Category Archives: Review

Dragon Shield

There is so much you can do with a large museum. You can play with its exhibits and you can give them life and put them in books. If you do that, and I read it, I will feel both intelligent and knowledgeable, because I get to hobnob with historically important items.

Charlie Fletcher, Dragon Shield

Thank you, Charlie Fletcher, for making the statues of the British Museum come to life. Admittedly, real live people end up as statues in their place (but this is fiction and I fully expect them to be turned back to soft and warm human beings again, some time). You need to make sacrifices to make a good book.

And that’s what Dragon Shield is; a nice and snappy, exciting and fun children’s book. Admirably short too, and like so many books, the first of a trilogy.

Brother and sister Will and Jo are the only humans left moving when the rest of London – and the world, I assume –  turn to ‘stone.’ Why, and what has actually happened? (The answer is I don’t know yet. OK, we know why them, but not much more.)

It’s lovely getting to know so many of London’s statues. Who knew they had such personality? Next time I’m there I will speak to them. Not the dragons. They are not nice. But the Georges – of dragon fame – are charming.

You might think the plot sounds similar to that of The Sleeping Army by Francesca Simon, but that just goes to show how it’s possible to take the same museum and statues awakening and make a totally different story with those ingredients.

It’s great playing with history.

Shadow of the Wolf

Robin Hood as you’ve never seen him before. Especially if the Robin you know best is a Disney fox.

Tim Hall has written a background for Robin that you couldn’t easily imagine without help. It’s even quite hard with what Tim has written. It is hard all over, in that the story is full of horror and cruelty. There was a point when I felt I’d had enough. The concept is interesting, to say the least, but I found the characters hard to like.

That will be why it was difficult to engage with all this, and I was disappointed, if not totally surprised, to discover that the last words are ‘to be continued.’

We meet a very young Robin and watch as he learns the ways of his world. There is a young Marian, and the most vicious Sheriff of Nottingham I have ever encountered. The story contains countless fantastical elements, which haven’t – yet – been explained, and which I felt were there to paper over some of the cracks caused by the plot developments.

The Sheriff behaves more and more irrationally and his cruelty seems endless. Robin is very skilled at what he does, but also still quite young. Marian is nothing like we have known before, and it would have been good to have seen a bit more of her, and perhaps a little less of Robin. The ‘Merry Men’ show some promise when at last they appear on the scene.

As I said, an interestingly different concept of something so familiar, and well written. Just hard to like.

Zeki Loves Baby Club

How to sing an Irish baby song in Urdu.

I was a lazy mother. Taking Offspring to playgroup was intended to take a load off me, for a couple of hours. The other children were meant to entertain, and so were the adult playgroup leaders.

Anna McQuinn and Ruth Hearson, Zeki Loves Baby Club

Here, in Zeki Loves Baby Club, the lovely parents all join in and play and sing with their child. True, the presence of the other babies means Zeki enjoys his Wednesdays, but there is a lot of adult playing and singing.

It’s a very sweet book, with quite irresistible illustrations. It makes you want to go to this baby club, where children and adults alike have a great time, and the children doubtless grow up to become good people.

At the back of the book you get the words to all the songs, including Rolly Polly in Urdu.

The Book of Beasts

Carole Barrowman and her brother John have developed as their trilogy of books has progressed. I couldn’t wait to find out how they would end the Hollow Earth mystery, and well, I’d like to know what they are doing next. Perhaps I could twist an arm or two and find out?*

Animare twins Em and Matt were both in trouble at the end of book two, and in The Book of Beasts they need to use all of their fast emerging talents at drawing themselves out of trouble to save each other and their family. Although possibly not their father, who isn’t the best of role models as fathers go.

John and Carole E Barrowman, The Book of Beasts

We meet horrifying creatures (and how they smell!) and humans, who are almost worse than the beasts. The past smells. A lot. But it also features brave and intelligent people, and you can make friends across the centuries.

As before, what I like is the Scottish-ness and the use of art in the fight against evil. Some nice humour and a bit of romance add to it. I’d like to return to Largs and Auchinmurn Isle and Era Mina. I’d like to know if…

*I suspect they are not done with these characters. They are crying out to be developed further and put through more torment. OK, I’ll get my arm-twister out…

Potty

They are, when it comes to royal princes. After The Queen’s Knickers (how very dare they?) and The Royal Nappy, Nicholas Allan has come up with The Prince and the Potty. Now, do we have a royal baby birthday coming up, or not?

(It’s today.)

It stands to reason that a boy who had to have a royal nappy must be equally regal in the potty department. There are lots of potties. Some are better than others. But when you are out representing great-grandma you can occasionally be caught short, in which case any potty will do.

Even an ordinary one.

9781782952572

Michael Rosen has been known to be slightly potty, I believe. (I mean that in the best possible way.) Here in Wolfman, illustrated by Chris Mould, in a special Barrington Stoke dyslexia friendly edition, there is a wolfman on the loose.

He scares everyone he meets, and he appears to be after the Chief of Police. The reason for that is slightly potty, too.

Wolfman-01

Blue and yellow

Feeling quite inspired by two colourful picture books in nicely Swedish colours.

Bluebird by Bob Staake is a rather special book. Longer than average and wordless, it still tells a marvellous story. The illustrations are something else, and all in tones of blues and neutrals. I’d happily frame a page and put on my wall.

Bob Staake, Bluebird

Set in New York, by the look of things, it tells the story of a lonely boy, who is befriended by a small bird. There is bullying and a sad, but beautiful ending. Wonderful to look at, and if you can adapt your own words to your own child it should suit almost everybody.

