#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.

#MGTakesOnThursday: Mickey and the Animal Spies by Anne Miller

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

MG TakesonThursday
Image created by @MarySimms72 and used with permission.

To take part, the steps to follow are:

 

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.

 

  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.

 

  • Write three words to describe the book

 

  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

 

mickey and animal spies

 

Author: Anne Miller

Illustrator: Becka Moor

Publisher: OUP Children’s

Favourite sentence from Page 11: “Mickey was craning her neck as she tried to read (and answer) Rachel’s homework over her shoulder as they bumped their way through the city’s winding roads.”

This book in three words: ciphers, animals, humour

I’m highlighting Mickey and the Animal Spies this week because I don’t think it has had the attention it deserves as a thoroughly engaging introduction to the spy – mystery genre for MG readers. My full review can be read here: Mickey and the Animals Spies by Anne Miller

#MGTakesOnThursday Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe by Martin Howard

MG TakesonThursday
Image created by Mary Simms and used with permission.

This is a weekly meme started by Mary Simms on the brilliant Book Craic blog.

To take part, the steps to follow are:

 

  • Post a picture of a front cover of a middle-grade book which you have read and would recommend to others with details of the author, illustrator and publisher.

 

  • Open the book to page 11 and share your favourite sentence.

 

  • Write three words to describe the book

 

  • Either share why you would recommend this book, or link to your review.

IMG_3508

Author: Martin Howard

Illustrator: Chris Mould

Publisher: OUP Children’s Publishing

 

Favourite sentence from Page 11: “You’re all bird-people here on Winspan. Very interesting,” said the Professor.”

This book in three words: Hilarious, Cosmic, Adventure

There is nothing like humour to encourage young readers to enjoy a book, and this one from Martin Howard offers more laughs per page than anything I’ve read since …The Cosmic Atlas of Alfie Fleet. Read it, but just make sure you’re not drinking at the time, unless you enjoy the prospect of tea exploding from your nostrils!

My full review can be read here. Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe

Review: Kitty and the Sky Garden Adventure by Paula Harrison, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie

Kitty skygarden

 

This is the third magical Adventure for Kitty, a little girl who has inherited her mum’s cat-like superpowers and one day aims to follow in her mum’s paw prints to become a superhero!

For the time being she is happy to pull on her supercat costume, with its billowing, black cape, and skip over the night-time rooftops with her many feline friends, enjoying gentle adventures from which they all learn essential life lessons.

At the start of this story, Kitty and her rescue-cat Pumpkin are visited by their friend Pixie, who arrives to tell them about a magical rooftop garden she has heard about. Kitty is seeking inspiration for a school project so the three of them set out on a night time expedition across the town, with Kitty using her enhanced sense of smell to locate the plant-filled wonderland of the Sky Garden. When they arrive her two cat companions go crazy in a capnip plant until they are scolded by an old tortoiseshell cat named Diggory. He is the guardian of the Sky Garden who explains the number of years of work that his owner, Mrs Lovell, has invested into creating this living paradise. After suitable apologies the three explorers are allowed to investigate the wonders of the garden and Kitty finds inspiration for her school garden design.

However, Pixie cannot keep the news of this incredibly beautiful space to herself, and by spreading the news far and wide causes unexpected trouble. Kitty will require all her reserves of skill and intelligence to try to rectify the damage!

This is a wonderful book for newly confident readers, and would equally make a lovely shared experience for younger, emerging readers. The story is beautifully crafted by Paula Harrison, nurturing a sense of respect for the hard work and property of others and encouraging thoughtfulness, all wrapped in an exciting adventure. The illustrations by Jenny Løvlie are wondrously striking in a palette of black, white and orange. There is so much intricate detail to explore and talk about that this book will invite hours of exploration. 

I highly recommend this book to anyone aged 4+, I am looking forward to sharing it through the school library and imagine that many children will be tempted to collect the entire series for their own bookshelves.

For my review of the first Kitty adventure please click here: Kitty and the Moonlight Rescue

 

Thank you to OUP Children’s Publishing for my copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Review: Ballet Bunnies The New Class by Swapna Reddy

ballet bunnies

 

Ballet Bunnies is a new series starring Millie a young ballerina and the magical, miniature bunny rabbits who live at the ballet school she attends. The New Class is the first in a series of six books being published by Oxford Children’s Books with this and Book 2, Let’s Dance, coming out in June 2020.

I was delighted to be sent an ARC of Ballet Bunnies The New Class, an absolute must-read for all young dancers! It is the perfect size and length for newly confident readers in Key Stage One, with gorgeous full-colour illustrations in a pastel palette throughout. The pictures of the ballerinas are immensely cute with slightly oversized heads and huge expressive eyes, perfectly designed to appeal to young readers. The series has been written by Swapna Reddy and illustrated by Binny Talib and wonderfully, it features a multi-ethnic cast of characters at the ballet school and to complete its appeal to a broad readership, a boy ballerina is featured too.  It is so important for all children to be able to see themselves in the books that they read and I’m sure that these books will find a wide, appreciative audience. I can certainly imagine a large number of children at my own school who will be pirouetting in delight after reading about Millie’s adventures. 

Six-year-old, ballet-obsessed Millie is about to fulfil her dreams by starting lessons at Miss Luisa’s School of Dance. She skips into the class with her spirits soaring, only to encounter an unfriendly comment and mean looks from another member of the class, star pupil, Amber.

Feeling despondent at her inability to perfect the pliés with the same grace as Amber, Will and Samira, Millie is left waiting for her mum to collect her at the end of the lesson. Startled by a movement behind the stage curtain she investigates and finds Dolly, Fifi, Pod and Trixie, the magical, talking and dancing miniature bunnies! What impact will her new friends have on Millie’s future at the ballet school? You will have to read this book to find out.

The story is delightfully written by Swapna Reddy (a firm favourite with me and my library users due to the hilarious Dave Pigeon series she writes as Swapna Haddow). In Ballet Bunnies her style is one of gentle encouragement as she helps young readers experience the effects that mean behaviour can have on someone’s confidence, and contrasts this with the powerful force of kindness and support. A perfect book for any child who might be feeling discouraged by a challenging task, and a wonderful addition to the bookshelves of all young dancers.

Thanks to OUP Children’s Publishing for my review copy.

For my reviews of the Dave Pigeon series, please follow this link.

Review: The Island that Didn’t Exist by Joe Wilson

 

 

 

Island

The Island That Didn’t Exist is the debut MG novel by BBC sports journalist Joe Wilson. Inspired by a coastal sign pointing to an uninhabited island, it has taken him fifteen years to write this thrilling adventure. The beautiful cover art, which has been digitally animated for the online marketing campaign is by George Ermos.

I was delighted to receive a proof copy as it is exactly the sort of book that I love to recommend to young readers – an exciting and imaginative tale, featuring resilient children, written in accessible language, and, at 272 pages appealing to reluctant readers who can be daunted by a 400 page novel. It is pitched as a contemporary Lord of the Flies meets The Famous Five. In my opinion it also had a touch of Alex Rider too; a winning combination.

Twelve-year-old Rixon Webster’s life is turned upside down when his mother takes him to the London law offices of Arnold Crump for the reading of her eccentric and mysterious Uncle Silvester’s will. This elusive individual has left his £2.5 million fortune to an obscure seagull sanctuary and his private island to Rixon! Also included in Rixon’s inheritance is an envelope stuffed with five-year-old newspaper clippings about a group of scientists who disappeared, with a world-changing invention, in unexplained circumstances and a memory stick holding unintelligible mathematical equations and diagrams.

Undaunted by the fact that the island has not appeared on any map since 1792, Rixon persuades his mum to drive him to the coastal location shown to him by Arnold Crump, and in the most daring act of his short life, he sets out to seek his inheritance in a “borrowed” motorboat ferry.

I do not wish to give away any plot spoilers, so apart from telling you that Rixon’s Splinter Island turns out to be occupied by four semi-wild, spear-throwing children I won’t provide any more details.

The story is perfectly paced to encourage readers of 9+ to keep turning the pages, and would also make an excellent class read-aloud, with the cliff-hanging chapter endings likely to make children plead for “just one more chapter.” It contains just the right degree of peril for a Key Stage 2 readership; it certainly does not descend to the same darkness as Lord of the Flies. The plotting is deftly handled with the steady revelation of details about Uncle Silvester, the reason for the children’s presence on Splinter Island and the tensions within Rixon’s family. Brilliantly woven into the plot is a message about power, in its many forms. The effect it has on individuals, the lengths that some will go to in pursuit of it, the responsibility inherent with the wielding of power and its impact on the way the world is run.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and think that it will be extremely popular with boys and girls of 9 years and above when it is published in May 2020. I certainly hope that we don’t have to wait another fifteen years for the next book from Joe Wilson!

I am most grateful to OUP Children’s for my review copy.

