Ages 9-11 [Upper Key Stage 2] 2014

50 Things You Should Know About the First World War, Jim Eldridge

QED publishing ISBN: 9781781715895 £8.99

Jim Eldridge is an experienced writer whose work hits the right note and informs and entertains. His My Story titles in the Scholastic series are very popular and inform and entertain pupils. This book is a superb introduction to the First World War. Its strength is the range of methods it uses to present information. These include maps, infographics, time lines of key events, contemporary photos, a Who’s Who? for both the Allies and the Central Powers and a glossary. The result is that most key stage 2 children can look at a page and learn something from it. My class was particularly interested in the sections on poison gas, war wounds, the development of blood banks, the mines of the Messines, the formation of the RAF and the photographs of Passchendaele. Some of the quotations written down the side of some of the double page spreads provoked discussion and reflection such as ‘The average life expectancy of an Allied fighter pilot was just 11 days.’, ‘One German general said, ‘Build no more fortresses. Build railways.’ And ‘Parks in Paris were filled with cattle so the city would not starve.’ I recommend the book as an introduction to the First World War, and at only £8.99 it is excellent value.
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2015

Animal Lives Whales, Sally Morgan

QED ISBN 9781781715215 £10.99

The stunning photographs of whales enhance this book. Information is presented in an easy to digest format. Pupils liked the idea of a giant squid, perhaps 18 metres long, fighting a sperm whale.. The close-up photos are excellent such as the one of the plates of the baleen whale fringed with hair rather than teeth. Occasionally the blue background of the spreads is a touch dark and the black print did not stand out clearly. Statistics are clearly presented, sometimes with comparisons such as ‘The bowhead whale has the largest mouth of any animal. It’s so big that a minibus could drive into it.’ The need for conservation is stressed and it was encouraging to learn that the Californian grey whale has been taken off the list of endangered animals because its numbers have increased. There is a glossary and index at the back of the book. It is a useful introduction to the subject for Years 3 and 4.
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2014

Anne Frank, Ann Kramer

QED Publishing ISBN 9781781715109 £6.99

This 64 page book looks in surprising detail into Anne's life, hopes and impact. The book's layout is colourful and clear, with a great deal of photographs. I was very pleased to see the amount of detail on the historical situation in Europe, which was explained very well and with maintained relevance to Anne's story. Most pages had a time-line at the bottom, which was very effective at linking Anne's life with the events in Europe. It was very interesting to read and I would recommend it both to those who have not read Anne's diary and those who already have; the book has just the right level of detail to leave the reader wanting more. This book would be an excellent addition to school libraries and serves as an ideal companion to Anne's diary. It also introduces the topic of the Holocaust sensitively yet effectively and would be very useful if teaching this topic. I highly recommend this book and very much enjoyed reading it.
Tracey Parvin, Senior Lecturer, Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

Blackfin Sky, Kat Ellis

Firefly ISBN 9781910080009 £7.99

From the day of her 16th birthday, strange things happen to Skylar Rousseau. It appears she has fallen from the end of the pier in her hometown Blackfin, and drowned. She is identified and buried, then turns up very much alive three months later, knowing nothing of her supposed death and as mystified as her friends and family about what exactly has happened to her. But it doesn't end there and Sky has to endure being almost buried alive by the evil Swiveller brothers, finding out that her grandfather hacked his family to death in the Blood House where she still lives and discovering that from time to time she begins to fade, reappearing in different times and places, none of them at all comfortable. Sky's developing friendship with Sean Vega proves to be a crucial element in uncovering the weird unworldly truth about herself. This disturbing fantasy will keep you guessing as you travel along Sky's bumpy road to the truth, never being quite sure who is who, where is where or when is when. Age range: 13+/Young adult.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2015

Body Works, Anna Claybourne

QED Publishing ISBN 9781781714874 £10.99

This book is a great introduction to learning how your body works. It is divided into four sections: Heroic Heart, Gruesome Guts, Brilliant Brain and Super Skeleton. Each section includes four or five activities and experiments to help children understand the body. For example, trying to eat a cracker after wiping your tongue dry to illustrate how important saliva is for eating and making a papier-mâché hat to illustrate what functions different areas of the brain have. The book has a good ratio of photos and illustrations to written information and each page is bursting with colour to entice you to read more. The book includes a glossary and a giant poster of the body and its major parts. My seven year old enjoyed flicking through this book and found it interesting but a slightly older child will probably be more interested in reading all the information!
Emma Webb, vet and a parent
Online review 2015

Catastrophe : Air Disasters, John Hawkins

Franklin Watts ISBN 9781445131290 £8.99

Air Disasters, part of the Catastrophe series, is a non-fiction book which I feel will really motivate older primary school children to read. The book uses eye witness reports and expert opinions to build a fuller picture of air disasters. The book begins with a section explaining what happens in an air crash, which serves as a good introduction and covers areas such as rapid response and crash investigators. The book then covers some of the most devastating events in history, ranging from 9/11 in 2001 to the Hindenburg Disaster back in 1937. Visuals such as photographs (which are sensitive to the age of the reader) and maps are used effectively to enhance the text. Headings such as ‘Why did it happen?’ and ‘Eyewitness’ are used by experts and witnesses to give their explanations and accounts, which adds an extra dimension to the book. The book concludes with ‘Looking to the Future’. This reassures the reader that travel by plane is extremely safe, which is an important point to make to children.
Features of the non-fiction genre are included, such as a glossary page and index, the only thing missing I feel is a contents page which would be beneficial at the beginning of the book. Welcome additions are a ‘Timeline’ section which lists the events in chronological order, as well as providing a summary, and also a further reading section which contains recommended reads, including websites.
This is a book which I feel stands out and would be a worthwhile inclusion in any school library.
Nick Ward, Headteacher, Bretherton Endowed CE Primary School
Online review 2014

Charlie Merrick's Misfits in Fouls, Friends and My World Cup, written and illustrated by Dave Cousins

Oxford University Press ISBN 9780192736598 £6.99

This book is definitely written for young football fans. It is a story about Charlie Merrick (there are going to be other stories in the future featuring him and his ‘misfit’ friends) and his football team, North Star Galaxy Under 12s, which is losing all its matches. With relegation looming Charlie comes up with a clever plan (that involves him impersonating his sister) to lure talented goalie Jack into the team in place of the less talented Sam. The team gains a star player but Charlie temporarily loses his best friend. With plenty of long, detailed, kick by kick descriptions of matches, this book is bound to interest football fans of eight and above. The design of the book will attract fans of The Wimpy Kid genre. The font replicates handwritten print (it is supposed to be written by Charlie himself) and is widely spaced. There are comic strip pages, illustrations and diagrams to explain certain shots, boxes with football stats and information in and at the back there are biographies of Charlie’s team in the form of collectors’ cards. So this book is bang up to date. The book has a moral about winning, losing and teamwork. I am no football fan but I can see that it could be a very popular read in a school or class library.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2015

The Diary Of Dennis The Menace, Steven Butler, illustrated by Steve May

Puffin ISBN 9780141350820 £5.99

This is a very jolly book for young fans of the BEANO favourite Dennis the Menace. I was a fan myself as a child and this 155 page ‘diary’ contains examples of all the ‘Dennis’ qualities that have made him a popular character since 1938; he’s anarchic, cheeky (bordering on rude) anti-school and he generally comes out on top. But, and this is something I missed when I was eight, Dennis is a bully. Yes, his nemesis Walter is extremely annoying, but Dennis persecutes him and it is all carefully premeditated. It is one thing for a teacher to recommend a book where stuffy grown-ups are outwitted and youngsters win the day but quite another to approve Mrs Creecher yelled at me for snickering in class today but I don’t care. I can picture Walter, Bertie and Dudley wetting their pants as they run off to their mummies. I wasn’t too happy about him putting fireworks in the community bonfire either (or his catapult and dangerous dog!)

