#MGTakesOnThursday: Agent Zaiba Investigates The Haunted House written by Annabelle Sami, illustrated by Daniela Sosa

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Additionally, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish 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.
Cover art by Daniela Sosa, Published by Little Tiger Press

Author: Annabelle Sami

Illustrator: Daniela Sosa

Publisher: Little Tiger Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: ‘But even if these events aren’t caused by a ghost, we simply have to investigate’.

This book in three words: Inclusive – Detective – Mystery

Agent Zaiba and her team of young detectives from the Snow Leopard Detective Agency are back for their third adventure and this time there may be supernatural forces at work!

Who or what is behind the spooky events at Oakwood Manor, where vases crash to the floor splintering into thousands of shards, plates fly from the kitchen shelves and expensive jewellery vanishes into thin air? With talk in the village of ghostly hauntings or wicked jinn persecuting the new owners of the ancient manor house, it is up to Zaiba and her cool-headed team of junior investigators to discover the true culprit.

In a gripping plot filled with strange disappearances, secret passages and a cast of suspicious grown-ups, young readers will be engrossed in trying to sift the clues from the red herrings. This story fits all the conventions of the “cosy crime” genre, from the setting in a grand manor house surrounded by ancient woodland, to a house party taking place on a storm-ruffled evening attended by a collection of guests exhibiting perplexing behaviour. The short, dialogue-filled chapters generate excitement and tension but in a style and tone perfectly suited to readers of 9+. The addition of Daniela Sousa’s lovely artwork highlights key points in the story and gives young readers a chance to break from the text and mull over their deductions and theories.

Middle grade readers have an amazing range of detective mysteries to choose from these days, I find myself quite envious! (In my childhood the choice was Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew and then Agatha Christie). The Agent Zaiba books have hugely broad appeal because they are so effortlessly inclusive of everyone. This inclusivity is embodied in the main protagonist Zaiba, who, in each story welcomes new recruits into her detective agency with appreciation for the unique talents that they bring to her team. In Zaiba’s character Annabelle Sami has created a wonderful role model for young readers; demonstrating the benefit of teamwork, openness to all possibilities, positive encouragement and leading by example. All of these empowering messages are encased in an entertaining mystery story – what more could you ask for?

Agent Zaiba Investigates The Haunted House will be published on 1st April 2021. If you can’t wait until then to join Zaiba’s team of investigators, check out the first two books in the series:

Agent Zaiba Investigates The Missing Diamonds

and

Agent Zaiba Investigates The Poison Plot

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

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Exploding Life of Scarlett Fife by Maz Evans, illustrated by Chris Jevons

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Also, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish 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.
Illustration by Chris Jevons, published by Hachette Children’s Group

Author: Maz Evans

Illustrator: Chris Jevons

Publisher: Hachette Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“Then Miss Hugg went very quiet and William U got Mr Nibbles and I got some BIG FEELINGS about it”

This book in three words: Fun – Feelings – Family

I know that we have not yet reached the end of March but I already feel sure that this will be one of my books of the year when December arrives. Anyone who has spent any time reading with children will know that a funny book will keep them engaged, entertained and contribute to a love of reading and stories.  When that book is written with such skill that it delivers a laugh in practically every paragraph and, underneath the laughter, contains some powerful life lessons, it becomes a treasure in every classroom, library and home.

Scarlett Fife is instantly relatable, an almost-ten-year-old girl with the sorts of worries that any school child will recognise, including wanting to win sufficient “positivity points” to gain the ultimate classroom reward, fending off one particular classmate’s unpleasant behaviour and worrying about losing her best friend to the popular “new girl”. On top of that, her engineer mother is exhausted from working extra hours “to make ends meet” because her stepdad Jakub has been dismissed by his racist boss. This results in the sort of oversights which are huge to a school child like forgetting to send in Scarlett’s spending money and lunch order for a school trip.

However, Scarlett’s biggest worry is her tendency to experience BIG FEELINGS and subsequent temper loss. She describes the way the anger bubbles up inside her tummy until it explodes out of her in language that will ring a bell of recognition with many. We are led to understand that this trait has frequently landed her in trouble, and now Mum has laid down the ultimate Mumishment! If Scarlett loses her temper again she will have her long anticipated trip to Super Mega Awesome Sicky Fun World theme park cancelled. Thus Scarlett must try to contain her anger throughout the provoking situations she faces…with hilariously explosive consequences.

