Ages 9 - 11 [Upper Key Stage 2] 2010

Company of Angels, Lili Wilkinson

Catnip   ISBN 9781846471049   £6.99

The first thing that attracted me to this book was the cover, with its delightful silhouette of a line of children walking through mountains.  Stephan, a charismatic leader, visits the village declaring that he has a message from God.  He convinces Gabriel, a French peasant boy, that only children will be able to liberate the Holy Land from the Saracens.  Gabriel becomes his first follower, Stephan’s alpha fish.  Soon others are dazzled by Stephan’s persuasion and several thousand children join the dangerous journey over the Alps to the Mediterranean.  The mission is fraught with problems as children suffer and die.  Gabriel’s loyalty is unswerving and watching his blind faith is painful when the crusade ultimately fails.  Gabriel is sold into slavery, eventually choosing to remain with his Muslim master in what is now his home, rather than return to his former life. 

The story is told from Gabriel’s point of view in a simple, child-like narrative.  The journey, based on The Children’s Crusade, is both physical and emotional.  Themes include faith, courage, hypocrisy, self-fulfilment, corruption, conflict between Islam and Christianity, brutality and slavery.  This is a much deeper narrative than the language or the cover suggests.  For a full appreciation, I would recommend it to Year 6.  It offers much to the reflective reader.

Brenda Marshall, English 4-11 Number 43, Autumn 2011 

The Girls’ Guide to Vampires, Jen Jones

Raintree ISBN 9781406242416 £7.99

This book – and indeed the series of which it is a part – throws up so many questions, I almost don’t know where to begin. Is it fact? Is it fiction? Is it fiction masquerading as fact? Answer: probably C, but what then is the reader supposed to believe? Ok, I’m taking it all a bit seriously, but this book on vampires does blur the boundaries to a sometimes startling degree. Having said that, it is a good fun read, and the vampire fan in your family/classroom will enjoy trawling through the recent upsurge in vampire fiction and film, with associated photos, and working out whether their crush might be a vampire in a handy quiz. Slightly worrying that the book then goes on to tell how vampires might be killed, but let’s hope that the ‘crush’ aspect will stop readers taking matters into their own hands… And if vampires aren’t your thing, werewolves, wizards and zombies are also part of the series. Do girls have crushes on zombies? And I thought I was an odd teenager. Recommended age: 10+
Kristina West, Children's Literature PhD student, University of Reading
Online review 2010

In Too Deep, Tom Avery

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN 9781847803894 £6.99

In Too Deep is the second novel from Tom Avery, author of the award winning Too Much Trouble. This sequel is a fast paced thriller which provides a continuation of the story of two brothers Prince and Emmanuel. The boys have not had an easy start to life and experience has made it difficult for them to trust adults. Being reunited with their mother after four years of separation, causes some anxiety and the boys are understandably suspicious at first. They are faced with some moral dilemmas and have tough decisions to make when they discover that their father is trapped in Tanzania and being blackmailed by gangsters to pay back an unmanageable and out of control debt. The boys come to the harsh conclusion that if they ever want their family to be brought back together, then it will be down to them to get everyone to Africa in order to save their father. They realise that getting on a plane to Africa is their only option; with no money available, they have to make some incredibly difficult choices. This book is an engaging read and difficult to put down once you are immersed in the action! The characterisation of children forced into thinking about issues that are well beyond their chronological age should appeal to most young readers, but may be of particular interest to fans of Beverley Naidoo’s writing.
Mary Bennett, Initial Teacher Education Lecturer
Online review 2011

One Boy’s War, Lynn Huggins-Cooper, illustrated by Ian Benfold Haywood

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books ISBN 9781847801265 £6.99

One Boy’s War is a deceptively simple treatment of the mature topic of World War 1. The story is told through the eyes of 15 year old Sydney Dobson. At the start of the book, war has been declared and Pa is off to war. Pa’s excitement contrasts with Ma’s distress. Then Sydney himself decides to sign up. We feel his mother’s pain as we read the note he has left her. Through Sydney’s letters home and his journal, we follow his training and preparation for war. The boy’s innocence and optimism wane as he experiences the appalling conditions of trench warfare. The pounding rain, rats, lice, trench foot and the degradation and bleakness are all depicted in the text and the sombre illustrations. At the same time as Sydney dies, Pa writes that he has been injured at Ypres and will be coming home, unaware of his son’s fate.

