Tag Archives: Barrington Stoke

Arctic Star

Tom Palmer just gets better and better. Have I mentioned this before? Anyway, he does. His latest book for Barrington Stoke is called Arctic Star, and it will leave you shivering (the cold) and reaching for a hanky. I’m not sure what age it’s aimed at, but I would say teens and adult. It’s WWII and mature in its handling of the war.

We meet three friends from Plymouth, on their first posting with the Royal Navy in 1943, in a convoy en route for Murmansk, protecting the ships carrying tanks to the Russians. It’s cold, to an extent you can’t even imagine, but think of it as hacking away at your freezer, but while you’re actually in it. And worse.

There’s the first convoy, followed by shore leave in Murmansk, the second convoy and finally the third convoy. You know people will have to die, but that – probably – at least one of our three young men will survive. They are scared, and cold, but in the end they know that to drop out of the war is not an option.

It’s just awful. And it makes me even more grateful that there were so many, perfectly ordinary people going through this kind of thing so that the rest of us could have a world to live in. We need to remind ourselves, too, that everyone on those ships had families at home, be it in Germany or in Britain.

You learn a lot in these short pages about life in Plymouth, life in the Navy, and life in the Soviet Union. Tom has done plenty of research as usual, and so much of the story is true. I knew what would happen to the HMS Belfast, seeing as I have actually visited, so it’s not a spoiler to say that she’s not sunk.

I’m very grateful for these books.

The Dog that Saved the World (Cup)

Pickles is a great football player. He is also a dog, but let’s not hold that against him.

Along with his owner Elsie, he plays football all the time. This being shortly before the World Cup (in 1966), they are so excited when it turns out that their little football team will get to play at Wembley, at half-time.

But Elsie and Pickles encounter more problems when Elsie’s dad loses his job and they have to move, to somewhere really awful. And then someone steals the World Cup (as in the cup), and their Wembley plans are in danger.

Pickles is a great dog. He knows it’s up to him to fix this, find the cup and generally sort everything out. You’d think a dog couldn’t possibly do that, but it seems Pickles is based on a real Pickles, who did indeed find the missing trophy.

Lovely story about dogs, football and crime solving. But also good for the realism of having to face up to poor living conditions and poverty.

The Last Hawk

I forced myself to take reading breaks so that Elizabeth Wein’s third book with Barrington Stoke, featuring female pilots during WWII, would last a little longer. The Last Hawk is really something; the same exciting flying war stories as we’ve come to expect, but as seen from inside Germany.

Ingrid is a 17-year-old German glider pilot. And she stutters. So not only is she at risk from the war in general, and flying in particular, but she faces having ‘her own’ turn on her, because she stutters. Faulty citizens are not something Hitler wanted to keep.

This is so chilling, even when in many ways it’s not news [to me], and it would have felt good to be able to look back to this time and know that it would never happen again. But we know this is not the case, don’t we?

Ingrid is recruited as an assistant to test pilot Hanna Reitsch, to show future Luftwaffe pilots how to fly. Plus some other, less attractive, tasks, which worries her. She needs to work out what to do, and if she has the courage to do it.

Perfect reading material for teenagers today. Enjoy the mix of fiction and real facts, and learn from it before it’s too late.

The Deep-Sea Duke

This sequel to The Starlight Watchmaker, by Lauren James, is equally delightful. Science fiction, which still feels unusual for Barrington Stoke, but all the more welcome for it.

So if you like inter-species gay romance, this is the story for you. It was already hinted at in the first book, but here Hugo learns that he is not a lesser being for being an android. In fact, sometimes he is better suited for life than his – not human, because they are not – living friends. Even if one is a sort of rock.

Hugo and Ada have been invited to spend the school holidays with Dorian and his family, on a planet many weeks away. It’s a beautiful planet, but currently overrun by refugees and all the problems associated with that. Like large butterflies. Otters.

They all help in the end, but Hugo helps the most.

And as I said, there is romance. Very lovely.

Swan Song

I’m the kind of cynical reader who doesn’t automatically swoon because a book has animals and troubled children in it. When I was first told about Gill Lewis I was extremely cautious. Until I gave her a go.

If you haven’t already, please give her a go. She is one of our silent, but strong, authors for children. There are animals. In this case swans, as the title Swan Song hints at. As a vet, Gill knows about animals, and swans, and other birds, who also feature. It shows. There is a lot of knowledge without it being in your face. You kind of get to share that knowledge and feel clever as well.

There is also a troubled boy, Dylan, who has been expelled from his secondary school. He coped with Y7, but in Y8 things got too much and he punched his best friend. So off to Grandad in Wales he goes.

Grandad may not have a television, or internet, but he knows about swans. This being Wales, he also sings. Swans and singing are both good healers for troubled boys. Especially one who is so surprised to learn he can go on Grandad’s bike anywhere he wants. This boy who feels it’s ‘weird not being told what to do, when to do it and where to go’.

This, to my mind, is what’s wrong with today’s parent/teacher generation.

Give them a Grandad with swans any day!

Swan Song is another mature story in easy to read format from Barrington Stoke.