With cartoon illustrations, plenty of action, easy-to-read fonts and an entire page where the word ‘bum’ is simply repeated 28 times, I can see the instant appeal for KS2 students. I am sure most teachers already have a view about Dennis as a character. Personally, I think it’s probably a book for pocket-money spending rather than the classroom.
D. J. Holmes, Sexey’s School
Online review 2014

Dandelion Clocks, Rebecca Wescott

Puffin (www.puffin.co.uk) ISBN9780141348995 £6.99

Dandelion Clocks describes how 11 year old Olivia copes with her mother’s terminal illness. We travel from ‘Thirteen Weeks Before’ to ‘Six Months Afterwards’. The author is superb at recreating the range, depth and honesty of Liv’s emotions. When she first senses something is wrong at home, she suspects her parents are splitting up. Her brother, Isaac, has Asperger’s Syndrome, relies on rules and routines and ‘doesn’t always see things the way you might see them’. At school Liv has to cope with moronic Louise Phillips, and mum guides her through a rift with her best friend, Alice. Liv’s mum tries to prepare her daughter by giving her life lessons, teaching her to make spaghetti bolognaise, buying Liv her first bra, and getting her ears pierced at a reputable establishment. Liv develops her interest in photography as she tries to capture special moments. Mum’s childhood diary gives Liv insights and guides her towards a new way to live. The book contains humour and is, ultimately, life enhancing. Fans of Jacqueline Wilson and Cathy Cassidy will enjoy it. An impressive debut novel for upper key stage 2 children.

Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2014

The Dangerous Discoveries of Gully Potchard, Julia Lee

OUP ISBN 9780192733696 £6.99

When I startedr eading this I was presented with something that I have never seen in a book before. Julia Lee presents the author with a cast list. I found it very useful to skip back and forth and recap on the key characters. The story is about Gully Potchard, a fourteen year old delivery boy for a printers. He meets with bully Nathan Boldree and the tale unfolds. We meet a range of characters within the story all of whom add their own take on the society that they inhabit. The story is set in the past where the world was far different and the description of the Victorian setting allows the reader to really understand the difficulty that the children of the time faced. It subtly addresses the issues of the time with a flair for an adventure. The story allows us to find intrigue around every corner. All the key features of an adventure tale are incorporated into the bindings of a truly lovely read for key stage 2 children!
Matthew Wilson, key stage 2 teacher, St Paul’s CIW Primary, Cardiff.
Online review 2015

The Demon Notebook, Erika McGann

O’Brien   ISBN: 9781847172952       £7.99

When I was about 13, my friends and I tried to raise a spirit in the school basement one lunch time. The scariest thing that happened was being caught by our French teacher, although that was scary enough. The heroines of Erika McGann’s book are not so lucky, however, as their own attempts result in one of their group, Una, being taken over by a demon who seems intent on carrying out each of their failed spells, no matter how silly – or dangerous. The girls must band together with the local Old Cat Lady and their (thankfully more sympathetic) French teacher to stop the demon before someone gets killed.
The Demon Notebook taps into the ongoing interest in YA fiction for all things supernatural, and succeeds in creating a story with likeable characters, plenty of dramatic tension and even some humour as Grace discovers that the school heartthrob was far more attractive when he wasn’t bewitched into total adoration. It may lack the intensity of some other fiction of this kind, but I look forward to seeing what McGann writes in the future. Recommended age: 11+

Kristina West, online review 2012

Design a Skyscraper
Launch a Rocket into Space, both by Hilary Koll and Steve Mills, illustrations by Vladimir Aleksic

QED Publishing ISBN 9781781716678/9781781716861 £10.99 Each

These are two new titles in the You Do the Maths series written by former primary school teachers and Mathematics lecturers. Real-life scenarios engage children in problem solving to build the tallest skyscraper or, in the second book, launch a rocket. Co-ordinates enable children to choose a suitable site, while they need to use perimeter to secure it and negative numbers to work out the foundations and basement floors. Shape, fractions, Newtons, time and acceleration are all required for the rocket launch, while prospective astronauts will need to read a range of graphs and tables. While this all might sound a little dry, the brilliant comic-book style illustrations of Vladimir Aleksic generate excitement and reader involvement. It is a real challenge to produce maths problems and short investigations to engage all KS 2 pupils especially covering such a breadth of mathematical topics. I suspect those at the younger end of the target audience of 7+ might not be so enthusiastic about working through the books, given the subjects they will not be familiar with, but the glossary and answers at the back will help others. Both books could, however, be great additions to a class library for extension work or for class-based problem solving and provide plenty of opportunities for children to apply their mathematical thinking.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education at Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

Desirable, Frank Cotttrell Boyce, illustrations by Cate James

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781124246 £5.99

This is another pacey story from Frank Cottrell Boyce. George is, in his own words, a Warhammer-playing loser until he receives some out of date aftershave from his grandfather as a birthday present. George accidentally gets some on his face and all the girls and women he encounters suddenly find him irresistible. Naturally George is very happy, if a little perplexed, with this turn of events until he realises that he would rather have the friendship of one particular girl, Daniella, than the adoration of many. There’s a school setting and a bully and the whole story, which is really a joke based on those 1970s after-shave ads (which, of course, were jokes in themselves, albeit very un-pc ones.) is told in an entertaining way with a clever cliff-hanger ending.