She can rely on her best friend Maisie for sensible words at crucial moments, although Maisie’s use of Latin expressions was the cause of much merriment from this reader. The level of humour in this book is outstanding, with jokes and asides which will have adults and children in fits of giggles. William U, the source of many of Scarlett’s enraged moments is blessed with the Chinook of helicopter parents, who constantly excuses his bad behaviour with an imaginative list of syndromes and Scarlett’s definition of an executive head teacher made me snort with laughter!

I do not want to give away too many plot details for fear of ruining your enjoyment of this story but instead will say that I loved it on so many levels. Firstly the uproarious humour. I honestly laughed out loud at many situations, word plays and misunderstandings scattered throughout the plot. This really is a book which will be enjoyed as much by adults who might read it aloud as the children who are listening or reading it independently. Which brings me to my second point; it is another wonderful example of illustrated fiction which makes the reading process relaxing and enjoyable for those children who are still on their way to mastering the process of reading independently. 

Then there is the representation which flows so naturally throughout the book and ensures that many children will see their own experience or that of their classmates on display. Scarlett’s parents have an amicable divorce ensuring that Scarlett feels loved and valued, but she herself compares this to a classmate whose parents do not have this mature relationship. Scarlett’s stepdad Jakub is Polish and her real Dad has only one arm and hardly ever uses his “Prosecco” arm. Much of the plot is built around the upcoming wedding of Scarlett’s Auntie Rosa, a high-powered lawyer to Auntie Amara, a creative therapist. As prejudices to some of these characters are mulled over by the childlike fair-mindedness of Scarlett’s voice, readers can see the obvious message that everyone should be valued for who they are.

Finally, through the different voices of wise adults, Scarlett comes to understand that anger is natural, can in some cases be used to positive effect and that there are strategies she can use to deal with her feelings rather than having to bottle them up inside.

This is a marvellous book, bursting with joy and good sense and celebrating love in its many forms. I am sure that it will become a much-loved addition to your classroom, library or home and I certainly hope that there will be more books featuring Scarlett Fife.

I am grateful to NetGalley and Hachette Children’s Books for access to an eARC in exchange for my honest opinion.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Mort the Meek written by Rachel Delahaye, illustrated by George Ermos

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Also, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish 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: Rachel Delahaye

Illustrator: George Ermos

Publisher: Little Tiger Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ But the crowd wanted to LIVE, so not one of them said or did anything.”

This book in three words: Outrageously gruesome humour!

Imagine being the only pacifist living on Brutalia, ‘an island of terrifying ugliness’ ruled over by a fearsome and pitiless King and Queen. Then imagine being not just a pacifist but the nephew of the island’s overworked executioner. Take one more step along this imaginary path and picture yourself being forced, by the Queen, into taking over your uncle’s role at the execution of your best friend!

If your curiosity has been tweaked at this point, you really need to read Mort the Meek, the darkly hilarious tale of a boy facing an impossible situation in a land where hope and friendship seem doomed. Will Mort, the island’s solitary pacifist, be able to walk the walk of the most brutal brute in Brutalia? His powers of resolve, ingenuity and cunning will be put to the test in a series of fearsome challenges as he tries to remain true to his principles without losing his head! 

Rachel Delahaye has packed this story with unlikely occurrences, fabulous wordplay and the kind of slapstick, gruesome violence that makes young readers snort with laughter. When Mort meets a friend named Ono and discovers that some of the inhabitants of Brutalia are prepared to defy the wicked rulers’ decrees, he glimpses a small possibility of hope amongst the hidden marigold fields.

Featuring a running commentary at the start of each chapter by the island’s ravenous ravens which is not for those of a weak stomach, this is a subversively comic tale about standing up for your beliefs, being unafraid to be different and the importance of friendship. The illustrations throughout by George Ermos perfectly capture the unhinged details of daily life in Brutalia. The sentence that I selected at the top of this post reminds us that bad things happen when collectively we are afraid to speak out and Mort’s story shows that even small, solitary voices speaking out for what is right can bring about change.

You can find teaching notes, created by Scott Evans, to accompany this book on the Little Tiger Press website.

Mort the Meek is published on 4th March 2021 and I am most grateful to Charlie Morris at Little Tiger Press for sending me a review copy ahead of publication.