The story is all the more poignant because Sydney was a real person. Information and websites are provided for further research. The author’s dedication mentions her own father and the reader reflects on wars across the ages. The book is a powerful and thought-provoking picture book for older children and adults. My Year 6 class loved it. Jacob commented, ‘I read Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse and am interested in World War 1 but some of the books about it are very difficult. This book is good because it is easy to read but it makes you think and the pictures haunt you, especially the ones of life in the trenches. I liked looking up the facts about Sydney on the internet link. I was moved to find that soldiers who joined up lied about their age. Two of them were only two years older than me. This book really leaves you thinking.’
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2010

Swarf The Day the World Stood Still, L. P. Howarth

Catnip ( ISBN 9781846471032 £5.99

Things start to go wrong for Ant on the first page of this intriguing book as green rain begins to fall. White-suited figures paralyse him in his own garden and fill his mind with strange messages which make it clear that he has been chosen for something. The following morning, he finds that the world has come to a total standstill as its fuel has turned to Swarfega. But things only get worse; Ant faces a race against death as he struggles to get his sick Nan to hospital before it’s too late. But why does everyone suddenly have to be registered and why is food rationed? Why are law and order breaking down so rapidly? Using his newly discovered resourcefulness, Ant borrows a horse and cart, a boat and finally a balloon to deliver his Nan safely to hospital.

The mission of the white-suited figures only becomes clear in the closing chapters of this book, as Swarfega suddenly turns back into fuel. Ant decides to start a business producing bio-fuel and it is only then that the values of nature-loving Stu Diamond, a lonely boy who died in an accident, really make sense.

This book communicates an important message through an absorbing narrative. The challenge to the reader is clear – could the world cope without oil? It would be suitable for those older key stage 2 readers who are starting to engage with issues of sustainability. It could also form the basis for a whole-class exploration of alternative fuels and the affects of our total dependence on oil.
Gill Robins, Writer & teacher, Hampshire
Online review 2010

White Chin, Marilyn Edwards illustrated by Frances Bauduin

Catnip Publishing ( ISBN 9781846471056 £6.99

This is Marilyn Edwards’ first children’s novel. It is written from the point of view of the cat and tells the story of White Chin, a domestic cat who is dumped in a wood at five months old and has to fend for himself. In two dramatic episodes the book highlights darker aspects of country life: the setting of illegal animal traps and deer poaching. White Chin's gradual reintroduction to human company is sensitively described. He tries several owners before he learns to trust and settles down with Kirstie, a farmer’s daughter. She, too, encounters problems as she tries to love all of her animals equally.

I enjoyed the observant portrayal of White Chin, and of the other cats, especially Dilly (who hangs round trying to prevent White Chin from going upstairs) and the deliciously flirtatious Adorabelle. The book is moving and heart-warming. The plot is well paced, the illustrations and cover are delightful; it is ideal for cat lovers of key stage 2 or older.
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2010

Young Blackbeard, Michael Lawrence illustrated by Donough O’Malley

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781842997697 £4.99

This story recounts the early life of Blackbeard (when he was known by the less stirring name of Edward Teach) and how he came to take on the terrifying persona that made him one of the most feared pirates to roam the seven seas. Young Edward is sailing around the Caribbean as part of Henry Honeycombe’s crew when the ship strikes rocks in the shallow waters of an island. Not being a fan of the warming rum being passed around by the crew, Edward volunteers to fetch the firewood. Then the adventure begins, with mysterious voices from the fog warning him to stay away from the water. And what about those strange bones under Edward’s feet?

I’m a big fan of this series of stories, particularly as they are engaging and appeal to all readers irrespective of ability - even able readers enjoy the fast paced plots and read each book in one sitting. This title has the dual attraction of pirates and ghosts, capturing the zeitgeist of both genres. The story has pace and plenty of action, although I personally thought that the overall flow was slowed by too much dialogue. I liked the use of historical detail; a strength of many books in the series. Also, whilst the story is pure fiction, it is based on the real Edward Teach, who did, indeed, become Blackbeard the Pirate. I also appreciated the fact that the hero is, once again, a child getting one over on the adults.

The story clearly has appeal for those wishing to engage lower ability readers and those that lack the motivation to read for pleasure. The children who read the book thought it was excellent; they loved the scary elements and the humour scattered throughout the text. As a school we have bought the complete set of titles. We have created sets of similar themed books that children can read in groups or access during free time. They have quickly become popular with all the children and they are recommending titles to their friends, which is always a good sign!

Young Blackbeard is part of Barrington Stoke’s high interest for lower ability readers series.

Dominic Davies, English 4-11 No. 42, Summer 2011

Share this page: