more plot details as this is a book that propels the reader through so many twists and turns at such an inescapable pace that you just need to plunge in and allow it to envelop you. The ferocious action will leave you gasping for air as if you too have been consumed by “The Vortiss” and you join Herbie and Violet in their quest to untangle the relationship between Eerie-light and Gargantis. Oh, and when you reach the centre of the book you are in for a chart-topping treat!

This book is bursting with fantastic characters, from Boudicea with her “wiry black mane that probably eats hairbrushes for breakfast to Blaze who overcomes everyone’s low expectations of him to fulfil his uncle’s dreams. Herbie is such a wonderful protagonist, constantly having to overcome his deep-seated fears to face his destiny, often as a result of his best friend, Violet Parma’s impulsive actions. They make a thoroughly believable partnership and this story left me longing for more detail on Herbie’s mysterious origins.

I highly recommend this perfectly crafted adventure for everyone of 9/10+ and with its cliff-hanging chapter endings, be prepared to read more than one chapter at a time if you are reading aloud as a class-reader or bedtime story!

Image created by Cathy at 746books.com and used with permission

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Clockwork Sparrow and Sinclair’s Mysteries Series by Katherine Woodfine

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog.

To take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Author: Katherine Woodfine

Illustrator: Júlia Sardà

Publisher: Egmont

Favourite sentence from Page 11: This sentence occurs as Sophie Taylor the central protagonist introduces herself to Billy Parker, who will become one of her loyal friends.

“She had already learned that using her full-name, Taylor-Cavendish, would do her no favours here at Sinclair’s”

This book in three words: Mystery – Friendship – Style

Another week and another chance to celebrate one of my favourite books and indeed series in MG Fiction. This week I am highlighting another fantastically plotted and elegantly written mystery series set in a newly established department store on Piccadilly at the start of the twentieth century. (Yes, I have to admit that mystery stories are probably my favourite genre).

Sophie Taylor has been plunged into poverty by the unexpected death of her beloved father and now must make her living as a shop assistant in a luxurious department store in central London. However, beneath the glamour and elegance of this unique modern emporium, a dastardly plot is due to be unleashed and Sophie and her friends need all of their wits and courage to foil the criminals. It’s a wonderful introduction to a fabulous series for Year 5 and 6 (and possibly advanced readers in Year 4) and an essential for any school library collection.

My full review of the Sinclair’s Mystery Series can be read here.

#MGTakesOnThursday: New Kid by Jerry Craft

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog.

To take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Author: Jerry Craft

Illustrator: Jerry Craft

Publisher: Harper Audio Productions/ Harper Collins

Favourite sentence from Page 11: I listened to the audio production, so I have estimated the position of this quote and have chosen it to highlight Jordan’s sense of displacement early in the story.

“It was great not to be the only black kid in class but after being fooled by the chauffeur and then the whole Mory/Oreo thing , I turned my head when Drew tried to make eye-contact and I have no idea why”

This book in three words: Comics – Friendship – Diversity

As we reach the end of another school year and many children are moving on from Year 6 to their secondary schools, it seemed the perfect time to review New Kid by Jerry Craft. I don’t listen to many audio books as I often find the narration irritating – but this full-cast audio production is exceptionally good and I have listened to it three times during the loan period from my local library.

Here is my review:

 I had seen this book recommended in several lists compiled to increase the diversity of book collections and was delighted to spot that it was available as an audiobook on the Borrow Box app from my local public library. I have been swept away by the  full cast performance of this beautifully crafted and thought-provoking story which highlights the issue of racism and the need for everyone to have the courage to speak out when it is encountered. I believe that the physical book is actually a graphic novel which fits perfectly with the main protagonist Jordan being a 12-year-old obsessed with drawing comic strips.

Jordan Banks is a charming and bright boy who has won a place at prestigious elite,  Riverdale Academy Day School or RAD for short. His mum works in publishing and has high aspirations for her son and wants him to learn the unwritten rules which will help him, as an African American, succeed in whatever he chooses to do. His father on the other hand has opted out of corporate life and now runs the local community centre and coaches the local kids’ baseball team in his spare time. He is less certain about Jordan joining the privileged, predominantly white cohort of students at his new school and has promised that if things don’t work out he can move to art school in ninth-grade. This conflicting views of the parents and their concerns for their talented son are deftly explored throughout the story.

