MG Review: Remarkably Ruby by Terri Libenson

Cover image by Terri Libenson, published by Harper Collins Publishers

A middle grade graphic novel, set in an American middle school, which bursts with personality and colour. I am greatly indebted to Antonia Wilkinson PR for sending me a copy of this life-affirming graphic novel, written and illustrated by Terri Libenson a best-selling US cartoonist.

I love the fact that graphic novels are being welcomed into classrooms and recognised for the accessible nature of their content and I think that this particular book will be a huge hit with upper key stage 2 readers. Ruby is a rather awkward loner who is coming to terms with the loss of her grade school best friend and trying to find her place in middle school. She suffers from the nick-name “baked bean girl” coined by a cruel wit in her class after unfortunate incidents caused by her nervous stomach and has a pretty miserable solitary existence at school. Meanwhile, her former friend, Mia is a high-achiever who seems to be surrounded by new friends, including a boyfriend, takes a perfectionist’s approach to everything that she does and is running for class president.

The story details their respective story arcs as they navigate new friendships, finding their places in the middle school social structure. Ruby is rescued by an inspirational teacher’s recognition of her poetic talent and through the poetry club begins to find her voice and her tribe. Perfect Mia has to face some uncomfortable truths about her behaviour as her plans start to go awry. Alternate chapters focus on each of the girls, with the book designed in a striking way; Ruby’s chapters are presented as an illustrated story in a style that would be familiar to fans of Tom Gates whereas Mia’s chapters are presented in full graphic novel cartoon style. I was very struck by the contrast in styles highlighting the contrast between shy, quiet, wordsmith Ruby and self-confident Mia, who will not let anything or anyone stand in the way of her ambition.

The gradual realisation by the two main protagonists that despite their seemingly opposing characteristics, they actually share similar insecurities, leads them to an understanding that wraps up the story neatly. I recommend this book very highly to all readers of 9-13, it’s a hugely enjoyable read and has a strong underlying theme of finding your inner talent and recognising that everyone has their unique strengths.

I am most grateful to Antonia Wilkinson and Harper Collins for my review copy of Remarkably Ruby in exchange for my honest opinion.

Halloween 2021

Books featuring ghosts, magic, monsters, vampires and witches for readers of 4 -14

For anyone heading out to a bookshop or the library this weekend, here’s a brief guide to a range of books for primary and early secondary school children to enjoy on these dark autumn evenings! There are many others out there, but these are all stories that I have read over the past year, although some might have been published prior to 2021.

Winnie and Wilbur and the Bug Safari – Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

The Winnie and Wilbur series is laugh-out-loud funny as Winnie constantly gets herself into a fix when her magic goes wrong! This story will transport youngsters back to warm summer days as Winnie finds herself in the middle of insect mayhem! Suitable for age 4+

Midnight Magic – Michelle Harrison and Elissa Elwick

Fun, rhyming adventure with a magical kitten. An early reading book with delightful illustrations, short chapters, warmth and humour. The first in a series that will captivate youngsters of 5+

Isadora Moon Goes to a Wedding – Harriet Muncaster

Isadora Moon, half fairy-half vampire, is bursting with excitement at the prospect of being a bridesmaid at Aunt Crystal’s wedding, but will the day survive naughty cousin Mirabelle’s magical interventions? This gorgeously illustrated, short-chapter story is engaging and entertaining and additionally contains recipes and craft activity ideas. Perfect for ages 6-8.

Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of the Dark – Katie and Kevin Tsang, ills Nathan Reed

With comic book style graphics throughout by Nathan Reed, lovely characters and sharp plotting, the Sam Wu series totally fulfils the “read for pleasure” criteria that encourage a love of reading. As Sam embarks on a camping trip, he is not sure what to be most afraid of…aliens, werewolves, vampire bats, bears or just THE DARK! Recommended for ages 7+

Leo’s Map of Monsters – Kris Humphrey and Pete Williamson

Nine year old Leo learns that his Assignment for the next two years is to become a Guardian and protect his fenced, medieval-style village from the monsters that roam the land beyond TheWall! An exciting, illustrated, short-chapter series that will appeal to Beast Quest fans of 7+

A Girl Called Justice: The Ghost in the Garden – Elly Griffiths

The third adventure in this MG Mystery Series sees Justice Jones investigating the disappearance of a classmate against a backdrop of the ghostly presence of Grace Highbury haunting the corridors and grounds of Highbury House Boarding School for the Daughters of Gentlefolk. Cracking mystery adventure for readers of 8+