The Humiliations of Welton Blake

Alex Wheatle knows how to write about black 12-year-old boys; especially the ones who are secretly in love with the prettiest girl in school, hoping that she will see past all their awkwardness and lack of experience.

Welton finally picks up the courage to ask Carmella out, only to find his day, possibly his whole life, collapsing into a pile of unfortunate mishaps, one after the other. And with a dead mobile phone, how can he contact her? (There’s obviously the actual speaking to her at school, but apart from that.)

It’s slapstick with realism; vomiting over a girl at school (no, not that girl), being threatened by the dangerous boy, running into a brick wall, wondering what to do when your mother’s new boyfriend looks so old he won’t last longer than 15 years.

This is all very general, proving that we are mostly the same on the inside. It’s a book that will show boys that everyone else isn’t necessarily that much better off in the social stakes. You just think that others have no problems. Although, not running into brick walls would obviously be a start.

But what is it with sowing the idea that dentists live in virtual palaces? Better off, yeah. But palaces, not so much.

Still, a great book for boys and girls, with and without dyslexia.

Kidd for kids

Seven Stories in Newcastle, that wonderful place for children’s books and reading, has a new boss. Mairi Kidd is their new CEO, and I can’t think of anyone better suited to the post.

To quote The Bookseller:  ‘Chris Pywell, chair of the Board of Trustees at Seven Stories, said: “In Mairi we have appointed the very best person to lead Seven Stories through a period of exciting sustainable growth. The wealth of her experience is vast and covers all of the main areas of our interest.”‘

I know Mairi mostly from when she was managing director of Barrington Stoke, being responsible for getting so many great authors write a whole lot of fantastic, dyslexia friendly books. And from there Mairi went to Creative Scotland, which meant I still came across her in Edinburgh at most literary events. It’s not everyone I recognise from the back, walking very fast away from me (which is quite understandable).

I hope we’ll still see her around, but if not, Edinburgh’s loss is Newcastle’s gain. Unless we’re all working from home for decades…

World Burn Down

Steve Cole continues telling his readers what the world is like. This time for Barrington Stoke we’re in Brazil, where Carlos lives with his mother, who works to keep the Amazon safe from all illegal developments.

And to stop her, bad people decide to kidnap Carlos, which is how he ends up alone and lost in the burning woods. The question is how he will find a way to safety, and how to stop the bad people from doing the bad things they do.

It turns into a sharp learning curve for Carlos, and he discovers a thing or two. Meanwhile I hope Steve’s young fans learn about the climate, and that what they find in this book – World Burn Down – will put them on the right road and guide their behaviour for the future. If we have a future, that is.

Daisy and the Unknown Warrior

I don’t know why I never thought of it before. Like so many other tourists, I have visited the grave of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey. But I took it at face value, not considering what it stands for or how it came to be there. And as someone from a country that wasn’t at war, it somehow didn’t strike me as quite as important.

I am sorry.

Tony Bradman’s short book for Barrington Stoke, Daisy and the Unknown Warrior, tells the story of 11-year-old Daisy, who in autumn 1920 hears about the plans for burying an anonymous soldier at Westminster Abbey on Armistice Day. Her father never came back from the war, and the family don’t know where he’s buried. She immediately senses that the unknown warrior is her dad.

She vows to make her way there to see what happens to her father. And it seems that so did thousands of Londoners, to see their lost warrior.

After a while Daisy realises that not only does she feel better for having seen somebody’s coffin given this special treatment, but that this goes for everyone else there too. This Unknown Warrior really is the soldier these people have lost, every one of them.

After the War

The tears started falling right from the start of Tom Palmer’s new book, After the War. I missed The Windermere Children on television in January, so had been looking forward to Tom’s book. To say it’s an enjoyable book would be wrong. It’s very good, as always with Tom, and so important, especially now.

We meet three Jewish, teenage boys, who along with three hundred other children came to the Lake District in the summer of 1945, straight from the concentration camps.

The automatic reaction for the modern reader is how lucky these boys are, and how they must know that things will be OK from now on. But what you tend to overlook is what has been done to them during the war. Yes, we know about the camps and the loss of their families and the general awfulness of everything.

But here the boys are worrying whether they can really trust these people, whether they will really be all right now. Because being transported in large groups to somewhere new, where they are being promised better lives, food, and so on, has been done to them already. And we know what happened then.

When they arrive, the many buildings they see look a bit like the concentration camps. They have to remove their clothes, for obvious reasons, and they are told to wash, and they are deloused, etc. But this too rings a bell for the children. It has all happened before.

On the other hand, they have been given a piece of chocolate, for the first time since before the war. Maybe things will be OK?

To begin with they hoard the food they are given, in case they aren’t fed again. They even steal potato peelings, just in case.

But slowly, slowly, they learn to trust, they stop being hungry, they learn English. In fact, they are allowed lessons, which is something they’ve not been permitted for six years.

This is a beautiful book, telling us about something real. Until quite recently we would have taken this kind and decent behaviour by the British for granted. But whatever our future holds, I am so glad these children were given a future after all they went through in the war. And I hope there was much chocolate for them.