On the first morning of term Jordan is collected from his home in an apartment block in Washington Heights by his “guide“ Liam Landers and his father, a successful and wealthy businessman. Liam is the third generation of his family to attend RAD and on first contact the two boys seem to have very little in common. However as the story progresses it is clear that Liam is an extraordinarily kind and considerate boy who is quite uncomfortable with his family’s vast wealth and his father’s constant absence on business trips, and despite their social differences he and Jordan develop a close friendship

The lack of diversity in the school is made very clear from Jordan’s first arrival, where the only people who look like him are the “drivers” of his affluent classmates. There are only a handful of African American students and the innate racist behaviour of some students and even staff members is made clear. By lunchtime on his first day Jordan feels “lost and alone” and despite being rescued by Liam in the cafeteria he is bewildered by the continued racism displayed by the swaggering, white-priviledge behaviour personified by Andy Petersen. This character’s bad behaviour and the fact that nobody surrounding him has the courage to call him out on it gives readers/listeners an opportunity to reflect on their own behaviour. Jordan’s fellow African American classmate, Drew, expresses more overt anger, in particular to the form teacher who constantly refers to him by the name of a former pupil with whom she clearly had a bad relationship in a previous year.

The story is punctuated by Jordan’s “sketchbook breaks” where he articulates his feelings in the form of comic strips. He is a compellingly engaging character, trying his best to fit in and ultimately unafraid to stand up and do the right thing. He is driven by the wise words of his grandfather, “you don’t have to like everybody, but you don’t have to be a jerk about it” and by applying his good sense and natural charm has a positive effect on those around him.

There are very many things to enjoy in this story, from the quirky chapter titles which play with the names of famous books and films, to the perfectly drawn characters and Jordan’s skilled navigation of the race and wealth differences between himself and his class-mates. Jerry Craft has constructed a wonderful story which promotes kindness, tolerance, courage and friendship. A wonderful read for Year 6 pupils as they move on to secondary schools and I think that it is likely to appeal to teens who will love spotting the Hamilton references- my favourite was the echoes of the Ten Duel Commandments in Chuck Banks’ rules for handshakes! Having listened to the audio-book I will certainly be buying a copy of the graphic novel for the school library where I imagine it will be greatly enjoyed and I would recommend this audio production to any school or home collection.

Review: Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Poison Plot by Annabelle Sami

Cover art by Daniela Sosa, book published by Little Tiger Press

In Agent Zaiba’s second adventure, crime strikes close to home, leaving her racing against the clock to investigate the tensions and rivalry simmering beneath the surface of her tranquil village.

Since her successful identification of a jewel thief several months earlier Zaiba has been on the lookout for a new crime to solve. She is now the UK representative of Aunt Fouzia’s Snow Leopard Detective Agency, and ever-mindful of her duty to the family’s reputation, Zaiba does not want to let her aunt down. There hasn’t even been a hint of a new case so Zaiba has employed her talents in designing an immersive detective experience for her peers to enjoy at the 30th Anniversary School Fete! The entire village has been commandeered for the big day and as Zaiba dashes across the park she is sad to observe the careless destruction of the rhododendron bushes in the flower garden.

Meanwhile, her father Hassan, and younger half-brother Ali are competing against stern Aunt Raim and miserable cousin Mariam, as well as ultra-competitive Marco and his son Gabriele in the bake-off competition, and step-mum Jessica turns the village children into a menagerie of animals at her famous face-painting stall. It’s a scene that anyone who has ever been involved with a summer fete will recognise…until a blood-curldling shriek emanates from the baking tent!

What has Ms Goremain, the new head teacher with the fearsome eyebrow raise, consumed? Who baked the offending cupcake? Is her present state of distress caused by an allergic reaction or is there something sinister afoot? Can Zaiba, assisted by best friend Poppy and super smart Ali pick through the sprinkling of clues to solve the conundrum before the police arrive and stomp all over the evidence. Will her kindness towards Mariam result in a helpful new recruit to her team or be paid back with further point-scoring? All these questions will be answered as you race through the story.

