Ages 9 - 11 [Upper Key Stage 2] 2012


Ancient Egpyt: Tales of Gods and Pharoahs, Marcia Williams

Walker Books  ISBN 9780763653088   £10.49

I think that this is a very colourful book with beautiful illustrations.  I could read each story a hundred times.  I also like it because it is a fun way of learning about such a packed, but interesting, age.  There are many different short stories in this one book, making it double the fun.  They are all very creative and give you a good feel of what it was like in Ancient Egypt.

I also like the Egyptian writing.  It was fun to work out what it meant by looking at the back of the book, where it gives you some really cool examples of Egyptian hieroglyphs.  Not only are there stories to read, but there is also a really funny cartoon at the bottom of each page, painted on real papyrus.  I loved the flaps, too, which open right out and show Tutankhamen’s tomb and Pharaoh Zoser’s tomb. I would recommend this book to all ages, for a fun way of learning about such a packed era.

Iggy Laurie. Aged 11 years. 

The Assassin (Trinity), Zack Satriani

Hothouse Fiction ISBN 9781444906615 £5.99

The interplay of the three main characters from three different worlds who fight together to save their planetary system from invasion by giant armoured spider-like creatures is the strength of this science fiction book. Dray is a warrior daughter of a general with outstanding fighting prowess, Keller is a newly crowned young king of a dysfunctional trading nation and a superb pilot and Ayl, is a principled son of a priestess with a lifesaving telepathic ability. Their comradeship grows as they leap from nailbiting climax to even more nailbiting climax, repeatedly saving one another from horrible deaths at the very, very last moment.

The Assassin moves at breathtaking speed and this energetic plot is filled with exciting equipment like hoverbikes, Firehawk spaceships and scratha swords to delight young readers. Satriani leaves plenty of raw material on each page for children to have fun constructing different worlds for themselves in their own imagination. As well as a rip-roaring adventure, The Assassin offers the reader an imaginary lens through which to consider the society they live in as Keller, the novice king, comes to see for himself the social injustices in the kingdom he has inherited. An exciting book for upper key stage 2 readers and perhaps something well suited to some of the boys.

Jonathan Rooke, Senior Lecturer, University of Winchester
Online review 2012

Avery McShane and the Silver Spurs, Greg Lyons

Bloomsbury  ISBN 9781408816745  £5.99

Avery McShane and the Silver Spurs, the first in a series, is strictly boys’ adventure territory.  There may be a few girls who enjoy it, but on the whole this is one for the lads, from the poo-flinging monkey to the decapitation of soldier ants to scare the girls with and the fascination with seeing a dead body.

That said, it is a gripping story: Avery lives in Venezuela with his parents and his friends who form the Machacas gang, bent on having fun and causing a little havoc along the way.  However, they get in way over their heads when a dare to steal bananas from Pablo Malo’s farm turns into a full-on war with vicious dogs, floods and explosions that leave our hero literally staring down the barrel of a gun with nowhere to go but the swollen river at his back.  There is a certain timelessness about Avery McShane: it follows a fine old tradition of boys’ adventure stories and will be the delight of many a boy (and more than a few dads might enjoy it too!).  Recommended for boys aged 8 to 12.

Kristina West   Online review 2012

Birth of a Killer (The Saga of Larten Crepsley), Darren Shan

HarperCollins ( ISBN 9780007315857 £12.99

This book is a prequel to the popular Cirque du Freak series. It tells the story of Larten Crepsley and his introduction to vampirism. Larten is from an exceptionally poor family. He has a very hard life working seven days a week at a dreadful silk factory. His hair is permanently dyed an unnatural orange to help the foreman, Traz, identify his workers. Traz murders Larten’s cousin, Vur, by drowning him in a vat of boiling water. Larten lashes out in fury and murders his boss. He hides in a crypt, hoping to escape justice, but there he meets Seba Nile, a vampire, who protects him and offers him an apprenticeship. The book describes Larten’s journey from an assistant to a vampire.

