Ages 9 - 11 [Upper Key Stage 2] 2011

Adelaide, the Flying Kangaroo, Tomi Ungerer

Phaidon Press  ISBN 9780714860831  £8.95
Adelaide is different.  Adelaide is a kangaroo who, to her parents’ surprise, is born with wings.  As she watches birds and planes her wings continue to grow until, one day, Adelaide decides to celebrate her difference by flying away.  She finds a friendly pilot to follow as they both become famous, visiting India before Adelaide decides to settle in Paris.  After some sight-seeing, she becomes a music hall act.  But then, following the rescue attempt of two children from a blazing building which leaves her hospitalised, Adelaide starts to realise how lonely she is.  She finally finds the love of her life at the kangaroo house of the Paris Zoo and they marry, living happily ever after.  Adelaide realises that if she hadn’t used her difference to follow her dreams, she could not have been so happy.

The deceptively simply images are mostly single colour on cream paper, with some occasional blue added.  There is humour (a customs officer searching Adelaide’s pouch for stowaways), pathos (a bandaged Adelaide lying in hospital), fear (the Notre Dame gargoyles) and comfort (the Notre Dame angels) in the images, as a range of human emotions is portrayed.  This is a beautiful book to share with a young child or to give as a gift.  It will be valued and revisited many times.

Gill Robins   Online review 2011

Death By Chocolate / Six Million Ways To Die / The Big Break Detectives Casebook, Alan Nolan

O'Brien, £6.99 each

The first two books are both in the Murder Can Be Fatal series and I feel are too demanding for the ‘under twelves’.  The humour is sophisticated, the story-lines pastiche literary or film genres and the vocabulary is complex and written in upper case, for example:  ‘SKYDIVING FROM THE SPACE SHUTTLE, GOING OVER NIAGARA FALLS IN A PHAROAH’S SARCOPHAGUS.’ Phew!

This approach is appropriate for the comic book genre but in schools graphic or comic novels are often given to reluctant or weaker readers because they have pictures, and these books would not be suitable for this purpose. They would be most successful as a quick read (between longer novels) for those confident readers (often boys) with a quirky, off-beat sense of humour.  Big Break Detectives is much more suitable for children. It is funnier, more attractively produced (with colour and photographs as well as cartoons) and much easier to read.

Three children spend their lunch break (called ‘big break’ in Ireland) solving crimes, and this book is a journal of their adventures.  There are four very short stories and some ‘extra’ material. I could see small groups or individuals (8-11) enjoying this book.

Debra Holmes, Sexey’s School, Bruton

Eight Keys, Suzanne LaFleur

Puffin Books ISBN 9780141336053 £6.99

This second book from US author Suzanne LaFleur has, at the time of writing, been nominated for the Red House Children’s Book Award 2013, and it is a nomination well-deserved. LaFleur’s tale of that tricky transition between schools at age 11 struck a real chord with me, as I’m sure it would with many other parents of children the same age.

But Elise’s story is rather different, for she lives with her Uncle Hugh and Aunt Bessie: her mother died when she was born and her father a few years later. So when the school bully makes Elise the target of her aggression, and she begins to question her friendship with the sweet boy Franklin, who has been her best friend forever and now seems to be a part of her past she would rather leave behind, she misses having parents to make sense of it all. Until she discovers the first in a series of eight mysterious keys that just might help to bring her parents back to her.

Eight Keys tackles the issues of bullying, death, fitting in and growing up in a beautifully written and well-measured book that inspires and offers a real sense of understanding to this coming-of-age tale. Age: 9-12
Kristina West, Children's Literature PhD student, University of Reading
Online review 2011

Far Rockaway, Charlie Fletcher

Hodder Children’s Books ISBN 9780340997338 £7.99

Far Rockaway is one of those places that has the sound of magic in its name – unless you are a New Yorker, in which case, it is just that place at the far end of the line if you take the A train. But to Charlie Fletcher, author of the wonderful new children’s book, Far Rockaway, it is haven, redemption, and the beginning of the end – or is that the end of the beginning? Cat’s problems all begin when she rebels against the classic books her beloved grandfather, Victor, buys for her because there are no decent parts for girls, and ends with the two of them being hit by a New York fire truck. But as they both fight for their lives in a midtown hospital, Cat is also fighting with and against the Indians in The Last of the Mohicans as she tries to save Victor and ultimately herself. The story flits between the two worlds, one mirroring the other as Cat and her new companion fight the dreaded Magua, falling from one adventure into another, and eventually into another book altogether as Long John Silver strides through the pages. Fletcher handles his source material with skill, and the story remains that of Cat, despite the familiar characters helping or hindering her journey.

