Category Archives: Review

Mind Writer

They are good at scaring me, these old favourites of mine, who have new books out with Barrington Stoke. This time it’s Steve Cole, dabbling in reading minds.

Steve Cole, Mind Writer

In Mind Writer Luke has discovered he can read people’s minds, which to begin with seems rather convenient. Knowing what a teacher is going to ask, for instance. But suddenly Luke reads exactly what goes on in people’s heads, and he finds he doesn’t want to know.

And then a girl called Samira turns up and she can make people do what she wants, including Luke. She puts thoughts into their heads.

Now there is nowhere for Luke to go, and he finds himself having to do what Samira says, which brings them to…

You could hate Samira, who seems evil. Or you can hang in there and wait to see what happens.

The Front Room

Would Michelle Magorian be able to scare me witless in a mere 66 pages? Barrington Stoke length pages at that, so not that many words.

Yes, she could.

The Front Room is about a family of four, on a belated holiday, after the mother has had a miscarriage, where they were lucky to book the flat they’re in. Hannah has to sleep in the front room, and she is sure she can hear someone breathe at night, and she can feel chills down her spine. But her parents don’t want to be disturbed…

Michelle Magorian, The Front Room

So maybe the place is haunted, but how bad can it be? Just a little breathing and some chills. Just ignore it. If you can.

Hannah can’t, and ever desperate she

Well, I can’t tell you that, of course.

(Illustrations by Vladimir Stankovic)

Binning the proofs?

It could be that the story wasn’t even true. I’m the kind of person who believes, or wants to believe, what reliable newspapers report. I’m fairly sure I have mentioned this snippet before, and therefore I am as guilty as anyone of spreading what might not actually be true.

But it stops me from throwing away books. Every time.

It’s the brief tale of a poor young woman somewhere in Africa. Her most treasured possession was a portion of a paperback novel. Not even a whole book. After I’d read about her I wanted to get on the first plane and hand over a suitcase full of books.

What to do with very early proofs? Whether I read them or not, assuming I do the reading nice and soon after receiving them, doesn’t matter. If I don’t feel I can keep them, I can’t pass them on either. I will always honour a publication date.

I recall the pain I felt when seeing loads of – unread and pristine – proofs chucked in the bin in a bookshop. My reaction to those books in what has to be a very wrong place, was to rescue them. But I realised I couldn’t, and shouldn’t.

Maybe proofs are always meant to be thrown away. Pulped. If I keep mine, I suppose it’s all right. Pass them on, though? The opposite of the bookshop bin was Offspring’s school library. There we entered even proofs into the library system. After all, it saved the school the cost of a book, and provided young readers with yet another tempting novel.

I don’t know what’s right. As with so many other situations, I would guess there is a legal right, and then a moral one.

And the young woman in Africa.

Oi Dog!

It’s not often I laugh out loud when reading picture books. This was one of those rare occasions.

I didn’t read Oi Frog!, but its sequel Oi Dog! is a lot of fun. Words (and what words!) by Kes and Claire Gray, and scene stealing illustrations by Jim Field, tell us what happens after (the frog, I presume).

Jim Field and Kes & Claire Gray, Oi Dog!

It starts with the dog sitting on the frog. Obviously. The dog likes sitting on the frog, because when you do, they go ‘plurppppppppppp.’ Obviously.

The cat believes the rules as to who sits on what or whom are set, but frog decides to change this. Dogs are to sit on logs. Not on frogs.

And after that there is no end to the rhyming the frog can do. Or, for that matter, how many animals you can come up with and rhyming things they can sit on; puppies on guppies and poodles on noodles.

Great stuff, and I can imagine it would be even more fun if you actually had a child in the room with you when you read. (Well, I did, but he’s pretty old and he was busy opening new bank accounts for me at the time…)

Guess what frogs get to sit on now?