There are two moments that make me feel a little uneasy: firstly when the female teachers and Paula’s mother find George irresistible (you couldn’t write it with the genders reversed) and secondly when George uses the after-shave to make his friend Tiny desirable to women, not as a genuine gesture of friendship but to bag Daniella for himself. However, I don’t imagine the 8-12 year old target readership would see these aspects as negatives, or perhaps even notice them.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2015

Destination Earth, Ali Sparkes

OUP  ISBN 9780192733443 £6.99

Billed to be a book that would capture the imagination of Doctor Who fans, as a teacher in a school near to the epicentre of the Doctor Who world and the immense fan base that this genre of writing has as a result, I could not wait to read this novel with the children. Initially I was concerned about the length of the book, as were some of the children. However, as we started reading we became totally immersed into the world that Ali Sparkes has created. The main character in the tale is not one you would expect in this genre. Lucy is a young girl who is lands on Earth. The story is centred in the Isle of Wight. Lucy has to come to the defence of the human race, like any good science fiction plot. But most importantly one of the main characters and the first humans that Lucy meets is Emma. She is a child with dyslexia and dyspraxia. My children were able to discuss the ways in which this may impact on people and build a greater understanding of what the terms mean and why people may act in a different way. It really was fantastic for a Philosophy exercise on how people are different but how this can be a real positive. The story was very good, if a little long, but definitely captured the imagination of my class who have asked me to find more books by the author!
Matthew Wilson, key stage 2 teacher, St Paul’s CIW Primary, Cardiff.
Online review 2015

Documenting History - World War 1, Philip Steele

Wayland ISBN 9780750280938 £8.99

This 48 page book tells the story of causes, events and consequences of World War 1, with accompanying pictures and a wide range of primary sources throughout. The text is supported by a timeline and glossary, and does describe historical events in detail, yet this is somewhat less accessible at the start, making the book more suitable for Key Stage 3 readers. There is a pleasingly rounded approach to those involved in the war and it gives information about all fronts and international conflicts. This book is recommended for those children who wish to develop their understanding and knowledge of the period, yet who have some knowledge already. It was informative and the sources are a real highlight (with immediate lesson-planning potential) although the book does require sustained concentration. The book's conclusion asks some very interesting questions which would make excellent class discussions or debate topics with Key Stage 3-5 students.
Polly Tucknott
Online review 2014

Elizabeth I, Simon Adams

QED Publishing ISBN 9781781715116 £6.99

This 64 page book is an excellent introducing to, not only Elizabeth I, but also to life in Tudor England. The book is well laid-out and includes colourful pages, a range of pictures and a very useful and effective timeline at the bottom of most pages. The book explains the origins of the Tudor family as well as religious differences in England. I particularly liked the sections on aspects of life in England, such as daily life, Tudor entertainment and life at court. The book is rich in detail yet is clearly explained and very accessible. Elizabeth's story is covered very well, and her life is linked with those around her, such as her sister, Queen Mary, and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. This book would appeal to those children who have already studied Elizabeth I, as there is a great deal of information available, yet is still very appropriate for those who have not yet studied her; the book gives sufficient context and does not presume prior knowledge. It is suitable for children from key Stage 2-3. The glossary was very good and suggested web links useful. I very much enjoyed the book and consider it a very valuable addition to a child's bookcase, a school's library and a History teacher's collection.
Review from Polly Tucknott of the Historical Association
Online review 2015

Energy Resources – Maps of the Environmental World, Jack and Meg Gillett

Wayland (www.waylandbooks.co.uk) ISBN 9780750282727 £8.99

The amount of research needed to write a non-fiction book for any age is prodigious. When that book is for younger readers, the task of the writer is further complicated by the necessary consideration of the language to be used. Then there is the decision about what to exclude when one’s readers may be completely new to the subject. The Gilletts have succeeded in providing a detailed overview of the world’s energy resources. Each double-page spread has a clear map supported by textual information explaining different forms of energy, where they are found and how they are used. Diagrams and photographs provide further information. We learn about gas in the Russian Federation, coal in China, nuclear power in Japan and geothermal energy in New Zealand, amongst many others. A full picture is given which is perfect to stimulate thought and discussion. This is an important subject for us all, and vital for younger generations to understand. A book such as this - and others in the series - offers a useful contribution to the energy debate. Age-range: 9-13.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2014

Evie Brooks in Central Park Showdown, Sheila Agnew

O'Brien ISBN 9781847175595 £6.99

After the death of her single-parent mother, 12 year old Evie now lives in New York with her vet uncle, Scott. Then the father who left before she was born begins a court case to gain custody, something which neither Evie nor her uncle wants. But it is difficult to see what actually is the story here, as we only hear about this crucial aspect in part. There were missed opportunities for creating high levels of tension, with potentially interesting scenes being glossed over, such as Evie's private meeting with the trial judge, and engineering a meeting between Evie and her father, about whom we learn virtually nothing, particularly why he suddenly wants his daughter in his life. When we do finally reach the trial, Agnew is obviously using her personal judicial knowledge (she was a lawyer and worked in New York), and she paints a worrying picture of the levels of professionalism in the city's legal fraternity.

Most of the book is a series of vignettes of life in New York as experienced and described by Evie, some of which are entertaining. There is a large cast of characters, many of whom we learn more about than we need to, such as the troubled and extensive background of Holly, who comes to work for uncle Simon. There's an awful lot of telling, and an over abundance of adjectives, with little change of pace in the writing, and I remain puzzled by the title - although part of the story takes place in Central Park Zoo, where Simon does some work, there was no showdown there, making this a curious choice. Overall, this would not be a book I would recommend. Age Range 10 – 13.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2015

Hero 41 Eye of the Gargoyle, Sam Penant

Orchard Books ISBN 9781408328286 £5.99

Teachers who wear superhero costumes in a creepy school that used to be a prison is bound to appeal to children’s sense of humour. Schoolboy Dax Daley, Potter-like, arrives unexpected at isolated Scragmoore Prime. It is a new Free School, educating forty children to become superheroes. The pupils study to pass their SATS – Super Ability Tests- so they can become Super Agents when they graduate. While other children learn how to use their powers to fly, stretch, and turn themselves into objects, Dax and his friends explore the forbidden areas of the prison. On the roof, they discover a malevolent stone gargoyle, known as The Lifetaker of Scragmoor. The three friends must search for his missing eye in order to save the school from total destruction. Penant does well to develop a strong voice for Dax and there is plenty of modern banter and sharp, comical one-liners. The prison itself is a character with creepy cells, menacing stables, a gruesome museum and the disturbing hanging shed. An interesting variation on the traditional school genre with some appeal for young readers, the book has to navigate a delicate path between often well written comedy and, sometimes, quite macabre references to the old prison hangman and his victims. Suitable for 9+.
Jonathan Rooke, Senior Lecturer, University of Winchester
Online review 2015

How to get Fabulously Rich, Thomas Rockwell

Orchard ISBN 0781408324288 £5.99

Billy is determined to win the Lottery, despite his friends telling him he has no chance. After many tortured attempts to find the magic formula, his little sister Janie unwittingly provides him with a clue to working out the winning numbers. But Billy is too young to buy a ticket, so enlists the help of his sister’s boyfriend. Amazingly, his numbers come up, but his joy soon turns to grief when everyone lays claim to their share of the winnings, and things become very nasty. Parents and lawyers are involved…

This is a very funny book, first published in America in 1990 and now updated and Anglicized for a UK market, though keen-eyed readers will spot a few Americanisms that have escaped the editorial net. I preferred the same author’s How to Eat Fried Worms, a book I shared with several classes some years ago, but this is a fun read. There’s a lot of dialogue and some very long sentences, requiring an experienced reader to deal confidently with the writing style. But it’s a gift of a book for reading aloud, if you enjoy putting on a bit of a show! Age range 8 -11.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2015