The moral of the story is that real girls rescue themselves, and Cat learns many lessons of trust, instinct and tenacity along the way. Neither does Fletcher’s prose shrink from reality, with death in particular treated in a fairly unflinching manner. Ultimately, however, it is the author’s belief in redemption, survival and the magic of story that take Far Rockaway beyond the mere adventure story and into the realms of the extraordinary. A beautiful book. Recommended age: 10+
Kristina West, Children's Literature PhD student, University of Reading
Online review 2011

H.I.V.E. Aftershock, Mark Walden

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781408815649 £6.99

This fast-paced, new edition to the H.I.V.E. series continues the story of Otto Malpense and his fellow students at H.I.V.E., the top secret school of villainy. As the book unfolds the pupils of H.I.V.E. realise that they are going to face their most challenging and dangerous exercise to date, 'The Hunt.' As the elite Alpha squadron approach Siberia, where their mission is to take place, they realise something is not quite as it should be! H.I.V.E. has been regarded as a fresher, more exciting, new series replacing the much loved, Robert Muchamore's CHERUB. Aftershock is the 7th book in the series to be released. There is a complex array of simultaneous storylines featuring throughout this book, which fuse together giving this book an exhilarating and unpredictable ending. This book feels as if it is a stepping stone into something greater in subsequent books; it would appear villainkind is on the brink of CIVIL WAR!

You can clearly see Mark Walden's extensive background as a video games designer and producer appear throughout the book. This science fantasy book would definitely be a 'hook' into reading for boys who spend too much time in front of computer games. The book uses a high level of vocabulary and the unusual selection of names requires a good standard of reading comprehension. This series of books would be ideal for setting up a book club for a small group of reluctant boy readers aged 11-14.
Donna Kirkwood
Online review 2011

The Jaws of Death, Malachy Doyle

Barrington Stoke  ISBN 9781842994023  £6.99
This title is from the Barrington Stoke Reloaded series, which retells traditional tales in a readable format.  The Jaws of Death is a reworking of an ancient Chinese myth.  The book is formatted in short, readable chapters and has a reading age of 8+ and an interest age of 11+.

It tells the story of Kwang-Su, who crosses crocodile infested rivers and braves a dragon in order to reach the Genii.  His mission - to obtain a jade pestle and mortar in order to win the beautiful Ling-Ling as his wife.  In spite of his use of magic, it becomes a race against time to complete the mission before Ling-Ling’s mother gives her to a wealthy old mandarin.  Can all that he has learnt from the great master about bravery and courage be enough to secure victory?  And can he help the poor people of his home town as a result of his adventures?

Brenda Marshall  Online review 2012

Raintree Graphic Library and Graphic History series:

ISBN 9781406214499/978140621548/9781406214345/9781406214383/9781406214383 £7-99 (hardback £12,99)

These graphic versions of real-life events from Raintree are attractive and imaginative and are likely to be very popular with students, often boys, who claim to prefer non-fiction to novels. However, each book does have a strong narrative running through it. The content makes them suitable for upper Key stage 2 and lower Key Stage 3 students.

Uncovering Mummies: An Isabel Soto History Adventure, Agnieszka Biskup, illustrated by Al Bigley, Cynthia Martin and Bill Anderson
This provides a great deal of information about all sorts of different mummies through the use of a mystery story framework and time-travel device. Crucially the main character, Isabel, asks a lot of questions which are answered by the experts she meets. I learned a lot.

Isaac Newton and The Laws of Motion, Andrea Gianopoulos, illustrated by Phil Miller and Charles Barnett
This is a chronological biography. The subject matter won’t appeal to all children but I have to confess that, shockingly, this is the first time I have had the laws of motion clearly explained to me.

