Ages 7-9 [Lower Key Stage 2] 2012

 

Agatha Parrot and the Zombie Bird, Kjartan Poskitt, illustrated by David Tazzyman

Egmont ISBN 9781405262705 £5.99

This is one of the cleverly designed books that inexperienced readers in particular will enjoy, as it has the look and feel of a book that contains many more words than it actually does, as the text is spread thinly on the pages, enabling the reader to whizz through the story. Third in a series of Agatha Parrot books, this is an amusing romp, told colloquially in the first person. Agatha and her friends recognise the unpleasant magician who is putting on a show at their school and take steps to sabotage the event. The chatty style makes the reader feel they are being spoken to directly, which keeps the pace going in this quirky and funny story. Age-range: 7-10
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2012

Air Blast I Hero: Tyranno Quest, Steve Barlow and Steve Skidmore, illustrated by Jack Lawrence

Franklin Watts ISBN 9781445108759 £4.99

This book reminded me of the very popular ‘Fighting Fantasy’ books of the 1980s where the reader proceeds through the book according to choices s/he makes and the roll of a dice. AIR BLAST has an exciting plot and its pacey text and cartoon illustrations fit the genre well. However, I fear weaker readers may find its structure frustrating. There are fifty sections and most finish with choices that the reader must make (there is no dice so no random input). However, in my opinion, far too many ‘choices’ lead back to the beginning. I believe many children will very quickly see through the ‘choices’, remember the section numbers and proceed very quickly (I accept that this is probably exactly the ‘gaming’ skill the authors seek to reward with books of this genre). My concern is that weaker readers (and the book is very short and therefore designed to appeal to them) are likely be put off by repeatedly failing and having to start again and again.

So, who might enjoy this book? A reluctant reader who resists reading a conventional book from beginning to end (perhaps his/her choices could be noted down to avoid repetition), game players and readers who like to feel personally involved in creating plot. These books have been published since 2007 so must be popular with young readers and the I-HERO roadshow sounds great fun. I just feel that more of the sections should lead forward, not back.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2012

Alien Schoolboys' Z-A Guide to Earthlings, Ros Asquith

Piccadilly Press  ISBN 9781848122710   £6.99

I haven’t read any of the previous books in Ros Asquith’s successful Letters from an Alien Schoolboy series –  but after reading this book, I plan to. Alien Schoolboy’s Z-A Guide to Earthlings does what it says on the tin, offering an alien perspective on humans in a handy, easily digestible format (which does, after all, run from A-Z so as not to confuse us poor earthlings too much).  And it is hilarious.  From the descriptions of camping as ‘a cruel holiday ritual’, the point of which is ‘for the tent to blow away and everyone to drown’ to a definition of diets as ‘instructions about how to eat a slice of lettuce instead of a cow’, I laughed all the way through, stopping only to read parts of it to my children.  Wry, sharply observed and constantly amusing, Asquith’s take on human life as observed from the outside holds a mirror up to the absurdities of our daily existence, and the reflection is far stranger than anything that might come from outer space.  Suitable for age 7-10.

Kristina West, Children's Literature PhD student, University of Reading

Anholt’s Artists Activity Book, written and illustrated by Laurence Anholt

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN 9781845079116 £9.99

Many people may already know of Laurence Anholt’s previous books on famous artists which have served to act as a brilliant introduction to children about great artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci, Vincent Van Gogh, Degas or Picasso. This book acts as an extension to the series, and uses the same story-format to encourage children to try out different methods and techniques in emulation of the great artists, with seven different projects to try out, ranging from Matisse’s collages to Degas’ sculptures. As an artist himself, Anholt gives practical tips and advice, starting with materials needed and ending with a ‘Chat about Art’ section with information about the artist and suggesting others of that genre. It is an inspiring book to read and a perfect resource for end of KS1 and KS2 teachers to use on its own, or better still, alongside the original storybooks.
Pippa Shon, Early Years Specialist and Prep School teacher, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2012

Aquila 2, Andrew Norriss

Puffin     ISBN 9780141328539    £6.99

Aquila 2 is the continuing story of Tom and Geoff's adventures in the lifepod from an alien starship which they discovered whilst on a school trip. This story opens in New York, with the boys discovering technological capabilities that they didn't realise Aquila had. They struggle to keep Aquila a secret, but their new-found curiosity about geography and their improved school results starts to raise questions. Life is further complicated when Tom's mum develops a serious relationship with Alan, whose deceptively docile son turns out to be a genius who saves the day. Friendship is tested to the limit when Geoff tells someone else about Aquila, especially when the 'someone else' turns out to be a girl.