Kidnapped! The Hundred -Mile-An-Hour Dog’s Sizzling Summer, Jeremy Strong

Puffin ISBN 9780141344195 £5-99

The self-styled ‘King of Comedy’ has produced another fast-moving romp of scrapes and adventures in his popular series featuring the irrepressible Streaker. This time the hapless family of dog- owner Trevor manage to create mayhem on a cross-Channel ferry before inflicting their beloved pet on a French camping and caravanning site. Here there are misadventures with barbecues and canoes, arrests and some unexplained thefts, but fortunately, Streaker has a new love interest: the smooth-talking, French accented Pascal, who just happens to be a bloodhound. How will he cope with a new arch-rival in the massive Barbarossa? Can he help Streaker sniff out the stolen goods? As theft turns into kidnap, and all seems lost for the dogs and the children, there is an unexpected turn of events. Of course, the ‘two-legs’ never appreciate the role the dogs have played and wilfully seem to misunderstand what their animals say, but Streaker’s zest for life means she never bears a grudge.
This is a pacy and engaging first-person narrative in the voice of the endearing floppy-eared joker Streaker. Illustrations are well-paced to underline the humour and children will love not only the naughtiness and jokes, but the reassuring moral compass of Streaker’s world. It just seems slightly odd that a dog who can liken a syringe to the Eiffel Tower then needed a page or two of explanation about what ‘France’ was….
Susan Barratt
Online review 2014

Knightly and Son, Rohan Gavin

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781408838914 £6.99

This is the story of the first case of teen detective Darkus Knightley and his father. Darkus is a bright 13-year-old boy who likes tweed and has a stache of top secret files. His father, Alan, was London’s top private detective until he went into a coma four years ago. Suddenly he wakes up and finds Darkus has memorized ‘The Knowledge’, Knightley’s history and case files. Father and son face a desperate challenge. A best-selling book called ‘The Code’ seems to be making people do terrible things. The book might relate to a weird organisation known as the Combination. Children in Years 5 and 6 who like suspense, mystery, humour, fantasy, action and detective stories will enjoy reading this. The pace is fast and it is highly entertaining. Rohan Gavin is a Sherlock Holmes fan, and the son of award-winning author Jamilla Gavin. I look forward to reading his next book.
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2014

The Legend of Frog, Guy Bass, illustrations by Jonny Duddle

Stripes Publishing (www.littletiger.co.uk) ISBN 9781847153883 £5.99

Aimed at ages 7 to 11 years, this is a fun and action-packed adventure about the twists and turns faced by the heroic Prince Frog during his quest to find of the End of the World. We are introduced to the main character Frog from the very first chapter, through his diary entries which tell the reader of his plans to journey to the End of the World armed with only a pair of ‘Catastrophe Pants’ and his trusty stick ‘Basil Rathbone’ for protection. This is a creative way to open the tale and would appeal to a lot of young readers as the text appears handwritten and the content is peppered with a beautiful carefree array of spelling and grammatical errors (perfect as a reference device in a range of literacy lessons). The characters within the tale are a fantastic mix of the everyday and the mystical, and include the imaginatively named Rarewolf (a prophetic wolf), Oldusdust (a Wizard) and Frog’s trusty steed Sheriff Explosion (a Sheep). This provides a great basis for a very humorous and imaginative tale of adventure and marvel and opportunities to play around with some inspired character names. The story should make children laugh-out-loud, yet provides ample opportunity for cross-curricular lessons in subjects including art (the book includes many wonderful black and white illustrations of the story), Social and Emotional Literacy (what makes a good leader and hero) and English literacy (first and third person narrative, inventive descriptive language and a range of vocabulary). Described by the publishers as a ‘mash up of fairy tale, fantasy and science fiction’, I think this would be a great addition to any school library and should certainly appeal to a diverse range of readers.
Laura Davies, Project Development Coordinator for Fair Foundations, Chwarae Teg
Online review 2014

The Milo Adventures: Milo and the Raging Chieftains, Mary Arrigan

O’Brien ISBN 9781847175618 £7.99

The Milo Adventures are a series of light hearted, fast paced stories centring on the exploits of Milo, his best friend Shane and a rather ghostly Mister Lewis. This particular story involves time travel through portals, night time wanderings through cavernous castles and encounters with feudal chieftains along with minor skirmishes with the ubiquitous bad guys from their school. The book is teeming with larger than life characters: none more so than Big Ella, Shane’s fast thinking Grandma. She really does help to save the day, although her methods are somewhat unconventional and Milo is left feeling more than a little uncomfortable: a situation which the younger reader might find a trifle amusing. While reading this, I also found myself being transported back in time to my own childhood and my obsession with adventure stories: stories where the feisty heroes and heroines sneak around dark woods in the middle of the night while their parents slept soundly, blissfully unaware of the dangers that their children were encountering. From the safety of the pages, the reader is able to share the fears, shivers and dangers of the characters: possibly considering how they might respond in a similar situation: maybe even pining for an ethereal friend such as Mister Lewis. This book spans the KS2 age range for independent reading and could be the perfect ‘end of the day’ chapter story.
Tracey Parvin, Senior Lecturer, Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

Mysteries at Starlight Academy, Jess Renison

Ragged Bears ISBN 9781857144628 £7.99

This is the third book in a series becoming ever popular with girls aged 8-10, melding as it does Malory Towers with the performance aspects of High School Musical. Cassie has returned to the performing arts school she adores for the summer term. She is excited at the prospect of choreographing a duet from The Sound of Music, but her energies are soon taken up by a surprising friendship with a new pupil with something mysterious about her past. Mysteries seem to proliferate around her old friend Freya’s parentage, the head teacher’s relationship with a TV personality who comes to judge a competition and then there’s the nearly fatal trip to the beach which changes everything. This book may well appeal to young girl readers with a passion for performing and a love of boarding school adventures, but I am afraid it did not work for me. The main protagonist Cassie was irritatingly meddlesome, with no control over her tongue, so that she was responsible for a lot of misunderstandings and upset. Her concerns about establishing friends’ parentage, sorting out their true artistic paths, not to mention pursuing her escaped crab and trying to release trapped birds and dolphins just did not convince or win me over and I found the plot cumbersome. Perhaps I needed to have read the other two first...
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education at Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

The Mysterium Book 2: The Palace of Memory, Julian Sedgwick

Hodder ISBN 9781444913712 £6.99

This is the second book in the Mysterium series, the first one being The Black Drago’. Danny is trying to find out who killed his parents and why. He feels betrayed when he learns that the Mysterium, the circus he loves, has reformed without him in Barcelona. He rejoins them, catching up with friends like Sing Sing, but also meeting up with some shifty characters who may be his enemies. Who is the strange La Loca? The mysterious 49 are never far away. The story is intriguing and moves at a fast pace. The quotations at the start of the acts and the chapter headings encourage reflection. Mnemonics, memory games, clues, tells, codes and ciphers are threaded through the story and advice from dad and his memory palace plays a key part in the plot. En route there are vivid descriptions of the circus, and the story ends with Danny participating in a dangerous stunt. There is an informative glossary including circus terms at the back of the book. My Year 6 pupils are looking forward to reading Book 3 of The Mysterium - The Wheel of Life and Death.
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2014