This is a story that is not for the faint-hearted but running alongside the horror is an explanation of vampire hierarchy, a code of conduct and an understanding of the dilemmas that Larten faces. Dialogue and character development are strong. The book is action-packed, fast-paced and highly imaginative; it will be enjoyed by all Darren Shan devotees, and it is a good place for those who have not read the Demonata series to start.
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2012

Catherine's Story, Genevieve Moore and Karin Littlewood

Frances Lincoln Children's Books    ISBN 978845076559    £11.99

This is a very special book, about a special girl. Initially Catherine's cousin, Frances, doesn't understand what makes Catherine so special. She can't walk like her cousin Frances can. Catherine's dad helps Frances to try on Catherine's walking boots, but then Frances falls over! Catherine's claps are so quiet that hardly anyone can hear them. Catherine can't talk, but she listens really, really hard, especially when Grandma reads her stories. Because Catherine's family knows how special she is, they feel special too. the author draws on her own experience with her niece who suffered from a kind of epilepsy known as infantile spasms or West Syndrome. The illustrations are brightly coloured, conveying Catherine's personality and the joy she brings to her family. This is a beautiful, moving book with a very positive message about disability. It would be a welcome addition to any family, class or school library.

Brenda Marshall, English 4-11 Number 39, Summer 2010

Charming! – A Cinderella Story, Michaela Morgan, illustrated by Charlie Alder

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781120074 £6.99

This is a clever re-telling of the Cinderella story. Elsie, tormented by attractive, fashionable Kitty and her ‘airhead’ friends, is befriended by new girl Charmaine and helped to gain some self-confidence, find her own style and get her guy (Guy!) through the magic of …hip hop! It sounds bizarre but it works. This is a witty, entertaining book, clearly written (dyslexia friendly and 76 pp) and set in a world of school friends that is easy for the reader to visualise. Elsie (later L.C.) mistakes fashion for style and, ignoring the sensible advice of Charmaine and her mother makes a fool of herself in front of the boy she wants to attract by emulating her enemies’ dress code. This is told amusingly with a touch of real pathos at the end of the episode. ‘It’s hopeless. No ‘happy ever after’ for me.’ The nods to the fairy-tale are dropped gently into the narrative and never laboured.
The story has a satisfying happy ending: Elsie’s hip hop group wins the talent competition; Kitty is warned that looks don’t equal talent and Elsie and Guy realise that the only way to understand each other is to talk to each other. This book would be great for small group reading and discussion, perhaps linked with a unit on fairy-tales.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2012

The Children of Green Knowe, and, The River at Green Knowe, Lucy M. Boston

Faber ISBN 9780571303472 £7.99

When Tolly arrives through a flooded landscape to live in an ancient house with his elderly granny, he senses that his life is about to change. Mrs. Oldknow welcomes her great-grandson to her home for the Christmas holidays and through her stories of children who have lived in the house in the past, Tolly discovers that he can firstly hear, then finally see three of them – Toby, Linnet and Alexander who died of the plague in the seventeenth century. There is a suggestion that the children are ghosts, but Mrs. Oldknow prefers to refer to them simply as ‘the others’. Together Tolly and his child ancestors have magical and mysterious adventures in this most enchanted of places.
Lucy Boston based the stories on her Norman home, the Manor, Hemingford Gray in Cambridgeshire, which you can visit and experience the settings for yourself. She was an early user of the time-slip genre for children and the six captivating Green Knowe stories have become timeless classics, never having been out of print since the first volume in 1954, testament to the quality of Lucy Boston’s writing and story-telling. A later title, A Stranger at Green Knowe, won the Carnegie Medal.
The second book in this volume The River at Green Knowe, introduces new characters, including two refugee boys, Oskar and Ping, who, like Tolly, find both security and adventure in this magical setting. Together with Ida, niece of the two rather pantomimic ladies renting the house, they encounter fantasies such as flying horses, a giant and a bronze-age ritual ceremony in their time travels.
Lucy Boston’s stories deserve to be more widely read, and this is a most welcome publication, hopefully drawing more readers to the magical doors of Green Knowe. Age-range 7-11
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2012