As ever, Andrew Norriss combines humour and sci-fi adventure to produce an exciting narrative. But the reader also has to address contemporary and relevant issues about relationships, second families and the strength of friendship. I would recommend this book for the school and classroom library or to read aloud to any KS2 class. It should hold particular appeal to boys who love adventure stories and anyone who watched the TV series Aquila in the late 1990s.

Gill Robins, English 4-11 Number 40, Autumn 2010

Azzi in Between, Sarah Garland

Frances Lincoln ISBN 9781847802613 £12.99

This Amnesty International endorsed book is the story of Azzi, a young girl who, with her family, has to escape her war-torn country and escape to safety. They take a dangerous journey by boat to Britain, to seek refuge. But Grandma is left behind and Azzi fears she will never see her again. As the story unfolds we see, through Azzi’s eyes, the difficulties involved in starting again in a new country where the language is different and having to leave behind their large house and good friends for a lonely existence in a small room. Slowly, Azzi makes friends and does her best to learn English and help her desperate father, who is not allowed to work. Azzi’s story ends with the safe arrival of her grandmother and a more heartened family, trying to embrace their new life.

The book is in a comic strip format, which makes it a delight to read and accessible to children of varying ages. Younger readers can follow the beautifully expressive pictures and more established readers can read the simple text. Its strength is in the compassion it evokes in the reader and the important message that beneath the media headlines and government statistics lay real people with a tale to tell and fears to face. A useful resource for Literacy and PSHE lessons or a worthy addition to any library.
Hannah Skottowe, key stage 2 and 3 teacher
Online review 2012

Bill Badger and the Wandering Wind, B.B.

Jane Nissen Books ISBN 9781903252413 £6.99

This book didn’t quite make sense to me, until I saw that it was originally published in 1957 and is being offered by Jane Nissen Books as a reprint. The story, setting and language are unashamedly old-fashioned, and it has more than a hint of The Wind in the Willows about it, as it tells the story of Bill Badger and his adventures on the river. On his way to deposit a large sum of money in the bank as a repayment to the friend who gave him a boat, ‘Uncle’ Bill makes a new friend, Izzybizzy, and is captured by a band of marauding cats before managing to escape. It is enjoyable, with some beautiful descriptions, but I would question whether its reprint is truly for children or rather for nostalgia-minded adults because, at the end of the day, The Wind in the Willows just does it better. Recommended age: 6-9
Kristina West, Children's Literature PhD student, University of Reading
Online review 2012

Can it be about me? Cheryl Moskowitz Illustrated by Ros Asquith

Frances Lincoln (www.franceslincoln.com)ISBN 9781847803405 £5.99

Can it be about me? is, first and foremost, a fun and interesting poetry book for primary school children, illustrated by the ever talented Ros Asquith. However, Cheryl Moskowitz takes the opportunity to tackle many issues that affect children of this age, including bullying, maths problems, jealousy, arguments and making excuses (my own personal favourite!) in an entertaining and thoughtful way. Children won’t feel that they are being preached at, rather that welcome little jolt of surprise that someone out there does understand. This is a very valuable book and a great introduction to poetry for many children. Recommended for aged 6 and over.
Kristina West, Children's Literature PhD student, University of Reading
Online review 2012

Diary of A Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth, Jeff Kinney  

Puffin    ISBN 9780141331980   £10.99

Diary of a Wimpy Kid started life just six years ago as a daily blog on Funbrain.com.  Greg Heffley, the Wimpy Kid, has been visited over 80 million times since then, with up to 70,000 children reading his blog daily.  In the last 3 years, four Wimpy Kid books have been published.  The first three were based on the online blogs with new material added.  The Ugly Truth is the fifth book in the series.

In this most recent book, Greg is facing the challenges of growing up, including braces on his teeth, boy/girl issues, ‘The Facts of Life’ lesson at school and ‘the Talk’ from his grandmother.  Unfortunately, he has fallen out with his best friend Rowley, so he has to deal with growing up alone.

The mixture of cartoons and diary entries creates an original style which holds immediate appeal for any child who can read fluently.  Greg’s anarchic approach to life, school and sibling rivalry appeals to a wide range of independent readers - this is definitely not a book to share with parents or carers.  The popularity of the Wimpy Kid books will ensure the success of The Ugly Truth, which should form part of the reading material in every key stage 2 classroom.

