MG Review: Albi the Glowing Cow Boy by Georgia Byng, illustrated by Angela Cogo

Cover image by Levi Pinfold, published by Uclan Publishing,
5th January 2023

This novel written for a middle grade readership defies categorisation, encompassing themes which encourage all readers to think about the way we treat our planet and the life forms on it. The unusual dual narrative takes readers on a year long journey in the company of Albi, the glowing cow boy of the title and Rufus, a twelve year old human boy with a heart-breaking back story. Georgia Byng has written a beautiful tale which transported me into the minds of two very different protagonists, leaving me with much food for thought. 

The story begins with magical snowflakes descending from a cold January night sky and infusing the earth with a glittering of magical energy, some of which is absorbed by an albino new-born calf, Albi. In the opening chapter we are given an introduction to Albi’s herd of cows and through their voices learn about the sadness of cows and calves when they are separated as a routine part of the food industry. In contrast to the close maternal relationships exhibited by the cows, a human family living just a few miles away demonstrates the awful situation that arises from rejection and neglect of a child by his parents. Rufus Chumley is a twelve year old hunter who has learnt to survive independently since early childhood. He has been rejected by his affluent parents, his teachers and the other children at school because a metabolic disorder has caused him to grow far larger than his peers, resulting in complicated expectations and misunderstandings of his abilities. He lives an isolated life, shooting and cooking small mammals and dreaming of winning the Worldwide Hunting Association’s hunting competition in America to prove his worth to his parents.

These two narratives are intertwined when Albi responds to a magical sixth sense after eating milky white mushrooms, and leads the young bullocks in a breakout from the slaughterhouse owned by Mr Chumley. Rufus spies the glowing albino calf crossing a field in the moonlight and decides to run away from home, track the otherworldly animal and turn it into his hunting competition trophy. Thus begins an epic journey which takes the hunter and his prey on a journey across Europe and Asia, encompassing encounters with aurochs; visits to ancient sites and caves; and encounters with people who both love and exploit animals. The brutality of the traditional running of the bulls in Pamplona is shown in marked contrast to the treatment of cows in India. 

The interconnectedness between all life on earth is represented in this story by the milky white mushrooms which infuse Albi with his luminescence and his intelligence and fill Rufus with self-esteem for the first time in his life, gradually changing the way he thinks about other creatures. The tendrils which connect all life forms and create ecological balance are surfaced in this magical tale which encourages readers to think about the way that industrial scale farming damages the environment. The power of kindness is shown as a superpower in the words of one of the mother cows:

The more you care about others, the stronger you get.

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Publishing in January, a time when we are often encouraged to think about reducing the amount of meat in our diets, I think this story will encourage debate around animal welfare and meat consumption in upper key stage 2 and key stage 3 classrooms and I would highly recommend it to all school librarians. Aside from this, it is a story that I am sure will be enjoyed by many children who love animal stories and for whom it can sometimes be difficult to find books in this genre once they move beyond the early chapter books.

I am grateful to Uclan Publishing and Antonia Wilkinson for my review copy received in advance of publication on 5th January 2023.

Audiobook review: The Arctic Railway Assassin by M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, illustrated by Elisa Paganelli

Cover image by Elisa Paganelli, publisher Macmillan Children’s Books

The sixth book in the Adventures on Trains series sees Hal and his Uncle Nat complete their mystery solving train rides in superb style in an adventure that blends high stakes thriller with a Lord of the Rings vibe!

I was fortunate to find this audiobook version available on the Borrowbox App from my local public library just at the point when I was rushing to get Christmas preparations made and did not have time to read a physical book; it was the perfect seasonal accompaniment with its snowy, icy, winter equinox setting. It is now added to my list of book recommendations for the Christmas season having introduced me to the Swedish traditional celebration of the feast of St Lucia. It also contains my favourite line of the entire series:

Never underestimate an angry mum!