The Mystery of the Man with the Black Beard, Gillian Cross, illustrations by Peter Cottrill

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781123591 £5.99

In another of Barrington Stoke’s dyslexia friendly titles, Gillian Cross has given us a rollicking chase of a story. We know straight away what we’re in for with the opening: ‘Annie’s dad solved crimes. A sign on his office door said – Bill Clark, Crime Buster’. But do we? For it ends up being Annie who is the crime solver in this mysterious tale. Cross makes us feel very clever, as she enables us, if we have our detective hats on, to start solving the crime even before Annie and her friends. Inevitably of course, there are some surprises in store along the way to keep us turning the pages. An enjoyable read, even if following the criminal’s trail of what must be a gargantuan consumption of pink bubble gum is rather far-fetched! Age range 9-13
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2014

Moon Chase (A Fellhounds of Thesk Story), Cathy Farr

BITE Publishing ISBN 9780992850906 £7.99

This story follows the adventures of Wil Calloway, a young teen trying to prove his innocence after being accused of the murder of another young boy. Set in a mystical land and part of the ‘Fellhounds of Thesk’ series, this particular version has been adapted for the Bridge Readers programme, a fantastic scheme which aims to ‘bridge the gap between learning to read and reading to learn’. The author has worked extensively with ESL and SLCN children and the careful adaptation of this tale is wonderful for engaging the less confident reader, or those moving towards Young Adult and Adult fiction. This makes it an ideal tool in the classroom to help weaker and improving readers, whilst keeping their interest through the intrigue, twists and creative language used within the story. The tale is full of mythical and real animals, including the heroic Irish Wolfhounds (the fellhounds named for the series), the vicious and sinister ‘Wraithe Wolves’ and a magical Crow named Pricilla. Alongside these animals, the story focuses on the journey of Wil in his quest to prove his innocence whilst protecting the town of Saran from the wolves of Tel Harion, and, equally importantly, follows the development of his relationships with his comrades in battle as part of this ‘Moon Chase’. I loved the inclusivity of genders in the story (both female and male role models play equal parts in this tale), and there is lots of opportunity for discussions around morality and difficult choices in the face of adversity (personal interests versus loyalty to others), which would make it great for SEAL or PSE sessions. It is a great introduction to the fantasy genre, and includes an appendix for more challenging words. I would highly recommend this to schools to help bridge the gap in reading material for the developing reader.
Laura Davies, Project Development Coordinator for Fair Foundations, Chwarae Teg
Online review 2014

The Odd Squad: Bully Bait, written and illustrated by Michael Fry

Faber and Faber ISBN 9780571304950 £6.99 (£5.99 ebook)

This book is American. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but it does rely on an understanding of the American school system: lockers you can get into; the school counsellor; the janitor in the basement; an apple-peeler-corer-slicer as instrument of torture! Once the reader has acclimatised, the story is rather heart-warming; three misfits foil the school bully, getting into all sorts of scrapes on the way. This book deals with quite a few pertinent issues: cyber-bullying; anti-social behaviour as a direct result of not being able to access the curriculum; social status and lack of it in school; divorce; eccentric grand-parental behaviour etc. These are not dealt with directly, but are incidental to the story and the astute reader will quickly pick up the implicit messages.

This is not a book for struggling readers as it is long (214 pages), there is a lot going on and the plot is not always sequential, but I think it could well suit disaffected readers who would enjoy the humour (well, ‘humor’) and the cartoon style.
D. J. Holmes, Sexey’s School
Online review 2014

Over the Line, Tom Palmer

Barrington Stoke ISBN 978781123935 £5.99

This book is important because it links the First World War with the world of football. Tom Palmer is an accomplished, successful writer whose books motivate reluctant readers, especially boys. Over the Line is his first venture into non-fiction writing. It tells the story of heroic Jack Cock, one of the first generation of professional footballers. Jack enlisted in the Footballers' Battalion and went on to play in the Flanders Cup. He also experienced the horror and tragedy of World War One. The first-person narrative is powerful and moving. Jack survived the trenches and scored England's first international goal after the end of the war. This is a text that will connect with children. There is information about the history of the football, such as how Arsenal got its name, an eye-witness account of trench warfare and consideration of the wider implications of the conflict such as an observation about a character who ‘kept on being a victim of war long after peace was declared’. At the bottom of each page there are attractive black and white illustrations. The book is supported by an excellent website www.readingwar.co.uk/ which has a wealth of background information for teachers and pupils including a playscript and videos of places referred to in the text. I will certainly be using it with my classes.
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2015

Paws and Whiskers, selected by Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt

Corgi ISBN 9780552570862 £6.99

So many children long for a pet, or love to read about the idyllic adventures of animal-child pairings. This book caters wonderfully to such children, particularly in the upper primary bracket, providing a range of extracts and short stories by a variety of authors, all with a short introduction by Jacqueline Wilson. From classic writers such as Dick King-Smith and an unavoidable extract of The Hundred and One Dalmatians, to relatively recent work such as Love that Dog by Sharon Creech and even some short stories by Wilson herself, this book is a real treasure trove of stories and poems. Even if some children, who prefer to lose themselves in a longer story, find the extract style off-putting, it is nevertheless a useful book for the class teacher who wishes to recommend longer stories to animal-loving children. Furthermore it would be a lovely addition to any classroom bookcase, with the short stories or extracts being the perfect length for a child to dip into, or for an end-of-day read.
Rachel Cordon
Online review 2015

Pea’s Book of Holidays, Susie Day

Red Fox Books, Random House Children’s Publishers ISBN 9781782952602 £6.99

Susie Day has managed to create a timeless children’s summer holiday adventure story overlaid with contemporary ingredients: non-standard families, the pressure on parents to make their short contact time with their children memorable and a character battling with hemiplegia. Pea feels responsible as the older sister, since Clover is away at drama summer school, to ensure Mum gets rid of her writer’s block and that Tinkerbell experiences a Famous Five style mystery-solving summer holiday. The only problem is that mysteries don’t appear to order, ginger beer isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and ‘Enid Blyton fumes’ in Corfe don’t appear to be weaving their magic on Mum.... Luckily they meet the boys called PIE (Paranormal Investigations Edinburgh), and get swept up in the quest to get a sighting of the Grey Lady who haunts the castle ruins. First person narration is interspersed with diary extracts, letters, notes and lists to create an enjoyable read for upper KS2 or shared reading with 8+. Enid Blyton is both evoked and kindly critiqued in this humorous and entertaining adventure and there are plenty of sensitive insights into these likeable characters. Readers who fall for Pea and her family will find other books in the series to explore, but each can be read and enjoyed in its own right.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education at Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

Pirates 'n' Pistols, Chris Mould

Hodder Children's Books ISBN 9781444920550 £5.99

All sorts of cold hearted cut-throats and bloodthirsty buccaneers sail in and out of the pages of this treasure chest of pirate stories. Chris Mould has compiled a highly entertaining collection of original short stories and well chosen extracts from classic books. Readers can share Jim Hawkins' voyage on the Hispaniola to Treasure Island and then board a tanker with modern day pirates in the Strait of Malacca to steal the Jewel of Bengal. There is a traditional Japanese tale, a Greek myth and excerpts from Wilkie Collins and Edgar Allan Poe. Each page is well designed and the atmospheric dark illustrations complement the stories to make the landlubber's blood run even colder as the tales unfold. The stories written by Mould himself are particularly enjoyable. They are rich confections with vigorous language that read out loud well. He treats readers to gripping short stories about greed and treachery, each one with a twist in the tale.