In Chicken Clicking by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, we meet another little bird in this tremendously yellow book. The chicken pops into the farmhouse to use the farmer’s computer every night. She buys things, thus confusing the poor farmer.

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Chicken Clicking

And then, then she makes an online friend. This is a cautionary tale about online safety. You just never know who will pretend to be your friend. Do you?

This chicken finds out…

Who’s calling?

Yes, who is that?

Well, in Michael Foreman’s Moose, the poor Moose finds himself in the firing line when Bear and Eagle begin to shout at each other. He just happens to be in the middle, which becomes an uncomfortable place to be.

Michael Foreman, Moose

So he has to do something, especially once the sticks and stones start flying. His solution is unusual, and one which appeals to all the other animals in the woods. As for Eagle and Bear, they can’t do much.

In That’s What Makes a Hippopotamus Smile! by Sean Taylor and Laurent Cardon, a little girl is startled when she opens the door and finds a big hippo outside. He wants to come in, so she lets him.

She needs to find out what will make him happy, so they play and eat and have a bath. When hippo next calls at her house, he is not alone. It was that much fun.

Scarlet Ibis

Scarlet Ibis is wonderful! That’s the book by Gill Lewis, as well as her heroine. They are both called Scarlet Ibis.

Twelve-year-old Scarlet is a hard-working older sister who looks after her younger brother Red, as well as their unwell mother. She loves them both, and both are rather difficult characters. The mother is immature and can’t cope. Red is on the autistic spectrum and loves birds; especially the scarlet ibis.

Gill Lewis, Scarlet Ibis

Red looks at the birds he can see from the window in their top floor flat, and once a month Scarlet takes him to the zoo as a treat. He collects birds’ feathers and is most particular about the order they are kept in, and he desperately wants one from a scarlet ibis.

But things go wrong, and the two siblings are separated from each other and from their mum. Scarlet knows she’s the only one who understands Red properly, despite what the social worker thinks, so she needs to find him again.

This is a very warm story, with less of the grey side of life than I had been expecting. Birds, and people who like birds, play a large part in the story. Scarlet makes good friends, and she discovers what it’s like to actually be allowed to be a young girl, and not just a carer. And Red is a fairly capable boy for an aspie and beautifully determined, and you can see that something will surely work out. The question is how.

I knew this would be great, and it was. Is. Read it and feel good about humanity. (And birds, I suppose.)

Aliens Stink

Isn’t it odd how two of the books I’ve read this week, to make up for my non-attendance at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival, are about aliens? Being one myself, I feel drawn to them. (In moderation, obviously.)

Steve Cole, Aliens Stink

Let’s face it. The cover of Aliens Stink would not tempt me to pick up the book. (But then it’s a while since I was ten years old.) What does, is that it’s got *Steve Cole’s name on the cover, and that is always a recommendation and counterbalances ugly aliens and the word ‘stink.’

In this case I only had to pick it up off the Grandmother’s doormat, because Steve sent it to Daughter as a thank you for her help (so her name is in it). She told him astrophysical facts and he ignored them. That’s how they cooperated. I didn’t feel I needed to read the book. I’m glad I did, though, and even the Grandmother read a couple of chapters before I removed it from her hands.

It’s great! It’s fun. It’s pure entertainment. It’s the kind of book I look at and think it’d be both fun and easy to write, except I suspect it’s much harder than it looks. Luxembourg has disappeared under a blanket. Parts of Russia is covered in a yellow substance. The world is strange. Better than before, but no one knows why.

Poor Tim and his goldfish Herbert are not having a good time, however. Tim’s father is a weird scientist and he is needed to save the world. Hah. Herbert listens patiently to Tim’s woes, but what can a goldfish do?

Things come to a head and Tim and his dad and the goldfish suddenly find themselves somewhere else. All of them need to adjust to this new situation.

This is a book about good aliens and bad ones. It’s about clever children (not Tim) and aliens, and stupid adults, and aliens. You just have to love it. (And your pets. Always love your pets.)

* Steve was at mcbf on Wednesday. I’m sure everyone had a great time. Sniff…

Destination Earth

Wow! I forgot to eat my peach as I was finishing Destination Earth by Ali Sparkes. Those last twenty pages, or so, really had me in their grip. (Not that the preceding 320 pages were exactly lacking in fun and excitement.) Very Ace of Bass. (So to speak.)

This was my very first Ali Sparkes. Are they all this good? I can’t believe I’ve not tried her before. Anyway, Ali was at the Manchester Children’s Book Festival yesterday, and this was my way of making up for missing her. Phew. What a book! Or did I just say that?

Ali Sparkes, Destination Earth

The blurb is nowhere near as persuasive as it needs to be. Lucy is the lone survivor from another planet, who has journeyed to Earth for ten years after killer aliens wiped out her whole home planet. And one of those aliens has hitched a lift on her spaceship…

But instead of the cold science fiction nightmare I was expecting, I found a warm and funny early teen adventure. Masses of humour, and full of nice, intelligent people.

OK, so Lucy is an alien, and even to her the killer alien is an alien, and it might just wipe out all of Earth in a week or so. But we have time for ‘killer’ hairdressers with a fondness for purple and there is a nice grown-up romance (sort of; it’s yucky when parents do that kind of thing) and there is space technology and space ships and weapons and Motokola mobiles. Not to mention Nipe trainers. Brad Pitt.

All the usual misunderstandings aliens suffer when they land on Earth. That’s fun. You can prepare for a lot, but you can’t prepare for everything. ‘The Sarah Jane Adventures meet E.T.’ is actually a much more apt description than most.

It’s funny. It’s exciting. I even found myself wanting to discover more about Level 42 (a real band, I understand).