The Monster in the Lake – Louie Stowell and Davide Ortu

The second adventure of young wizard Kit, brilliantly illustrated by Davide Ortu, sees her and her friends investigating the strangely disrupted magic in the local town. All clues point to the lake…but what is lurking in its depths and can the three friends put things right? Packed with fun for readers of 8+

Vlad the World’s Worst Vampire – Anna Wilson and Kathryn Durst

Vlad’s mother, Mortemia, constantly tells him that he is a disgrace to the Impaler family name…what will she do if she finds out that he has been secretly attending human school and has even made a best friend there? A funny and charming story that shows young readers that being an excellent best friend is more important than being a perfect vampire! Suitable for readers of 8+

Agent Zaiba Investigates: The Haunted House – Annabelle Sami and Daniela Sosa

The third outing for Agent Zaiba and her young detectives from the Snow Leopard Detective Agency finds the team investigating mysterious and ghostly occurrences at Oakwood Manor. Can Zaiba’s team uncover the real culprit and dispel the rumours of ghostly Jinn? Readers of 9+ will enjoy this “cosy crime” investigation.

Lightning Falls – Amy Wilson, ills Rachel Vale and Helen Crawford-White

A glittering and magical tale featuring life-like and friendly ghost characters, making it suitable for readers of 9+. Superb plotting, immersive descriptions and a lovely tale about family in all its forms.

Victoria Stitch Bad and Glittering – Harriet Muncaster

Sumptuously illustrated and brilliant storytelling from multi-talented Harriet Muncaster are sure to engage readers of 9+ in this tale of magical “Wiskling” twin sisters, Celestine and Victoria Stitch. A story of forbidden magic, envy, betrayal and ultimately the bonds of sibling love.

Everdark – Abi Elphinstone

The introductory book to the Unmapped Chronicles series sets up an immersive world run by magic, controlled by an imaginative range of magical creatures which has come under threat from the corrupting dark magic of Morg, an evil harpy. A series that will absorb and delight readers of 9+

Gargantis – Thomas Taylor, ills George Ermos

“When Gargantis wakes, Eerie quakes” Eerie-on-Sea is literally cracking apart in the second instalment of this brilliant series and it’s up to Herbert Lemon and his loyal friend Violet Parma to investigate the fearsome monster, Gargantis, who is stirring out in the bay! Fast moving, ferocious plotting fro anyone of 9+

The Ghost Garden – Emma Carroll, ills Kaja Kajfež

Spookily atmospheric story set in a country manor house in the summer of 1914, this novella from Emma Carroll is published in dyslexia-friendly format by specialist publisher Barrington Stoke. Perfect for readers from 10 through to secondary school age.

The Hungry Ghost – HS Norup

An incredible story that blends Chinese tradition with modern day sensibilities. Set in the cosmopolitan city of Singapore, this beautiful story weaves Western and Eastern attitudes to grieving and treasuring memories of the dead and is a powerfully moving read for anyone of 10/11+

Strange Star – Emma Carroll

An imagined tale of the creation of the Frankenstein story by Mary Shelley in 1816. The plot moves between Somerset village life and the grand surroundings of the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva; epic storytelling, fabulous characters and a feminist slant make this my all-time favourite Emma Carroll title, recommended for anyone of 10+

Frost Hollow Hall – Emma Carroll

Yes, I know this is the third Emma Carroll book on my list, but as well as being labelled “The Queen of Historical Fiction” Emma really does have a talent for gothic atmosphere. In her debut novel she produced a ghost story, which at one point in the tale, genuinely made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! I would not give this to anyone of a nervous disposition, but for KS3 readers of 11+ it is guaranteed to send shivers down the spine.

Dracula – retold by Fiona MacDonald, ills by Penko Gelev

Finding myself pushed for time to complete a reading of the original novel by Bram Stoker for one of my book groups, I reached for this graphic novel version from one of my children’s bookcases. It is an accessible introduction to the Dracula story, which certainly remains faithful to the major plot points and atmosphere of the source text. Perfect for teens, dyslexic readers and adults who leave insufficient time to fully read classic novels!

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Christmas Carrolls by Mel Taylor-Bessent, illustrated by Selom Sunu

Cover illustration by Selom Sunu, published by Farshore an imprint of Harper Collins, October 2021.
MG Takes On Thursday graphic by Mary Simms.

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: Mel Taylor-Bessent

Illustrator: Selom Sunu

Publisher: Farshore

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

A world filled with snowfall and sunshine, flashing fairy lights, and constant jingling bells.

p11

This book in three words: Christmas Every Day!