Cordelia Codd: Not Just the Blues, Claire O'Brien

Orchard ISBN 09781408314012 £5.99

Cordelia’s world turns upside down when her father leaves home. In looking after her mother and cleaning up cat-litter, she doesn’t have time to worry about her old concerns of clothes and parties. Some of her anger at her father spills over and she loses her friends and school-life becomes hard. Just when Cordelia is about to hit rock-bottom, she strikes up a friendship with another school misfit, Dru. As the story unfolds, we are drawn into the world of the girls: black and white movies; costume drawing; and disastrous scrapes, it is impossible not to grow to like Cordelia ‘Coco’ Codd. Together the girls form an ambitious plan to get Cordelia’s father back home, but will it work?

In spite of Cordelia’s plight and ‘utterly ridiculous life’, I thoroughly enjoyed reading her misadventures and look forward to the next instalment of her life. I would recommend it for girls 12+.

 Melanie Hendy    Online review 2012

Death in the Devil’s Den: The London Murder Mysteries, Cora Harrison

Piccadilly Press ( ISBN 9781848122482 £6.99

This book has all the ingredients essential for a successful children’s book. A gang of smart children, clearly defined villains, deftly laid clues for the young reader to find and a setting with lots of nooks and crannies where children can hide and spy on various villains going about their dark business. Death in the Devil’s Den is set in Dickensian London where Alfie and his young orphan gang live by their wits and fend for themselves. They are enlisted by the Metropolitan Police to do some detective work and follow a suspected Russian spy. Before long they find themselves embroiled in a conspiracy involving matters of state and some unscrupulous MPs. The mystery unfolds gently and the plot is easy enough for young readers to follow. Essential to the story is Alfie’s new friendship with Richard, a daring chorister schoolboy who lives at Westminster School next to the Houses of Parliament. As well as allowing readers to recklessly race alongside them over the dangerous slates of Westminster Abbey, dizzyingly high above the gas lit streets of London, the friendship offers children some insight into the contrasting lives of children in Victorian London. This is a great little book. It is a tight, well managed historical mystery adventure with chapters that can be visual, exciting and gripping. The fact that it is part of an award winning series adds to its appeal. This book will support any classroom work on Victorians. Recommended for children between 8 and 11 years old.
Jonathan Rooke, Senior Lecturer, University of Winchester
Online review 2012

Destination Homicide, written and illustrated by Alan Nolan

O’Brien ISBN 9781847172563 £6.99

Destination Homicide is another book in the Murder Can Be Fatal series, which I have found appeals to boys in Key Stage 3. This is a much more demanding book than it appears at first glance. The storyline is complex, the writing is in upper case and non-linear speech bubbles, there are quite a lot of characters and full enjoyment probably requires an understanding of the detective film genre and its language.

All the superheroes have disappeared from Hood City and Ricky (Richard) Nixon and Eddie Ribbs are given the task of finding them. There are plenty of false leads and exciting scenarios. The illustrations are in an easy recognisable comic book style (with its attendant conventions and humour) but, presumably to keep costs down, they are monochrome so some characters look similar to others, something I found rather confusing. Backstory is provided by a number of newspaper reports. The story has a happy ending, good prevails over evil, thus making the book suitable for a class library. I have to say I find this series over complicated but I am not its target audience. The cover illustration is drawn in attractive full-colour and is dynamic. Boys in my classes often reach for Murder Can Be Fatal stories during ‘quiet reading’ time, so you may find it a useful addition to your classroom or library.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2012