no page number due to audio format

We join artistic junior detective Hal as he travels to meet travel journalist Uncle Nat in Stockholm, where the illustrious journalist has accompanied his old university friend to the Nobel Prize ceremony. Morti has been awarded the prize for her work on the use of ultrasound to destroy certain cancer cells and young readers are treated to the same midnight physics lesson as Hal. I loved this element of science education as a natural part of the story throughout this series, which I am sure will awaken scientific curiosity in a cohort of middle grade readers. Despite Nat’s assertion that there will be no mysterious adventures on the train journey to Narvik in the Arctic Circle where he is taking Hal to experience the Northern Lights as his Christmas present, the sudden disappearance of Morti combined with the search for her ex-husband’s “kill code” and the presence of not one but two assassins on the journey north, make a mockery of Nat’s statement. With a new friend, a Sami girl, who introduces Hal to elements of her traditional culture whilst showing exceptional bravery to help him track down the villains, and the unexpected presence of his mum, Hal has all the support he needs to take on ruthless forces.

The plot is perfectly structured, building the tension brilliantly and as always using Hal’s sketchbook illustrations to help uncover the layers of mystery. Obviously listening to the audiobook meant that I did not get to see Elisa Paganelli’s interpretation of Hal’s sketches this time, but my experience of previous books in the series is that her artwork greatly enhances the enjoyment and comprehension of the story. I do not wish to give away any spoilers, so will just add at this point my opinion that Adventures on Trains will become a future classic children’s book series. There is so much depth to these stories as they are built on firm foundations of geography, science and engineering with wonderful characterisation and fully immersive and exciting plots. If you want to get a child of 8/9+ hooked on the magic of fiction, put this book or any other from the series into their hands and watch them embark on a thrill-ride of a reading adventure.

You can read my reviews of previous books in the series here:

The Highland Falcon Thief

Kidnap on the California Comet

Murder on the Safari Star

Sabotage on the Solar Express

Non-fiction from Noodle Juice Books – January 2023

I was super-thrilled to return home from work on my last day before Christmas leave and find a second package of books waiting for me courtesy of the new children’s publisher NoodleJuice Books. The two books within fully captured my attention, and I think that they will make excellent additions to primary school libraries or classroom collections or home book collections when they are published in January.

From the ‘little book Big Idea’ series, What is Money? will provide answers to the most inquisitive child who wants to explore this topic. The format of the two books that I have now had the pleasure to read from this series, makes the information easily accessible for children of 6 years and above. Each double page spread poses a question, exactly the sort of query asked by curious children when perhaps they’ve heard something on the news or overheard an adult conversation and want to know: what are taxes? how does money grow? or is money good? The explanations begin with a very short paragraph written in plain English which is then enhanced by small blocks of text accompanied by eye-catching illustrations. The range of questions on the subject of money is comprehensive, ranging from the purely factual to the more philosophical aspects of the good and bad outcomes that individuals can create depending on the way that they choose to use their money.

This combination of Sarah Walden’s age appropriate, clear explanations and the engaging artwork of Katie Rewse allow children the time and space to explore the topic of money and allow them to take the first steps in understanding this complex and essential factor of human society. I am so impressed at the ambition of this book and can see it being enjoyed by certain children in Key Stage 1 and used extensively in PHSE and citizenship lessons and discussions in Key Stage 2 of primary schools. It will certainly be a valuable addition to any school or home collection.

All the World’s a Stage: A Celebration of the Value of Creativity is a glorious, practical guide to performance and fills a big gap in children’s library bookshelves. When I was a primary school librarian and was trying to build a non-fiction collection which catered to the interests of all the children in school, I longed to find a book such as this which would appeal to the talented and creative individuals who loved performing at talent shows or in assemblies, or attended dance classes or music classes or showed flair for art or creative writing. Despite having a scientific background myself, I have been appalled at the low value which seems to have been placed on arts education in recent times. I believe that the UK has fostered creativity in all the arts for many years which in turn has made huge contributions to the prosperity and culture of our nation. This book does a wonderful job of encouraging children to see the value in creativity; presenting information on all forms of performance, from open mic nights to opera. There are timelines of famous musicals; facts about different stage types and famous theatres; and comprehensive details about the film and television industries.