Review: Mina Mistry (sort of) Investigates written by Angie Lake, illustrated by Ellie O’Shea

Cover art by Ellie O’Shea, published by Sweet Cherry Publishing

Mina Mistry (sort of) Investigates: The Mystery of the Disgusting School Dinners

The first book in  this exciting new series for emerging readers is called The Case of the Disgusting School Dinners and is perfectly written and designed to appeal to readers ranging from confident 7 year olds to those older KS2 readers who are still looking for the perfect book to set them off on a lifetime of reading pleasure. Printed on buff-coloured paper with playful use of different fonts and fully illustrated throughout, this is a book which makes reading an enjoyable experience for those children who might find densely-formatted text rather off-putting. I applaud the publisher Sweet Cherry Press for producing these books which can act as a gateway for emergent readers.

Of course, all the clever formatting in the world won’t keep a child engaged unless the characterisation and story are equally enticing…and in Mina Mistry we have a bright new star earning her shiny detective badge! Mina Snotbridge is a smart, observant and ingenious mixed-race child, with a caucasian father and Indian mother. She tells us that she chooses to use her mum’s maiden name as her secret, undercover detective name because it sounds like mystery and it’s just a whole lot better than her dad’s surname! I love the way that the story has been organised as Mina’s case notes and log entries so that the information is condensed in a style entirely consistent with a detective story, keeping the plot moving at a good pace.

Mina’s best friend, Holly Loafer, is obsessed with planning her future career as a pop star and chasing after the only boy at school with a sense of style, Gareth Trumpshaw! They might seem like complete opposites personality-wise, but they prove that complementary skills lead to great teamwork. Granny Meera is another larger-than-life character, running her catering business Cooking con Fusion, with recipes such as onion-bahjis-in-the-hole and full English breakfast samosas. As Mina helps Granny Meera to prepare some fusion snacks to sell at the school fun run the realisation dawns that the sugar and fat-laden school lunches do not reflect the healthy eating messages that the school is trumpeting. With her detective antenna on full alert Mina enters investigation mode and formulates a plan to discover why the school cook Mrs Mudge is serving up meals designed to rot teeth and pile on the pounds!

Author Angie Lake has created an excellent story to introduce young readers to the delights of the detective mystery genre and the story has been wonderfully illustrated throughout by Ellie O’Shea. Mina is an engaging character, the plot is entirely recognisable and relatable to its intended audience and the story contains a perfect blend of intrigue and humour. Much thought has gone into the design of this book, from the glossy cover, to the sprayed edge pages and the easy-to-read content. This is exactly the sort of book to give children the positive experience of finishing and enjoying a story and introducing them to the tropes of a genre of which they can find many more examples, once their reading motivation has been engaged.

The great news is that book 2 in the series has already been published and there are hopefully more to come!

Mina Mistry (sort of) Investigates: The Case of the Disappearing Pets

Cover art by Ellie O’Shea, published by Sweet Cherry Publishing

The second book in the Mina Mistry series has the same playful tone and great design as the first story, this time packaged in a glossy lilac cover with matching sprayed edges. This time the investigation takes place during Showcase Your Pets Week at Mina’s school, a hilarious set up with children bringing in such delights as shoe-boxes full of garden snails and over-accessorised hamsters! However, it doesn’t take long before a spate of pet-thefts breaks out. Holly’s hamster, Harriet; Danny’s toad, Superdog and the entire animal population of the town’s pet shop. When Mina decides that PC McApple needs assistance to crack the case she enrols her classmates to track down the pet thieves.

With a plot full of model train sets, night-time expeditions through the town’s sewers, cosmetics research and an animal sanctuary, this is an entertaining story presented in an easy-to-read format. Alongside the fun of the investigation the story gives young readers the chance to think about the way that pets are treated and basic ethical questions about business. I recommend to anyone of 7+.

The publishers have produced a wonderful pack of engaging activities for each of the Mina Mistry books. You can find the resources for Book 1 here and the resources for Book 2 here.

I am most grateful to Sweet Cherry Publishing for my review copies of the Mina Mistry books in exchange for my honest opinion.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Diagnosis Danger by Roopa Farooki

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Also, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish 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.
Cover art by Mike Lowery, published by Oxford University Press

Author: Roopa Farooki

Illustrator: Mike Lowery

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

‘ Where’s all your stuff?’ asked Jay, noticing that the girls didn’t have the regulation burst-to-the-seams plastic bags.

This book in three words: Twins – Trouble – Deception

The double detectives are back and ready to take you on a second heart-stopping, life-or-death medical mystery!

Diagnosis Danger begins two weeks after the end of Tulip and Ali’s first mystery,  The Cure for a Crime; you could read this book as a standalone but I would recommend that you read the books in order to fully appreciate the story.

When Ali and Tulip are around adventure is sure to follow and this book plunges you straight into the drama from the moment you open the cover. At first it is just Ali losing her cool as the girls walk home from school with neighbouring twins Jay and Zac. She has been looking forward to her first ever overseas holiday during half-term, but their hard-working, brain surgeon mother phones to cancel the trip at the last minute due to work pressures. The quote from page 11 illustrates the contrast in the family lives of both sets of twins: Jay and Zac are fed home-cooked, vegetarian, gluten-free meals by parents who treasure every cardboard creation, whilst Tulip and Ali live on fast food and don’t bother bringing art projects home because their mum is constantly working or exhausted.  As Ali stamps and shouts her displeasure and Tulip, aided by Zac and Jay, tries to calm her, rescue in the shape of their friend Momo’s minicab arrives on the scene.

However, before you can utter the words popliteal artery, Momo is stabbed by a heavily disguised passenger as she exits his cab. Ali and Tulip jump into action with the medical knowledge they have assimilated and stop the bleeding from his leg, accompanying Momo to Accident and Emergency at their mum’s hospital. After some funny banter between their mum and a vascular surgeon (electricians versus plumbers) they are eventually collected by their wonderful Nan-Nan, my favourite character in this series, a former secret service operative who has lost both of her legs at some point in her colourful career. Nan-Nan is now a member of an undercover operation known as SWAT (Senior Water Aerobics Team) and clearly has suspicions about who the disguised assailant might be. She declares her intention to take the girls away for half-term …although the destination is rather less glamorous than her grand-daughters hoped for.

Rounding up their feral cat Witch, they head to Catty’s Cattery, supposedly a luxury hotel for feline guests which turns out to be a rundown, dilapidated holiday camp, full of extremely ill pensioners who are fed on out-of-date junk food. Nan-Nan has recruited her smart, wisecracking pair of juvenile detectives to join her on an undercover investigation into the mysterious cash injections being received by the deeply unpleasant owner of this establishment.

This story rattles along at a frantic pace with the fast-talking  twins, their irrepressible grandmother  and loyal friends sifting through the clues to unearth the sinister criminal activities at Catty’s Cattery. Along the way, author Roopa Farooki ( a real-life doctor)  cleverly highlights the plight of many elderly people who cannot afford the costs of care in their old age and may be open to abuse and neglect.  I also admire this book for presenting a positive portrayal of a wheelchair user; Nan-Nan’s can-do attitude is laced with humour and bravery. Tulip and Ali are dynamic and inspiring tween characters and the Mini-Medix Blog appendix to the story provides unique scientific and medical content. If you are looking for an entertaining and educational MG Mystery for children of 10+ who love science then make an appointment with a Double Detectives Medical Mystery!

I am most grateful to Oxford University Press for providing my review copy of this book. 

#MGTakesOnThursday: Murder on the Safari Star written by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Also, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish 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.
Cover image by Elisa Paganelli, published by Macmillan Children’s Books on 4th February 2021

Authors: M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman

Illustrator: Elisa Paganelli

Publisher: Macmillan Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ Would you like us to arrange a crime for you to solve on board?”

This book in three words: Safari – Murder – Family

Murder on the Safari Star is about to steam onto the shelves of your local bookseller or library so get hold of a copy and book your ticket for the adventure of a lifetime. 

This is the third in the Adventures on Trains series from the writing partnership of MG Leonard and Sam Sedgman; I have thoroughly enjoyed reading all three and this is my favourite so far! The combination of the stunning southern African setting, the nods to Agatha Christie plots and the astounding artwork throughout the book all added to my immersion in the adventure and enjoyment of this book.

