Category Archives: Review

The Queen’s Present

Even Queens can encounter problems when it comes to buying Christmas presents for their little ones.

Steve Antony, The Queen's Present

In Steve Antony’s latest picture book, his very active Queen embarks on some serious world travelling to find the perfect gifts for the Prince and the Princess. She has some help from the man in red, who just happens to call in at Buckingham Palace, and who lets her come with him as he crosses the globe.

This way the reader can see many of the world’s most famous landmarks as the Queen and Father Christmas fly past. But no matter how grand the place, it seems she will never find the right thing.

If you look carefully, you will see that Her Majesty starts her travels sitting at the back of the sleigh. But as they go, she ends up closer and closer to the front, until she finally has the reins in her hands.

That doesn’t help, though, and she has to give up the hunt, and Father Christmas sends her on her way in the same manner he himself enters most houses. Hence the Queen’s sooty appearance at Sandringham, where the Prince and Princess get the best gift from Grandma.

(I’m still pondering whether a generation has been lost, or if Steve is merely ‘Grandma-ing’ the Queen for the sake of simplicity?)

Don’t Worry, Hugless Douglas

Hugless Douglas and I are both feeling the chill. The difference is he’s got a new knitted hat to wear, while I haven’t. (Too vain.)

David Melling, Don't Worry, Hugless Douglas

But then something happens to his lovely hat. While showing off to his friends, it sort of becomes unravelled, and there is very little hat left and quite a lot of ‘string and fluffy clouds’ all over the place.

Many of his friends discover alternative uses for the hat as they find it, and this hardly improves matters. It’s certainly not a Rabbit burrow hole plug, nor should it be used to line any birds’ nests.

Douglas is very sad and also worried what his dad who gave him the hat will say, but as Rabbit points out, his dad is nice, and Douglas should tell him the truth.

That’s always good advice. There will be a solution to most things, as David Melling shows us. It’s my first Hugless Douglas. Might not be my last.

Troll Stinks

Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross, Troll Stinks

It looks like Jeanne Willis has her heart set on educating young readers, and what better way than through poetry and catchy illustrations?

This time Jeanne and Tony Ross are tackling cyberbullying, and high time, too. (It ends better than Chicken Clicking, in case you’re worried…)

Jeanne rhymes her way through a different version of the Billy Goats Gruff, where a young silly Billy  finds a mobile phone and decides to get up to no good with it, along with his friend. They take selfies and send horrible text messages to Troll.

And then they go off to visit Troll. Aren’t they brave?

Well, no, they are bullies. The thing is, just as goats – maybe – have the right to cross bridges; perhaps trolls are entitled to try and prevent them?

Charley Chambers

This was quite fun, in a teen sort of way. But then, Rachel Kennedy isn’t that long past her own teenage years, so that could be why. I am quite convinced young readers will like Charley Chambers, Rachel’s story about a 15-year-old with magic.

I don’t know where the story is set, but I couldn’t help picturing it somewhere not too far from me, which added a bit of spice. You know, having demons run around misbehaving, and magic teenagers with their L-plates on.

Charley is just discovering that the odd things that have always happened to her is actually magic, when she becomes friendly – very friendly – with two goodlooking boys in her form at school. And as is always the case (or so I find) when you have two boys competing for you, it’s hard to know which way to go.

First it’s the newfound magic, and the newly found boys that fill the pages. Soon though, it’s the threat to people Charley cares about, and lots of inexplicable things that happen. It’s the usual set-up; who to trust and what to do, and who might this mysterious stalker be, the one who causes mayhem all the time?

Rachel Kennedy, Charley Chambers

The book could have lost 50 pages, and possibly also a character or two. And the point of view is all over the place. While it is convenient to ‘hear’ what everyone is thinking, it’d be better if you were left more in the dark.

But the plot is exciting and it’s a fun story. Very teen, a bit romantic, and slightly Voldemort towards the end.

