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.

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 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.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Scoop McLaren Detective Editor by Helen Castles

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: Helen Castles

Illustrator: Beatriz Castro

Publisher: New Frontier Publishing UK

Favourite sentence from page 11: “I whipped out my phone (that Dad said I’m only supposed to use in emergencies) and googled ‘antigen’.

Three words: Detective – Editor – Mystery

This is a perfect introduction to mystery stories for lower KS2 readers with a feisty lead female protagonist and unusually, manages to combine a technology-driven modern day plot with a nostalgic, small-town feel. My original review, which includes an interview with the author Helen Castles, can be read here.

A second book in the series should appear in October, release has been delayed for obvious reasons. I cannot wait to read it!

#20BooksofSummer Book 1 Dragon Detective: School’s Out! by Gareth P Jones

The second dragon detective mystery is every bit as enjoyable as the first in the series (you can read my review here), with a great cast of characters (I loved the portrayal of vain and venal headteacher Principal Palmer), sublime plotting and wry sense of humour. Some characters from Catnapped!, such as evil dragon Vainclaw Grandin and his inept human henchmen Arthur and Reg re-appear, but you could easily read and enjoy School’s Out! as a standalone story. The illustrations throughout by Scott Brown add to its charm, particularly the singed page corners.

After almost derailing her stepmother’s political ambitions following a late night incident involving blazing dragons, Holly Bigsby now finds herself incarcerated at William Scrivener School for children of the ridiculously rich and phenomenally famous. Smart, independent Holly will not rest until she has figured out a way to foil the high tech security systems and return to her best friend in London. Meanwhile Dirk Dilly, her red-backed, green-bellied, urban-based, mountain dragon private eye friend has been hired by a worried wife to investigate her professor husband’s unusual and alarming behaviour.

Dirk’s investigations lead him to a hideout in the thick forest surrounding Holly’s school. The sleuthing friends find themselves caught up in the middle of another of Grandin Vainclaw’s fiendish plots involving secret high-tech weapons, squabbling tree dragons with a hilariously mangled sense of the English language, the prime minister’s delusional son and a school concert of grand drama.

Huge fun for both child and adult readers, this book is a must-read for an audience of 8+. Author Gareth P Jones packs so much into 250 pages, with a wry sense of humour and fabulously imaginative plot, I even spotted a reference to A Little Princess in the early stages. Dragon Detective: School’s Out! is a perfect addition to any school library and one to add to recommended reading lists for this summer’s #SillySquad2020 Reading Challenge. I guarantee that the dialogue between the tree dragons:

I’m sure he’ll comprestand us mistaccidentally schmunching a member of his family.”

will definitely raise a smile if you are lucky enough to read this book aloud to a young audience.

You can register to join the reading challenge at sillysquad.org.uk

My thanks to Little Tiger Press for my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This is book 1 of my #10BooksofSummer challenge hosted by Cathy at 746Books.com, do check out her wonderful blog.

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

#20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy at 246 Books

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

I am excited to take part in the #20BooksofSummer Challenge hosted by Cathy  at 246books.com for the second year running.

Learning from my experience of last year, when I managed to read 18 books, but failed miserably to keep up with the reviews, I am going to set myself the modest target of 10 books this summer! I have definitely lost by ability to concentrate since the Covid-19 crisis began and although books offer a great deal of comfort, I definitely cannot read as quickly as I used too. Additionally, I intend reading two long books (The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantelland Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell) this summer which I will not be reviewing as my blog focuses solely on books for primary school-aged children.

So, here it is; one summer, three months, 93 days, 10 books! Thank you Cathy for hosting!

10 books from my TBR stack to be read and reviewed this summer. Death Sets Sail by Robin Stevens will be published in August, I will drop everything to read it the day it appears!!

Book Review: The Humble Mayor of Grumble by Hilary Robinson and Steven Johnson

Illustration by Steven Johnson, used with permission.

Since the earliest days humans felt the need to create stories to make sense of the world around them. Hilary Robinson has taken up the baton and written a modern-day fable to help children understand what is going on during this strange period of Covid-19 lockdown. The story, The Humble Mayor of Grumble, beautifully illustrated by Steven Johnson has been made available at no charge for use in classrooms and homes across the world. It downloads in the form of a pdf poster, which is perfect to display on a classroom whiteboard to enable a class discussion of the text.

As with anything written by Hilary Robinson, the story has been produced with great attention to detail, in a style which will reassure children now, but will also be something to look back at from a future time and remind us of this (hopefully) unique period of existence. In keeping with the style, there is no discussion of the science here, just the depiction of the virus as a “silent visitor” which changes the lives of the inhabitants of the town of Grumble.

She encapsulates the gradual realisation, that many have experienced, of gratitude for the natural world and the simpler joys of life that we have been too busy to appreciate for many years. Without the after-school sports, dancing, drama and music activities we have turned to gardening, feeding the birds, appreciating the wildlife and whilst indoors, baking or drawing or being creative in a multitude of ways. Her words express a yearning that we will be able to hold onto these pleasures and maintain the environmental improvements once life returns to an approximation of normal.