The Curse of King Tut’s Tomb, Michael Burgan, illustrated by Barnara Schulz

This book is a retelling of the Howard Carter story. Textually and intellectually it is the easiest of the four books reviewed here but the subject matter, the clue is in the title (!), might be a bit depressing for some children.

The First Moon Landing, Thomas K Adamson, illustrated by Gordon Purcell and Terry Beatty
I really enjoyed this book as I thought it conveyed the excitement felt by so many on the occasion of the first moon landing. The balance of narrative and dialogue seems right and the illustrations create a sense of the1960s. It will bring alive an event that many children might have trouble imagining

I can recommend these books for your school or classroom library.
Online review 2011

Raintree Super DC Heroes

Batman - Scarecrow, Doctor of Fear, Matthew K Manning, illustrated by Erik Doescher, Mike Decarlo and Lee Loughbridge

Raintree  ISBN 9781406225365  £5.99

The Flash – Clock King’s Time Bomb, Sean Tulien, illustrated by Dan Schoening, Mike Decarlo and Lee Loughridge

Raintree  ISBN 9781406236866  £3.99

Superman – Toys of Terror, Chris Everheart, illustrated by John Delaney and Lee Loughridge

Raintree  ISBN 9781406214864  £6.99

Wonder Woman The Fruit of All Evil, Philip Crawford, illustrated by Dan Schoening
Raintree  ISBN 9781406225198  £6.99

Green Lantern – Fear the Shark, Laurie Sutton, illustrated by Dan Schoeing

Raintree  ISBN 9781406236736  £3.99

Raintree’s adventure novels based on the characters from DC comics are likely to appeal to children who enjoy watching superhero cartoons on the television or reading comics.  They all feature the expected good versus evil storyline, relatively straightforward yet with action-packed text and brightly coloured, comic book style illustrations.  They can offer a useful step from reading comics and graphic novels to reading continuous prose.  Names and places can be long and complicated (Queen Hippolyta in Wonder Woman and Okinawa Island in The Flash) for a struggling reader (although, in fairness, they can be sounded out) and the culture is distinctly American, which a few children may find off-putting.  I also thought some events and characters (the evil dentist, for example) were very unsettling for children younger than, say, ten.  Each book has 49 pages of story plus a glossary, discussion questions and writing prompts.

Debra Holmes    Online review 2012

Scrum!, Tom Palmer

Barrington Stoke  ISBN 9781842999448   £5.99
Barrington Stoke’s range of ‘dyslexia-friendly’ books continues with Scrum!, a story about a rugby-playing boy, Steven, who is presented with some difficult choices when his mother remarries and the new family move further south, leaving his father, friends and sport of choice behind.  This is more than just a story about the differences between rugby league and rugby union however (although these are explained clearly at the back of the book), focussing as well on the issues facing split families and the effects divorce can have on children.  Steven is a likeable, believable character, whose issues will appeal to any sport-obsessed boy who needs the access to reading a Barrington Stoke book offers.  With clear vocabulary, font size, helpful illustrations and even good quality paper, Scrum! proves a pleasant and positive reading experience for dyslexic and other children.  It also offers a foreword from Rugby Union star, and patron of Dyslexia Action, Kenny Logan – invaluable in showing children that dyslexia need not be a barrier to success.  Recommended for those aged between 8 and 12.

Kristina West    Online review 2012

The Shadow Cage and Other Tales of the Supernatural, Philippa Pearce

Jane Nissen Books  ISBN 9781903252406  £7.99

I have long been a fan of short stories and find them very useful for teaching.  Philippa Pearce is one of my all time favourites.  The Shadow-Cage is a superb story.  The reader is taken out of his/her comfort zone into an uncertain world.  Questions are raised.  Was Mrs Challis’ great-granny a witch?  What was in the bottle?  Why is Whistler’s Hill so-called?  I have yet to encounter a child who did not identify with Kevin’s fear when he is alone at night.  Another good story is Miss Mountain – a fascinating insight into a cruel stepmother and why a young girl felt the need to overeat.  The Running Companion is a superb tale.  Crime, punishment and fear of footsteps are effective ingredients and the pace of the story generates maximum tension.  Don’t miss the excitement of At the River-Gates.  I recommend this outstanding collection that was first published in 1977.  These stories have the power to unsettle and disturb.  To quote Rory, a year 6 pupil, ‘They make me think and the edges of my picture of the world go fuzzy.’