For those of you who haven’t read The Highland Falcon Thief or Kidnap on the California Comet, the series features Nathaniel Bradshaw (Uncle Nat) a widely respected travel writer and his nephew Harrison (Hal) who has an incredible talent for art, swiftly capturing scenes in his ever-present sketchbook, which help him analyse his observations and detect crimes.

This time around Uncle Nat has invited Hal to accompany him on a journey from Pretoria in South Africa to the Victoria Falls on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. Hal gets to see the wildlife that he was hoping to sketch, some of it at rather closer quarters than he anticipated…and once more finds himself unweaving a web of intrigue.

Before the journey even begins Hal spies a suspicious exchange of money between railway owner Luther Ackerman and a stranger, and from that moment the reader is caught up in Hal’s mission to spot clues and inconsistencies in his interactions with the glorious cast of fellow travellers. These include tweedy, novellist Beryl Brash, handsome actor Patrice Mbatha, entrepreneur and women’s rights activist Portia Ramaboa, a devoted Japanese couple Dr and Mrs Sasaki,  a retired South African police detective Erik Lovejoy and a super-rich American family. When the deeply unpopular, brash, bullying billionaire Mervyn Crosby is found dead in his luxury cabin, everyone falls under suspicion and Hal discovers that murder is not the only crime aboard his latest train journey.

I am a huge fan of mystery novels and this series has swiftly become one of my favourites. Hal is such a likeable character, he is shy and quiet but his remarkable observation skills and talent for art help him organise his thoughts and spot details missed by adults. The books brilliantly incorporate Hal’s sketches, with the actual artwork being expertly rendered by awesome illustrator Elisa Paganelli. Whenever Hal sets off on a journey he makes friends who become allies in his crime-solving activities, in this case it is Winston Tsotsobe and his cute yellow mongoose Chipo, he has joined the train with his mother Liana, a zoologist and safari guide. As children are swept along in the adventure they just can’t help absorbing knowledge of geography, the natural world and conservation which I consider to be a great way to learn. There is also an interesting theme of “family” in this story and the way that families shape us and our behaviour which I think could lead to some interesting discussions with upper Key Stage 2 children. 

While we are once again stuck at home I highly recommend taking a journey aboard the Safari Star to anyone of 8+.

I am most grateful to publisher Macmillan Children’s Books and NetGalley for allowing me access to the eARC of Murder on the Safari Star, the book will be published on 4th February 2021.

Numeric Non-fiction: Counting on Katherine and The Language of the Universe

I realise that I don’t review enough non-fiction titles on my blog, so this is something I aim to remedy during 2021. I am starting with two very different but exceptionally enjoyable books which bring the beauty of maths to the attention of primary school-aged children.

Counting on Katherine written by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Dow Phumiruk

Cover image by Dow Phumiruk, published by Macmillan Children’s Books

This inspiring, authorised biography is perfectly suited to a primary school readership as it recounts the story of Katherine Johnson; a pioneer in mathematics, in the space program and in showing that women and black women deserved to be treated equally to men.

It starts with Katherine’s childhood, where her burning desire for knowledge was matched by her outstanding intellect. The support of her family is made clear as her father worked night and day to be able to afford to move his family to a town which had a high school for black students. It is so important for children today to understand the struggles for racial equality that previous generations had to face to ensure that everyone is given a fair chance in society.

As Katherine’s career progressed from maths teacher, to “human computer” at NASA, to being the mathematician who precisely calculated the trajectories of space-ship flight paths, this book highlights her constant refrain of “Count on me!”

I love that the author chooses to highlight Katherine Johnson’s diligence, determination and the satisfaction she found in complex mathematics. Her contributions to the space programme were so incredibly inspirational but the author points out that Katherine herself always insisted that she did not deserve attention as it was always a team effort. The text throughout the book is always easy to understand and is wonderfully illustrated on every page by Dow Phumiruk; the artwork really does bring the mathematics to life and wonderfully highlights Katherine Johnson’s commitment to her work.

This is a wonderful addition to any school’s library collection, providing inspiration for young mathematicians and scientists as well as representing the role of black women in the space program, which until recently had not been given the acknowledgement that these incredible STEM pioneers deserved.