Threadbear

Occasionally I feel a little threadbear myself, not to mention washed out. But I’ve never featured in a Mick Inkpen book.

Here, 25 years on from his first appearance, we have Threadbear again, the slightly worn bear with no squeak. It is very sad. I’m not sure who is saddest, Threadbear himself for not squeaking, or his owner Ben who keeps squeezing and thumping and doing all sorts just to get a noise out of his bear.

Mick Inkpen, Threadbear

It’s probably Threadbear, because who wants to be a disappointment, let alone fail in what their purpose in life is? He has the squeaker; it just doesn’t squeak.

And then, it is Christmas, and that jolly fat man in red rides past. And Threadbear is suddenly full of hope. But still no squeak.

Oh bear!

Don’t give up on the man in red’s powers just yet. You might get that lovely shrunken feeling.

Squeak.

Oranges in No Man’s Land

It seems so easy; write about what you know, what you have experienced, just a simple little story. Can’t be much to it, can it?

Looking at Elizabeth Laird, you realise that that isn’t true. It takes a lot of talent to write a short children’s novel like Oranges in No Man’s Land, even if she did base it on what she had lived through with her family, in Beirut, many years ago.

Elizabeth Laird, Oranges in No Man's Land

And her foreword to this book when it was first published in 2006, was about her own story, and also how sad she was to find history repeating itself, with more unrest for Beirut, thirty years on from when she lived there. Now, of course, there is more sadness still, because after another ten years many more children and their parents are suffering like Ayesha and the others did. Not perhaps in Beirut, but not that far away, either. The destruction and the deaths of innocent civilians happen in far too many countries.

What’s more, if you read Oranges in No Man’s Land and you feel that it isn’t right, what happens to young children and their grannies, or even to their ‘enemies,’ you know that what happens in countless places all over the world is wrong.

You feel that people will learn, that they will change. If I’d been a child reading this in 2006, I’d have been full of hope that things would get better now.

10-year-old Ayesha lives with her mother and grandmother and her two brothers in a small house, when they are bombed and have to flee. Her mother dies before she can get out. The children eventually end up in a bombed out flat, well, part of a room in one, with their granny. And then Ayesha’s granny’s medicine comes to an end and to save her granny’s life the girl has to cross no man’s land and go to the other side of Beirut, where the enemy live.

More than anything, this story shows that mostly people are still human beings, before they are your enemies. They can and will be decent, and they will help, sometimes putting themselves in danger. But you can’t control the warlords.

Elizabeth’s experience is having temporarily lived in a flat like this one, with her young family, and having spoken to the soldiers at checkpoints. That’s why it rings true, and why this is a tremendously powerful story. Short, but it tells you about what’s important for humanity.

The Territory – Escape

The second instalment in Sarah Govett’s trilogy set in a future Territory is as great as the first. With all my newfound fears regarding dystopias, I worried that Escape wouldn’t be able to grab me. For one, I felt the premise that two of the – teen – main characters would willingly attempt to enter the dreadful place where others are sent to die, in order to rescue the third main character, was a bit much. I mean, how could they, and surely there couldn’t be a happily ever after even if they did?

But, the story drags you in before you know where you are. Which is the Wetlands, since you ask.

You know that something will go wrong, and something else will – hopefully – go right, but my first theory proved incorrect. Which is good, because it wasn’t a terribly good one.

Noa and Raf seem pretty naïve in their planning to go after Jack, but by sheer determination these two get further than you’d think. And that’s when things don’t happen as expected, for anyone.

Sarah Govett, The Territory - Escape

This is exciting and inspiring, but – given our current circumstances – worrying nevertheless. I’m glad there are characters out there, in fiction, doing what many of us would never dream of attempting, let alone be successful at.

The way the book ends, I can see what they must try and do, but I can’t see how they will be able to make it happen. As it’s fiction, I imagine it will work, somehow, and not quite everyone will die trying.

So, not just ‘another flooded dystopian romance.’ And I suppose knowing what moss or seaweed you can or can’t eat will come in handy one day.