Blog Tour: Alfie Fleet’s Guide to the Universe by Martin Howard, illustrated by Chris Mould

IMG_1667

With a loud toot on Betsy’s horn, I welcome you to my stop on the blog tour, where I am honoured to join a troupe of wonderful children’s book bloggers, to bring you Alfie Fleet’s latest adventure.

The amazing and frankly alarmingly inventive imagination of Martin Howard has taken off on another fantastic journey through the lesser-known planets, and here he explains a little of his creative philosophy! Over to you, Mart…

So, here we are again. Hullo, and it’s good to be back at V’s View From the Bookshelves with everyone’s favourite reviewer, our fabulous host – the one and only Von Price! Let’s give her a big hand …

*Wait for standing ovation*

Von Price, everybody. Isn’t she great? Love the book bloggers. Heart-shape. OK, settle down, we’ve a lot to get through. So, I’m back to bang the drum for the second instalment of Alfie Fleet’s fantastical adventures. He’s off to a fresh bunch of planets, which I’m sure Von will tell you all about in the review. Meanwhile, she’s asked me to talk about how I came up with the idea and why I write funny books.

This could be a looooong piece. Sure you don’t want to talk about biscuits? Biscuits are an author thing, right?

No?

OK then.

Let’s dispense with the how first, ‘cos that’s nice and quick. I came up with the idea of stone circles being used as portals to different places for a book called The Wickedest Witch, which was published about ten years ago. (It’s a good ‘un, by the way. Beeeyootiful illustrations. And still in print – hint, hint.) Years later, one summer afternoon, I was sitting in the garden and my train of thought took a sudden detour. It went something like this: “Pom pom pomty pom. Bees. Ooo, lovely flowers. Pom pom … hey Martypants, you should write about an interstellar cartography club using stone circles to map other planets.” I’ve no idea where it came from but that’s how Alfie was born. A few weeks later I came up with Professor Bowell-Mouvemont (or Major Bowell-Mouvemont as he was originally called). The name made me giggle and, as a writer, if you can make yourself laugh you’re halfway there …

So that’s how. Why I write funny books – that’s a much bigger question.

Hmm. Chin stroking moment. I suppose, when we get right down to the nitty of the gritty, I write funny books because funny seems to be my factory setting. My brain automatically goes for the funny side of any situation, which makes me a hoot at funerals. Now, I’m not saying I’m the world’s most hilarious person (I’m actually pretty annoying and humour is in the smile of the beholder, a lot of people don’t get mine) but I LOVE laughing, and making other people laugh is just about the best feeling in the world. I once made a friend laugh so hard she actually, properly, wet herself. And not just a little bit but a catastrophic loss of bladder control. People were putting animals on boats.

It was the proudest moment of my life.

So, I don’t think I had much choice. I once tried writing a serious YA horror novel. Total disaster. I had a cool, sassy hero lined up. He wore a nifty coat. Plus, I spent ages working out a gasp-worthy, didn’t-see-that-coming plot. In the first chapter he started telling gags. By the end I may as well have had vampires wearing false noses and bonking their victims over the head with rubber chickens.

At that point, I discovered it was funny writing or no writing.

Beyond the fact that I love it so much though, I strongly believe that comedy is much more important than people realise, and especially for children.

Uh-oh, serious bit alert.

Humour makes a massive impact in young peoples’ lives. This we know for an actual fact. I’ve lost count of the school librarians who have told me how much they rely on funny books to turn reluctant readers into eager readers – with all the life benefits that entails – and science tells us that laughter is beneficial on every level: physically, mentally and emotionally. Funny writers – even *yikes* David Walliams – are helping children grow up well-balanced, healthier and better educated.

So, what I’m saying is that we’re basically saints, like lovely, lovely angels making the world a better place one fart gag at a time. I mean, obviously we get paid from time to time, but it’s righteous work and it drives me bonkers that funny children’s books are sometimes seen as less important than serious books like Barry Tortoise Finds Out We’re All Going to Die. For that reason, me and Rachel Delahaye – a writer who is much, much funnier than me – recently set up a blog called Snort! We hope it will grow into a place where funny books are given the attention they deserve.

In the meantime, I’m hugely – enormously – proud to have maybe helped make a tiny difference in one or two children’s lives just by writing barmy stuff about eccentric professors wearing corsets.  Every so often I’ll get a letter from a child saying how much they enjoyed something I’ve written, and how much it made them laugh. For me, more than glory or riches beyond imagination, that is the reward of being a funny children’s writer. That said, if you have any glory or riches-beyond-imagination hanging about, I wouldn’t say no.

Mwah for now

Martxx

PS: for the record – a chocolate finger, if you have one.

