Review: Jungledrop by Abi Elphinstone

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I was ecstatic to be approved for an e-ARC of Jungledrop on #Netgalley and believe me, I will be buying more than one physical copy of this amazing book as soon as it hits the shops. It has totally fizzled my brain with its imaginative brilliance and left my heart quivering with joy. It is a beautiful and necessary book which will delight and entertain all readers, young and old. 

Whilst you could easily enjoy reading this book as a stand-alone adventure, you will be fully immersed in the lore of the Unmapped Chronicles if you have previously read Everdark and Rumblestar. In the latter case, you will know that ancient Phoenix magic dictates that the weather on Earth ( The Faraway ) is controlled by events in the four Unmapped Kingdoms. However, the harmonious functioning of this system is under threat from an evil harpy named Morg who wishes to control the kingdoms for her own wickedly greedy ends.

In this third instalment the future of the Faraway ( which is suffering from a year-long drought ) and Jungledrop are placed in the hands of a very unlikely pair of heroes, eleven-year-old twins Fox and Fibber Petty-Squabble. They are descended from a wealthy German family and live in the ancestral mansion in Munich, Bickery Towers. Their repulsive parents run a business empire built on lies, the family motto is:

“Do not be afraid.

To stamp all over other people’s feelings.”

Their avaricious upbringing has resulted in two children who behave like monsters but deep down feel unloved and lonely. Somehow the ancient phoenix magic has unaccountably chosen them to change the course of history! As they dash into an antiques shop, owned by Casper Tock, the fizz of magic from a long-hidden phoenix tear propels them on a journey of the heart which will determine the destiny of two worlds.

“When magic sets it’s sights on someone, it’s remarkably hard to wriggle free”

There are countless things to love about this story.

  • The brilliantly imagined land of Jungledrop, a glow-in-the-dark rainforest filled with exotically named flora and fauna. This lush landscape is cruelly scarred by burnt and barren enclaves where the greed of Morg has inflicted dark magic, and the descriptions are redolent of familiar scenes from documentaries about the devastation being caused to rainforests all over our planet. 
  • The unique, funny and inspired naming of characters: Tedious Niggle, the ghostly ticket inspectre; Heckle the “emotionally intrusive” yellow parrot; Total Shambles, the slow, ungainly but heroic swiftwing; Doogie Herbalsneeze the jungle apothecary and unicycle-riding unmapper Iggy Blether.
  • The exciting plot with its quest to discover the Forbidden Fern, the suspense and uncertainty over each of the twins’ true intent during the adventure and the perfectly described, complex emotional undercurrents.

Abi Elphinstone has an incredible talent for taking her readers on a heart-stopping journey through gloriously immersive worlds and dropping profoundly moving passages into the middle of jaw-dropping action. Her combination of playfulness, visual storytelling, obvious respect for her readership and genuine ability to include a positive message in her stories make them an essential addition to every bookshelf.

I shall finish with a quote which had me welling up, and which I will be putting on permanent display in the school library:

“To be kind is to be strong. And, if you’re strong enough to pull down a wall around your heart, you can fight with the strength of a warrior because then you will have learnt to love!”

 

Thank you #NetGalley and S&S Children’s UK for allowing me early access to JungleDrop

Review: Bloom by Nicola Skinner

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What a breath of fresh air! This is an amazing debut novel from Nicola Skinner with a mysterious plot which bursts into life and blooms with appreciation of the natural world.

In a corner of the grey concrete town of Little Sterilis there sits a literally, and metaphorically, broken home. Our reluctant heroine, Sorrel, lives with her mother in a house where the leaking taps seem to be crying and the “curtains were constantly pinging off their rods in some desperate escape mission.” The only way that Sorrel can cope with the sadness of her life is to be the best behaved pupil in her school, with boxes full of good behaviour certificates to prove the point. Her school Grittysnit Comprehensive perfectly mimics the town; a grey building containing pupils wearing grey uniforms, the Headteacher, Mr Grittysnit’s mantra is “May obedience shape you. May conformity mould you. May rules polish you.”

This ghastly man’s latest plan is to allow the school’s most generous benefactor, Mr Valentini the local construction magnate,  to concrete over one of the last remaining green spaces in the town, the sports field, and construct a new examination hall. He has also introduced a new competition in the school to encourage the pupils to conform to his ideal of good behaviour, which Sorrel is determined to win at all costs – even risking her friendship with intelligent, scientific, rebellious Neena.