Brenda Marshall     Online review 2012

The Stepsisters' Story, Kaye Umansky, illustrated by Mike Phillips

Barrington Stoke  ISBN 9781781120392  £5.99
This is an entertaining look at a traditional fairy story from the point of view of two minor characters.  Angula and Lardine, steeped in competitive sibling rivalry, are Cinderella’s new step-sisters.  They aren’t deliberately cruel, but are depicted as very thoughtless and encouraged to be hurtful to Cinderella by their ambitious and partisan mother.  The sisters tell their story in turn: a good introduction to narrative perspective.  Cinderella is presented as unassuming and generous, but rather wet.  She never complains so her stepsisters don’t notice her suffering.  Her father, Stepdaddy Hardup, doesn’t defend her but lets himself be walked over by his new, rich wife and just stands around looking sad.  In short, it’s a story about a bunch of characters who are at best weak and at worst downright unpleasant.  I was waiting for a twist at the end but Kaye Umansky goes with the traditional ending, told from Cinderella’s point of view.  However, what she does give us is an (almost) realistic picture of the complexities of melded families and the consequences of selfish behaviour.

This book will entertain both boys and girls.  It can be used as an individual reader or will generate some interesting small-group discussion about fairy tales.

Debra Holmes  Online review 2012

Striker Boy Kicks Out, Jonny Zucker

Frances Lincoln Children’s Books  ISBN 9781847800794  £6.99
For any child, boy or girl, obsessed by football – playing it, watching it, supporting it – Striker Boy Kicks Out is the perfect book.  Combining the rise of a very young teenage player to Premiership heights with a mystery that our hero, 13 year-old Nat Dixon, needs to solve, this sequel to Zucker’s Striker Boy hits all of the right notes.  After clinching the match against Manchester United that kept his team from relegation, Nat Dixon must bring Hatton Rangers to victory against dastardly Spanish side, Talorca FC, and win their first piece of silverware, while simultaneously solving the mystery of his host family’s mysterious son – and saving the life of Talorca’s manager in the process.  Striker Boy Kicks Out seamlessly combines the real with the imaginary, in language that never patronises the reader but makes them feel as part of the professional football world as any newspaper write-up could do.  Highly recommended for the football fan in your class or family. 

Kristina West    Online review 2012

Too Much Trouble, Tom Avery

Frances Lincoln Children's Books 978-1847802347 £5.99

Unspoken menace stalks almost every chapter of this book. A modern day version of Oliver Twist, it tells the story of brothers Emmanuel and Prince Anatole and deals with the very contemporary issues of child immigration, gun crime and street survival. The brothers find their secure lives suddenly dislocated when violence threatens their African homeland. Their father, who is clearly well respected in his community, decides, without giving them any reason, to send the boys to safety with their Uncle in England. So begins a terrifying fight for survival, alone, often hungry, in a semi-derelict house in which their Uncle grows strange plants. For some time, Emmanuel, who was charged by their father to look after Prince, is successful both at not being noticed and knowing whom to be extra nice to. Then, one fateful day, a chance comment from Prince sets a terrifying chain of events in motion.

The sophistication of the narrative, and the skill with which violence and menace are insinuated but rarely explicated, makes this book suitable for a wide range of readers. Although aimed at 8 – 12 year old boys, it would be enjoyed by older readers and it would also read very well aloud. Challenging questions are prompted in the reader’s mind, about honesty, integrity, loyalty, freedom and bonds of family and friendship. Avery demonstrates a clear, sympathetic understanding of children’s social hierarchies, the adrenalin rush of committing a successful crime, and the human need to belong, even when the only choice left is belonging to a criminal gang. Or is it the only choice left?

The story ends with hope for Emmanuel and Prince as they find the peace and stability that their badly broken lives crave. Too Much Trouble won the 2010 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Award – it’s hard to believe that such a gripping novel is Avery’s first. I can’t wait for the next.

Gill Robins, online review 2011

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