Imagine being part of a family who celebrate every day as if it were Christmas, and see it as their mission in life to spread festive cheer to everyone they encounter! This is exactly the life that Holly and her family, the Carrolls, enjoy, at their home in the countryside. Her Dad, Nick, has never let go of the joyous feeling that arriving from Jamaica in the middle of a snowstorm brought him, and now spends his time inventing merrynifiscent Christmas creations. Mum, Snow, designs a fabulous range of Christmas aprons and homeschools Holly with festive fervour; symmetry lessons using lights and decorations on a tree sounds like a magnificent maths lesson to me! Meanwhile, we await baby Ivy’s first word to see if it will be one of her big sister’s concatenations.

However, when the Carrolls leap at the opportunity to buy a house on the third most Christmassy road in the world, Sleigh Ride Avenue, their lives are upturned quicker than a six-year-old’s stocking on Christmas morning! Firstly, their exuberant arrival is frowned upon by miserable neighbour Hugh Berg, referred to as Mr Bleurgh by Holly. Then there is the small matter of a lack of fireplace to contend with. However, the biggest challenge for Holly is her adjustment to the social and cultural norms of a Year 5 classroom.

Author, Mel Taylor-Bessent, captures the comedic potential of Holly’s enthusiastic embrace of anything festive brilliantly and descriptions of her arrival in the classroom, throwing handfuls of snowflake confetti, offering to sing a carol to her classmates and inability to refrain from shouting out her approval for the class book, will have readers giggling with appreciation. Her enthusiasm is so infectious that even the quiet loner of the class, Archer, seems to be warming to the task of making a joint presentation for the roles of class representatives with her.

Unfortunately, not everyone shares Holly’s zeal. Her yuletide accessorising of school uniform is frowned upon by the head teacher, some of her class cohort are less than complimentary about her “backpack of cheer” and apparently Mr Bleurgh is raising a petition to have the Carrolls removed from Sleigh Ride Avenue. When Archer appears to turn his back on their burgeoning friendship, Holly loses her Christmas cheer and has to reassess her behaviour as she ponders what to do in order to fit in with her new surroundings and whether she can bring cheer to the person who needs it the most. Will she follow her muse, Reggie the donkey-who-thinks-he’s-a-reindeer, and continue to spread goodwill? You will have to read The Christmas Carrolls to find out!

This is such a big-hearted story that it will make a wonderful addition to anyone’s festive story collection. It would be a wonderful whole class read to enjoy during December, likely to instil the Christmas Eve feeling of “everyone still and listening…and magic in the air”. Additionally, the joyfully expressive illustrations throughout, by Selom Sunu, make it a perfect independent read for anyone of 8/9+. It is really no surprise that Mel Taylor-Bessent, who has done so much to promote the love of reading for primary school children should have authored such an exhilarating and inclusive story. It really doesn’t matter how you celebrate the festive season, the underlying messages of gratitude, enjoying the moment and doing your best to make someone else feel happy are universal, and packaged in this beautiful book are bound to spread cheer. The sense of bonhomie seems to burst from the pages and as for the descriptions of festively fragranced food, I am reaching for my 30 year-old copy of Delia Smith’s Christmas a month earlier than usual! This is a Christmas cracker that does not disappoint.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Tilly and the Map of Stories by Anna James

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

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

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.
Cover image by Paola Escobar, published by Harper Collins Children’s Books
  • Write three words to describe the book
  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

Author: Anna James

Illustrator: Paola Escobar

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

” I’m looking for a book.”

This book in three words: Magic – Imagination – Stories

A couple of weeks ago I used this meme to highlight my love for Tilly and the Bookwanderers, yesterday I finished reading an eARC of Tilly and the Map of Stories, due for publication on 17th September. It’s my favourite of the series so far, although it is going to cause me nightmares the next time I have to do some book-weeding in the library! Here is my review:

The third book in the Pages & Co series is a magnificent celebration of the magic of stories and an ode to the bookshops, libraries and imaginations from which they are dispensed. The love of story erupts from this novel and inflames your heart with a desire to revisit old favourites and examine their links to the newly published. Combining 21st century London tweens with a fantasy plot that includes encounters with the Great Library of Alexandria, the Library of Congress and a jaded William Shakespeare, this book takes you on an enchanted journey through literature!