I was particularly impressed by a section towards the end which zooms in on the many different career options available in both film and TV. Starting with a spread entitled: It’s not all greasepaint and applause there then follow pages which detail career options, explaining what the role involves and outlining the skills required for success in the role. This content is presented in coloured blocks with distinctive illustrations, very attractively and clearly laid out in a way which is guaranteed to engage readers of all ages. Readers can learn about a broad range of roles including: being a director, a writer, a set designer or location scout, a special effects technician or a costume designer amongst others. The book ends with straightforward, practical advice on how to make your own film and suggestions of websites for further reading.

I not only applaud Sarah Walden’s ambition in writing this book which is beautifully illustrated by Hannah Li, I give it a standing ovation! I would suggest that it is an essential addition to primary school libraries, Year 6 classroom libraries and Key Stage 3 libraries and drama departments in secondary schools. It would also make a beautiful gift if you happen to know a child who enjoys any kind of performance or creativity.

Both What is Money? and All the World’s a Stage: A Celebration of the Value of Creativity will be published by Noodle Juice Books on 12th January 2023 and I am most grateful to the publishers for my review copies in exchange for an honest review.

2022 Reading Highlights

So here it is; I offer you my highlights from newly published books that I’ve read this year. It is always so difficult to pick out just a few, but these are the books that have stayed in my head and my heart long after I finished reading them. I offer them to you, in case you are looking for a bookish gift and are still wondering what to choose from the huge and tempting selections on the bookshop shelves. From the sixty or so books that I’ve read this year, here are my favourites by age category.

Picture Books: For the youngest readers, this selection provides gentle stories combined with gloriously vibrant illustrations to enjoy every time the covers are opened. Read my reviews for the two Tatty Mouse stories and The Marvellous Doctors for Magical Creatures.

Illustrated Chapter Books: For any young readers who are just gaining their confidence in reading independently, the books in this selection offer entertainment presented in short chapters with the text broken up by illustrations. You can read full reviews of each story by clicking on the links: Wildsmith, The Little Match Girl Strikes Back, Rainbow Grey Eye of the Storm, Edie and the Flits in Paris and Breakfast Club Adventures The Beast Beyond the Fence.

MG Highlights: Three of my favourite MG stories were sequels and so well written that I thoroughly enjoyed them, despite not having read the first in each series: The Unexpected Tale of the Bad Brothers, The Butterfly Club: The Mummy’s Curse and Amari and the Great Game. I hope that Seed might have a sequel, the story certainly ended on a note that cries out for a follow up. Wished by Lissa Evans is absolute perfection, she is one of my favourite authors of both adult and children’s books and I love this story.

Young Teen Highlights: I highly recommend these outstandingly well-crafted novels to readers just moving on from primary to secondary school, looking for immersive and enjoyable reads with rich underlying themes. Reviews are available by clicking the links: War of the Wind, The Raven’s Song, Ghostlight and The Haunted Hills.

The YA books that I have read this year indicate to me that there has been a huge improvement in the scope and quality of books for this readership. These three are superb; a story full of righteous anger told in free verse, a reimagining of Greek myth and a deeply moving reflection on grief. Read my full reviews by clicking on the links: Activist, Her Dark Wings and Aftershocks.

Adult Books: The majority of books that I read in my bookclubs this year were not newly published, Cloud Cuckoo Land by Anthony Doerr I think was published just at the end of 2021, so I am perhaps cheating a little by including it here, but it held me enthralled throughout and I loved the way that the multiple narratives were pulled together at the end. Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus was a birthday present and dredged up some long forgotten knowledge from undergraduate studies, made me laugh, made me cry and was the perfect summer holiday read and I can’t even begin to describe the work of genius that is Super-Infinite.

I shall end by thanking the wonderful blogging community that I am a part of, for constant inspiration and encouragement. Thank you to the authors, illustrators and publishers who constantly strive to create books that appeal to all tastes, and grateful thanks to the book PRs who send me review copies. I hope that you’ve enjoyed some of my reading highlights from this year, let me know if you have read any of these in the comments. Wishing all my readers a very happy and peaceful Christmas, however you choose to celebrate during this festive season.

