#MGTakesOnThursday: Diagnosis Danger by Roopa Farooki

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

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.
Cover art by Mike Lowery, published by Oxford University Press

Author: Roopa Farooki

Illustrator: Mike Lowery

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

‘ Where’s all your stuff?’ asked Jay, noticing that the girls didn’t have the regulation burst-to-the-seams plastic bags.

This book in three words: Twins – Trouble – Deception

The double detectives are back and ready to take you on a second heart-stopping, life-or-death medical mystery!

Diagnosis Danger begins two weeks after the end of Tulip and Ali’s first mystery,  The Cure for a Crime; you could read this book as a standalone but I would recommend that you read the books in order to fully appreciate the story.

When Ali and Tulip are around adventure is sure to follow and this book plunges you straight into the drama from the moment you open the cover. At first it is just Ali losing her cool as the girls walk home from school with neighbouring twins Jay and Zac. She has been looking forward to her first ever overseas holiday during half-term, but their hard-working, brain surgeon mother phones to cancel the trip at the last minute due to work pressures. The quote from page 11 illustrates the contrast in the family lives of both sets of twins: Jay and Zac are fed home-cooked, vegetarian, gluten-free meals by parents who treasure every cardboard creation, whilst Tulip and Ali live on fast food and don’t bother bringing art projects home because their mum is constantly working or exhausted.  As Ali stamps and shouts her displeasure and Tulip, aided by Zac and Jay, tries to calm her, rescue in the shape of their friend Momo’s minicab arrives on the scene.

However, before you can utter the words popliteal artery, Momo is stabbed by a heavily disguised passenger as she exits his cab. Ali and Tulip jump into action with the medical knowledge they have assimilated and stop the bleeding from his leg, accompanying Momo to Accident and Emergency at their mum’s hospital. After some funny banter between their mum and a vascular surgeon (electricians versus plumbers) they are eventually collected by their wonderful Nan-Nan, my favourite character in this series, a former secret service operative who has lost both of her legs at some point in her colourful career. Nan-Nan is now a member of an undercover operation known as SWAT (Senior Water Aerobics Team) and clearly has suspicions about who the disguised assailant might be. She declares her intention to take the girls away for half-term …although the destination is rather less glamorous than her grand-daughters hoped for.

Rounding up their feral cat Witch, they head to Catty’s Cattery, supposedly a luxury hotel for feline guests which turns out to be a rundown, dilapidated holiday camp, full of extremely ill pensioners who are fed on out-of-date junk food. Nan-Nan has recruited her smart, wisecracking pair of juvenile detectives to join her on an undercover investigation into the mysterious cash injections being received by the deeply unpleasant owner of this establishment.

This story rattles along at a frantic pace with the fast-talking  twins, their irrepressible grandmother  and loyal friends sifting through the clues to unearth the sinister criminal activities at Catty’s Cattery. Along the way, author Roopa Farooki ( a real-life doctor)  cleverly highlights the plight of many elderly people who cannot afford the costs of care in their old age and may be open to abuse and neglect.  I also admire this book for presenting a positive portrayal of a wheelchair user; Nan-Nan’s can-do attitude is laced with humour and bravery. Tulip and Ali are dynamic and inspiring tween characters and the Mini-Medix Blog appendix to the story provides unique scientific and medical content. If you are looking for an entertaining and educational MG Mystery for children of 10+ who love science then make an appointment with a Double Detectives Medical Mystery!

I am most grateful to Oxford University Press for providing my review copy of this book. 

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Closest Thing To Flying written by Gill Lewis

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

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.

One of the many reasons that I love this meme created by Mary Rees is that it presents the opportunity to revisit great books published in previous years, which can so easily be overlooked as blogs generally focus on new releases. This week I am looking at a book first published in 2019, which presents a perfect combination of historical fiction and present day refugee story, The Closest Thing to Flying.

Cover image by Paola Escobar, published by OUP Children’s Books

Author: Gill Lewis

Illustrator: Paola Escobar

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“ The ink had bled into the cloth, but Semira could read the words, The Feather Diaries.”

This book in three words: Courage – Kindness – Empowerment

This beautifully written novel combines the story of Henrietta the twelve-year-old daughter of a wealthy feather merchant in Victorian London with the modern day experience of Semira, a twelve year-old refugee from Eritrea as she tries to find a better life for herself and her mother in London. Such is the skill of Gill Lewis, that she has crafted a powerful and deeply moving story which has remained with me long after first reading it.