Gill Robins, English 4-11 Number 41, Spring 2011

Dragon Child – The Emerald Quest, Gill Vickery

A & C Black (www.acblack.com) ISBN 9781408174128 £4.99

A fast-paced opening immediately sets the scene for the story of Tia, who is snatched away by an angry dragon in revenge for the Dragon Queen’s jewels of power being stolen by the High Witches. Tia’s mother is allegedly one of the witches and until the jewels are returned, Tia is forced to live with the dragons. Fortunately many of them become her friends so when, years later, she decides to seek the jewels herself in order to return them – and to find out the truth about her mother – her dragon-brother Finn goes along with her. After a tense adventure, Tia recovers the first of the jewels – the emerald – the others forming the basis for further books in the series. At 80 pages, younger confident readers with a liking for dragons, witches, magic and adventure could find this quest series engaging. And it’s good to find a feisty female hero! Suitable for 7 to 9 year olds.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2012

Fizzlebert Stump: The Boy Who Ran Away from the Circus and Joined the Library, A. F. Harrold

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781408830031 £5.99

This book definitely wins the prize for the longest title of the year, and its verbosity is more than reflected in the following 250 pages. The story tells of the unfortunately-named Fizzlebert, who is lonely in his circus home, where his only friends are Fish the sea lion and the adults who work there, but his attempts to make friends with the local children only result in ridicule for his unusual name. However, his first ever visit to a library results in more excitement than he could ever have imagined – or wished for.

The strength of Fizzlebert Stump lies in the characters described with an almost Dickensian touch, such as the fabulous librarian, Miss Toad, who looks like her name and burps all of her words, and Arthur, whose hearing aid picks up the horse-racing on the radio and whose moustache and nose hair are all tangled up with that morning’s toast. The originality of the story also stands in its favour, and the character of Fizz is likeable and sympathetic. I just wish I could say the same for the narrator, whose interjections in ever increasing brackets all too often veer from funny, to intrusive, to downright annoying. I would recommend Fizzlebert Stump, but with some reservations. Recommended age: 7-9
Kristina West, Children's Literature PhD student, University of Reading
Online review 2012

Fox Friend, Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Joanna Carey

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781120866 £5.99

This story is classic Michael Morpurgo cleverness and I was genuinely moved by it. Clare lives on a farm and argues a lot with her father. Her mother tries to keep the peace between them but things come to a head when Clare finds a fox cub that has escaped the hounds. She nurtures it in secret and finally releases it to the wild when she realises it is cruel to keep it confined, lying to her parents in the process. However, the fox returns to the farm (to find her?) and Clare’s father shoots it before it can destroy any of his stock, ‘The only good fox is a dead fox.’
This is not a comfortable read. Morpurgo is great at keeping sentimentality at bay and this short (45 pages of smallish type) book raises intelligent questions about the tensions of country living: more questions than answers. The illustrations support the text and the cover is beautiful. The book finishes with a letter from Morpurgo promoting his charity Farms for City Children. ‘Fox Friend’ would be an excellent choice for whole class (KS2), small group or paired reading as there is so much to discuss afterwards.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2012

Fussy Freya, Katharine Quarmby illustrated by Piet Grobler

Frances Lincoln Children's Books ISBN 9780099495369   £6.99

A book that appeals to both children and fraught parents alike, Fussy Freya is a story about a three-year old girl who, having been an excellent eater, suddenly declares ‘Your dhal and rice are just not nice’ and proceeds to reject everything her parents offer her.  Despairing that she is getting thin and ill, her frazzled mum packs her off to Grandma’s house where she is taught a lesson she is unlikely to forget!  Cheekily asking her Grandmother for ‘Giraffe and warthog and monkey and brown bear’ that is exactly what she gets!  Much to her disgust.  Fussy Freya is a fast-paced, rhyming story for young children.  Reminiscent of Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes its gruesome dishes and annotated illustrations give the reader a feast for their eyes and ears!  My children made me read it three times in a row, so it certainly proved popular….I just hope the story rubs off and fussy eating becomes a thing of the past!

 Hannah Skottowe, key stage 2 and 3 teacher, 2013

Hudson Hates School, Ella Hudson

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN 9781847803757 £6.99

Hudson Hates School is a beautiful book about Hudson, an enthusiastic and creative boy who hates school, particularly spelling tests. Undetected dyslexia means that Hudson feels alienated by the work he has to do and finds spelling tests particularly traumatic. However, after a really difficult and upsetting day at school and following his special test with Mr Shapland, things start to look up and Hudson starts to feel more positive about going to school. Hudson Hates School provides a sensitive insight into the fragility of emotions surrounding school life for a child with dyslexia, particularly when help doesn’t seem to be forthcoming. Children with dyslexia may be able to relate well to this book and find it reassuring that they are not alone; those who do not have dyslexia may find that the story helps them to empathise with others. The picture book is beautifully illustrated by the author: the language used is simple yet engaging, making this an ideal choice for children to read either with an adult or independently. I would highly recommend this book for children in key stage 1 or early key stage 2. Hudson Hates School would be a fabulous addition to any home, primary school classroom, reading corner or children’s library.
Mary Bennett, Initial Teacher Education Lecturer
Online review 2012