PPS: Chocolate finger. SNORT!

Review Time!

Thank you for that Mart, and I wouldn’t say no to a little portion of glory and riches myself, or a full packet of chocolate fingers if you have any spare! Onto the review…

Firstly, let’s take a moment to marvel at the glorious cover art by Chris Mould, and let me assure you that his black and white illustrated pages will provide much amusement and enlightenment throughout the book.

IMG_3508

 

It’s possible that your holiday plans this year might be disrupted, but do not worry – Alfie Fleet is back, and he wants to offer you the holiday of a lifetime!

If you read The Cosmic Adventures of Alfie Fleet you will remember that Alfie and his mum moved into Number Four, Wigless Square with Professor Bowell-Mouvement and Derek, the Under-sixteens Unnecessary Violence Champion from the planet Outlandish, where they were planning to start The Unusual Travel Agency (UTA). We rejoin Alfie as he and the Professor embark on a whistle-stop tour of their proposed destinations, putting the final touches to their information leaflets  and ensuring that sufficient travel brochures are left at each hostelry on the tour.

Unfortunately, the planet Bewayre not only proves to be a greenly-unwelcoming place, but also provides some unexpected and unwelcome guests to Wigless Square, in the form of five ragged, crusty and extremely grubby individuals who look like survivors from a Tudor disaster movie! The leader of this pack of adventurers is Sir Willikin Nanbiter, a deeply unpleasant character, former President of the Unusual Cartography Club from 1542 – 1546 (time passes very slowly on Bewayre compared to Earth). He is accompanied by his hideously snobbish wife Lady Gardenia; brow-beaten son Flem; a donkey and two rotten henchmen named Bernard Stiltskin and Incontinence Pance. Using the ancient rules of the UCC they vote the Professor out of office, reclaim control of the UCC and set about destroying the UTA.

Alfie must use every ounce of ingenuity he possesses, to lead the Professor, Derek and Flem, along with trusty Betsy the scooter, on a quest to discover the long-lost members of the UCC to outvote Sir Nanbiter. Searching far and wide for stone circles through which they can travel across the universe, their main objective is Catsic the Henge. He was last heard of on the Planet Frimp, a vast collection of tropical islands where our intrepid heroes discover that they have been pursued across 36 worlds by Nanbiter’s henchmen! Cue a fearsome pirate battle and subsequent ship-wreck.

This book is an absolute hoot from beginning to end. From the hugely inventive planets and their inhabitants (Winspan: looks like a half-chewed tennis ball and has such low gravitational pull that the population own strap-on wings) to the running gags based on the Professor’s constant confusion of words, and the profusion of toilet jokes, it will appeal to the most reluctant of readers. Of course, under the hugely entertaining jokes, there are themes of loyalty, trust and bravery as Alfie strives to meet the expectations placed upon him. The quest zips along at a great pace, with laughs and peril often combined to great effect – the gruesome duties that Alfie encounters whilst crewing on the Jewel of the Breezy Seas had me choking on my coffee!

Will Alfie fulfil his destiny and bring peace and harmony to the universe? Read this book and expect your face and sides to ache with laughter as you find out! Toot!Toot!

 

Thank you Mart and OUP Children’s Publishing for my review copy and for inviting me aboard Betsy for the blog tour.

Attack of the Smart Speakers by Tom McLaughlin

attack of smart peakers

 

“Holy guacamole with a side order of Yikes!” 

How can three young supergeeks fight off an army of eight-legged, data-hungry machines?

 

With incredible timing this book hit the top of my TBR stack in the week that Ofcom announced that over a quarter of young children now use a smart speaker in their home. Tom McLaughin’s laugh out loud “Accidental” books are already hugely popular with children, and this latest title is hugely entertaining with a useful reminder about online safety issues. 

Tyler Fitz has recently moved to Happyville, a suspiciously upbeat town where  “cute” rules. In the school social structure of Alphas, Wannabes, Perfectos, Nerds & Teachers, she has teamed up with two fellow geeks; Dylan and Ashley. They spend most of their free time hanging out in their clubhouse, a silver caravan parked in Tyler’s back garden, where they discuss maths problems and watching Antiques Goldmine!

As they watch their favourite TV programme they are constantly interrupted by advertisements for Nova the smart speaker that “no-one should be without.” Ashley admits that she already owns seven of them – purely for research purposes as she tries to exploit their AI potential and even as they sit in the clubhouse a drone delivers one that Tyler‘s father has ordered.