However,  one evening a mini earthquake on Sorrel’s patio reveals a packet labelled “Surprising Seeds” and a mysterious voice begins talking to Sorrel. These manifestations eventually throw “the normal order of things upside out and inside down.” Firstly, in a town where gardening has ceased to exist, Sorrel and Neena have to track down Strangeways Garden Centre, where the down-at-heel owner, Sid gives them advice along with an old gardening trowel previously owned by Agatha Strangeways. An ancient book discovered in the school library named “The Terrible Sad History of Little Cherrybliss” and written by Agatha, brings the history of their town to light, and the sowing of the seeds has hilarious and unconventional results.

This book is an absolute riot of amusing wordplay, celebration of the natural world and a storyline that rampages faster than the bindweed in my vegetable patch. The friendship between Sorrel and Neena is brilliantly crafted, with their different personalities and motivations leading to misunderstandings and falling out in a very realistic way. I loved the image of Sorrel reflecting on a childhood photo of herself playing in a netted “soft play” centre under harsh electric lights and comparing this with Agatha’s childhood, playing outside in the meadows and the river. This is a thoroughly enjoyable book, with a school setting that anyone can relate to, accompanied by a dash of magic which highlights the joy of nature and green spaces, the need to embrace the wild and to protect the living world. A highly recommended book for anyone of 9+

 

This is #Book5 in my #20BooksofSummer created by Cathy at 746books.com

 

Review: The Maker of Monsters by Lorraine Gregory

Maker of Monsters

If you like tales featuring brave children and blood-thirsty, man-made monsters out for vengeance then this is the book for you!

In the dungeons of a windswept castle, stranded on an island lashed by unforgiving sea we meet Brat – a rescued orphan who spends his relentlessly awful days feeding and cleaning the mutant monsters created by his master Lord Macawber, a necromancer. His only friends are small monsters Tingle and Sherman, who were rejected by Macawber as they were not aggressive enough to join his monster army, which he is developing to rescue his daughter Ellari. She was taken by his enemy Lord Karush to the great Domed City on the mainland years earlier.

When the monsters turn on their creator Brat has to face his deep-seated fear of drowning and  flee the island using the treacherous causeway; he is rescued from the sea by Molly, an Outcast, who then agrees to accompany him to warn the inhabitants of Niyandi Mor about the ferocious onslaught bearing down on them.

This is an exciting adventure that will captivate children’s imaginations. It will also reward deeper reading with its themes of the damage that fear can do, and the importance of being open to outsiders, the power of self-belief  and the pitfalls of becoming walled-in by prejudice.

 

My thanks to OUP Children’s for sending me a copy of this thought provoking story in exchange for an honest review. I shall be recommending it to children of 9+.

Series Review: Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

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I am prompted to write this post just before the release of the special 5th anniversary edition of Book One in the Murder Most Unladylike series. I simply cannot believe that it is only five years since I first encountered The Detective Society! October 2014 was memorable. My sister phoned one evening to tell me she had heard an interview with a young writer on Woman’s Hour, and she was sure the story discussed would appeal to my book-mad youngest child. The author was Robin Stevens, the book was called Murder Most Unladylike. Intrigued, we downloaded the first book to the Kindle that night…and we were hooked!

At the time of writing this review, there have been seven full-length books, a guide to detecting and three shorter mysteries published, with Book 8 due in summer 2019. These books cleverly combine the joys of boarding school stories (where the parents are out of the picture, so the kids can have adventures) think Malory Towers, St Claire’s, Hogwarts, with the delights of page-turning detective fiction (Agatha Christie for example). They are set in the 1930s, so no internet or mobile phones exist to spoil the suspense.

It might seem strange to say this, considering that each story features gruesome murder, but the recurring themes of this series are kindness, bravery, friendship and loyalty. All wrapped up in hugely enjoyable detective mysteries. Will you be able to solve the clues, discard the red herrings and spot the murderer before the intrepid “Detective Society” duo of Daisy and Hazel?

I shall try not to give away any plot spoilers…but please read on for short summaries of each of the books in the Murder Most Unladylike series . They look beautiful on your bookshelf with their rainbow coloured covers and sumptuous 1930s-style title font. As if this wasn’t enough – there are always maps inside the front covers and I adore books with maps! Pull up a comfy chair, get yourself a plate of cakes for bunbreak and enjoy!

Book 1 Murder Most Unladylike

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1934, deep in the English countryside we encounter Deepdean School for Girls. Daisy Wells appears to be a quintessential upper-class English school girl: blonde hair, blue eyes, beautiful and from an aristocratic family. She is able to hide her extreme cleverness under a laissez-faire attitude from everyone but the equally smart new girl, Hazel Wong. Hazel has been sent from her home in Hong Kong to drizzly, cold England by her fabulously rich father who wishes her to experience an English education. She struggles to fit in to the rather racist surroundings until kind-hearted Daisy befriends her and enrols her as secretary of her top-secret “Detective Society”.

Their investigative careers begin when Hazel discovers the body  of Miss Bell, the science mistress, in the gym – but after dashing away to fetch Daisy, the girls return to find  that the body has disappeared! It is apparent to the young investigators that a killer stalks the corridors of their boarding school. Will they be able to outwit the criminal and protect the remaining staff and students?

 

Book 2 Arsenic for TeaMMUarsenic

A classic “country house” murder mystery! It is the Easter holidays and Hazel has been invited to stay at Daisy’s picture-book country house, Fallingford, with its maze, servants and state of faded grandeur. She is not the only friend invited to celebrate Daisy’s birthday. The guest list includes: Daisy’s brother Bertie who has invited his school-friend, Stephen; mysterious, replacement governess Miss Alston; Kitty and Beanie their friends from Deepdean; Great-aunt Saskia; dashing and brilliant Uncle Felix and Denis Curtis, a special guest of Daisy’s mother.

Both Daisy and Hazel detect that there is something “going on” with Mr Curtis, and they are both intrigued by frumpy Miss Alston’s reaction to this fashionable man. The mystery deepens when Mr Curtis becomes fatally ill at Daisy’s birthday tea, and the finger of suspicion points at Daisy’s beloved father, Lord Hastings! The Detective Society and associate members Kitty and Beanie have a case to solve. (My daughter loved this story so much that she recreated it as a Lego stop-frame animation. I shall put a link at the end of this post, but it does contain spoilers, so please don’t watch until you have read the book.)

Book 3 First Class Murder

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Hazel’s father is so upset that she has spent the Easter holidays investigating a murder that he decides to take her and Daisy away from England for the summer holidays to broaden their minds by exploring Europe on the Orient Express. He strictly forbids the girls from any talk of crime as he wishes them to have a luxurious, relaxing and culturally enriching holiday. However, as the travelling party makes their way to the first class carriage they encounter an extraordinarily wealthy heiress, wearing a glittering diamond necklace…and you just know that crime is waiting along the tracks! With a fabulous cast of fellow travellers, and Daisy’s choice of holiday reading material being “Murder on the Orient Express”, you know what to expect!

On this journey the Detective Society meet up with a  young male detective, Alexander Arcady, who is one half of the Junior Pinkertons with his best friend George, and who will feature in future MMU investigations.

Mini-mystery e-book: The Case of the Blue Violet

Book 4 Jolly Foul Play

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It is the new winter term at Deepdean and Daisy is furious because she was looking up at the fireworks as a murder occurred on the school field! The murder victim was the school’s Head Girl, Elizabeth Hurst, who is described by our reliable narrator Hazel as someone who “was in the business of secrets.” She surrounded herself with a bunch of acolytes known as “the Five” and collectively they were hated and feared at Deepdean. It is, therefore, unsurprising that Elizabeth has been done away with in this school where murder seems to be quite expected – but will Daisy and Hazel be able to untangle a web of secrets and identify the culprit?

Mini-mystery e-book: The Case of the Deepdean Vampire

Book 5 Mistletoe and Murder

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After an Autumn term investigating the murder of their Head Girl, Daisy Wells and Heather Wong need a relaxing Christmas break. So for Christmas 1935 they head Cambridge to visit Daisy’s brother Bertie who has completed his first term at fictional Maudlin College, and stay with Daisy’s Great Aunt Eustacia, a Mathematics don at fictional St Lucy’s College. It is also a chance to see Alexander Arcady again, and meet his best friend George, as they are staying with George’s older brother Harold who is also a student at the university.

Of course, with Daisy and Hazel in town, murder cannot be far behind, and this time The Detective Society are in a race with The Junior Pinkertons to see who can solve the clues first. With detectives as sharp as the cold December frosts this mystery will grip you and entertain you in equal measure.

Cream Buns and Crime: Detective Tips, Short Stories including the two mini-mysteries, Code-breaking Tips and basically a lot of background information on The Detective Society.

Book 6 A Spoonful of Murder

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Now it is Daisy’s turn to feel out-of-place and foreign as she and Hazel travel to Hong Kong to stay in the luxurious compound owned by Hazel’s father, Vincent Wong, an extremely wealthy banker. Interestingly, Hazel also finds that the two years she has spent in England have changed her outlook, and there are times when she struggles to be the dutiful, obedient daughter that she is expected to be … particularly following the brutal murder of a family servant and a kidnap!

A thrilling, fast-paced adventure set against the oriental backdrop of Hong Kong’s famous sites where Daisy and Hazels will need every ounce of bravery and ingenuity to take on the forces threatening the Wong family.

Mini-mystery: The Case of the Missing Treasure

Book 7 Death in the Spotlight

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In an attempt to keep Daisy and Hazel out of trouble and allow them to recover from their exertions in Hong Kong they are sent to stay with Daisy’s Uncle Felix and Aunt Lucy in London. Unfortunately, Felix, Lucy and even their maid Bridget are involved in “secretive work” meaning that they cannot always look after their young guests. Therefore, a marvellous scheme is hatched to allow the girls to become temporary cast members at the Rue Theatre, owned by one of Lucy’s contacts.

Daisy is overjoyed at the prospect of understudying the roles at this famous Shakespearean theatre, and although Hazel is more circumspect, she too finds the theatre “gloriously impressive”. It doesn’t take long for The Detective Society to uncover seething jealousy and unpleasant pranks amongst the cast members, and before you know it the stage is set for murder.

The Junior Pinkertons, Alexander and George, make a welcome appearance to provide detecting assistance on this case. Additionally, Daisy and Hazel have to examine their friendship and their feelings for other characters, making this the most mature of the books to date.

 

I have been fortunate to read all of the MMU books in order, but children who borrow them from the school library (where they are always in high demand) tell me that they are enjoyable no matter what order you read them in. The voice of Hazel is an absolute joy as she not only outlines every case in logical, forensic detail, but also analyses the behaviour of the characters who surround her, in particular Daisy Wells. The loyal friendship between the pair is at the heart of The Detective Society and I hope that their teamwork, courage and allegiance develops through many, many more mysteries. Highly recommended for ages 9+.

 

Here is the link to the Lego stop-frame animation of Arsenic for Tea – but please don’t watch it until you have read the book!

 

Review: Journeys by Jonathan Litton

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A sumptuous non-fiction title printed on thick, buff-coloured paper with perfectly black-inked illustrations, highlighted in shades of blue and green, packed with information on exploration through the ages. It is not surprising to find that a team of illustrators worked on these amazing pictures: Chris Chalik, Dave Shephard, Jon Davies and Leo Hartas – they have produced a book to treasure. Jonathan Litton’s text is presented in clear paragraphs around these pictures. The information is arranged in chronological order, starting with an introduction explaining that humans appear to have the urge to travel programmed into their genes.

Following this, the book is divided into four sections detailing exploratory journeys by: Water, Land, Ice and Snow and finally Man and Machine. The wealth of knowledge packed into this book is extraordinary, with every page revealing incredible facts about the amazing journeys undertaken throughout history and sprinkled with quotes from a range of explorers.

My own favourite page details Ernest Shackleton’s journey to Antarctica where he led an expedition to climb the highest mountain and getting very close to the South Pole before having to turn back. When his ship, Endurance, became trapped by ice and subsequently sank, Shackleton and his crew took to the lifeboats and eventually landed on Elephant Island from where Shackleton heroically set off to South Georgia with five of his men, to seek help. Incredibly he was successful and not a single one of his crew members was lost. His famous quote, “Through endurance we conquer.” perfectly summarises his achievement.

This beautiful book is an absolute fount of knowledge, which will keep even the most inquisitive minds engaged for many pleasurable hours.The text is probably not accessible to the youngest readers independently, but this book could be shared and enjoyed with an adult by KS1 children and read independently by KS2 children.

Review: Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

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In anticipation of a new Katherine Rundell novel being released soon, I have been re-reading my book collection by one of my absolute favourite writers…

I was first introduced to this incredible book by my, then 10 year-old, daughter who kept reading sentences to me because they so delighted her that she wanted to share them. Since then it has remained one of my favourite books, I have recommended it to many children (and adults) and will be reading extracts at the forthcoming Pyjamarama day at school. The beauty and originality of the writing makes it an absolute pleasure to read aloud.

The main protagonist, Sophie, is an orphan – “with hair the colour of lightning”, discovered in a floating cello case in the English Channel  following a shipwreck. She is rescued from the sea by an observant, eccentric, intellectual Englishman called Charles Maxim, who brings her up in his book-filled home despite the objections of the authorities. When they are threatened with separation, they flee to Paris, where Sophie is convinced that she will find her mother…and her rooftop adventures begin.

From a young age, whenever Sophie is overwhelmed by buried memories of the sea closing in, she has the urge to climb up high to safety. On arrival in Paris, she makes her way through the filthy skylight of her attic room and discovers Matteo and a completely new strata of life.

This is an exquisitely written book, filled with wit and wisdom. Sophie is an unforgettable character, following her heart and undeterred by unhelpful bureaucrats in her quest to discover the whereabouts of her mother. The image of children having a perspective on the adult world by looking down on them from hidden perches above is very powerful. However, it is the feeling of kindness that permeates this story, personified in the character of Charles Maxim, which makes this one of my most cherished books. A perfect bedtime story, class reader or solo read for anyone of 8/9+.

 

If you love this book, look out for other books by this wonderful writer: The Wolf Wilder, The Explorer

Review: The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell

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I think that one of the qualities of a great book is that it lives on in your mind long after you have finished reading it. The knowledge that a new title by Katherine Rundell is due to be published next month has prompted me to review my favourite children’s book from 2015 for those of you who have not yet read it. The Wolf Wilder completely entranced me from its opening line: “Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl.” right up to the final page. This modern fairy tale of courage and wisdom has all the makings of a classic, and is a book you are likely to return to many times.

Feo and her mother live in a wooden house in the snowy Russian forest where they un-tame wolves thrown out by their aristocratic owners when they tire of keeping them as house pets. One night the cruel, malicious General Rakov, the commander of the Tsar’s Imperial Army bursts into their home and sets in motion an epic adventure. It will lead Feo on a journey through the harshest winter, accompanied by her wolves and a new-found friend, in an attempt to rescue her mother from the Tsar’s prison in St Petersburg.

The quality of Katherine Rundell’s writing is magical, you can almost feel the frost biting into your own fingers as you turn the pages of this wonderful book, where every word seems to be chosen with absolute precision. This story is a perfect balance of page-turning plot, beautiful imagery and uncompromising morality.  Highly recommended to all Upper KS2 readers.

If you enjoy this book, look out for the following titles by this wonderful writer: Rooftoppers, The Explorer

Review: High-Rise Mystery by Sharna Jackson

 

High Rise MysteryMeet the new fabulous, fictional detective duo, Nik and Norva, who join Wells & Wong, Taylor & Rose and Wolfe & Lamb on the roster of whip-smart MG sleuths. This is a really fresh take on the genre, with sisters Anika “Nik” and Norva Alexander living with their single-parent father, Joe, on the 22nd floor of a South-East London tower block. They are a complementary team. Nik is 11 years-old; factual, precise, methodical, the story is narrated in her voice. Norva is 13 years-old; imaginative, emotional, creative. They describe their method as “gut and nut” and in turn are described by their cool, music-mad, neighbour George as “NSquared” which Nik loves because it’s “mathematical and logical”!

On the hottest day of the summer the girls know that something is wrong when antique-dealing resident Hugo Knightley-Webb, an absolute stickler for punctuality fails to show up for the Art Class he runs for residents of the estate in the community hub. Following their noses leads them to the terrible discovery of his corpse in the rubbish skip at the bottom of their tower block. From this moment, Nik and Norva are on the case, using their tech-savvy skills and natural curiosity to track down his killer. The plot unfurls as we are introduced to various residents of The Tri: Charity Jane – fundraiser in chief, old but surprisingly strong Mrs Kowalski, Serena the “consciously-uncoupled” sister of the victim, Mark Walker – described by Nik as young, dull and broke, who assists Joe in his caretaking duties and former resident Katie Smythe, now a police officer working on the case. Unfortunately, the mounting evidence is pointing to Joe; can Nik and Norva uncover the motive and perpetrator to clear their father’s name?