I gobbled up this book in two sittings, only interrupted by my day-job! Zaiba is the most likeable character; diligent, smart and dutiful and is surrounded by a lovely family and loyal friendship. This book is a model for multicultural co-operation and will delight young readers of 8+ who will enjoy an entertaining mystery unravelling in a very familiar setting. The text is broken up by the lively illustrations of Daniela Sosa and at 228 pages the book is the perfect length for young readers embarking on the detective mystery genre. I feel certain that children from the British-Pakistani community will enjoy seeing their community so positively represented by an own-voices writer, Annabelle Sami. Equally, for children (and adults) from other ethnic backgrounds, increased understanding and empathy are huge benefits of enjoying Agent Zaiba’s exploits. The absurdities of holding grudges are made plain and like so many MG books, Agent Zaiba shows children that their instincts for kindness and acceptance are often a lesson to adults.

As headteacher Ms Goremain states, ”Our children’s voices are as important as our own.”

I am very grateful to Little Tiger Press for my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

#MGTakesonThursday: Beetle Boy by M.G.Leonard, illustrated by Júlia Sardà

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog.

To take part, the steps to follow are:

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.
  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Author: M.G. Leonard

Illustrator: Júlia Sardà

Publisher: Chicken House Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: This sentence so perfectly encapsulates the character of Uncle Max with whom the main protagonist, Darkus, goes to live following the disappearance of his father.

“He took off his safari hat, his hair springing up above his tanned scalp like a cloud of silver thoughts.”

This book in three words: Beetles – Adventure – Funny

I seem to be having an M.G.Leonard week on the blog, which is great because she has created two incredible series for MG readers. As any regular readers of my blog will know, I adore mystery adventures and I love books which pass on an author’s deep knowledge and passion for a subject wrapped up in an entertaining story. Beetle Boy provides both in abundance and in my opinion appeals to such a wide audience that I am reading it to my virtual library summer book club (with the kind permission of Chicken House) through our closed Google domain. My original review of Beetle Boy can be read here.

#20BooksofSummer Book 3: Kidnap on the California Comet by MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illustrator Elisa Paganelli

This is the third of my #10BooksofSummer reviews, an event hosted by Cathy on her 746Books.com blog, do read her posts and those of all the other wonderful book bloggers joining the challenge this year.

Having loved the first Adventures on Trains book, I was delighted to be approved by NetGalley to read an eARC of Kidnap on the California Comet. Once again a rollicking adventure unfolds as Hal and his Uncle Nat rattle and clatter their way across an iconic train route.

Travel journalist, Nathaniel Bradshaw, has been personally invited to cover a press conference at which billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur, August Reza, will unveil his latest innovation. Mr Reza shares Nat’s love of trains and has his own luxuriously refurbished 1940s observation car, Silver Scout, hitched to the California Comet. The press conference is due to be staged at the Durham Museum, once one of the country’s busiest train hubs but now a train museum, in Omaha.

Hal is delighted to accompany Uncle Nat on this rail trip of a lifetime,  a three-day adventure from Chicago to San Francisco and despite his jet-lag he doesn’t hesitate to start recording his journey in his sketchbook as he waits in the grand surroundings of Union Station, Chicago to board the train. He soon makes friends with a brother and sister, Mason and Hadley, who are roughly his age, not realising that their special talents for magic and impersonation will be of great use in unravelling another mystery.

As the train picks up pace across the broad expanse of the American plains, Hal feels a growing sense of unease, sensing an undercurrent of subterfuge. Why does Ryan, the teenager with elaborate dental brace-work appear so terrified of his gym-coach father that he tries to pass on a coded message? Why is Vanessa Rodriguez in the roomette opposite so brusque? Is glamorous journalist Zola trying to steal his uncle’s story? Are there really spies from Reza’s rival company Zircona on board the train, and would they stoop low enough to kidnap Marianne, his twelve-year-old daughter? Is Seymour Hart, the businessman with a metal suitcase clamped to his side at all times, training in stolen secrets?