The tale opens with Semira impulsively buying an old-fashioned hat, along with its accompanying hatbox, from a London street market when the bird ornamenting the hat elicits a deep-seated memory. Closer inspection of her purchase back “home” in the single room she shares with her mother in a house run by Robel, a people-trafficker, reveals the bird to be a real stuffed specimen and the discovery of the diary written by Henrietta Waterman in the 1890s, referred to in the quote from page 11 above.

Hen’s diary unfurls a story of escape from the confines of Victorian society’s expectations of female behaviour as Hen is taken under the wing of her rebellious Aunt Katherine (Kitty) and becomes involved in the women’s suffrage movement and the foundation of the RSPB. Her realisation of the horrors inflicted by her father as he exploits wildlife for profit reveal the provenance of the Abyssinian lovebird on the hat, and her courage in breaking with etiquette in order to ride a bicycle both help to embolden Semira.

Meanwhile, Semira has to face another new school and the continued agony of seeing her noble mother isolated and controlled by Robel. This aspect of the story is written very sensitively so that children of 10+ can understand what it must feel like to go without food, not be allowed access to the internet and have your life completely controlled by someone, without the details ever becoming too overwhelming for this age group. Older readers will be able to infer much more, such is the perfection of the writing.

The school setting provides some lovely additional characters. Holly and Chloe, on the surface the sort of “cool” girls that Semira would usually avoid, are the two buddies who show her the ropes and develop into kind friends, and Patrick who is bullied for being different and is a fellow lunchtime “library refugee”. As the friendship with Patrick develops and the recognition that he and his mother had to flee from the imprisonment of domestic abuse (again handled very sensitively), an escape route beckons for Semira and her mother.

I love the structure of the story with chapters alternating between Semira’s struggles in modern day London and extracts from Henrietta’s diary, which emboldens Semira to take action against her predicament. Throughout, the motif of the caged bird, plucked from its homeland and exploited by greedy capitalists is used to great effect, as is cycling as a metaphor for flying free from the shackles in which some people are trapped.

I think this is one of the finest examples of a story which is both an incredibly satisfying and enjoyable read as well as providing so many lessons in empathy without ever seeming sanctimonious. It places you in the shoes of others for a short time and helps you understand the hardships they suffer and also demonstrates how the recognition of the suffering of others followed by kindness and mentoring, can make such a huge difference to individual lives. This is certainly a book which should be available in every school or upper KS2 classroom library.

Advent Review: A Thing Called Snow written and illustrated by Yuval Zommer

Cover image by Yuval Zommer, published by OUP Children’s Books

This spellbinding book is absolutely perfect for sharing with young children at this time of year and will give hours of pleasure to both children and adults as they experience the joy of first snowfall through the characters of arctic fox and hare.

These two animals have developed a friendship since their birth in the spring and now as they face their first winter in a frozen landscape they are intrigued by the idea of snow. As they walk through their forest habitat they question the animals they meet, slowly building up a vocabulary to describe snow. Their joy when they finally experience the white, cold, fluffy, sparkly miracle absolutely leaps off the page and reflects that of all children of my acquaintance.

Yuval Zommer’s love of the natural world is present in every one of his books. In this one I love the way that the colour palette changes to reflect the atmospheric conditions, starting with warm oranges and browns which are gradually replaced by cold blues, greys and white. Children will learn so much from observing the details of the plants and animals depicted in the amazing artwork contained within this book. It again demonstrates the immense value in beautifully crafted picture books which can be read or looked at for pure pleasure and which educate by stealth.

An absolute delight, I recommend it to everyone – teachers, librarians and families.

I am most grateful to OUP Children’s Books for sending me a review copy. I have already purchased a second copy to gift to a young relative.

If you love A Thing Called Snow, then I highly recommend The Tree That’s Meant To Be by Yuval Zommer which has been published in paperback this autumn.

Advent Review: Ballet Bunnies written by Swapna Reddy, illustrated by Binny Talib

I was fortunate to be sent an ARC of the first book in the Ballet Bunnies series earlier in the year and absolutely adored the story of young ballerina Millie nervously joining her new ballet class and befriending the four little rabbits who live in Miss Luisa’s School of Dance. You can read my review of Ballet Bunnies: The New Class here.