Review: Filippo, Me and the Cherry Tree by Paola Peretti, translated by Denise Muir

Cover illustration David Dean, published by Hot Key Books,
August 2022

This slim novel, translated from Italian, speaks volumes in the most beautiful sensory language. It is a coming of age story, narrated by thirteen year old Mafalda who is coming to terms with sight loss, a shift in the family environment and her unfolding feelings for Filippo. Written by Italian author, Paola Peretti, who herself suffers from a genetic illness which causes progressive loss of vision, the synesthetic descriptions hold authentic power.

Each chapter begins with Mafalda dictating her dreams, nightmares and emotions into her voice recorder which adds another level to the empathy generated by the narrative. She has been plunged into two levels of darkness. The first is the literal removal of light and colour from her world as her illness has taken away her sight. On top of this is the metaphorical shadow thrown over the family unit by her father Giovanni’s unemployment. As he lies in bed day after day her mother works longer hours to pay the bills and Mafalda can no longer detect any hope in Dad’s voice:

I usually imagine words of hope, or just nice words in general, to be the colour blue. Dad’s words have no colour.

page 11

Fortunately for Mafalda, she can always rely on her best friend Filippo to support her. He walks her to and from school, meets her at break and lunchtimes and is available in the evenings for homework or pizza. Hints are dropped throughout the story about his struggles with school work and unconventional approach to school, and eventually his dyslexia is revealed. The mutual support of two characters who are each isolated by requiring additional support at school is sensitively handled. All is not plain sailing for their relationship however as “mean girl” Debbie begins to tease Mafalda about her “boyfriend” and then tries to drive a wedge between them. This in turn encourages Mafalda to interrogate her true feelings for Filippo.

Additional relationships unfold for Mafalda during the story. She begins to help her initially grumpy, aged upstairs neighbour Mr Rossi, who in exchange helps her unravel the meanings of the classic novels for which she has to produce book reports. Thus we are presented with some clever juxtapositions of Dickens’ characters with Mafalda’s situation. Secondly is a slightly mystical relationship with a free-spirited, homeless character, Elsa, who encourages Mafalda to follow her dreams. Throughout the narrative there are references to the cherry tree which grows beside the school and is a place of sanctuary for Mafalda, providing physical and emotional refuge, and for cat lovers, I am sure that her relationship with Ottimo Turcaret will be very familiar.

This is a gorgeous story that I think would appeal to mature readers in Year 6 as well as children in the early stage of secondary/high school who are at the same stage of emotional development as the main protagonists. Reading it has made me realise how infrequently I read texts which have originated in languages other than English and I have just ordered the prequel, The Distance Between Me, and the Cherry Tree to start redressing that imbalance. I must give credit to the translator Denise Muir, as the story flows perfectly with no hint of inconsistencies in the vocabulary.

I am most grateful to Antonia Wilkinson PR and Hot Key Books for sending me a review copy of Filippo, Me and the Cherry Tree in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Breakfast Club Adventures: The Beast Beyond the Fence by Marcus Rashford and Alex Falase-Koya, illustrated by Marta Kissi

Cover image by Marta Kissi, published by Macmillan, 2022

With the football World Cup fast approaching I thought it was about time to extract the first Breakfast Club Adventure from my TBR stack and explore this new twist on the child detective genre. I have to say that I have great admiration for the efforts that Marcus Rashford has gone to in order to improve the life chances of young people, and this latest initiative supported by the National Literacy Trust, is thoughtfully designed to encourage reading for pleasure. It is clear that children who might not naturally be drawn to reading have been considered carefully; the text is in a large, bold font with extra line-spacing; the language is straightforward and the illustrations throughout the book by Marta Kissi are full of humour and warmth.

The story itself, which is co-written by Alex Falase-Koya is one to which many young readers will relate. The school setting will be familiar and the characters that our main protagonist Marcus hangs out with at breakfast club present the opportunity for many children to see themselves reflected in a book. Marcus is a thoroughly likeable character, clearly popular amongst his peers, polite to adults and with a sense of adventure which is demonstrated in his response to the mysterious invitation to join the secret society of Breakfast Club Investigators. Their subsequent amateur detective work to solve the mystery of the monster beyond the school fence balances tension with humour and reaches a satisfying denouement. The sub-plot around Marcus worrying about his “lost touch” on the football field and missing his cousin who is away in the US on a football scholarship fleshes out his character, making him someone that readers will empathise with and root for, in this and hopefully subsequent adventures.

