Ages 7-9 [Lower Key Stage 2] 2019

reviews added November 2019

Kids Fight Plastic by Martin Dorey Illustrated by Tim Wesson, Walker Books Ltd ISBN: 9781406390650 £7.99

This is a very timely book written by Martin Dorey, (Founder of the 'Global Beach Cleaning Movement'), as plastic has become a very big issue and children need to be fully empowered to make a difference to the 21st Century World.  The book is full of two minute missions on how to fight plastic in the home, at school and in other environments. It breaks down the problems of plastic and shows how small actions by the reader can make a big difference to animals, oceans and the world.   Tim Wesson's illustrations  add a great deal in making the book both exciting and allowing children to be inspired to carry out the  fifty two minute 'Super Hero' missions that are included in the book.

It is a very readable and fun book, which both girls and boys will enjoy and will allow them as ‘Super Heroes’ to lead the fight and broadcast the message on the global plastic problem. This book should be in every primary and prep school library and classroom, as well as being available in libraries around the country. Aimed at the 7+ aged reader, it should also be in every child's bookshelf at home as it contributes to their education on what they can do to help with the fight on plastic pollution. Teachers will also find it a good source, both for teaching and inspiring children to contribute, in their own small way, to the future of the globe.

Paul Baker


Quill Soup by Alan Durant  Illustrated by Dale Blankenaar Tiny Owl ISBN: 9781910328408      £12.99

This is the third of Tiny Owl’s ‘One Story, Many Voices’ series, which sets out to tell different versions of well-known stories, pairing writers and illustrators from different cultural backgrounds to great effect.  Quill Soup is the African version of the perhaps better-known Stone Soup.  In this version, Noko the porcupine has been travelling for days through the Valley of the Thousand Hills – the name itself conjuring weariness - and was both hungry and tired.  He very much hoped for hospitality when he arrived at last at a village, but was sadly disappointed by the various animals’ responses:  Rabbit had nothing as his visiting brother had eaten everything, Warthog had had a big lunch and there was nothing left, and so on.  Noko was pretty sure they were not telling the truth, and set about making quill soup, a recipe he claimed was much enjoyed by the king.  It just needed a few additional ingredients….which of course the villagers suddenly remembered they just might have.

The illustrations by Dale Blankenaar are stunning:  vibrant, colourful and the very essence of Africa.  The themes of sharing and welcoming provide rich discussion.  Additionally there is potential mileage in exploring this alongside other variations, such as Stone Soup and Nail Soup.  Well worth its place on a primary classroom shelf.

Elizabeth Broad


The Secret of the Tattered Shoes by Jackie Morris. Illustrated by Ehsan Abdollahi Tiny Owl   ISBN:9781910328378.   £12.99


Retellings of traditional tales are becoming increasingly popular. Here Grimm’s Twelve Dancing Princesses has been given a new title, (perhaps not to give the game away), and a modified ending. The tale itself, in the hands of the acclaimed author Jackie Morris, retains all of its magic and appeal. The text is spare, with no overblown description, just each word perfectly chosen and sentences beautifully weighted. As in the original, we see a soldier, weary from war, take up the king’s challenge to solve the riddle of the tattered shoes each morning belonging to princesses locked in a room all night. So, cleverly not drinking the drugged wine, he follows the princesses over three nights, hidden in his cloak of invisibility, as they pass through enchanted forests and across a lake to the ballroom and their princely partners. By dint of taking some samples of silver, gold and diamond leaves and a small goblet along the way, he is able to unmask their secret to their father the king and so win the hand of the princess of his choice. It turns out, however, that the soldier has a very different idea....

Disappointed at first to see Morris had not illustrated this tale herself in her hallmark wistfully beautiful style, I soon became won over by the rich artwork with its meld of collage effects and characters drawn almost as if they are puppets. Pupils from Y2-4 could explore their own retellings and modified endings using shadow puppets, masks or animation, so the illustrations are an inspiration!