Cover art by Binny Talib, published by OUP Children’s Books

Now there are three books available, all beautifully produced in full-colour and enhanced with glittery covers, the perfect collection for any young dancer’s bookshelf. These are wonderful early chapter books to inspire confidence and enjoyment of reading in children who are taking the first steps in their independent reading journey.

Ballet Bunnies: Let’s Dance

Cover art by Binny Talib, published by OUP Children’s Books

In a scenario that will be familiar to every child (and parent) who attends dance lessons, the pupils of Miss Luisa’s School of Dance are in a state of high excitement as the day of their Gala Performance approaches. Millie’s tummy is fluttering with butterflies despite the fact that she has rehearsed until she knows every move of her dance by heart. Fortunately, the ballet bunnies are there to offer calming advice and when mean girl Amber tries to sabotage Millie’s performance, little Dolly is the hero who saves the day!

Ballet Bunnies: Millie’s Birthday

Cover art by Binny Talib, published by OUP Children’s Books

Summer term has come to an end at Miss Luisa’s School of Dance. As she helps to tidy the ballet studio Millie tells the four tiny, dancing bunnies about her impending birthday party. Sensing her apprehension about the visit of so many friends to her house, the bunnies offer to come and stay with her to help with her anxiety about the event.

This is another lovely story which encapsulates the nervousness that afflicts some shy children over an event that they are expected to be excited about. The friendship shown by the bunnies and their sensible strategies to help Millie stay calm when the party seems to be overwhelming her will reassure and delight young readers.

I am most grateful to OUP Children’s books for sending me review copies of these books which will be shared with young dancers through the school library. I think they would make a lovely Christmas gift for any young children aged 4-7.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Armoured Goretusk by Kris Humphrey

Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started and hosted by @marysimms72 on her brilliant Book Craic blog which I urge you to read.

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: Kris Humphrey

Illustrator: Pete Williamson

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: 

“Then, there came a knock at the door “

This book in three words: Monsters – Mystery – Ingenuity

This week I thought I would focus on a book aimed at the younger end of the MG readership, the first in a new series published by Oxford University Press: Leo’s Map of Monsters. In this first episode The Armoured Goretusk we are introduced to Leo on the morning of his ninth birthday. Like all the children of his Medieval-looking village he will be given an envelope with his Assignment for the next two years, and fully expects to join his friend Jacob at the Records Office.

However, he is surprised to find a page labelled Top Secret inside the envelope and even more astonished by the visit of the village chief, Gilda, to the small house he shares with his mother and sister. Gilda leads him through a secret passage to the Guardian’s Hut, where he learns that the Wall surrounding his village is not to protect villagers from wolves and bears… but monsters!

The Guardian, Henrick,  is nursing a badly injured leg and therefore sends Leo out into the forest armed with a slingshot, a bag of stones and an enchanted map. Assisted by a small flying Leatherwing named Starla and relying on his own ingenuity, Leo must track the Armoured Goretusk and return it to its herd in the marshland of the Festian Swamps before it attacks the village Wall. 

Kris Humphrey has created an utterly believable world and a relatable main protagonist in Leo, who requires trial and error to get things right which is a great piece of modelling for children who are learning to be resilient. I also liked the way that the story raises questions about what might be going on beneath the narrative. The beautifully expressive illustrations by Pete Williamson add another layer of meaning and I certainly have questions about the shifty look in Henrick’s eyes as he obscures Leo’s view of the collection of Hawkupine quills in his hut! There is a map at the start of the book (always a plus for me) where readers can track Leo’s adventure as it unfolds. Additionally, the illustrations give the impression that they have been drawn in charcoal which ties in neatly with Leo’s birthday present.

 I think that this book will be very appealing to the legions of Beast Quest fans. It has an ideally-sized font for newly confident readers and at 141 pages is the perfect length for those readers that I have seen a blogger I greatly respect refer to as “dormant” – this could be a book to spark the fire of reading for pleasure. Top Trumps-style fact files at the end will, I think, appeal to readers who tend to opt for non-fiction over fiction. There is also a sneak peek at the beginning of the next book in the series, The Spit Fang Lizard which will be eagerly anticipated by those who enjoy this story.

I am most grateful to Oxford University Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

#MGTakesOnThursday: The Children of Swallow Fell by Julia Green

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 Helen Crawford-White, published by Oxford University Press

Author: Julia Green

Illustrator: Helen Crawford-White

Publisher: Oxford University Press

Favourite sentence from Page 11: The narrator of the story, Isabella rushes to the phone early in the morning, hoping that there is news from her Mamma who has not returned home since the previous day’s bombings…

” There’s a hissing sound, then silence, then her voice again, fainter”

This book in three words: Breakdown – Rebuilding – Hope

This is one of those perfectly composed books that swept me along in its enthralling narrative until I actually had to force myself to put it down and let the story percolate a little before continuing.

Narrated by Isabella in a breathless, present-tense stream of consciousness mixed with dialogue, the story immediately plunges you into a world turned on its head. From bidding “Ciao” to her best friend Marta at the school gates on page one, isabella’s leisurely journey home turns to nightmare as explosions rip through her un-named Italian city by page three. Short sentences punctuated with frantic text messages immerse the reader into the panicked crowd as it surges across narrow bridges under a sky darkening with smoke and Isabella rushes home to her anxious, artist father. The tension mounts as they await messages from older sister Gabriella, away at university in another city and mum, stuck at work in the danger zone. News and internet blackouts add to the feeling of helplessness and it becomes clear to the reader that political forces are at play of which Isabella in her schoolgirl innocence, has not been aware.

A hurried phone call from Mum, who it appears is the dynamic force of the family, orders Dad and Isabella to flee to Dad’s old family home in the north of England, where she and Gabriella will join them when they can. Their subsequent train journey had resonances of one of my favourite chapters in all children’s fiction – the escape from Berlin of Anna and her mother and brother in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. However, in this book, the roles are reversed and Isabella must take charge of the situation as her Dad sinks deeper into confusion, depression and helplessness. 

When they eventually arrive in the empty, musty house, situated in an abandoned village in a remote northern corner of a near-future England broken by political and economic catastrophe (read into this what you will) all hope seems lost. While Dad remains shut in his bedroom, trying to draw, it is Isabella who must explore her new surroundings and try to start rebuilding their lives. When he eventually rouses himself to seek fresh supplies leaving Isabella alone, she has to rely on a pair of wild children to ensure her survival. As she adjusts to a new reality without electricity, shops and running water, Isabella’s longing for her entire family to return as the swallows do, to their ancestral home, is palpable.

I won’t go into any more details about the plot as I strongly urge you to read this book yourself and enjoy Julia Green’s supremely skilled revelation of the story. I love the spareness of her writing, with the space she allows for her readers to interpret the meaning of hints and suggestions in the text. I can see this book becoming a future classic, a vivid imagining of the results of selfish governance and the hope for a better, simpler future driven by the idealism and energy of the younger generation. I wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone of 10+.

I am most grateful to Oxford University Press for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Recently Published Delicious Treats for Young Readers

I don’t know if it is just a coincidence, but since lockdown happened in March I have received a number of books to review which feature baking as a main theme, an activity which many children have had the opportunity to practise during the months at home. I thought I would round up these tasty titles here.

Freddie’s Amazing Bakery: Dancing With Doughnuts, written by Harriet Whitehorn, illustrated by Alex G Griffiths

Cover image by Alex G Griffiths, published by OUP Children’s Books

I especially love this short chapter book for its portrayal of the title character Freddie Bonbon as not just a star baker but also the kindest and most thoughtful individual you could hope to meet. When we first encounter Freddie he is removing one last batch of cinnamon buns from the oven before shutting up his bakery for the day. The buns are to be a gift for the folk of Belville who are auditioning for the town’s final Summer Talent Show before local impresarios Max and Margie Motion retire. Freddie, who suffers terrible stage-fright himself, is going along to support his many friends, especially his ballroom-dancing bakery manager Amira.

A humorous, warm and accident-strewn plot ensues in a book ideally suited to newly confident readers to read alone. The text is in an easily readable font size, broken up by hilariously expressive illustrations drawn by Alex G Griffiths featuring a multi-ethnic cast of characters, as well as interesting typography effects. With cakes, dancing and a deliciously scheming villain in the character of rival baker Bernard this is a book which will be equally enjoyed by boys and girls of age 6+.

The Fabulous Cakes of Zinnia Jakes, written by Brenda Gurr, illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff

Cover image by Nancy Leschnikoff, published by New Frontier Publishing

Zinnia Jakes is an undercover baker! Her cakes are famous in her hometown for their fabulous intricacy, but nobody knows that they are baked by a nine-year-old girl based in a secret kitchen in her Auntie Jam’s house. This delightful story mixes magic, mystery and baking in a recipe that will delight young readers of 6+. You can read a more detailed review from an earlier blog post here.

Sage Cookson’s Great Escape and Sage Cookson’s Snow Day, written by Sally Murphy and illustrated by Celeste Hulme

Cover image by Celeste Hulme, published by New Frontier Publishing
Cover image by Celeste Hulme, published by New Frontier Publishing

Sage Cookson is the daughter of two famous TV cooks and food experts. She is used to a lifestyle that blends school with jetting off to accompany them on broadcasting assignments, which lead to exciting adventures.

These books contain a tempting mix of food-related content with perfectly presented peril and excitement, enticingly packaged for a readership of 6/7+. You can read an earlier blog post with a more detailed review here.

Polly Profiterole’s Little Town written by Maggie May Gordon and illustrated by Margarita Levina

Cover image by Margarita Levina, published by New Frontier Publishing

The youngest children are also catered for in this banquet of baking-based books by this quirky tale of extreme baker Polly Profiterole who decides to cook up the buildings required to breathe life into her sleepy little town! An absolute feast for the youngest imaginations, you can read my more detailed review in a former post here.

Review: Victoria Stitch Bad and Glittering by Harriet Muncaster

Cover illustration by Harriet Muncaster, published by OUP Children’s Books

Meet sparklingly wicked Victoria Stitch!

I predict that I will need more than one copy of this book when it is published in September; it is glorious in all respects and I’m sure will be in great demand. Harriet Muncaster’s brand of sumptuous illustration combined with brilliant storytelling is familiar to children who have enjoyed Isadora Moon as they became independent readers, and now as MG readers there is a darker, gothic story to enjoy!

Once you finish gazing adoringly at the cover art with its deep purple palette you fall into the realm of Wiskling Wood, home of the Wisklings; beautiful insect-sized creatures who hatch from gemstones in the Crystal Cave, possess antenna, dress with unique style and appear to display all the foibles of human behaviour! Only wisklings hatched from diamonds can ascend to the throne and this should have been Victoria’s and her twin-sister Celestine’s destiny. However, their diamond contained a flaw or “stitch” resulting in Lord Astrophel denying them the opportunity of growing up in Queen Cassiopeia’s palace. They have had to grow up together with only a series of state-appointed nannies to supervise them rather than being brought up in a loving family home.

This has built a supreme level of righteous indignation in Victoria Stitch, which she does not hesitate to display in outwardly hostile behaviour. Dressing like a princess, but all in black she insists on never leaving the tree house without her crown and petitions Lord Astrophel to be reinstated at the palace. Meanwhile Celestine accepts her destiny as a non-royal although she deeply regrets having been deprived of a loving family. She makes the most of what she has, gaining close friends and working towards her ambition of becoming a jeweller’s apprentice.

When Victoria flies off to the distant boundaries of “her kingdom” one day and meets the mysterious Ursuline she thinks that she has found a sympathetic friend; suddenly gaining access to the forbidden magic in the Book of Wiskling seems to provide the solution to her ambition and the plot takes off on a path which threatens to consume the last vestiges of sibling love. The dangers of accepting someone at face-value because they flatter you, without questioning their motives become very apparent!

I loved the complex world-building in this story; the wisklings’ homes in tree trunks; travelling on flying blooms and the society structured almost like a beehive were utterly compelling. The tension ratchets up with betrayals, suspicion and mystery which will have young readers gripped. Victoria Stitch is a fantastic new character and the reader is absolutely able to understand the motives for her demanding, diva-ish behaviour whilst recognising that her methods of achieving her dreams are less than ideal. Her twin appears to be in total contrast, the light to her dark, but as the story progresses you are given a glimpse into Celestine’s own inner turmoil. 

This is a delightful exploration of the bonds of love and loyalty, the importance of nurturing and fairness all wrapped up in a fast-paced MG mystery. The text is punctuated throughout with  beautifully intricate illustrations from multi-talented Harriet Muncaster which make the book an object of beauty and a joy to read for children of 9+ .

I am most grateful to OUP Children’s Books for sending me a proof copy of this book in return for an honest review.

#20BooksofSummer Book 2: Super Stan by Elaine Wickson, illustrated by Chris Judge

This is the second of my #10BooksofSummer reviews, as I am attempting the cut-down version of #20BooksofSummer hosted by Cathy at 746books.com.