I very rarely review books written by celebrities as I feel that they already receive sufficient publicity and do not require the recommendation of an amateur blogger. I have made an exception in this case because not only has Marcus Rashford fully credited his co-writer but he is also trying to make a difference. In my current day job as a health librarian, it is plain to me that literacy levels have a considerable impact on an individual’s health outcomes and I am happy to promote this initiative, seeking to enhance literacy levels. I highly recommend this book with its positive messages of friendship, family and teamwork as a great choice for boys and girls of 8+. I will be donating my copy to my former primary school library where I am sure that it will appeal to many children in Key Stage 2.

Review: The Mummy’s Curse by M.A. Bennett, illustrated by David Dean

Cover illustration by David Dean, published by Welbeck Flame

A time-travel adventure so enthralling that the hours will appear to stand still as you read; this second Butterfly Club adventure is not to be missed!

I must start this review by admitting that I have not read the first Butterfly Club adventure, The Ship of Doom (which I plan to remedy very soon) but this in no way impacted on my enjoyment of The Mummy’s Curse, which contained all the elements that I have sought in stories since I was in the readership age for this new MG novel. The blend of actual historical details with a brilliantly imagined time travel scenario and writing that flows like the River Nile, carrying the reader along effortlessly, conspired to ensure that this book was an absolute pleasure to read.

The three child protagonists, Luna, Konstantin and Aidan are all children in the Victorian era and members of The Butterfly Club, a secret organisation which meets weekly in a hidden chamber at the Greenwich Royal Observatory. There, they use a time train invented by H G Wells to travel forward in time and collect artefacts which will speed up the progress of human invention, hence their label as “the time thieves”. In The Mummy’s Curse, the time thieves are sent from 1894 to November 1922, in the company of medical doctor turned detective novelist, Arthur Conan Doyle. Their mission is to ensure that of the multitude of archaeologists seeking the tomb of Tutankhamen, the British team led by Lord Carnarvon and Howard Carter is successful, and to ensure that whatever is discovered is claimed for The British Museum.

The way that M.A. Bennett combines the actual historical facts and fleshes out real personalities from history is astonishingly skilful. As a reader I was utterly transported to the dry, gritty heat of The Valley of the Kings and could sense the delight of the famous writer as he uses his skill with the written word to instigate the rumour of the curse of King Tut and achieve his goal. The fictional children are totally believable, each acting in ways which appear totally natural given their backgrounds. I particularly loved the elegant and honourable Prussian character Konstantin who arrives in 1922 with no knowledge of the role of many of his countrymen in WWI. He is horribly insulted and ostracised by Lord Carnarvon but uses this experience to empathise with and build a supportive friendship with the Egyptian tea boy, Abdel, who plays a heroic role in the fictional and real story. Another aspect of this story that I adored was the dash of humour injected by the constant enquiries about the author’s motive in killing off Sherlock Holmes; no matter which era Arthur Conan Doyle happened to find himself in. I found this to be both amusing but also interesting given the nature of Ancient Egyptian beliefs about the afterlife.

I will not discuss any more plot details as I would not wish to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of the way this story unfolds. Suffice to say that I found it utterly satisfying and I know that I would have loved to read this at the age of nine or ten. The juxtaposition of Victorian attitudes to plundering the cultural and economic capital of other nations, with the determination of a newly independent nation to retain their own cultural artefacts is presented in a way that will encourage young readers to debate these issues and could lead to some interesting classroom discussions. I whole-heartedly recommend The Mummy’s Curse to all primary school and secondary school librarians, I think this is a book that will engage readers from nine to early teens. I should also mention that there are some lovely greyscale illustrations by David Dean, within the chapters. I especially appreciated the hieroglyphics during a brilliantly tense escape room episode!

If you enjoy The Mummy’s Curse as much as I did, there is a third book in the series due in April 2023, The Mona Lisa Mystery, and you will find a short extract at the end of this book!