Tilly and the Map of Stories begins exactly where book two, Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales ended, with the scheming Underwood twins, Melville and Decima, continuing their dictatorial reign at the British Underlibrary; pursuing their own ends whilst deceiving their followers that they are working for the benefit of all. They have begun binding the source editions of books to prevent book wandering in them…but only a small minority of independent thinkers have the courage to question why. These dissenters of course include Archibald and Elizabeth Pages (Tilly’s grandparents), her mother Bea and a group of their close friends.

I have loved this series from the moment I began reading about Tilly and her grandparents’ bookshop Pages & Co in book one. The idea of being able to wander into the pages of favourite books and share afternoon tea with Lizzie Bennet enraptured me. The addition of librarian in-jokes about cardigans and the Dewey Decimal System just made it all the more engaging. Now with this installment, author Anna James takes us on a metaphysical adventure into the heart of Story itself, conjuring an immersive literary world in which Tilly and her best friend Oskar have to delve right to the origins of Story in their attempt to thwart the plans of the Underwoods. It opens with a customer in the bookshop finding himself unable to remember anything about the book which he intended to purchase and this grasping for memories of books is repeated with other characters. Relying on Tilly’s instinct that the curious assortment of objects she has gathered during her previous adventures are clues to the whereabouts of the legendary Archivists who guard the bookwandering world, her mother Bea despatches Tilly and Oskar to Washington DC to track them down.

I really do not want to go into too much description of the plot because it unfurls so perfectly that I cannot bear to ruin your enjoyment. The labyrinthine quest leads our heroes and thus the reader into the chain of stories where it seems only natural that after travelling on a train constructed of an eclectic mix of carriages, aptly named the Sesquipedalian, you might encounter Shakespeare arguing with Scott Fitzgerald!

Tilly and Oskar are two wonderful protagonists whose relationship has developed over the series to an acceptance of each other’s moods and almost telepathic understanding of each other’s reactions at crisis points in the narrative. Their friendship and partnership drives the narrative on as they seek the truth of the Underwoods’ abuse of book magic. As always, Tilly’s grandparents demonstrate steely determination to stand up against wrong-doing and in this novel Tilly’s mother Bea has snapped out of her dreamlike state and takes agency too.  The locations, real, historical and imaginary are brought splendidly into focus by Paola Escobar’s wondrous illustrations; I would love to spend many hours browsing Orlando’s bookstore Shakespeare’s Sisters situated in a former theatre! I also love the use of typography techniques to throw the reader off-balance at times in the story.

It is obvious that I adore Tilly and the Map of Stories and I think it is a book that many adults will relish reading to their own children or to a class of children. Confident readers of 10+ will love immersing themselves in the adventure on which Tilly and Oskar embark and hopefully will engage with some of the philosophical themes: the importance of imagination and collective memory, the need to share stories for the benefit of all and the necessity to question authority when it designs rules that only enhance the experience of a few.

I am most grateful to NetGalley and Harper Collins Children’s Books for allowing me access to an eARC in exchange for an honest review. I will certainly be purchasing a physical copy as soon as the book is published later this month as this is one of my MG highlights of the year so far.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Tilly and the Bookwanderers by Anna James

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

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

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 Paola Escobar, published by Harper Collins Children’s Books.

Author: Anna James

Illustrator: Paola Escobar

Publisher: Harper Collins Children’s Books

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“Tilly had never been very far outside London, but she felt like a seasoned traveller within the pages of books: she had raced across the rooftops of Paris, learned to ride a broomstick and seen the Northern Lights from the deck of a ship. “

I just love the way that this quote encapsulates one of the joys of reading as well as referencing three of my favourite books published for children. It sets up the themes of this fantastic bookish adventure perfectly.

This book in three words: Books – Fantasy – Adventure

I am prompted to celebrate the first of the Pages & Co adventures by Anna James this week as I am overjoyed to have been approved for an eARC of the third book in the series, Tilly and the Map of Stories. For anyone immersed in the world of children’s literature this is a must-read; haven’t we all dreamt of being able to enter the world of our favourite books and speak to the characters who formed our early love of literature?

I think that Anna James’ writing is utterly wonderful and she absolutely captures the joy of becoming lost in a book, I highly recommend Tilly and the Bookwanderers to all confident readers, young and old, and encourage adults to read it aloud as a class reader or bedtime story to anyone of 9+.

My reviews of Tilly and the Bookwanderers and Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales by Anna James can be read here.