What do you get if you mix a five-year-old eco-warrior, a space-obsessed ten-year-old, a school full of kids dressed as sea creatures and enough fart jokes to make their own contribution to global warming? Yes, it can only be the latest utterly hilarious outing for Stan and Fred Fox. In their third book they are on a mission to save the world, one crisp packet at a time. I absolutely adore the series of Stan books. Author Elaine Wickson has conjured a dazzling concoction of brilliantly comic tales, which feature wonderfully original data representation, illustrated by Chris Judge. This time she has blended an important ecological theme into the story, presented in such a way that it is guaranteed to encourage primary school children to continue their own contribution to showing adults the error of their ways.

Stan wants nothing more than to read his space magazines in the peaceful surroundings of his room and prepare himself for the approaching full solar eclipse. Unfortunately his is side-tracked by permanently-sticky, little brother Fred, who has had his imagination captured by Dr Alice Fielding (or as he calls her, Dr Feddup). Her Plastic Planet TV series has awakened his inner eco-warrior. Fred’s first reaction to hearing about the waste plastic being swallowed by whales and other sea creatures is to empty the multi-packs of crisps into the supermarket aisles thereby allowing customers to purchase their crisps without the unnecessary packaging! At home things are not much better as he constantly replaces his family’s toothbrushes with twiggy sticks, often with the caterpillars still attached!

Fortunately he initiates a more positive campaign to resurrect the town’s central drinking fountain, aiming to provide free water for all residents and eliminate the need for plastic water bottles. With backing from headteacher Mrs Riley and big brother Stan’s presentation skills, Fred starts the “School of Fish” initiative to raise awareness and funds. Dressed as a giant pink prawn to highlight the plight of the crustaceans contaminated with plastic micro-particles, Fred inspire his entire school, and will likely inspire young readers to take their own small actions to save the planet.

I really don’t want to give away too many plot details, but this story is incredibly clever in its co-ordination of the dance of the celestial bodies, the side-plot of Gran’s forthcoming marriage to her Salsa teacher, the filial love between Fred and Stan and the momentum that one young King Prawn Supermarket Vandal can create. Throw into the mix a hideously ignorant radio DJ and his “toadally awesome” competition; a celebrity eclipse-chaser on a book tour; relatives with an addiction to conspicuous consumption and you have a story that twists through so many laugh-out-loud scenes that your cheeks will be aching with laughter before you reach the marvellously satisfying conclusion.

I highly recommend that you add this to your #SillySquad2020 reading list for the summer reading challenge. Beyond this, add it to the Stan collection on your library, classroom or home bookshelves to both read for pleasure and to generate data representation ideas.

Thank you to OUP Children’s Publishing for my review copy.

Review: Winnie and Wilbur books by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

Winnie Bug Safari

In The Bug Safari Winnie the Witch and her big black cat Wilbur are enjoying the most magnificent picnic in the garden when fallen scone crumbs cause a rustling in the undergrowth and an organised column of ants arrived to claim their prize. A host of other insects fascinate Winnie, who impetuously decides that in order to get a better look she should shrink herself and Wilbur to insect proportions.

The resulting perilous adventure will entrance young readers and listeners, as Winnie and Wilbur dodge multiple hazards in their quest to return to their normal size! The vibrant illustrations overflow with detail about the insect kingdom, the bugs almost rivalling Winnie in their multi-coloured costumes.

This is a book to be opened flat on the carpet and surrounded by young children who will find almost countless wonders to marvel at – oh for the days before social distancing. I recently used the book as a prompt to going on a garden bug hunt for a videoed Google classroom segment, and there are many other counting and sorting activities which could stem from this beautiful book.

Screenshot 2020-05-19 at 19.54.56

Delightfully, the wonderful folk at OUP Children’s have issued Winnie and Wilbur Stay at Home as a free e-book for anyone to download during lockdown. You can access it from the link here.

This book is an absolute hoot, with Winnie’s attempts at joining in with an online exercise session being my highlight (probably because it’s rather similar to certain attempts in my house)!

Children will recognise all the adjustments to activities that they have had to make, reflected in Winnie and Wilbur’s household. This book shows them how to find the joy in singing songs whilst hand-washing, covering the house in rainbows and simply enjoying stories. Winnie really is an utterly joyous character with her multi-coloured fashion choices and accessories and this book is overflowing with good humour to put a smile on the faces of children and adults staying inside to keep the country safe.

With thanks to OUP Children’s Books for my copy of Winnie and Wilbur: The Bug Safari in exchange for an honest review.