I would like to thank Antonia Wilkinson and Welbeck Flame for sending me a review copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: The Little Match Girl Strikes Back written by Emma Carroll, illustrated by Lauren Child

Cover image by Lauren Child, published by Simon & Schuster,
October 2022

Anyone who has followed my blog, or followed me on Twitter for any length of time will know that I am a huge fan of Emma Carroll’s writing. I also spent many hours reading Lauren Child’s picture books, chapter books and MG series with my youngest, so I was obviously going to purchase a copy of The Little Match Girl Strikes Back with the greatest expectation of enjoyment. It genuinely exceeded my expectations! I literally could not put it down until I had devoured the entire story, this is one of the finest collaborations between writer and illustrator that I have seen and I am so delighted that it renders Emma Carroll’s extraordinary brand of historical fiction into a format enjoyable for a slightly younger age group. This re-imagining of the classic fairy tale is perfectly pitched for readers of 7/8+ with short, pacey chapters; lots of white space between the text and those “striking” illustrations!

As you would expect from this author, the story is recounted in the first person by Bridie Sweeney, a young girl living in poverty with her mother and younger brother Fergal in the East End of London in the Victorian era. From her opening statement you immediately get the impression that Bridie has a spark of rebellion and a desire to improve the situation in which her family exists. She is fully aware of the injustice in the dangerous and exploitative working conditions that her mam and the other female workers at the Bryant & May match factory have to toil under. It does not shy away from the direct impact that working with white phosphorus had on the workers’ health and the way that this inconvenient fact was ignored by the factory owners. The research that has gone into this narrative is worn lightly, the tale lays out the stark contrast between rich and poor and the daily grind for survival in an environment where the poorest appear to have very little agency to improve their lives.

Based on actual historical events, this story combines elements of fairytale into Bridie’s story with stunning effect. The contribution of Lauren Child’s distinctive illustrations beautifully highlights the power of one bright spark to illuminate a dark world. Bridie’s flaming red hair stands out on every black and white spread, and scattered throughout the text are red-tipped matches or red flames as the smouldering embers of resentment flare into protests and strikes. I don’t want to give away the ending or too much of the plot, but will simply say that this would make a fantastically inspiring present for any child of 7 and above. I can imagine that it will be greatly loved in primary schools and I hope that it will be received by many children in their Christmas stockings and perhaps shared as a family story. As we appear to be plunging back into glaring economic inequality, its empowering message will perhaps bring some hope for better times.

2022 Halloween Recommendations

image created using Canva

As in previous years I have put together a shortlist of books that I have read this year which would make excellent treats for young readers this half-term holiday as we approach Halloween 2022.

Winnie and Wilbur: Winnie’s Best Friend by Valerie Thomas, illustrated by Korky Paul

Always a delight for children of 5-7, the Winnie and Wilbur series are wonderful books to share with a young child. The stories are fun, Winnie is probably the most colourful and accident-prone witch in children’s fiction and there is so much to see and talk about in every one of Korky Paul’s brilliant colour spreads.

Midnight Magic: The Witch Trap by Michelle Harrison, illustrated by Elissa Elwick

Bursting with autumn colour, the latest rhyming adventure of magical black cat, Midnight, is perfect for newly independent readers of 6+.

Diary of an Accidental Witch: Ghostly Getaway by Perdita and Honor Cargill, illustrated by Katie Saunders

In the latest outing for Bea Black, she and her friends take off from Little Spellshire’s School of Extraordinary Arts to participate in a school trip to Cadabra Castle, allegedly haunted by the ghost of High Master Maggitty Crawe! This wonderfully funny story has been designed with extra care to increase accessibility for dyslexic readers.

The October Witches by Jennifer Claessen

Magical, feminist refashioning of the Arthurian legend. A pacy story of witchy family feuds, perfect for readers of 9+.

Ghost Scouts series written and illustrated by Taylor Dolan

A funny, fully illustrated series of books set in a fabulously spooky summer camp, deep in the swamps of the southern states of America. A certain Halloween treat for readers of 9+.

The Mummy’s Curse by M.A. Bennett

Ever wondered about the origins of the curse of King Tut? Well this rollicking time-travel adventure will take you back to the discovery of his tomb, 100 years ago and reveal all. A spine-tingling adventure, perfect for confident readers of 9+

Shadowghast by Thomas Taylor, illustrated by George Ermos

Experience your first Halloween in Eerie-on-Sea with Herbert Lemon and Violet Parma as they uncover the secrets of the spooky seaside town’s Ghastly Night! Fantastically paced and plotted adventure for readers of 9+.

The Haunted Hills by Berlie Doherty, illustrated by Tamsin Rosewell

The wild landscape of the Peak District is the setting for this tale of grief, loss and guilt. As a family’s attempts to recover from a fatal accident is interwoven with the legend of a local ghost. A sensitive, beautifully written story for readers of 11+.

The Billow Maiden by James Dixon, illustrated by Tamsin Rosewell

Another sensitively crafted tale, this is set on a remote Scottish island where a young teen is being sheltered by her uncle and aunt while her mother recovers from what appears to be a mental health crisis. This story is interwoven with the discovery of a terrifying mythical creature in one of the island’s caves. The Norse legend combined with modern setting are perfect for readers of 11+.

Ghostlight by Kenneth Oppel

Boy meets ghost in this brilliantly written and imagined coming of age story, set in and around Toronto. This is a book which will absolutely transport readers of 11+ into an alternative reality where ghosts battle for dominance over humans in a setting which will be unusual and educational for many UK based readers.

Illustrated Halloween Fiction: Ghost Scouts written and illustrated by Taylor Dolan

Cover illustrations by Taylor Dolan, published by Guppy Books

The three books published to date in the Ghost Scouts series by author and illustrator Taylor Dolan are an exciting new choice to offer children of 9+ looking for a spooky treat this Halloween. They range in length from 120-150 pages, every one of which features coloured illustrations in this talented artist’s distinctive style. The exuberant stories bring an American slant to Halloween and the zany humour combined with wildly imaginative plots makes for an enjoyable reading experience.

In the first book, Welcome to Camp Croak, we are introduced to Lexie Wild, by whom all the stories are narrated. Her Grams was supposed to drop her off to summer camp at the Happy Hollow Camp for Joyful Boys and Girls. However, a glitch in her navigating skills leads Grams instead to Camp Croak where Lexie is greeted by a three-headed witch, who already knows her name! Lexie’s new roommates are a werewolf called Emmy LouLou, a skeleton called Bébé, a ghost called Sweet Boo and a zombie called Mary Shelley! Despite the swampy surroundings and unusual fellow campers, Lexie earns plenty of scout badges under the supervision of witch sisters Miss Parsleigh, Miss Sage and Miss Rosemarie, until the arrival of new scoutmaster Euphemia Vile changes everything! Read Welcome to Camp Croak to discover whether Lexie and friends can defeat Vile’s evil plans.

You’ll then want to rush straight onto Hullabaloo at Camp Croak where you’ll find Lexie and her fellow campers buzzing around preparing the camp for visitors’ weekend. However, when Lexie’s Grams does not arrive with the other visiting relatives, but is instead replaced by a mysterious stranger claiming to be her long lost mother, Lexie smells more than a swamp rat! Fortunately, her Grams has taught her some excellent code-cracking skills in the past and it seems that the time has come to decode the hidden message in a letter that “mother” has brought from Grams. More outrageously fast-paced and fun action in the bayou and a useful glossary of American terms awaits!

Halloween preparations are underway at Camp Croak in the third instalment of this series, Chaos at Camp Croak. Lexie fully expects that this year will be her best Halloween ever, but fake scoutmaster Euphemia Vile is back and this time she has not bothered with a disguise such is her determination to close the Camp! Chaos ensues when Lexie is tricked into performing a spell and it will take help from all her friends to put things right and enable the festivities to proceed on All Hallows Eve. Another madcap, creepy adventure awaits those who dare to venture into the realm of Camp Croak!

I am most grateful to Liz Scott and Guppy Books for sending me these three Ghost Scouts books to review in time for Halloween 2022.