Sue Barrett


A Christmas Carol  by Charles Dickens Retold by Tony Mitton Illustrated by Mike Redman   Hachette       ISBN: 9781408351727   £6.99

I cannot help but feel that another rewriting of A Christmas Carol is a rather ambitious project both in terms of committing absolute heresy towards what most would see as an undisputed ‘classic’ but also in that it has been done so many times before. It was hence with some reservations that I opened this book. Mitton re-presents the tale in largely skilful prose with Redman’s often eerie illustrations providing an effective backdrop. These illustrations work particularly well in that as the story unfolds so light begins to enter the pictures and it is this detail that brought Mitton’s retelling alive for me. The first glimpse of light we see is as Scrooge blows out his candle on Christmas Eve and then – as the ghost of Christmas past appears – the following page is lit up in a yellow glow. Light and colour continue to be used as the story unfolds and it is Redman’s unconventional illustrations that held my attention rather than Mitton’s at times rather ‘clunky’ prose. Nevertheless, this retelling will work well as a read aloud for Christmas in both KS1 and KS2 and adults and children alike will be absorbed in the compelling illustrations.

Laura Manison Shore

Neil Armstrong by Alex Woolf Illustrated by Luisa Uribe, George Ermos and Nina Jones Stripes ISBN 9781788951562 £6.99

This year sees the 50th anniversary of man landing on the Moon.  There has been a plethora of books about this event, but this one looks particularly at the life of Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the lunar surface.  It covers the whole of his young life and the events that led to his becoming a pilot and then an astronaut. There is a focus on the events leading up to the Apollo 11 mission and lots of quotes taken from that period.  The final section of the book gives a very short talk about his later life, as well as looking at the timeline for space travel.

This is an informative and entertaining work aimed at younger readers from lower KS2 onwards. The actual information appears to be accurate and at an appropriate level for the intended audience.  It is well laid out with contents, glossary and a good index; the inclusion of a further reading section allows for readers to extend their knowledge using recognised titles and publishers.  The illustrations are informative and add a lot to the overall impact of the book.  It is pleasing to see a title that is in an easily accessible size, which will fit in a school bag, or can be taken on holiday.  This is a good addition to school resources and would also make a great gift for a child who is fascinated by space.

Margaret Pemberton


Kites by Simon Mole Illustrated by Oamul Lu Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN  9781786035561      £11.99

The sky is full of kites in Fivehills, to where David and his parents have just moved. David does not have one and the things he does have - books and toys - just don’t look quite right in the new house. Deciding to build his own kite, David remembers his grandpa’s mantra: “let’s see what we’ve already got. More often than not, we’ll find the answers inside”. So, requisitioning all sorts of items, David rushes out and up the hill to fly his newly made kite. Straight away he is accosted by well-wishing children eager to be of help to the new boy and novice kite-flyer. Within minutes they have each made changes to his kite, so that not only is it his no longer, but it does not fly either. Burying his head in his pillow in sheer misery, he is scratched by a feather - like his Grandpa’s lucky one and is inspired once more by the mantra. Soon he has created a new kite and this time it flies, soon joined in the sky by the kites of his new found friends.

This is a touching story about resilience, being true to yourself and your ideas and being able to fit in on your own terms. The text is full of rhythmic poetic descriptions such as ‘cloud-catching, tree-leaping whooshing Wind Wizard of a kite” which would be wonderful to explore with Y2. The illustrations, particularly the moving kites, convey the story well, but I personally found the inexpressive gashes for laughing mouths unappealing.

Sue Barrett


Mr Penguin and the Fortress of Secrets written and illustrated by Alex T Smith Hodder ISBN 9781444932102 £6.99

This is the second story about the adventurous Mr Penguin, who together with his sidekick Colin, (a spider and kung fu expert), is always solving mysteries and actually getting into trouble.  In this book he is sent to retrieve a fabulously expensive jewel that needs to be returned to a museum, but as we have learnt from the past, things never go smoothly for Mr Penguin and his friends.  They escape with the jewel and ‘borrow’ an aircraft to make their getaway; unfortunately they end up crash landing on a mountain, where they are, thankfully, rescued by some locals.  Mr Penguin then discovers that these same people had sent him a letter asking for help in solving a mystery involving the supposedly derelict castle nearby.

What a fantastically surreal adventure with the most incredibly unlikely heroes.  The plot is full of a ‘homage’ to Indiana Jones, although I suspect that the latter is not mad on fish finger sandwiches.  The story is full of puns, visual humour as well as lots of adventure. The children will love the ‘Bureau of Unsolved Mysteries’ or B.U.M as it is known, as well as having a giggle over names such as Colonel Tuftybum and Sir Reginald Spy-Glasse.  This is a wonderfully anarchic story with beautifully drawn and very funny illustrations throughout.  It is perfect for those who enjoy a lot of imagination in their stories and I thoroughly recommend this from lower KS2.

Margaret Pemberton


Toto the Ninja Cat and the Superstar Catastrophe by Dermot O’Leary illustrated by Nick East Hodder Children’s books  ISBN 9781444952056  £9.99

Toto the ninja crime busting cat is off on a well-earned holiday to a music festival. Far from restful however, she soon finds herself embroiled in a quest to prevent her nemesis Archduke Ferdicat hypnotising the crowd for his own wicked ends.  Luckily Toto’s skills and her trusty helpers mean she is eventually able to save the day.

This is a fast paced, lively adventure story. There is lots of humour, in particular word play; the festival, for example is called ‘Catstonbury.’ The black and white illustrations are excellent and really enhance the narrative, developing this highly inventive story world and the characters too. Capitals and bold print leap from every page – sometimes for no apparent reason, the story is engaging enough without this distraction.

Inspired by the author’s own real-life rescue cats, this book is the third Toto adventure by the same author illustrator team. Independent readers aged 7-9 who enjoyed reading Toto’s previous adventures will find this a welcome next instalment.

Sue McGonigle


Bloom by Nicola Skinner   Illustrated by Flavia Sorrentino Harper Collins ( ISBN 9780008297381   £12.99

This is the debut novel by author Nicola Skinner and is an absolute delight. Blossoming with character and humour, this is a story about a girl called Sorrel and her discovery of a packet of ‘surprising seeds’ and the fantastical notion of flora bursting forth from heads. It is packed full of vivid and colourful floral descriptions, and the gorgeous illustrations that Sorrentino has weaved throughout really help make this book feel extra special. I loved the imaginative play on words with so many of the names featured in the book (‘Sorrel’, ‘Florence’, ‘Grittysnit’ and Mossheart’), as well as the links between the appearance of nature and the mood of the characters and places within. Children will love the theme that runs alongside the environmental message that ‘wonderful things happen when you break the rules’. The heroine, Sorrel, and her best friend, Neena, make wonderful protagonists and are very likeable from the start. As well as being hugely enjoyable, this could be a great shared story in KS2 to support topics looking at environmental or green issues.  It would also provide a great stimulus for a discussion on climate change and youth activists.

Laura Davies

Atlas of Adventures: Wonders of the World by Ben Handicott Illustrated by Lucy Letherland  Wide Eyed Editions ISBN: 9781786032171  £20.00

This is an awe-inspiring book. We are taken on a trip round the world and visit some of the most amazing places. We witness the swirling Northern Lights of the Aurora Borealis, step into a fairy tale at Neuschwanstein Castle, keep our cool in the hottest place on earth, Death Valley, stand on top of the world up Mount Everest, trek the Great Wall of China, strain our necks looking up at The Burj Khalifa, see 2,500 animal species at Pantanal, see inside an ancient supervolcano - the Ngorongoro Crater and take a deep breath and swim the Blue Hole. This large book is a visual treat with colourful illustrations, paragraphs of information and fun facts. I like the "Can you find?" section at the end of the book that encourages readers to find specific pictures. The atlas can be read from cover to cover or dipped into. This tour around the globe celebrates diversity, inspires travel, research, an interest in people, animals, cultural traditions and natural wonders and fosters a sense of adventure. Highly recommended for children age 7+

Brenda Marshall


Lavinia and the Magic Ring. by Bianca Pitzorno. Translated by Laura Watkinson. Illustrated by Quentin Blake Catnip Publishing.  ISBN 9781910611180   £5.99

This massively successfully story of Lavinia and Her Magic Ring has been a hit around the world and kept in print since the 70s, but it is the first time it has been available translated into English. The author has been likened to an Italian Roald Dahl and, when accompanied by illustrations by Quentin Blake, children will make the comparison. Suitable for independent readers from the age of 7 the 100-page, easy read story, draws upon influences from fairy tales, Tolkien and king woven into a unique tale centring around children’s love of the funny and rude and in this case poo. Alongside the gross piles and piles of hot steaming, trickling, sticking poo, the author deals lightly with social issues of homelessness and orphans, selfishness and greed, friendship and threat. Its own blurb describes it as “a hilarious modern fairy tale but certainly not for the squeamish!” I think children of both genders will love it, just as an easy to read, silly, turn your stomach, reading for pleasure, storybook.