Both Tyler and Dylan are very sceptical about the smart speakers both expressing their views that a computer should not know more about you than you know yourself. When it becomes apparent that the smart speakers know substantial amounts of their personal information, obviously mined from other sources, both Dylan and Tyler decide to investigate. Ashley, in the meantime, has become brainwashed!

This highly illustrated chapter book zips along at a great pace with plenty of comic set pieces and smart dialogue to entertain children of 7 years and above.  Newly confident readers will find it a joy to read alone, but it would also make an interesting class read in conjunction with online safety lessons in the Primary School Computing curriculum. It is a hilarious cautionary tale about the risks of over-sharing personal information and failing to read the Terms & Conditions when using any social media. I will be reading it aloud in my school library this week to tie in with Safer Internet Day. The image of eight-legged smart speakers scuttling about like robot spiders spying on an entire town’s inhabitants and controlling their actions is a great metaphor for the surveillance age.

 

I am most grateful to OUP Children’s Publishing for my copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review: Mickey and the Animal Spies written by Anne Miller

 

As a lifelong fan of detective/mystery/spy fiction I understand how an exciting, fast-paced, engaging story can turn a child into an enthusiastic reader. This first book in a new MG series, by debut children’s author, Anne Miller combines a smart, code-cracking girl with a secret animal organisation in a plot to solve a spate of diamond thefts! It is a wonderful new addition to the treasury of engaging children’s fiction.

Michaela R Thompson (Mickey) Is determined to follow in the footsteps of her hero, the super spy Hildegarde L McTavish. To this end, she is hanging upside down from the gymnasium balance beam when we first encounter her, in order to “look at the world from an unusual angle!” Mickey loves codes of all types: morse code, ciphers and even naval signalling flags and is always on the lookout for opportunities to practise code-cracking. Encountering a coded message written on a scrap of paper on the bus home from school, Mickey deciphers it and finds herself recruited by a top secret and extremely unusual organisation!

Mickey has stumbled upon COBRA, not the Cabinet Office B that meets in times of national crisis, but a secret animal organisation established many years previously “to protect the country’s animals in ways humans cannot comprehend.” As befits this imaginative book, the head of COBRA is of course an enormous cobra named Coby. Other members of the High Committee include Clarke, the most incredibly aloof, dismissive and sarcastic cat; a nervous giraffe security guard Bertie; Astrid the spider monkey who takes care of international affairs; Rupert the highly intelligent leader of a team of rats and the office temp, Tilda ( a sloth). This intrepid band of animal agents is lacking one thing – opposable thumbs, hence their requirement for a human agent!

A succession of diamond thefts from high profile pet owners has COBRA facing a deadly challenge, can they track down the master criminal behind the heists and protect the pampered pets of the celebrities from coming to harm? And why are these pets so reluctant to provide any information? Will Mickey ever be able to prove her worth to severely unimpressed Clarke?

You will find the answers to these puzzles in this zany adventure, but don’t be fooled by the red herrings!

I loved Mickey’s intelligent and determined character and the intriguing camouflage methods used by the animals to travel incognito around London. I was also highly amused by the concept of COBRA sending messages by b-mail, with robins being the most reliable bird. In my own mind I consider this to be a nod to Robin Stevens, the queen of detective fiction for the MG market.

This book is an utter joy to read, with its fast-paced, imaginative plot, driven along by short snappy chapters. The idea of a secret service agency run by animals seems completely feasible due to the skilful writing of Anne Miller, and the black and white illustrations by Becka Moor (who has worked on many children’s books) are a perfect complement to the text. The explanations of Mickey’s code-breaking techniques will be fascinating to children, and are a nice introduction to cyber security which is touched on in the primary school computing curriculum. 

 

I think this book will be perfect for early Key Stage 2 readers, who have enjoyed animal-themed stories by Dick King-Smith and Jill Tomlinson, the Daisy stories by Kes Gray, the Clarice Bean chapter books and Scoop McLaren, but are not yet ready for Ruby Redfort, Murder Most Unladylike or Alex Rider. It will introduce young readers to the excitement of young spy/detective stories and give them a new hero to root for. I do hope that there will be further titles in this series as I can’t wait to discover what plots Mickey uncovers next.

Anne Miller is a scriptwriter and researcher for QI and the Head Researcher for Radio 4’s The Museum of Curiosity. Mickey and the Animal Spies is her first book for children.

 

I am grateful to OUP Children’s Publishing and Liz Scott for sending me a review copy of this book and the artwork posted here, created by experienced children’s book illustrator Becka Moor, in exchange for my honest opinion.