Mouse Time, Rumer Godden

Jane Nissen Books ISBN 9781903252420   £6.99

The two stories in this little book have delighted readers since their first publication – The Mousewife in 1951 and Mouse House in 1960, so this re-issue is more than welcome.  Words such as flannel, tweed, tin-tacks, thimble, wainscoting and reference to inches on school rulers point to an earlier age and will extend the knowledge and vocabulary of the young reader.  There is the frisson for us in feeling we are one step ahead of the protagonists when we know for sure that little Bonnie Mouse, ousted into the cold from her overcrowded flowerpot home, will venture up into the house and find Mary’s elegant ‘Mouse House’, and that the mouse family will soon have a new home.  But we aren’t expecting the way this comes about.  Mouse House is a wonderfully complete story, full of emotions, using language at its simple best, with no extraneous words.  Each sentence is perfectly crafted giving us an exemplary piece of writing for young and older alike to enjoy.

The Mousewife (what a wonderfully descriptive name!) is not only a compelling story, taken, Rumer Godden tells us, from one in Dorothy Wordsworth’s Journals, but is also a thought-provoking commentary on freedom.  The mousewife and the caged dove are both captives in their different ways.  The courageous mousewife is the dove’s saviour, but she must return to mousewifery, with only the memories of her brief encounter with the wider world to sustain her in her chore-laden life.  In these stories Rumer Godden tugs at our heartstrings and certainly makes us view mice differently.  A small classic for 5 to 9 year olds.

Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor

Mr Leon's Paris, Barroux, translated by Sarah Ardizzone

Phoenix Yard  ISBN 9781907912085  £6.99   

Mr Leon has had a lifetime of driving his taxi around the streets of Paris, and in this reminiscence we are introduced to many of his passengers, both past and present.  The small-headed, large-bodied characters in the quirky pencil and wash illustrations reflect the addresses to which Mr Leon is taking them.  So we meet the devil himself en route to Hell’s Passage, an Egyptian mummy travelling to Pyramid Street, via Cairo Place and a lady laden with birds in cages going to Hen Road from Chicken Street via Cockerel Avenue, but avoiding Fox Boulevard.  Children will enjoy spotting the links between the passengers and their destinations, which we are told really do exist, and some of them can be found on the map that appears on the inside back cover.  A little translation is needed here however, so it may be a useful little task in French lessons!  Suitable for children aged seven to nine.

 Pam Dowson   Online review 2012

The Quicksand Pony, Alison Lester

Allen & Unwin ISBN 9781742378008 £6.99

I read the 15th anniversary edition of this award winning classic and it remains as haunting as when it was first written. Set in the Australian bush, it tells the tales of Biddy and Joe, two children connected by fate, family and friendship. Joe, a boy brought up in the bush by his mother, must fend for himself when she dies. He befriends a dingo puppy and as he learns to survive on his own, Joe begins to question whether outside people are as terrible as his mother told him they are. Biddy is desperate to be a drover with her parents but finds her first journey ends in tragedy as her pony, Bella, is trapped in quicksand and left to die. Bella’s fate is questioned when the next day she is missing and all that remains are prints in the sand.

Lester draws on her own experiences to capture the beauty and danger of bush life and her poignant story enforces the bonds formed between man and beast on a journey of self-discovery. Perfect for KS2, it explores themes of family, acceptance, courage and hope.
Hannah Skottowe, Key Stage 2 and 3 teacher
Online review 2012

Running from the Rainbow, Karen McCombie illustrated by Jessica Secheret

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781120033   £5.99

I really enjoyed this book.  Rosie Roberts has had to move schools and is dreading starting again in new environment.  Rosie’s mother is the popular new Head of English, outgoing and attractive; Rosie is shy and introverted with low self-esteem, and compares herself negatively with her ‘cool’ mother.  Rosie’s misery is compounded by her desire to keep both the parental relationship (her father is a dog walker, a job Rosie is ashamed of) and her real name, Rainbow, a secret from her new classmates.  She was teased at her previous school and now lives in fear that the truth will out.

The book is short (70 pages), the sentences are simple.  There’s plenty of white space around the text and the storyline is original and holds the reader’s attention - we really want to know how things will work out for Rosie.  Karen McCombie has got all the little the details (physical and emotional) of school life spot on.  The book has a happy, but realistic ending.  The messages, be yourself and don’t define your future by your past, are subtle and don’t patronise the reader.  I would like to see this book available in every KS2 classroom.  It would be suitable for individual, pair or small group work.

Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset

 

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