#MGTakesOnThursday: New Kid by Jerry Craft

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

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

To take part, the steps to follow are:

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

Author: Jerry Craft

Illustrator: Jerry Craft

Publisher: Harper Audio Productions/ Harper Collins

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

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

This book in three words: Comics – Friendship – Diversity

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

Here is my review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

#MGTakesonThursday – Look into my Eyes by Lauren Child

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.

Look into my eyes

 

Author: Lauren Child

Illustrator: David Mackintosh

Publisher: Harper Collins

Favourite sentence from Page 11: Well this is interesting, because in this edition of the book, page 11 is a blank between two parts of the prologue …so from Page 12:

“When Ruby Redfort was seven years old she won the Junior Code-Cracker Championships – solving the famous Eisenhauser conundrum in just seventeen days and forty-seven minutes.”

This book in three words: Adventure, Ciphers, Intelligence

This is the first book in the Ruby Redfort series and opens with two year old Ruby observing a suspicious incident across the street and trying to communicate with her glamorous, socialite parents Brant and Sabina through the medium of alphabet blocks. They, not being at all on her intellectual wavelength, think she wants to go out for a walk! This sets the tone so brilliantly for this book and indeed the rest of the series – Ruby is able to carry out her spying adventures under the noses of her parents, without them suspecting a thing!

The sentence I’ve selected above highlights Ruby’s unique code-cracking skills, which lead to her recruitment by Spectrum, a top secret spy agency who operate from a base in her hometown of Twinford. She is a fantastically inspiring character for girls and boys who love maths and enjoy solving puzzles; reading these books certainly encouraged a great deal of reading about ciphers in this house! Her adventures show that being small for your age, needing glasses and having a serious notebook habit are no barriers to tackling a nest of villains.

This book is populated by a great cast of characters. Ruby’s best friend Clancy Crew, the son of a diplomat, who is always ready to pedal over and lend Ruby a helping hand; Mrs Digby the Redfort family’s cook who shares Ruby’s love of mystery thrillers and keeps her supplied with banana milk and cookies; Hitch the suave butler who communicates by toast and just happens to be a Spectrum agent; LB the head of the spectrum office with her air of mystery and of course the villains: Baby Face Marshall and Nine Lives Capaldi!

The story takes place in a fictional American town, set in the 1970s and has a lovely nostalgic vibe, it definitely transported me back to childhood enjoyment of the Nancy Drew mysteries. Ruby is equipped with some spy gadgets, but without smartphones or the internet, the mission is able to maintain a high level of suspense throughout.  The chapters are short, with cliff-hangers a-plenty, and for those readers who are so inclined, there are code-cracking challenges to attempt. The plot centres around the  Jade Buddha of Khotan, a priceless treasure with mythical powers which is due to be unveiled at the Twinford Museum at an event planned by Ruby’s parents.

I completely adore the entire Ruby Redfort series, and was very fortunate that this book was published just as my own daughter had finished reading Clarice Bean by the same author, and wanted to know if the Ruby Redfort books actually existed. The exceptionally high quality plotting and characterisation is maintained throughout, each book focuses on a different sense as reflected in the titles. I so applaud Lauren Child for bringing the series full-circle and returning to the crime that Ruby witnessed as a two-year old in the final book. To fully complete the theme of ciphers, you might be able to see from the photo below that there is a code to crack on the beautifully designed covers. I have lost count of the number of Ruby Redfort books that I have given as gifts, and I have yet to find a child who hasn’t enjoyed them after a recommendation. Ruby Redfort should be an essential fixture on your MG library shelves!

Ruby Redforts

Review: Pages & Co, Books 1 and 2 by Anna James

The receipt of a review copy of the second Pages & Co book made me realise that I had neglected to review the brilliant first book in the series, so here’s a double review post…

Pages & Co 1: Tilly and the BookWanderers

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If, like me, you love getting lost in a good book, this is the perfect read.

Matilda (Tilly) Pages has lived her 11 years in the bookshop owned by her grandparents, Elsie and Archie, who have taken care of her since her mother disappeared when she was a baby. Tilly is struggling to fit into friendship groups at secondary school and wishes that real-life relationships were as straightforward to navigate as those she finds in books; a trait that I’m sure many readers will recognise. Rather than hanging out with a group of  gossiping and giggling girls, Tilly would rather find a comfortable sofa in a secluded corner of the, marvellously imagined, Pages & Co bookshop and seek solace in the company of literary creations.