I hope that when this fable is read in future years we won’t need to be reminded to be grateful to the selfless essential workers who have kept us going by providing the services we require and I applaud her inclusive list of the workers we clap for on a Thursday evening.

I think The Humble Mayor of Grumble is a wonderful addition to the free resources that are being generously provided for children. I love it and only wish that we had a genuine “humble mayor” running the show; that is the beauty of great children’s literature – it shows us the world as it should and could be.

You can download your FREE copy of The Humble Mayor of Grumble here.

To find out more about Hilary Robinson and her wonderful children’s books, you can visit the Hilary Robinson website here.

You can view some of Steven Johnson’s amazing illustrations for children’s books on his website here.

For previous reviews of Hilary Robinson titles on this blog, click here for Jasper Viking Dog and Space Dog and here for Gregory Goose Board Books.

Review: Agent Zaiba Investigates by Annabelle Sami

Agent Zaiba

“The best agent is cool, calm and oozes charm”

Zaiba has one huge ambition – to become a world class detective! She doesn’t go anywhere, even to her adored older cousin Samirah’s (Sam’s) Mehndi party, without her trusty copy of Eden Lockett’s Detective Handbook.

She has inherited the handbook, along with a collection of fictional Eden Lockett crime novels from her late mother, and the comforting sight of her “ammi’s” handwritten margin notes makes her feel close to the mother who disappeared when she was very young.

However, this is not a story that dwells on sadness. Zaiba has a loving stepmother, Jessica, and an adorable, super-smart half-brother, Ali. as well as her caring Dad, Hassan. Along with her best friend Poppy, they are staying at The Royal Star Hotel for an enormous family gathering to celebrate the Mehndi party of Sam and Tanvir. The details of British-Pakistani culture woven throughout this story are one of its utter joys, I am sure that they will be greatly enjoyed by children who recognise themselves and their families in the main protagonists and also by children and adults who can increase our knowledge of other cultural traditions.

Sam’s mother, the formidable Aunt Fouzia, runs Karachi’s best private detective agency, The Snow Leopard Detective Agency, and Zaiba sees the opportunity to hone her observation skills to ensure that nothing goes wrong during the party. On hearing that a famous celebrity is also in residence in the exclusive hotel, Zaiba, Poppy and Ali set out to investigate the identity of the celebrity, only to find themselves investigating a real life crime when a priceless diamond goes missing.

The plot races along with Zaiba and her team wading through the red herrings, investigating secret staircases and stumbling upon mysterious events in the wine cellar. Can they discover the diamond thief and rescue the pre-wedding party from “doggy disaster”?

With its mystery-filled chapters, vibrant characters and family loyalties and lively black and white illustrations by Daniele Sosa throughout, this is an ideal read for children in Years 3 and 4. I am looking forward to further books in the series, and hope to find out more details of the Snow Leopard Agency!

I am very happy to have discovered another young detective to join the ranks of representative characters in this genre. Agent Zaiba joins the roster  which includes the intrepid Hazel Wong, one half of the Detective Society, the twins Tulip and Ali from A Cure for A Crime, and Sharna Jackson’s siblings Nik and Norva Alexander, as positive role models to inspire all young readers.

 

My thanks to Toppsta and Little Tiger UK for my copy of this book, which I look forward to sharing through the school library as soon as we are safe to resume.

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence

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

MG TakesonThursday
Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

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.

thieves ostia

 

Author: Caroline Lawrence

Illustrator: Peter Sutton and Fred van Deelen (mosaic)

Publisher: Orion Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: “They had almost reached the umbrella pine when the boy looked back, stopped, and reached towards his belt.”

This book in three words: Ancient Roman Adventure

Once again for this feature, I am returning to a book which I read several times before I started my blog. As you can probably tell from its battered appearance, this book has been much-loved by my family. My chosen sentence marks the point when Flavia Gemina, the central protagonist and only daughter of a widowed Roman sea captain, is rescued from a pack of wild dogs in the necropolis behind her villa. Her noble rescuer is Jonathan, a teenage boy who has recently moved in next door. Together with an African slave-girl, Nubia and a mute beggar, Lupus they set out to investigate who is responsible for killing the dogs of Ostia and find themselves delving into the criminal activities of the ancient Roman port of Ostia.

I love this book and the subsequent sixteen in the Roman Mysteries series which still sit proudly on a bedroom bookshelf. In classic ‘whodunnit’ plotting Caroline Lawrence dispenses her knowledge of the classical world with such lightness of touch that children cannot help but absorb facts as they accompany the young detectives through thrilling adventures. I cannot recommend this series highly enough to any Key Stage 2 child studying the Ancient Romans, and for adults who read these as bedtime stories I can only say that I have found myself answering “University Challenge” questions purely based on knowledge gained from The Roman Mysteries!

One final comment, if you ever get the chance to take your child to one of Caroline Lawrence’s events, book a ticket immediately. Her talks are utterly fascinating, she answers all questions with kindness and she signs books with a phrase in Latin, which is totally inspiring, especially for children who attend state school and might not get this inspiration otherwise!