#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!

 

 

 

#MGTakesOnThursday: Mickey and the Animal Spies by Anne Miller

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.

 

mickey and animal spies

 

Author: Anne Miller

Illustrator: Becka Moor

Publisher: OUP Children’s

Favourite sentence from Page 11: “Mickey was craning her neck as she tried to read (and answer) Rachel’s homework over her shoulder as they bumped their way through the city’s winding roads.”

This book in three words: ciphers, animals, humour

I’m highlighting Mickey and the Animal Spies this week because I don’t think it has had the attention it deserves as a thoroughly engaging introduction to the spy – mystery genre for MG readers. My full review can be read here: Mickey and the Animals Spies by Anne Miller

Review: The Strangeworlds Travel Agency by L.D. Lapinski

IMG_1579

I had seen a lot of praise for this book on Twitter and was delighted to be approved by NetGalley and Hachette Children’s for an eARC to review.

Without delay, I have to say that I loved L.D. Lapinski’s world-building, protagonists and ability to combine an important message within a fast-paced contemporary fantasy for MG readers (thanks to blogger Lily Fae for the genre description).

The two main protagonists, Jonathan and Flick, are fully realised characters who fully engage your interest and sympathy from the moment you meet them. The progression of their relationship throughout the arc of the story is entirely believable and emotionally involving. Both characters are old before their time, with the weight of responsibility on their young shoulders. Jonathan, an eighteen year-old who dresses like a Victorian has been left as the sole custodian of The Strangeworlds Travel Agency since the death of his mother and the disappearance of his father. He is lonely, bewildered and mourning the loss of family. Meanwhile, Flick has been the archetypal latch-key-kid on an inner city housing estate whilst both parents worked long hours to keep the family afloat. The arrival of a baby brother, Freddy and a move to a house in the village of Little Wyverns has made Flick feel even more alienated and resentful that she has to take responsibility for many household chores.

Flick longs to travel and when she stumbles into the shabby, old-fashioned Strangeworlds Travel Agency with its curiously stacked multitude of suitcases, her dreams come true, albeit in an unexpected fashion! Once she overcomes Jonathan’s passive-aggressive sarcasm and proves her previously undiscovered magical abilities she joins him on a quest to discover the whereabouts of Daniel Mercator, his missing father.

From the moment that Flick takes a leap of faith into one of the suitcases in which Jonathan’s great-great-great-grandmother Elara trapped magical schisms between worlds in the Multiverse, the adventure takes off. Each suitcase has an individual destination and the author’s imagination conjures deserted beaches where you can taste the salty air; a forest world populated with forever-children; Coral City with its candy coloured landscape and extraordinary gravity, and the multiversal hub, the fragile City of Five Lights. 

I don’t want to give away any plot spoilers, but the tension ratchets up as the plot races to its conclusion, with valuable messages about the devastating impact on a world greedily exploiting its irreplaceable resources, and the power of “ resolve, wrapped in righteous ferocity and fear “ to achieve the seemingly impossible. I loved the way that the story ended on a cliff-hanger, and cannot wait to read the next instalment.

I will certainly be adding this book to my library shopping list when it is published in April, when I am sure it is going to be extremely popular with fans of Harry Potter, The Train to Impossible Places, Rumblestar and The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet.

 

Dragons for St George’s Day!

I thought that for St George’s Day I would give a shout-out to my favourite dragons in MG literature. So, in no particular order, here they are:

 

Dragon in LibraryIn  The Dragon in the Library  by Louie Stowell, we meet Draca, the giant sleeping dragon who resides deep under The Chatsworth Library where librarian Faith allows her young apprentice Kit, and her two best friends Alita and Josh into the secret of library dragons. I love the idea of a dragon being kept happily asleep by visiting librarians reading her stories, and the theory that profoundly shocking world events occur when dragons are awoken from their slumbers. Quite wonderfully, this book also features Dogon, a cute half-dog, half-dragon, who I sincerely wish lived in my little school library! Perfect for newly confident readers of 7+, or as a whole class story.

book dragonThe Book Dragon  by  Kell Andrews, features a dragon who remains nameless throughout the story. In this book which again celebrates the joy of reading, an important message is delivered about thinking for yourself. The town has banned books and indeed anything written on paper for fear of the Book Dragon who lives on the outskirts of town. It is said that she will appear to steal your books and then return the following night to search for more. However, when Rosehilda investigates for herself, she finds that the bookish dragon has entirely different motives and a happy solution is found to suit all parties. This picture book is ideal for children of 4+.

 

 

IMG_3401Dirk Dilly the hero of Dragon Detective: Catnapped by Gareth P Jones, fits all the tropes of a private investigator from the classic black and white movies. Sitting with his feet up on the desk of his unkempt, office with smoke unfurling from his nostrils, I can absolutely imagine him talking out of the side of his mouth with Humphrey Bogart’s voice! Of course Dirk Dilly has actually exhaled that smoke because he is a dragon! To be precise: an urban-dwelling, green-bellied, red-backed mountain dragon. Although projecting a hardened, cynical shell, his soft heart is slowly revealed as he works alongside his young client (Holly Bigsby) to unravel the mystery of the disappearing cats. A funny, exciting story for children of 8+.

 

RumblestarFrom Rumblestar by Abi Elphinstone, Arlo the miniature, blue dragon who belongs to impulsive and reckless Utterly Thankless. must be one of the cutest dragons to appear in literature. Although tiny, there is no doubting Arlo’s huge heart as he demonstrates true bravery in protecting  both Utterly and Casper Tock, a nervous but ultimately heroic boy who has accidentally stumbled into the kingdom of Rumblestar. Arlo is one of many things to love in this exciting and imaginative adventure. Suitable for children of 8+.

 

 

Harry PotThere are a number of dragons to choose from in the Harry Potter series, written by J.K. Rowling but my personal favourite is Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback, hatched from an egg by Hagrid in the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  Hagrid has wanted a dragon all his life and ignores the ruling, against owning them, by the Warlock’s Council of 1709 when presented with the opportunity to hatch a large black dragon egg. I love the way that JK Rowling wrote this magical creature into the story, and in so doing provided a marvellous insight into the character of Hagrid, a true giant of MG literature. The image of Hagrid bucket-feeding Norbert with a mixture of hen’s blood and brandy has remained lodged in my mind since I first read this book to my children nineteen years ago!

boy grew dragonsIf you happen to discover an unusual looking, spiky, plant with yellow and orange tendrils resembling bursts of flame in your vegetable patch, then, beware. You too might be about to grow dragons like Tomas, The Boy Who Grew Dragons written by Andy Shepherd. You’d better hope that they turn out like Flicker, the cutest little dragon ever to hatch from a dragon fruit, with his smoky little hiccups and out-of-control arrowhead tail. Of course, having a pet dragon can have drawbacks and there are plenty of comic moments to laugh at in this wonderfully entertaining book for anyone of 7/8+.

 

 

Smaug from The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien the majestically avaricious dragon from The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet  by Martin Howard are rather less cute and cuddly than those previously mentioned. Both sharing an obsession with guarding a sizeable haul of treasure and behaving in a less than welcoming manner to those they suspect of coveting their hoards! Both of these fearsome reptilians stand in the way of the heroes being able to fulfil their quests. Can Bilbo Baggins and Alfie Fleet outwit their dragon foes? If you want an exciting, mythical quest read The Hobbit, if you like laughs and adventure in equal measure, read The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet!

Do you have a favourite Dragon? Which dragons have I missed? Let me know in the comments below.