Her bookish traits are clearly inherited from her family and as the story progresses Tilly realises that the three Pages are all being visited in the shop by their favourite characters from books. The vivacious Lizzie Bennett, who apparently bears a striking resemblance to Tilly’s absent mother; Sherlock Holmes who is allowed to smoke his pipe in the shop, and Alice (from Wonderland) as well as “Anne-with-an-e” from Green Gables.

When Oskar, a classmate who lives in the bakery across the road, gets dragged off to Avonlea with Tilly and Anne, Grandad realises that it is time to take action. He accompanies Tilly and Oskar to the Underlibrary of the British Library, where the Librarian, the brilliantly named Amelia Whisper begins to explain bookwandering!

I won’t give any plot spoilers, but this magical adventure encapsulates everything that a book lover dreams of. I am sure that I am not the only bookworm who longs for the ability to read so deeply that the walls between fiction and reality are broken down, allowing interaction with favourite characters.

I adored the description of the stomach-lurching sensation the bookwanderers experience as they are pulled into books; I think I might have experienced it myself with the re-telling of the Ladybird Peter and Jane books which transported me a long, long way back in time to revisit my 5 year-old self! A glorious celebration of the joy of books and reading, this really is an essential addition to every school library.

 

Pages & Co 2: Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales

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This is the second in the Pages & Co adventures and the story again begins in the north London bookshop, owned by Tilly’s grandparents. Christmas is approaching, and with it a sense of apprehension as Tilly worries about her mother and the strange turn of events at the Underlibrary where Amelia Whisper has been fired, only to be replaced as Librarian by the slippery character of Melville Underwood. Melville has mysteriously reappeared from the realm of fairy tales into which he wandered many years earlier, both Archie and Elsie Pages, along with Amelia Whisper, clearly distrust his explanation of his lost years and his lost sister. For any adults reading this book aloud, the political machinations at the Underlibrary might look uncomfortably familiar! The author brilliantly manipulates the mood from apprehension to impending doom.

As the mood in London darkens, Tilly and her best friend Oskar are due to travel to Paris to stay with Oskar’s father. Before they leave London they are warned by the adults not to try any book wandering while they are away, and especially not to travel into any fairy tales which are wild and unpredictable places! Will they obey the adults, or will Tilly’s curiosity and Oskar’s loyalty to her mean that they take matters into their own hands and explore the “structural discord within fairytales”? You will have to read this brilliantly imagined tale, to find out! 

The exuberant writing by Anna James in these books swept me into the stories and fully captured my imagination. Accompanying the brilliance of the text, the illustrations by Paola Escobar, on the covers and throughout the book, and the playful use of font effects make these books visually as well as imaginatively arresting.

Highly recommended for all bookworms of 10+ 

With thanks to Toppsta.com and HarperCollins Children’s Books for my review copy of Tilly and the Lost Fairy Tales, which is now in the hands of a library borrower!

 

 

 

Review: The Curse of the School Rabbit by Judith Kerr

Curse School Rabbit

This is the final book written and illustrated by the late, great Judith Kerr, and displays her infectious sense of humour and unique ability to capture family dynamics in an engaging story.

The tale is relayed in the voice of a young boy, Tommy, as he blames his family’s misfortunes on Snowflake, the school rabbit with a propensity for accidents of the wet and rather smelly variety. The rabbit belongs to his little sister Angie’s Year 2 teacher, Miss Bennet. Angie adores Snowflake and is delighted when her family is asked to look after the rabbit when Miss Bennet is called away to look after a sick relative. Unfortunately Snowflakes arrival coincides with a very important meeting between Tommy and Angie’s Dad, who is desperate for an acting job and a washed up but self-important former star, about a new film proposal. This project is doomed from the minute that Snowflake leaves its wet signature on the movie star’s trousers! 

More dramas follow; Tommy tries to take Snowflake for a walk on a lead with almost disastrous results, Angie gets ill, and nagging away in the background is the family’s shortage of money and the diminishing prospects of a new bike for Christmas. Will Tommy’s duties as Snowflake’s carer ever become easier, and will the family’s misfortunes be reversed? You will have to read the book to find out!

As with my favourite of her books, When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Judith Kerr brilliantly captures the anxieties, interactions and love of a family with childlike simplicity by telling the story in a straightforward narrative through the observations of a young child. She has left us with a final story to enjoy and cherish – its length, language and content make it an ideal bedtime or whole class story, as well as one that newly confident readers can tackle alone. It is illustrated throughout with wonderfully expressive pencil drawings which perfectly complement the text, making this a book to treasure.

My thanks to Toppsta and Harper Collins Children’s Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.