The final chapters see the girls racing against time to identify the real murderer, ending with a perfect Agatha Christie-style denouement. Once I had caught my breath I was able to reflect on what I had enjoyed about the book.The description of the run-down, underfunded estate “The Tri” baking and festering with unpleasant smells in the hot July heat was so vivid that I was transported back to my 20s living in the capital. I loved the contemporary setting, the girls’ smart use of technology and social media and their authentic vocabulary. The author Sharna Jackson has cleverly told the story through an 11-year-old narrator, who thinks she is absolutely precise in her reporting, but misses some subtleties of communication. Therefore she is a slightly unreliable witness, leading to natural red-herrings for the MG audience. The short, snappy sentences and dialogue leap from the page, and the combination of short chapters peppered with charts and updated telephone notes will be appealing to reluctant readers.

I know that the publishers, Knights Of have a mission to issue books which represent everyone in our population and this book is a great example of that intention. I recommend this story for anyone age 10+ who enjoys a good “whodunnit”!

Review: The Boy Who Flew by Fleur Hitchcock

 

Boy who flewThis darkly plotted mystery has as many twists and turns as the Georgian alleys of Bath and presents a grimy, squalid view of a city that many of us only see in its tourist-attracting glory. I was prompted to read it as part of the wonderful #PrimarySchoolBookClub and it left me with a very different impression of one of my favourite cities.

The story is set in Georgian times, when The Royal Crescent had been newly constructed, and upper class residents and visitors (the children in the book refer to them as “The Quality”) spent their leisure at The Pump Rooms and Ballrooms of Bath. Athan lives with his mother and two sisters above their tailoring/dressmaking shop, spending his days working on engineering designs with his elderly neighbour Mr Chen and his nights scaling the rooftops of the city with his best friend Tod. His routines are horribly interrupted by the gruesome murder of Mr Chen. It becomes apparent at the auction of Mr Chen’s property that someone is trying to get their hands on Mr Chen’s designs for a flying machine and claim the huge bounty at stake for the first manned flight!

This book has a fine cast of villains, ranging from Athan’s own grandmother, who continually refers to his crippled younger sister Beatty as “cursed” and “a changeling” to the ruthless, cruel and unflinching Colonel Blade, who dresses like a gentleman but whose behaviour is as far from gentlemanly as possible. I love this description of him from Athan when he encounters him at a card game in the Pump Rooms:

“He’s talking like a diamond but I know he’s a piece of coal.”

Fleur Hitchcock has penned a suspense-laden mystery with some uncompromising descriptions of the sooty, foul, underside of life in a Georgian city. The friendship between Athan and Tod is wonderfully realised, as is Athan’s devotion to his family, particularly his sisters Polly and Beatty. The last eighty or so pages held me breathless as Athan scrambled to uncover the evil deeds of Colonel Blade. There are a few moments of vivid description which I think make this book most suitable for children in Year 6 and above as they might be  upsetting for younger readers.

 

Review: Ella on the Outside by Cath Howe

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Recently I have been reading a number of books recommended by EmpathyLabUK in preparation for Empathy Week at school; I think this one is perfectly pitched for Year 5 pupils…

Ella is feeling as if her life has been smashed apart like the watermelon that she once watched exploding in slow motion on a YouTube video. Along with her mother and younger brother, Jack, she has had to move house and leave her old school and her lifelong best friend and start a new life without her Dad. She describes her emptiness early in the book, “Me being without Grace today hurt like bare feet outside in winter.”

She feels lonely and awkward on her first day at her new school, unsure of the classroom dynamics and very much “on the edge” in the playground. As well as harbouring a secret, which her Mum doesn’t want her to talk about, she is also very self-conscious about her angry, red eczema and her sense of isolation at the beginning of the story is palpable.

The author, Cath Howe, presents a totally believable school dynamic, with completely authentic primary school characters. The reader senses Ella’s growing unease as she is first befriended, but then manipulated by the classroom “Queen Bee” Lydia. Her desperation for friendship leads Ella to act in a way that she knows is wrong. Will she be able to put matters right and find a true friend in the shy, silent Molly who sits alone at the back of the class protecting her own secret pain?

This book is written in a straightforward style, and would be easily accessible to readers aged 10 and upwards. The publishers Nosy Crow have produced a paperback with a lovely font which really adds to the enjoyment of reading this book. Many complex topics are covered including bullying, isolation, mental illness, imprisonment and young carers and this story is a wonderful addition to the read-for-empathy collection in any school library. I particularly enjoyed the author’s clever use of Ella observing the world through her camera lens as a metaphor for her outside observer status, and the clutter in Molly’s house illustrating the obstacles that have to be cleared and negotiated in most people’s lives. I think that readers from Year 5 and upwards will find Ella to be a sympathetic protagonist and will be quickly drawn into enjoying this story.