They are alive with large characters like the fearsome Captain Sneerstout who lurk around taverns called The Blind Eye and think nothing of imprisoning luckless captives deep in the dark brig surrounded by gunpowder connected to a slow fuse It is nail biting stuff offered in easily digestible segments that boys in upper key stage 2 will thoroughly enjoy. It is no wonder it was shortlisted for the CILIP Kate Geenaway Medal 2013.
Jonathan Rooke, Senior Lecturer, University of Winchester
Online review 2014

Polar Regions Research on the Edge Science at Work in Earth’s Wildest Places Louise Spilsbury

Wayland ISBN 978075028016 £12.99

This book presented cutting edge information that we did not have elsewhere in our Library. The illustrations and format are attractive but it was the facts that impressed us. We did not know that only female polar bears are fitted with radio tracking collars because male polar bears have necks wider than their heads so the collars would fall off. Pupils were fascinated by the equipment, vehicles and relocatable research stations that scientists use. It was interesting to hear that scientists have learned from local hunters that the narwhal’s tusk is not for fighting but is a sensory organ used for detecting changes in the ocean’s environment. Blogs and the internet help scientists of all nationalities to share research quickly. We were intrigued to learn that scientists have used new technology to combine fifty years of data and millions of new measurements from satellites and aeroplane surveys to make a 3-D map of the Antarctic. This should help them understand and protect the fragile environment of the Poles. Highly recommended for upper Key Stage 2. Also in the series Research on the Edge Space by Angela Royston (Wayland ISBN 9780750280150 £12.99)
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2014

The Quirks in Circus Quirkus, Erin Soderberg

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781408842935 £5.99

For a book bursting with magical powers, mischief and trouble-dodging, look no further than The Quirks in Circus Quirkus! The Quirk family has secret magical powers (Grandpa Quirk can twist time and Finn Quirk is invisible unless he is chewing gum, to name just two!) and, after numerous unsuccessful attempts to keep their secret hidden, they arrive in the town of Normal. In this sequel to The Quirks: Welcome to Normal, the circus comes to town and the Quirk children are learning to perform circus acts at school. Meanwhile, their not-so-normal magical powers are attracting unwanted attention from their nosy neighbour …
All children will be able to relate to this story about the Quirk children’s desire to fit in and the conflicts that they have to resolve. The magical powers give the story an entertaining twist and every chapter is full of fun – children will laugh out loud at the antics of the Quirks as they try to guess how the comical situations will end. This book is aimed at children between 9 and 11 years old; however, the content is such that it would be perfect for advanced younger readers.
Claire Williams, Year 5 teacher, St. Andrew's C of E Primary School, Essex
Online review 2014

Real Stories from Street Children Across the World, Anthony Robinson, illustrations by June Allan

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN 9781847804341 £12.99

Published and available in hardback, this is a collection of real-life stories about street children from across the world. Compiled by Anthony Robinson, a children’s author and global teacher, this book provides very moving first-hand accounts of the experiences of children living on the streets of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Guatemala. An insightful, informative and ultimately uplifting collection, the raw and honest accounts of the children provide fantastic stimulus for a number of curriculum areas (geography – maps, habitats and environments, society; art – graffiti, street art, photography; and English – factual writing) as well as popular themes such as ESDGC, Philosophy 4 Children and SEAL. The illustrations and photos provide further prompts for enquiry and make the book more accessible to a range of readers and appropriate for a variety of learning styles as well as different age groups. Perfect for encouraging higher-order thinking skills and opportunities for philosophical enquiry in areas such as global citizenship, equality & diversity, Rights of the Child and pupil voice, this resource provides ample opportunity for oral discussion and is a great non-fiction addition to any school library.
Laura Davies, Project Development Coordinator for Fair Foundations, Chwarae Teg
Online review 2015

Rebecca is always right, Anna Carey

O’Brien Books ISBN 9781847175656 £6.99

Fourth in the series of books about teenage Rebecca, through the pages of her very frank journal we eavesdrop on her day-to-day life. Now 15, Rebecca writes about her friends, her family, her fears and her hopes. She tells us about her band Hey Dollface and their new rehearsal spot where they meet other would-be rock stars, about classmate Vanessa, whom she loathes and who has an annoying but successful TV advert, about her sister Rachel breaking up with her boyfriend and about her own developing feelings for Sam who she met at last summer’s band camp. Reading the book feels like overhearing a typical teenage conversation, where relatively minor things to the adult mind take on huge significance. The book is endorsed by chick-lit author Marian Keyes, a writer whose books Rebecca fans are likely to move on to, I suspect. Age-range 11-14.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2015

Red, Libby Gleeson

Hodder Children’s Books ISBN 9781444917307 £6.99

The plot begins in Australia shortly after a disastrous storm has hit. We are introduced to the character of Red at the outset, covered in Mud. The descriptive nature of the first chapter alone would easily spur a cascade of writing, including detailed and interesting descriptions. The principle character is Red, a young girl who has no idea of who she is, calling out the name Jay Martin. Red has to rely on a boy named Peri, who will help her through the adventure. This is a great undertone in the story of how relationships can be formed in the most difficult of times. The gripping adventure takes the reader on a journey to the darker sides of disaster and back again. The leading character being female is the reason that the story is captivating for the most reluctant of boys and the adventure driven girls. The story not appropriate for all children and is definitely suited to the more able Year 6 and more likely to early teens due to the emotional content and the twists and turns of the plot. A really good adventure story made tangible by the possibility of the disaster one day being a real adventure.
Matthew Wilson, key stage 2 teacher, St Paul’s CIW Primary, Cardiff
Online review 2014

Room Full of Chocolate, Jane Elson

Hodder ISBN: 9781444916751 £6.99

Jane Elson has used her own experiences as a child to weave together this tense and poignant story of ten year-old Grace whose mum finds a lump that means she has to go into hospital. Dad has recently left, so with no-one to look after her, Grace has to move from London to Yorkshire to live on her Grandad’s farm. But Mum and Grandad fell out years ago, so this is no home-from-home for the angry and upset Grace. Things get even worse when she is told she mustn’t play with Megan who lives nearby and she is bullied when she starts at the local school. But Megan and Grace defy adult authority and become best friends. The friendship includes Megan’s pet pig Claude whose amusing presence helps to lighten the story. Told in the first person, partly through the pages of Grace’s secret notebook, we feel her pain and worry as events unfold. The story is as much about friendship, bullying and telling the truth as it is about the effects of a family dealing with breast cancer, so it covers many difficult areas, and Elson deals with Grace’s emotional traumas well. There is a hopeful, rather than a happy ending, which is an honest way to deal with the situation. Age range 9 - 12.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2015