The Language of the Universe written by Colin Stuart, illustrated by Ximo Abadia

Cover image by Ximo Abadia, published by Big Picture Press

This big format book sets out to highlight the beauty of mathematics and its universal nature, from being the language that everyone can understand no matter what their nationality, to its application to everything we know on our planet and beyond. It is divided into four sections: maths in the natural world; physics, chemistry and engineering; space and technology. The text is presented in short blocks, making use of different fonts and sizes to emphasise key words and always written in language that is easy to understand. The illustrations on brightly coloured backgrounds do a brilliant job of aiding the understanding of the mathematical concepts being described.

I highly recommend this book to all home, classroom and school libraries to help children understand the practical applications of maths and the examples of its manifestations in the natural world. For example, I love the way that the usefulness of prime numbers is explained in relation to their occurrence in the life-cycle of cicadas and their use in cryptography for online security.

As well as describing mathematical phenomena, this book also highlights some of the outstanding mathematicians who have made observations and constructed formulae and mathematical laws throughout history. It ends with pointing out the current and future developments in which maths will play a crucial role, thus inspiring a future generation of mathematical thinkers. It truly is an engrossing, enjoyable and informative volume which will reward readers with an enhanced understanding of the elegance and application of maths. I spent an afternoon studying it and could easily have spend much longer if I’d had time, I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone of age 8+.

Review: Dragon Detective That’s A Wrap written by Gareth P Jones, illustrated by Scott Brown.

Cover image by Scott Brown, published by Little Tiger Press

That’s A Wrap! is the final instalment of the Dragon Detective series by Gareth P Jones, and appropriately, for a series which has continually conjured images of old black-and-white detective movies, the action plays out in Hollywood. This book is so cleverly written that it can be enjoyed as a standalone mystery surrounding a stolen film reel, a search for dragon treasure and a battle for supremacy, but also perfectly wraps up the centuries-old conflict between factions of dragonkind which has featured in the previous three stories. Many of the human and dragon characters from previous books make welcome reappearances to fulfil their destinies. My advice would be to read the entire four book series in order; you will be royally entertained.

The action opens with billionaire Brant Buchanan preparing a deadly trap for our Dragon Detective hero, Dirk Dilly, in LA. Meanwhile, back in London our human heroine, Holly Bigsby, is practically under house arrest as her stepmother (former politician and employee of Brant) punishes her for the chaos and embarrassment she caused at the end of Dragon Detective Sky High! Dirk is staking out a warehouse formerly used by evil dragon Vainclaw Grandin’s Kinghorn henchmen when he learns that a new dragon organisation, the One-Worlders, have set up as rivals to Vainclaw’s Kinghorns with the same mission of waging war on humanity!

When Holly’s stepmother is summoned by her employer to join him in LA, Holly and her best friend Archie find themselves staying in a luxurious mansion next door to Holly’s former dorm-mate from Dragon Detective School’s Out! Petal Moses. She is at her prima-donna best, starring in the film of her less-than-riveting life story. Her guardian, whilst her mother is away recording another hit album, is none other than music teacher, Miss Gilfeather, a woman with an awesome repertoire of sarcastic put-downs. Other characters and subplots reappear from Dragon Detective School’s Out! and Dragon Detective Catnapped! as the action heats up in LA.

As in all three previous books, the dialogue crackles with wit as dry as the Joshua Tree National Park. Here we meet desert dragons Kitelsky and Putz, whose fighting antics have attracted the attention of more than one camera lens over the years that they have been staging their desert rumbles!

I don’t want to give away any spoilers of this tightly plotted adventure but I can say that Gareth P Jones has done an awesome job of tying up all the strands from the series into a perfectly satisfying final denouement. The loyal friendship portrayed between Holly and Archie is entirely authentic and the deep connection between Holly and Dirk is so heartwarming that you never question the possibility of a dragon going about his business from a London flat. One of my favourite characters throughout the series has been Dirk’s landlady Mrs Klingerflim and I am overjoyed that she steps out into the spotlight in this final instalment.

Overall, I highly recommend Dragon Detective That’s A Wrap! to anyone of 9+ who likes their detective mysteries served with a huge side order of quirky humour and I hope you enjoy the entire series as much as I have.

I am most grateful to Charlie Morris, Publicity Manager at Little Tiger Press for my review copy of this book.