Like its predecessor, this book is infused with a love of rail travel and trains. The story glides through technical details and descriptions as smoothly as service in a first class carriage, leaving the reader satiated with knowledge.  This time there is also a palpable sense of the conflict between nostalgia for old technologies, such as Uncle Nat’s fountain pen and the glamorous 1940s style train carriages, and the desire to embrace new technologies whilst thinking about their impact on the environment.

The illustrations by Elisa Paganelli throughout are an absolutely integral part of the story as they represent Hal’s finely detailed observations. His insightful sketches are the method through which he details the world around him and the basis for his crime-solving conclusions. 

This book will be devoured by young readers looking for an engrossing adventure to read for pleasure. However, I can also see many ways in which it could be used as a class reader to sit alongside curriculum project work: the Americas geography unit, DT/STEM work on design of transport and as a basis for discussions on clean energy and environmental concerns. In summary I highly recommend Kidnap on the California Comet to anyone of 8/9+.

Thank you to #NetGalley and Macmillan Children’s Books for approving my eARC request.

My review of the first book in the series, The Highland Falcon Thief can be found here.

#20BooksofSummer Book 2: Super Stan by Elaine Wickson, illustrated by Chris Judge

This is the second of my #10BooksofSummer reviews, as I am attempting the cut-down version of #20BooksofSummer hosted by Cathy at 746books.com.

What do you get if you mix a five-year-old eco-warrior, a space-obsessed ten-year-old, a school full of kids dressed as sea creatures and enough fart jokes to make their own contribution to global warming? Yes, it can only be the latest utterly hilarious outing for Stan and Fred Fox. In their third book they are on a mission to save the world, one crisp packet at a time. I absolutely adore the series of Stan books. Author Elaine Wickson has conjured a dazzling concoction of brilliantly comic tales, which feature wonderfully original data representation, illustrated by Chris Judge. This time she has blended an important ecological theme into the story, presented in such a way that it is guaranteed to encourage primary school children to continue their own contribution to showing adults the error of their ways.

Stan wants nothing more than to read his space magazines in the peaceful surroundings of his room and prepare himself for the approaching full solar eclipse. Unfortunately his is side-tracked by permanently-sticky, little brother Fred, who has had his imagination captured by Dr Alice Fielding (or as he calls her, Dr Feddup). Her Plastic Planet TV series has awakened his inner eco-warrior. Fred’s first reaction to hearing about the waste plastic being swallowed by whales and other sea creatures is to empty the multi-packs of crisps into the supermarket aisles thereby allowing customers to purchase their crisps without the unnecessary packaging! At home things are not much better as he constantly replaces his family’s toothbrushes with twiggy sticks, often with the caterpillars still attached!

Fortunately he initiates a more positive campaign to resurrect the town’s central drinking fountain, aiming to provide free water for all residents and eliminate the need for plastic water bottles. With backing from headteacher Mrs Riley and big brother Stan’s presentation skills, Fred starts the “School of Fish” initiative to raise awareness and funds. Dressed as a giant pink prawn to highlight the plight of the crustaceans contaminated with plastic micro-particles, Fred inspire his entire school, and will likely inspire young readers to take their own small actions to save the planet.

I really don’t want to give away too many plot details, but this story is incredibly clever in its co-ordination of the dance of the celestial bodies, the side-plot of Gran’s forthcoming marriage to her Salsa teacher, the filial love between Fred and Stan and the momentum that one young King Prawn Supermarket Vandal can create. Throw into the mix a hideously ignorant radio DJ and his “toadally awesome” competition; a celebrity eclipse-chaser on a book tour; relatives with an addiction to conspicuous consumption and you have a story that twists through so many laugh-out-loud scenes that your cheeks will be aching with laughter before you reach the marvellously satisfying conclusion.

I highly recommend that you add this to your #SillySquad2020 reading list for the summer reading challenge. Beyond this, add it to the Stan collection on your library, classroom or home bookshelves to both read for pleasure and to generate data representation ideas.

Thank you to OUP Children’s Publishing for my review copy.