Rubik’s Quest: Robots’ Revenge, Clive Gifford, illustrations by Damien Jones
Rubik’s Quest: Cube Countdown, Dan Green, illustrations by Clive Shephard

QED Publishing ISBN 9781781715611/9781781715604 £7.99 each

These highly illustrated books are published to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Rubik’s cube, and offer the reader interactive adventures, as near as you can get on paper to a computer game. We are immediately involved in the unfolding stories, being spoken to directly and invited to solve a series of puzzles which lead us to the next part of the mystery. We are given challenges in the form of questions with multiple choice answers, each one directing us to a page somewhere in the text. On arriving we discover whether or not we answered correctly If we do, the quest continues. If not, we are sent back with a helpful clue so that we can choose more wisely the second time. It’s fair to say that a good level of either scientific (for Robots’ Revenge) or mathematical (for Cube Countdown) knowledge is needed to have some hope of being successful, even though we do learn along the way. The books provide interesting challenges for those aged 8 -11 who enjoy the subjects and perhaps for whom a straightforward text would be less inviting.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2015

Rugby Warrior, Gerrard Siggins

O’Brien Press ISBN 9781847175945 £7.99

Rugby Warrior is the second tale in a fantastic series of action packed, sports based adventures. Don’t let this worry you however, as even though I had not read the first book, I could not put this one down. The book is accurately and engagingly written by Gerrard Siggins who clearly has a passion for rugby, something evident from the first page to the last. The story follows a young school boy Eion Madden who is a fantastic rugby player and his team Castlerock. Interlaced with rugby however, is a tale of a history project. Eion decides during a frantic moment of panic to write about a soldier from World War One, Dave Gallaher, who happened to also play rugby. A meeting with a Mr Gallaher throws Eoin into questioning whether what he saw was real. The conclusion of this fantastic tale is an exciting, but not far-fetched, kidnapping that ties all of the loose connections together. Putting on my teacher’s hat for a moment, this book is superb for encouraging children to see links between the past and the present, sport and a need to achieve. It will also engage those reluctant boys, who like me, will not want to stop reading it! Rugby and history are two of my biggest loves, so to me this book was perfect!
Matthew Wilson, key stage 2 teacher, St Paul’s CIW Primary, Cardiff
Online review 2014

Say No To Bullying! Louise Spilsbury and Mike Gordon

Wayland ISBN 9780750271110 £12.99

This book is a welcome addition to any school or class library for older key stage 2 children. There are comprehensive definitions of different forms of bullying, including cyber-bullying, name-calling, relationship bullying, physical bullying, prejudice, mobile phone abuse, internet abuse and the dangers of social networking sites. There is excellent advice on how to stand up and say no to bullying, whether one is a victim or a bystander. The book also looks at why people become bullies and how they can be helped. Kidscape, the charity committed to keeping children safe from abuse and bullying, was the consultant for the book.
The text is approachable and accessible. ‘Did You Know?’ and ‘You Can Do It’ boxes together with cartoons break up the pages. There are also useful lists of websites and helplines. It is highly recommended.
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2014

Secret Breakers: Circle of Fire, H. L. Dennis

 Hodder Children’s Books  ISBN 9780340999660  £6.99

 The evening that I first picked up Secret Breakers: Circle of Fire, I had planned to read the first couple of chapters.  Reading the first couple of chapters turned into reading the whole book without putting it down!  The sixth book in the Secret Breakers series, it follows the code-breaking adventures of a group of young friends who are on their final journey to solve the secret behind the ancient Voynich Manuscript – a secret that has defeated adults for centuries.  As well as being a fast-paced and totally gripping read, this book has a cleverly constructed plot; the connections between the codes and the different locations across the globe that the Secret Breakers are taken to in their search are fascinating.  I will certainly be recommending this series to children in Year 5 and 6 and encouraging them to explore H. L. Dennis’ brilliant ‘Secret Breakers’ website, which is jam-packed with interesting background information and lots more secret locations to check out!

Claire Williams, Year 5 teacher, St. Andrew's C of E Primary School, Essex

Sketches from a Nameless Land, Shaun Tan

Hodder Children's Books ISBN 9780734411648 £14.99

This is fabulous. Shaun Tan has set about creating what is in essence a companion volume to The Arrival, and in doing so has produced a book that provides fascinating insight. He likens the whole to an iceberg – The Arrival being the part visible above the water and Sketches from a Nameless Land the part concealed beneath. It works. I must admit to being sceptical initially: I wanted my responses to the original to remain intact and unaffected by explanation and the links and connections Tan made. However, seeing the origins of some of his ideas and the insights into his thinking, I have revised my view. It has added enormously to my enjoyment of the original: when the connections I had made chime with Tan’s explanations, and also when he provides fresh insight. Sketches from a Nameless Land is divided into sections that cover themes, modus operandi and inspiration, and provides a wealth of background information that would support and enhance any sharing of The Arrival in the classroom. Additionally it has the potential to provide ideas for cross-curricular work that can only add to pupil enjoyment and understanding of the original. It remains important for me, however, to let pupils absorb The Arrival and discuss their responses to it without reference to Sketches, and to beware the possibility that the added insights gained from Sketches might result in too much teacher intervention. Highly recommended to support teaching your Upper KS2 class.
Elizabeth Broad, Head of Primary ITT, University of Roehampton
Online review 2015

Star for a Day, Jean Ure, illustrations by Charlie Alder

Barrington Stoke ISBN: 9781781123584 £5.99

It’s not unusual for there to be discord between sisters, and such is the situation between Lucy and her younger sister Lola. There’s an old song that goes ‘Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets’, and that’s certainly the case here. It seems she has mum wrapped round her little finger. So when a local children’s talent show is looking for entrants, Mum whisks Lola off to the shops for a new outfit, whilst Grandad convinces Lucy that she, too should enter. But whilst Lola will be ballet dancing, Lucy will literally be following in her Gran’s footsteps, and clog dancing. There is a happy ending, with even Mum finally showing some consideration for her older daughter.
The book is labelled ‘Dyslexia friendly’, with the publishers testing out their products on children to ensure they meet the brief. With short chapters, uncomplicated language and a fast pace, this is an easy read that doesn’t patronise its readers. Many girls will empathise with Lucy’s situation, and the mother’s attitude is certainly worth a discussion. Age range 9-13
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2014