Jane Macleod


Perfectly Peculiar Plants  by Chris Thorogood Illustrated by Catell Ronca W & P ISBN 9781786032850 £12.99

A fabulous book. We are invited to walk through the earth’s most peculiar plants. Chris Thorogood has an encyclopaedic knowledge and provides interesting information in an accessible way. The artwork is vibrant and colourful. A vast range of plants from across the globe is included from the giant waterlily and the tree shrew toilet pitcher to the squirting cucumber and the resurrection plant. There are also sections on how plants get energy, how animals and plants live side by side, can plants talk, can plants move, and how to protect plants and their habitats. A glorious celebration of the plant world, the book informs, intrigues and inspires us. Perfect for children aged 7 and over.

Brenda Marshall

The Clue is in the Pooh and other stuff too by Andy Seed Illustrated by Claire Almon QED ISBN 9781784935733  £12.99

I like the mix of information and fun in this book. We are encouraged to be wildlife detectives and find clues, and learn about creatures from what they leave behind. There are sections on poo, faeces and dung, footprints and tracks, what lives where, animal lunch, skin, eggs and shells and creatures that are dangerous to track, such as Komodo dragons, tigers and wolves. The information is presented in a variety of ways that will appeal to children such as rules, bullet points, speech bubbles, captions and quizzes. Andy Seed is a brilliant writer and, in addition to the fascinating facts, there is plenty of wordplay and humour that makes learning easy and memorable. Claire Almon’s attractive watercolour illustrations enhance the text. The book is a superb introduction to wildlife that will help children to observe, understand and appreciate the natural world. It would be an excellent addition to a KS2 class or school library.

Brenda Marshall


There’s room for everyone written and illustrated by Anahita Teymorian. Tiny Owl ISBN 9781910328361 £12.99

This is a superb book with a very straightforward but profound message, which is ‘there is room in the world for everyone’.  The text is simple with only about twenty words on each double page spread but those words give us a thought provoking message about the way we should be thinking about our world and the way we all share it.  Given the issues that we are facing in the world, with waves of immigrants and refugees wanting to move elsewhere, it is a message that we would do well to take notice of.

The illustrations are a mix of naivety and sophistication, with stylised interpretations of people and creatures.  The colour palette is quite dark and subdued but the use of lighter shades for background or for emphasis keeps it from feeling too depressing.  The author/illustrator lives in Tehran and is well known internationally, although her work is less known in the UK; looking online, it would appear that only two other books by her are available in this country but I would like to see more in the future.  It is a story that will lead to a huge amount of discussion in the classroom and links in to so many themes, but especially empathy, refugees, family and war.

Margaret Pemberton


Treasure Hunt House by Kate Davies Illustrated by Becca Stadtlander. Lincoln ISBN 9781847809575 £14.99

This is a sumptuous picture book for older readers.  It takes the form of a treasure hunt and centres around two children when they go to visit their great-aunt Martha for a holiday.  She is not there, but her housekeeper, Jo, tells them about what has been planned.  The idea is that they search the house for clues and eventually they will find the ‘treasure’.  We then follow the children on their journey of discovery with each double page covering the contents of a room.  Every room has a clue as to where you can find the next clue, so the children have to really look carefully at all the objects which have a ‘lift-the-flap’ element.

The illustrations are definitely the star in this book.  They are meant to represent a large and old fashioned house, with a very American feel; think of something from the Victorian gothic style.  The rooms are full of fascinating objects and the reader can spend hours poring over the images.  You could almost say that the house is a museum in its own right and I know that it is the sort of place that invites us to be curious.  Physically this is a very strong and well-constructed book and will survive heavy usage in the classroom, but, above all, it is a fascinating starting place to find out about so many fantastic objects and places. Definitely a book that I can keep coming back to. It is wonderful to just browse all the amazing images.

Margaret Pemberton

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