MG Review: The Unexpected Tale of the Bad Brothers by Clare Povey

Cover illustration by Héloïse Mab, publisher Usborne, 7th July 2022



A fast-paced adventure, set in Paris during the 1920s, featuring a band of orphans and their allies, confronting a conspiracy to bring down the government and reinstall a ruling monarch! This timely tale based on the persuasive power of words, held me gripped as I consumed it on a train journey last week. The continuing battle between young story-teller Bastien Bonlivre and the despotic Odieux brothers, Xavier and Olivier, twists and turns like a Parisian alleyway as they grapple for the hearts and minds of the citizens of the City of Light. Although this is the second in the Bastien Bonlivre adventures it can be read and enjoyed as a standalone novel thanks to author Clare Povey including sufficient details from the backstory.

We start with orphan Bastien discovering that Olivier Odieux has walked free from court, leaving his younger brother Xavier to take the rap and be jailed for the murder of Bastien’s parents. It soon becomes apparent that Olivier has hatched a plan worthy of a megalomaniacal supervillain, aided by the descendants of an ancient secret organisation, the Red Ink Society. As the power-crazy fiend and his associates begin to sow chaos on the streets of Paris, Bastien and his friends from the Orphanage for Gentils Garçons along with accomplices, Mathilde and Alice, must track down the clues to uncover the dreadful secret that led to his parents’ deaths. The narrative moves at a cracking pace as the clock ticks down to the final denouement at the launch of the Exposition Universelle in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower.

I loved the fact that Clare Povey has wrapped some highly pertinent sociological ideas into this exciting story, revealing the ways that power-hungry individuals can seek to manipulate the masses with the use of propaganda. I feel sure that creative upper key stage 2 teachers will be using this entertaining story as a class read aloud and incorporating the questions it raises into PHSE and media literacy learning opportunities. The sprinkling of French vocabulary is defined in a glossary, adding another educational layer to this highly entertaining read. The large cast of characters means that many children will be able to identify with one of the protagonists, ensuring engagement throughout and I particularly loved that strong adult role models were included in a story about orphans. Overall, I highly recommend The Unexpected Tale of the Bad Brothers to all readers of 9+ who enjoy immersing themselves in fast-paced adventure. It is available for pre-order from good booksellers and will be available on 7th July 2022.

I am most grateful to Liz Scott and Usborne for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Review: Hetty and the Battle of the Books by Anna James, illustrated by Jez Tuya

Cover image by Jez Tuya, to be published by Barrington Stoke,
7th July 2022

This is a book to make every school librarian or library advocate’s heart soar! As regular readers of my blog will know, I have loved Barrington Stoke books since discovering their titles for one of my own children almost twenty years ago. I have greatly enjoyed the books that they have commissioned from many of the top writers for children in the intervening years and Hetty and the Battle of the Books has just jumped straight to the top of my favourites list.

It is a funny, thoughtful, powerful manifesto for the necessity of having a library and a trained librarian in every school, published in fully accessible format so that it can be read and enjoyed by the very individuals to whom a library often matters the most. Anna James has wonderfully captured the voice of a quirky Year 7 pupil, Hetty, who is going through the friendship issues which occur so commonly as children progress from primary to secondary school. Her place of sanctuary is the school library, which in this story is presided over by Ms Juster, a librarian who knows how to cater for the needs of every pupil who enters her domain. When Hetty learns that the dastardly headteacher, Mr McCarthy, plans to close the library and make Ms Juster redundant, she puts her outrage into action, recruits her former friends to the cause and designs her own campaign to save the library. In a book of approximately one hundred pages the narrative crackles with a sense of urgency and is heavily laced with Hetty’s wry sense of humour. I absolutely adored the greyscale illustrations throughout by Jez Tuya, I am not aware of seeing his artwork before but I shall certainly be on the lookout for further books that he illustrates.

I urge all school librarians and literacy coordinators to purchase a copy of Hetty and the Battle of the Books for your pupils to enjoy, I think it will appeal to all readers of 8-13. In my opinion, this quote from the penultimate chapter summarises all that is magical about school libraries:

You can do your homework there as well as visit a faraway kingdom. You can research the Tudors as well as meet a Greek god, all from a beanbag. You can watch a film, or make a newspaper, or play Dungeons and Dragons. Or you can just read a good book…Because a library is a place for everyone…

Chapter 9

I am most grateful to Barrington Stoke and NetGalley for allowing me access to an e-ARC prior to publication, and I will certainly be buying a paperback copy when it is published on 7th July 2022.

Empathy Day Review: Wished written by Lissa Evans

Cover image by Sarah McIntyre, published by David Fickling Books,
May 2022

Every so often I come across a book that captures my heart so powerfully that I bang on about it endlessly to those who know me in real life, and purchase multiple editions to give away. I suspected that I would love the latest MG title from Lissa Evans as I am a huge fan of her writing (for both adults and children) and I had read great reviews by two of the bloggers whose recommendations I always trust. However, I really was not prepared for how much I would love it. The phrase “modern classic” is often bandied around – but this story genuinely has all the ingredients to deserve this accolade in my opinion. Reading it gave me the same sense of utter joy that I first felt when I discovered Five Children and It by E Nesbit as a child, one of the characters gave me Just William vibes and the intricately constructed comical wordplay had me laughing out loud in the same register as the Jeeves and Wooster stories by PG Wodehouse. With the deft touch of a writer who is utterly confident in her craft, Lissa Evans has created a story which is deeply moving, wildly imaginative, perfectly plotted and hilariously funny. I don’t expect to read a finer book this year.

There are five main characters in this story, brother and sister Ed and Roo (Lucy), Ed is about 10 and Roo about eight; a boy called Willard who has just moved into the neighborhood; an elderly neighbour Miss Filey, and the most gloriously imperious cat, Atlee. The plot is based on the fact that the birthday candles from Miss Filey’s abandoned 10th birthday party have lain in a drawer for fifty years until Roo lights one of them for Willard’s birthday cake…and their magical power to grant wishes is unleashed. Suddenly the most boring half-term holiday in the entire history of the universe becomes a thrilling journey through a book of fantastical adventures!

The interplay of the characters is absolutely brilliant and the character development over the course of a 250 page story is quite incredible. Ed is a wheelchair user and is clearly not comfortable with the sympathetic comments of strangers or the fact that he has become the face of a fundraising campaign to raise the money to make his family home more accessible. His character is depicted with great skill so that he actually appears as a real ten year old with a complexity of character traits rather than just a two-dimensional figure to raise an issue. He can be quite abrupt and sarcastic, and actually treats his little sister Roo quite selfishly at times. She clearly looks up to him and will do anything to protect and look after him, while he takes her devotion for granted. It takes their new neighbour Willard with his blunt outspokenness to point out to Ed that he should show some gratitude to Roo for everything that she does for him.

Willard is a self-labelled “class clown”. As the son of a vicar he has moved frequently and clearly uses humour to settle into new school environments. Initially, Ed resents this newcomer who might take his position as the boy who amuses the class but they develop a mutual respect and friendship as the story progresses. I really enjoyed Willard’s character; big-hearted, kind and always finding enjoyment in any situation.

Miss Filey is a spinster in her 60s, who has cared for her parents all her life, putting her own dreams on hold for many years. The children consider her to be terribly boring when they discover that she is going to be looking after them for half term, but as they find out about her background and begin to see the girl she once was, they form a wonderful bond with her. The tacit understanding and poignant conversation between Ed and Miss Filey towards the end of the story, where the roles of adult and child are touchingly reversed, is liable to have you reaching for a box of tissues.

Finally, a great deal of the comedy is generated by Atlee an extremely smelly cat of advanced years who exhibits the most acerbic sarcasm that I have encountered in a middle-grade novel. I marvelled at the way his character generated moments of utter hilarity, whilst delivering withering one-liners and simultaneously trying to conceal his genuine affection for Roo in particular. I am not and have never been a cat person, but Atlee is one of the greatest animal characters I have discovered in fiction.

I don’t want to describe any of the magical adventures for fear of ruining anyone’s enjoyment of the perfectly crafted plot. However, I will say that along with the perfectly crafted adventures, I loved the emphasis in the narrative of choosing your words carefully to ensure that there is no ambiguity in what you might say, or wish for. In a novel in which it appears that every single word has been selected with care, I thought this was wonderful.

I have chosen to review Wished for Empathy Day 2022 because this is one of those stories where you get a real insight into the characters’ motivations for the way they behave as the story unfolds, and you also witness the characters developing an understanding of each other, followed positive actions to improve each others’ lives. The utter joy of the book is that it is so astonishingly well written that you absorb these messages by some kind of magical literary osmosis whilst revelling in the outrageously funny story. There is an increasing amount of academic research into the positive benefits of reading fiction for developing our ability to experience empathy; this year’s theme is “Empathy is our Superpower”. Read Wished and you will certainly become an Empathy superhero! I think this would be an absolutely brilliant book to read aloud with children, whether you are a teacher, librarian or parent/carer, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

MG Review: Knight Sir Louis and the Sorcerer of Slime by The Brothers McLeod

Cover image by Greg McLeod, published by Guppy Books, June 2022

Saddle-up for a seriously silly story featuring slime-drones, invasive garden gnomes and a gelatinous monster with a desire for world domination! This third book in the Knight Sir Louis series is guaranteed to cause outbreaks of uncontrollable laughter in middle grade classrooms up and down the land, and don’t worry if you haven’t read the earlier books – there is a handy guide to the characters at the start, so this can absolutely be enjoyed as a standalone story.

And what a cast of characters! Knight Sir Louis is the hero and despite still being a boy he exhibits all the skill, bravery and intelligence of a king’s champion, which is the position we find him in at the start. With his trusty mechanical steed, Clunkalot, and his magical sword, Dave, he manages to fight off an invasion of garden gnomes before breakfast! Unfortunately, King Burt the Not Bad is also not too clever and is rather easily duped by the oleaginous stranger, Squire Lyme, who arrives at Sideways Castle and charms the king with obsequious flattery and a bag of green gummies! Squire Lyme is soon knighted to become Sir Lyme, manages to replace Louis as king’s favourite and sets a slimy and fiendish plot in motion. As Knight Sir Louis embarks on a quest to save the kingdom you’ll meet ogres, witches, a two headed dragon, a slime sorcerer’s apprentice and my favourites; a pair of most unusual librarians who inhabit a LIBRARY SHAPED LIKE A BRAIN! This story is an absolute riot of wacky characters, crazy situations and laugh out loud jokes.

The sibling partnership of Miles (writer) and Greg (illustrator) McLeod has created a hugely enjoyable book to entice a middle-grade readership. Their brand of non-stop action adventure packaged in a highly illustrated style, with very distinctive cartoon-style drawings ensures that their stories are accessible to readers who are not necessarily attracted by long text-heavy books. I think that is it wonderful for upper KS2 classrooms and school libraries to be able to offer this book in their collections, to encourage children to read for sheer joy. Knight Sir Louis is a character that everyone can get behind and root for, he embodies chivalry, never flinching from an unpleasant task and is brilliantly supported by loyal allies throughout. I love the illustrative device of always depicting him with his helmet on so that we never get to see what he looks like, thus every child can imagine themselves as the hero of this story. This is very appropriate as one theme that emerges from the sticky plot is that children are heroes, capable of solving problems and should be listened to rather than dismissed just because of their tender years.

I found so many appealing aspects in Knight Sir Louis and the Sorcerer of Slime that I will be donating my gifted review copy to a local Year 4 classroom where I am sure that it is going to provide many hours of reading enjoyment.

I am most grateful to Liz Scott and Guppy Books for sending me this copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest by Vashti Hardy, illustrated by George Ermos

Banner design by Mary Rees, Cover image by George Ermos, published by Scholastic 2021

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read. When I have time, I love to use this meme to review books which somehow slipped down my TBR stack when they were first published, or perhaps are books that I shared with my (now adult) children before I began blogging. 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: Vashti Hardy

Illustrator: George Ermos

Publisher: Scholastic

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

Me and my grandpa Eden like to experiment

page 11

This book in three words:

Imaginative – Scientific – Mystery

I remember this first Harley Hitch adventure arriving last year to a fanfare of outstanding reviews from bloggers whose opinions I always value, and being quite frustrated that I was at a particularly time consuming phase of my librarian qualification and simply did not have time to read for pleasure. Noticing that it is on the reading list for this summer’s Gadgeteers reading challenge, I remedied this oversight today and discovered that those reviews were spot on. Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest is an outstanding work of science-based fiction, written by an author who has an assured sense of how to captivate a middle grade readership, entertaining them whilst also delivering sound scientific principles along the way. Vashti Hardy’s story is perfectly complemented by the stunning grayscale artwork of George Ermos, who captures her brilliantly imagined world in precise detail. The Botanical Guide illustrations on the endpapers are a thing of beauty.

Just in case there is anyone who has not read this story yet, I am not going to describe the plot in too much detail for fear of spoiling your enjoyment. The quote that I used above foreshadows the plot brilliantly…this is a narrative based on scientific experimentation and discovery, teaching prospective young scientists the values of research and resilience without the slightest hint of dogmatism. It is populated by a core of great characters. Harley Hitch is a smart, kind, somewhat impulsive and accident prone girl who wants nothing more than to win the Pupil of the Term award at Cogworks, the technical school she attends in Forgetown. She lives with Grandpa Eden and Grandpa Elliot, who are kindly and supportive in encouraging her to do the right thing, admit mistakes and never give up. Harley strikes up an unexpected friendship with new boy Cosmo after her former friend, turned mean girl, Fenelda ensures that they both get into trouble on the first day of the new school term.

On discovering an unusual and invasive new fungus in the Iron Forest whilst carrying out a detention task, Harley persuades Cosmo to help her with an experimental biocontrol. Against his better judgement, he goes along with Harley’s un-researched plan…with ecologically disastrous effects. The story contained many elements that kept me utterly hooked; from the unusual fauna and flora of the Iron Forest, to a rebel robot uprising and even a terrifying specimen of my least favourite animal species! This is a story which I would have loved myself at 8/9 years of age and which I highly recommend to all readers of 8-11. The story rattles along at a great pace, chapters are short and the frequent illustrations give plenty of pausing space for readers who are in need of the occasional break in text. If you are encouraging a KS2 child to join in with the summer reading challenge this year, do encourage them to read Harley Hitch and the Iron Forest.

#MGReview: Seed by Caryl Lewis, illustrated by George Ermos

Cover illustration by George Ermos, published by Macmillan Children’s Books 12th May 2022

When you read as many Middle Grade stories as I do, you learn that one of the aspects that makes them so special is the element of hope that runs through stories for this age group. This new publication from Macmillan Children’s Books contains bucketloads of hope. It also contains bucketloads of less savoury but quite hilarious ingredients, but I’ll leave you to discover those for yourself!

This is a fantastically big-hearted and empathetic story of two children faced with different challenges in life, who through their stores of inner resolve, combined with support from significant adults and a little natural magic, go on a crazy adventure which catalyses genuine changes in their lives. I loved every twist and turn of the narrative. Caryl Lewis has created three-dimensional characters who engage your interest from the moment you meet them. Her writing style creates a perfect balance between quirky humour and compassionate insight into the difficulties faced by those who are “othered” in society, wrapped into a hugely enjoyable modern-day fairytale. The black and white illustrations by George Ermos add to the enchantment of the story, the drawing of Grandad’s allotment shed made me smile every time I greeted a new chapter.

I can’t bear the thought of ruining anyone’s enjoyment of this story, so I am going to avoid describing the plot in any detail. Suffice to say that in true fairytale style, we are presented with characters who initially have to deal with what look to be insurmountable hurdles; Marty who lives in poverty as a young carer for a mother with mental health issues and Gracie who copes impressively well with her cochlear implant but is more challenged by divorced parents who seem to have very little time to devote to her non-material needs. Throw into the mix an irrepressible Grandad, a sympathetic teacher, school bullies and the most marvellous allotment community, and a tale emerges like a seed of hope which infects an entire town.

Seed is one of my favourite books of the year so far. A fantastic fable of self-belief, inner strength and the realisation that small seeds of encouragement can blossom into full-blown hope for the future. This would make an excellent class read for children of 9+ and will be a necessary addition to all upper KS2 classroom and school libraries as well as a fabulous half-term or summer holiday treat for readers of 9-12.

I am most grateful to Antonia Wilkinson PR and Macmillan Children’s Books for sending me a review copy of Seed in exchange for my honest opinion.

#MG Review: The Billow Maiden by James Dixon

Postcard shows cover artwork by Tamsin Rosewell, due to be published in July 2022 by Guppy Books

 The Billow Maiden is the debut MG novel from James Dixon, due to be published by Guppy books in July 2022. It is a beautifully and sensitively crafted tale, exploring the plight of a tween whose mother suffers serious ill-health, related against a backdrop of Norse legend and sea-faring island life. The story takes place on a remote Scottish island which is not named in the book, however, the sense of place is rendered so perfectly by the author that I found the images redolent of my own visits to Orkney. 

At the centre of the story is Ailsa, who we discover has grown up with a mother who suffers from a recurring illness. Her support network are her Uncle Nod, his wife Bertha and their dog Moxie. In the opening chapter, Uncle Nod responds to Ailsa’s anguished telephone call by driving to collect the pair from their city home and taking them to stay at the cottage he shares with Aunt Bertha on a windswept Scottish island. The reader is uncertain for most of the book about the nature of the mother’s illness, but the unquestioning support, love and care that both Ailsa and her mother receive is movingly portrayed. Uncle Nod and Aunt Bertha are people of few words, but they never stop trying to help Nod’s sister recover her spirits, whilst simultaneously trying to shield Ailsa from their fears for her mother’s health. They never once complain about the extra burden placed on them but demonstrate tender, open-hearted, family love.

Wishing to escape her feelings of helplessness about her mother’s condition, Ailsa spends much of her time tramping across the island, exploring the cliffs and beaches, always accompanied by her faithful companion Moxie. It is Moxie who leads her into a hidden cave pulsating with sadness, cut into the cliff face in which she discovers the billow maiden of the title. The descriptions of her early encounters with Hefring will send a ripple of fear down your spine and there is great poignancy in her yearning to help this forgotten individual. Along with a new found friend, Camilla, who happens to be the daughter of the island’s most feared and unpopular inhabitant, Ailsa embarks on a quest to save one broken individual and in doing so, gains an understanding of the plight of her mother.

The story transmits a powerful sense of the hopelessness and despair that some people experience, alongside a reverence for the life force of the natural world and the healing power and sense of purpose that can be found in nature. The juxtaposition of mental well-being set against Norse legend makes for a moving narrative which engenders a real feeling of empathy for people who lose agency over their actions. An extraordinary story about caring, family bonds and healing, which I would highly recommend to Year 6 and Key Stage 3 readers, classrooms and school libraries. 

I am most grateful to Guppy Books and Liz Scott for supplying me with a proof copy in return for my honest opinion.

#MGReview: The Lost Girl King by Catherine Doyle

To be published in September 2022 by Bloomsbury

If you like your stories steeped in mythology, infused with a unique sense of place and written in the language which transports you to another realm, then add The Lost Girl King to your summer shopping list! The latest standalone MG novel from Catherine Doyle is due for publication in July 2022 and if you want a summer holiday to remember, then join Amy and Liam for the trip of a lifetime.

Catherine Doyle’s love for the Atlantic Coast of Ireland is apparent from the opening page, as sassy Amy and her older, bookish brother Liam arrive at Gran’s yellow house, situated where Connemara runs into the Atlantic. With very little preamble, the reader is plunged into adventure from the moment that the two children follow a unique white hawk through a backwards flowing waterfall. As in her previous four MG stories, the author writes with a delicate lyricism that lifts the reader and places them in a familiar setting infused with fantasy, so vividly imagined that you can feel the wind on your face, the icy water stinging your skin and sense the gaze of spying eyes as the protagonists enter a new realm. They have passed through the veil between worlds and have stepped into to the legendary “land of the young”,  Tir na nÓg!

They enter a glen where the height of the trees outstrips anything they have experienced before. But when adventurous Amy climbs high enough to break through the canopy, she sees a terrifying sight; the sun is tethered to the landscape by a creaking, straining chain. As she begins her descent, the forest glade fills with hideous-smelling, headless horsemen who make off with Liam before she can get to the ground to defend him. Amy begins to realise the rotting, desolate state that has befallen Tir na nÓg, and as she embarks on her quest to rescue her brother, in the company of the Fianna warriors, she slowly discovers the story of Tarlock, the evil mage who has cursed the kingdom.

The tale unfolds with Irish mythology running through the adventure, revealing a strata of ancient gods, legendary weapons, mythical creatures, rivalries and magical powers turned to the preservation of an evil power. From the moment of Liam’s capture the story takes on the dual perspectives of the siblings, each showing their own brand of courage. Amy is a feisty, impetuous heroine, completely unafraid to speak up for herself and follow her heart as she strives to rescue her brother. She quickly forms strong alliances with other young characters, Jonah and Torrin, and gains the respect of battle-scarred older characters with her straight talking, common sense and powers of persuasion. Liam exhibits a steely resolve, despite being terrified and displays kindness and chivalrous bravery on encountering the lost girl king. They both embody the words of Niall, one of the Fianna warriors who says:

Courage is rooted in the soul, no matter what you look like on the outside. 

p189

This story is written with such verve and feeling that I was compelled to read it in an afternoon. First and foremost it is a perfectly crafted quest, with characters that demand your attention and admiration and a plot that keeps you enthralled throughout. The juxtaposition of myth and modern tweens in a battle for supremacy over a mystical land, lends an air of modern fable to this story of children’s wisdom and courage rescuing a world from exploitation and decay. We can only hope that there are sufficient young people with the same clear-eyed sense of the beauty of our world to stand up and make the adults see sense. As Torrin tells her father,

We can’t change the past Dad, but we can change the future.

p231

I think that Catherine Doyle is one of the finest writers of the current generation and I absolutely recommend The Lost Girl King to anyone of 10+ when it is published in September 2022.

I am most grateful to Bloomsbury and NetGalley for allowing me access to an e-ARC in advance of publication.

If you haven’t already done so, do get hold of Catherine Doyle’s Storm Keeper trilogy whilst you await publication of this book. You can read my reviews of the latter two here: The Storm Keeper’s Island, The Lost Tide Warriors and The Storm Keepers’ Battle.

BlogTourReview: A Head Full of Magic by Sarah Morrell

Published by Hashtag Press April 2022, cover art by Helen Braid

Ten-year-old Fleur Marie Bottom is dealing with a lot of problematic issues as she approaches the final weeks of primary school. Her Dad mysteriously left home following the death of Grandpa Willie and hasn’t been heard from since; Nan has moved into the attic accompanied by her African Grey parrot, Sir Barclay; and mum is intent on trying out West Indian recipes to make Nan feel at home – with disastrous effects! The arrival of a new girl named Celeste in her class has only compounded Fleur’s problems. Her long-standing best friends, Anais and Ruby, have declared that they now find chess and books and hanging out in the library “boring” and have gravitated into Celeste’s sphere of after-school pizza and play dates. She has inexplicably been attacked by a swarm of birds in the local park and her ankles are the constant targets of Celeste’s underhand tactics on the hockey pitch.

As her emotions ricochet between despair, sadness and worry, Fleur discovers that she has been “blessed with a head full of magic”, as her powers are awoken by the changes taking place in her life. Navigating the bullying at school and concern for the increasing frailty of Nan becomes a lot more complicated when fledgling magical talents as a “Hexter” become part of the mix. Fortunately, when she finally plucks up the courage to talk honestly to Nan, guidance is forthcoming. Deploying her “animalator” talent for talking to animals, to outsmart Celeste during the hockey tournament gives rise to scenes which resemble a humorous hybrid of Dr Dolittle and Malory Towers!

This debut Middle Grade novel from Sarah Morrell is a fun and satisfying story of a caring multi-generational and multi-cultural family bound together with love and secrets. The underlying message of embracing difference, being proud of who you are and realising that sharing worries is the strong and brave course of action emerges gently from the narrative. I think that this story will be very popular amongst children in years 5 and 6 who will find parallels with the characters and predicaments, and might yearn for their own Sir Barclay-style ally!

I am most grateful to Helen Lewis at Literally PR and Hashtag Press for sending me a copy of A Head Full of Magic to review and for inviting me aboard the blog tour.

Do check out the other stops by these fantastic reviewers on the blog tour!

#MG Review: The Good Turn by Sharna Jackson

Cover art by Paul Kellam, published by Puffin Books, May 2022

A thrilling contemporary mystery wrapped around a real-life legal injustice, The Good Turn by Sharna Jackson is a fantastic new MG novel, as powerful as it is gripping.

We are introduced to the three main protagonists as they decide to form a club based on the principles of doing good deeds to earn badges, having been inspired by the example of Josephine Holloway. This club is known as The Copseys, because Josephine, Wesley and Margot all live in Copsey Close, a cul-de-sac close to an abandoned car factory, known locally as the Chicane and its adjoining wasteland, the Outback. Author, Sharna Jackson, is a brilliant creator of characters, building a picture of three authentic Year 6 children as she captures their personalities through pinpoint facsimile of suburban tween dialogue. Josephine is the ideas person, and from the first page we know that she is a girl who wants to get things done:

Do you know what I dislike most in the world? The wasting of time. Mine specifically.

Chapter 1

Margot has recently moved to Copsey Close following her parents’ divorce and Wesley has been Josephine’s neighbour and friend for as long as they can remember. At first there is a palpable tension between affluent Margot, who is constantly capturing conversations and scenarios in her notebook, ready for use when she becomes a writer, and Wesley who bears the weight of being the male support to his mother and three younger siblings. Wesley thinks that Margot is a spy and that she looks down on him, saying to Josephine:

She’s a snob and she thinks I’m budget.

However, as the plot unfolds, each child faces up to their own fears and insecurities, forging stronger bonds with each other and significant adults as they learn that doing the right thing means so much more than earning another badge. And what a plot! The reader is driven through the story by whip-smart dialogue, snappy sentences and short chapters, each named after a Copsey badge.

When Josephine observes lights on the top floor of the derelict factory late one night, she is determined that The Copseys should earn their investigating and camping badges by spending the night in the Outback and tracking down the source of the lights. She will have to lie to her loving parents, a task which does not come naturally despite her resentment about the imminent arrival of a young sibling. Margot has no difficulties in sneaking out at night as her lawyer father appears to be too committed to his high flying career to spend much time at home with her. Wesley is reluctant on two fronts, he suspects that the factory might be haunted and he is embarrassed about his lack of upmarket camping equipment. After being persuaded to join the expedition, he discovers more than he bargained for and connects with his inner confidence, as the owners of the lights are revealed.

I really don’t want to reveal any more plot details as this is such a unique story that I do not wish to ruin anyone’s enjoyment of it. I genuinely could not have predicted the direction in which the plot was going to turn, and the incorporation of a serious social and racial injustice into the story arc is handled expertly and organically without ever becoming didactic. I utterly applaud Sharna Jackson for engaging readers, young and old, with a compelling and captivating narrative which delivers such a powerful message, prompting us all to look beyond our privilege and ally ourselves with those who need a voice. At the end of the book there is a short summary of the real-life background to the story, which will no doubt prove helpful to classroom discussions of the novel.

I have no hesitation in recommending The Good Turn to readers of 11+ and I think it will be an essential addition to primary and secondary school libraries.

I am most grateful to Puffin Books and NetGalley for allowing me access to an e-ARC of The Good Turn in exchange for an honest review.