Tales from the Schwartzgarten: The Woebegone Twins, Christopher William Hill

Orchard ISBN 9781408330135 £9.99

Every now and then, you encounter a book which you know that children will love. Sometimes that book might have been written by an author who has already managed to capture the minds and hearts of young readers: readers who will, with increasing impatience, wait for the next exciting instalment of the ongoing adventures of characters who have become their night time friends. Christopher William Hill could well join the ranks of such authors. His series of books, Tales from the Schwartzgarten, teem with gruesomely comic characters which children will love. The Woebegone Twins (book two in the series) does not disappoint in this respect, or in any other. The rip roaring adventure begins on the very first page, where the reader is first introduced to the most unlucky children in literary history. The plot has more twists and turns than the Minotaur’s labyrinth and the most deliciously wicked characters seep out of every page, slither across the floor and inhabit the darkened recesses of the reader’s bedroom. The Woebegone twins, however, are a resourceful and plucky twosome with an acute sense of the dark shadows which lurk in the pages of their story, and are thus fully prepared to outwit the evil wrong doers. The Woebegone Twins is the perfect book to read under the covers by torchlight: or, for those of a more sensitive disposition, it is the ideal ‘cliff-hanger in every chapter’ book to be listened to at the end of a school day. Recommended for key stage 2.
Tracey Parvin, Senior Lecturer, Primary Education, Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

Tiger Moth, Suzi Moore

Simon & Schuster ISBN 9780857075109 £6.99
None of us can predict how we might react to an unexpected ‘big event’ in our lives. So it is for Alice and Zack (intentionally named from the extremes of the alphabet?) for whom in their very different lives, ‘Everything was perfect until it wasn’t’. One faces the prospect of a new arrival in the family and reacts by becoming an elective mute, the other suffers a sudden bereavement and the ensuing unforeseen money problems force a move from a large house to a seaside cottage. So we are introduced to two young teens, in parallel narratives at first, facing up to grief, loss and a sense of betrayal. Angry and caught up in their own concerns, the two meet and find solace in a new friendship, one which ensures something positive emerges from their inauspicious starting points. Moore, while firmly inside the feelings, angst and concerns of her young protagonists, is also able to convey something of the adults’ worries and problems in a tale which weaves comedy, surprises and unexpected intrigue deftly together. Family love, understanding and patience are firmly at the heart of this book. Emotions are explored and those of the reader are deliberately tugged as we come to care about Alice and Zack. For this reviewer, however, there was one jarring note: the epilogue. Here the surprise didn’t quite work.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education at Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

Valentine Joe, Rebecca Stevens

Chicken House ISBN 9781909489608 £6.99

In this cleverly constructed time-slip novel, the present-day life of 14 year-old Rose meets that of Joe, a too-young soldier of the First World War. Rose and her Grandad are visiting Ypres and whilst she is struggling to come to terms with the death of her father, unexpected events take her back in time to an Ypres under fire, and the horror of the trenches, through her friendship with Valentine Joe. Rose has seen Joe’s grave so when she travels back across the years and meets him, she knows his fate. Will she try to change history? She has already lost one person close to her and now she faces losing a second. The time-slip device enables Stevens to put us right into the reality of war as we experience events through Rose’s eyes. This poignant and heart-warming story would be good to use when studying the First World War, but it is a good read for its own sake. Age-range 9-13.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2015

Viva Alice! Judi Curtin

O'Brien Press ISBN 9781847176653 £6.99

After a period of writing other books, Judi Curtin has returned to her popular characters Alice and Megan, now thirteen, for another fast-paced series of adventures during their school summer holidays. Alice’s mad-cap plans and over the top schemes are given exuberant free rein as the girls enjoy a holiday with Grace and her family in Lanzarote. While Megan and Grace intend to lounge by the pool for the week, Alice has designs on sorting out Grace’s brother’s love-life which involve the trio in all manner of subterfuge. If that isn’t enough, on their return, there’s the problem of the girl who has bullied Megan for years. Does she really require their help? Curtin’s obvious affection for this pair is clear in the ease with which she is able to conjure their conversations, their obsessions and the strong sense of unspoken communication between them. Redolent of some of Jacqueline Wilson’s work, this is both funny and insightful about young teenage concerns. Well–structured and paced, with a confident use of first person narration, young readers will enjoy the momentum of the story, the powerful bonds of friendship and the way in which we all question the normality of our families.
Sue Barrett, former primary deputy head and senior lecturer in Primary Education at Canterbury Christ Church University
Online review 2015

The Watching Wood, Erika Mcgann

O'Brien ISBN 9781847176820 £6.99

Trainee witches Grace and her friends are sucked unexpectedly into a parallel world of faeries and other magical beings. But it is no twinkling fairytale that the girls find themselves trapped inside. They are thrust into a deadly competition known as the Witch Trials, and as newcomers, ignorant of the rules and expectations, their struggle to compete is not helped by fierce opponents particularly those led by Victoria Meister, who does all she can to throw trouble their way. But the friends do surprisingly well, so well in fact that Rachel is selected to be taken to the luxurious home of the prestigious Hunters, where she is seduced by the possibility of an exciting and opulent life. But for the others, the urge to return home is strong, and they hatch a plan to escape. Needless to say, there are many terrifying obstacles in their way, and their route to freedom is paved with unimaginable hazards. McGann's storytelling has racked up a gear with this book which is a much more powerful story than the girls' previous adventure The Broken Spell, with tensions aplenty to keep the reader gripped. Age Range 10 - 13.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2015

What they don’t tell you about William Shakespeare, Anita Ganeri, illustrated by Alan Rowe

Wayland ISBN 9780750281676 £5.99

With his plays performed and studied all over the world, it is perhaps surprising that little is known about the man himself. Much of William Shakespeare’s life is a mystery, but this book aims to provide interesting information about the Bard of Avon and his times. Did you know, for instance that more than 3,000 birds and animals are mentioned in his writing? Or that he married at the age of 17 to a pregnant, 26-year-old Anne Hathaway? And children will enjoy learning that not only was he a poor speller but also had terrible handwriting! In order to understand Shakespeare in context, we are given a historical view of England and close-up pictures of both Stratford and London. We learn especially about the Elizabethan theatre including famous actors and companies of the period. As well as summaries of ten of his most well-known plays, the chronological list of all 37 of them shows that he wrote an average of two each year – 1606 being particularly good, producing King Lear and Macbeth.
Written in an approachable and sometimes humorous style, the book offers fascinating facts whether readers are studying the Bard or not. Age range 9 - 13
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2014

 The World Of Norm - May Need Filling In, Jonathan Meres, illustrations by Donough O’Malley

Orchard ISBN 9781408334270 £5.99

Here is Norm again, this time in a ‘fill-in-the-spaces’ format. I imagine the idea for this Norm book came from its publisher as it’s a format I clearly remember from the 1960s and 70s. In those days most weekly comics (which had a huge circulation as books were so expensive) were produced annually in Summer Specials (more colour and shinier paper) and holiday activity versions. We waited in excited anticipation to be handed them as we got into the car for the long trek to Cornwall (just three gears and no seatbelts in those days) and I am sure that this Norm activity book will be just as happily received by its fans forty years later. We have some quizzes and word searches, some jokes and some spot-the –differences, all featuring the usual irreverent toilet humour we have come to expect from Norm, but much a of this book is plain paper… space… for the reader to do the work. That’s fine. But it’s a book for the Christmas stocking or a long holiday and not really suitable (nor was it designed for) the classroom.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2015

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