Review: Everdark written by Abi Elphinstone – Dyslexia-friendly format

Cover image by Carrie May, published by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

As the mother of a dyslexic child and having met many dyslexic children throughout my employment in a primary school, I fully appreciate the value of being able to show children positive role models as well as books which are enjoyable for them to read. In this newly formatted edition of Everdark we have one of the most brilliantly imaginative current children’s authors, Abi Elphinstone who is dyslexic, creating a marvellous dyslexic character, presented in an easy-to-read format. Add to that her own inspirational note at the end of the book encouraging children to believe that they are capable of extraordinary things and you realise that this is a volume you will want to offer to every dyslexic child of your acquaintance.

When I first read Everdark in its original World Book Day format I was overjoyed to find in the character of Smudge, a protagonist who used her dyslexic strengths to battle the evil harpy Morg who threatened the existence of the Unmapped Kingdoms, but was concerned that the tiny format and print would make the book inaccessible to the very readership who would benefit most from this empowering story. My original review can be read here: Everdark by Abi Elphinstone.

I am not going to review the story again but I stated at the end of my original review:

“I would like to make a plea to the publishers to please, please, please re-print this book with a bigger font, ideally open dyslexic, so that it can be easily read by an audience for whom its message will be immensely inspiring.”

You can therefore imagine my delight when I read that Simon & Schuster UK would be publishing a new edition of Everdark in a dyslexia-friendly format, and I was equally thrilled to be sent a review copy.

Although dyslexia presents in many different ways, visual stress is common in many who share this learning difference and books which reduce the stress of reading by using clear fonts, larger text, increased spacing and off-white pages are greatly valued by those who wish to encourage all youngsters to discover enjoyment of books. Additionally, what is good for dyslexic children is good for all children, and there will be many children who perhaps have not yet become voracious readers, who will find that the clear layout of this edition makes the process of reading as splendid as the immersion in a brilliantly imagined adventure.

Many children who have been enraptured by the subsequent stories in the Unmapped Chronicles series, Rumblestar and Jungledrop might have missed the original edition of Everdark, so when this second edition becomes available on 7th January 2021, I urge you to buy copies for your home, classroom or school libraries – it could be the spark that turns a dormant reader into a bookworm and opens their eyes to a world of possibilities.

I am most grateful to Eve Wersocki Morris, Publicity Manager at Simon & Schuster UK for providing me with a review copy of this new edition of Everdark. You can be assured that I will be purchasing multiple copies of this book to give to young relatives.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Advent Review – Frost Castle Adventure by Fleur Hitchcock

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. Also, please check out all the other posts and Tweets with the #MGTakesOnThursday tag, you will be sure to find many fantastic recommendations!

If you love books written for an MG audience and wish 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.
Cover image by Tom Clohosy Cole, published by Nosy Crow

This week, I am featuring the fourth book in the Clifftoppers adventure series, The Frost Castle Adventure, which seems highly appropriate for this time of year.

Author: Fleur Hitchcock

Illustrator: Tom Clohosy Cole (Cover) and R.S. McKay (map)

Publisher: Nosy Crow

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ It’s just that the weather’s much worse than it was at home and ten, when I came over the hill, I lost control and you saw what happened…”

This is the moment when the Clifftopper children meet actress Martha Darcy-Court in the middle of a snowy field!

This book in three words: Snowy – Winter – Mystery

This is the fourth book in which we join cousins Aiden, Chloe, Ava and Josh as they spend part of their school holidays staying with their grandparents at Clifftoppers Farm. They have arrived in the period between Christmas and New Year and are looking forward to a week filled with snowball fights, sledging and hot chocolates. However, their first afternoon together outside in the snow almost ends in tragedy when an out-of-control car smashes through a hedge and comes close to colliding with Chloe.

The driver is a young and very famous actress, who has travelled down to Frost Castle as a favour to an old family friend, where she will act in the annual New Year performance. The children find themselves roped in as stagehands and embroiled in a mystery revolving around an inherited pendant, which may or may not be cursed and the castle’s resident ghost Anne, Lady of Frost Castle who is rumoured to appear only at New Year! In a classic closed house scenario, with the snow storm closing in, the tension piles up higher than the drifting snow as the cousins race through secret corridors and spiral staircases in pursuit of a jewel thief.

This book, along with the rest of the series is a perfect read for anyone of 8+ searching for a fast-paced story to read independently. It is the perfect length to give newly confident readers the important sense that they can complete a book alone as they will be driven along by the short chapters, relatable child protagonists and desire to unravel the mystery.