The Sword That Saves

Aikido made me reach for the hoover. There was something in Ambrose Merrell’s The Sword That Saves – which is almost entirely about aikido – about how the very first small step is part of the whole thing. I think this was along the lines that having come to the class, you had already started. It was this I borrowed for my cleaning session, where procrastination was winning.

Ambrose Merrell, The Sword That Saves

The book is full of these thoughts; how you can be good by learning aikido, and learning to be like the old Japanese martial arts teachers. To be truthful, I am really not interested in martial arts or anything Japanese, but nevertheless gave this book a go. It’s about orphaned siblings Sam and Zoe and Sophie, recently transplanted English children in Vancouver, where after their parents’ deaths they are fostered separately. They desperately want to be together again.

Sam happens to stumble across an old Japanese man, Kensho, who takes an interest in the boy and teaches him aikido. Kensho’s own teacher Hiroshi is 113 years old, and lives in 16th century Japan, necessitating time travel. Soon enough Sam time travels as well, as do his sisters, forced by circumstances.

I didn’t entirely grasp what Sam’s task is, or will be, except to fight the Darkness, with the help of Kensho and Hiroshi, and also the girls’ abilities regarding visions and an affinity with animals.

Ambrose is obviously incredibly enthusiastic about aikido and all that belongs to this way of life, and I agree that much about the rules appeals; the physical fitness and the mental strength, and learning to be fair and kind.

But, I did find the three siblings unbearably good, and even for someone like me who wants to avoid problems, there wasn’t enough conflict (apart from this unknown Darkness). And some more editing wouldn’t have come amiss.

That said, it was fascinating, and I can see that if it sells aikido to young people, this in itself is a good thing. I’m thinking there will be more books about Sam and his sisters, because matters are not yet resolved.

Stormwalker

This dystopian time travel story by Mike Revell is primarily about grief and the loss of someone near to you. And as with all time travel, the reader’s mind reels, trying to work out what’s possible and how things might happen to make things all right and normal again.

Owen is in Y7 in a Cambridge school, and he and his dad are doing their utmost to cope with the loss of Owen’s mum a year earlier. Or, Owen is. His children’s author dad seems to have given up. Eventually Owen persuades him to go to counselling, and his dad comes back keen to give writing a go again.

And that’s when Owen finds himself in a future Cambridge that bears little resemblance to today’s. His name is Jack, and he is a Stormwalker. The world as we know it has been destroyed and Jack and his friends have to work hard for survival, and to resist something called the Darkness.

Mike Revell, Stormwalker

After a while Owen works out that his odd situation has something to do with his dad’s writing, but how to help his dad, while also making sure things are all right in this scary future?

Apart from the fact that this obviously couldn’t happen for real (I hope, anyway), it’s exciting, and you want to know how Owen/Jack can be two boys in one. And you want to know how this future Cambridge can have a bit of hope, especially if Owen is to return to his normal life and help his dad get over the death of his wife.

(How the dad can survive financially for a year without having a job and not writing any books, is another mystery…)

50 things you should know about space

I said about Raman Prinja’s last book that it had everything you’d want on astronomy for children. This was true, until I came upon his new book, 50 Things You Should Know About Space, which is wonderful and the kind of book every child should have. I believe this even if they’re not into space (how could anyone not be, though?). Yet.

Raman Prinja, 50 Things You Should Know About Space

The Professor of Astrophysics has managed to fill this new book with what has been my life for years now; the Kepler telescope, Goldilocks, exoplanets, the Atacama desert, and so on.

Beginning with some historical facts before moving on to our own Solar system, Raman looks at how to find new worlds, what to find them with, and how to land on a comet, which is the sort of thing that might come in handy one day.

And there are new, even larger large telescopes on the horizon, that will see more and better than the ones used today.

Apparently some of this is rocket science. So much for people who are always saying things are not. Some things simply have to be.

I was so excited about this book that I was wondering who I could pass it on to once I was done with it. I’d like to inspire a small human to take an interest in this kind of thing.

But then I thought, pass it on?