Dragonskin Slippers, Jessica Day George

Bloomsbury  ISBN 9781408817421  £6.99  
When she is abandoned at the local dragon’s lair, confident, feisty heroine Creel has no idea of the adventures that await her.  Contrary to what might be expected, she is befriended by not just one, but a handful of dragons, even being given a unique pair of shoes – the footwear of the title.  Seeking her fortune by using her embroidery skills in the kingdom’s bustling capital, she meets a host of influential characters, some of whom turn out to become enemies of not just Creel, but the whole country, leading it to war.  The slippers play a crucial role in ensuing events.  Cleverly plotted, well-paced and with just the right amount of tension and gentle humour, readers will identify with Creel, perhaps absorbing a little of her spirit and tenacity.  Whilst this is a story that will have more obvious appeal to girls, boys may well enjoy its pace and action, particularly in the second half of the book.  The American author says that the story presented itself to her complete one night – an impressive event, given the twists, turns and inventions of this enjoyable story.  recommended for the 9 to 12 age range.

Pam Dowson   Online review 2012

The Dying Photo, Alan Gibbons

Barrington Stoke    ISBN 9781842998533   £5.99

Set in the streets of Liverpool, this exciting thriller was the result of The Book Factor, a competition for Liverpool schoolchildren.  They were asked to come up with the blurb for a story that they wanted to read, with the winning idea being turned into a book by Alan Gibbons.  The cover illustration was also the result of a pupil’s idea.  This collaboration has produced a creative text.

The blurb read, ‘A strange man takes a photo of Jimmy’s family.  As the camera flashes, Jimmy’s parents vanish.  The only clue is a picture of his mum and dad screaming’.  Written in short, readable chapters, the story gradually reveals the truth about the photographer and how Jimmy overcomes his evil plan.

This book would appeal to a wide range of readers across key stage 2 through to reluctant readers at lower key stage 3.  Vocabulary is graphic but accessible, whilst simple sentence structures both give the story pace and make the narrative manageable by less able readers.  I thoroughly enjoyed the innovative plot and the thrilling denouement, an enjoyment shared by my class.

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

Fancy Dress, Crafts for Kids, Tessa Brown

Wayland, a division of Hachette ISBN9780750269285 £7.99

First published in Hardback in 2007, Fancy Dress is now out in a paperback edition and details various art and craft ideas so that children can make their own fancy dress props. The format is easy to follow, giving step by step instructions through bright, clear photographs of each stage of the creative process. The author pre-empts the pitfalls that some home-made craft ideas can fall into, such as trimming down the crown if the sides overlap, and the instructions are precise and accurate. Although it states in the blurb that the ideas are for both boys and girls, there seem to be fewer things for creative boys to make and many of the ideas need adult assistance or input. This would make the book best suited to either older primary pupils or even adults looking for ideas to make props for a school play. The treasure chest and pirate’s parrot would take time and patience to make, but would certainly be of use in a production of Treasure Island!
Pippa Shon, Early Years Specialist and Prep School teacher, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2012

Feathers in the Wind, Sally Grindley

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781408819470 £4.99

London Zoo supports this book, the third of four books in Sally Grindley’s ‘International Rescue’ series that focus on a family who travel the world assisting endangered animals. Each book, however, is a story all on its own and can be read out of sequence. Feathers takes the Brook family to India where a competitive kite festival is damaging the native vulture population. Participants use shards of glass on the strings of their kites with the purpose of cutting opponent kites out of the sky. Unintentionally, these shards also injure the birds. These stories are based on real conservation projects and Grindley is never judgmental about the cultures or customs encountered by the characters. The children, Joe and Aesha, enjoy the festival and respect its traditions even though they know the damage it causes. Indian life is evoked strongly with lots of facts interspersed with the story. Hinduism, Gandhi, Indian farming and modern India are all detailed. Of course, facts about the animals abound with readers shown the softer side of vultures. The characters are likeable and the family banter is endearing. At times the story is delayed by slowly formed details, for example about the visit to Science City, which take the reader away from the central concerns of the story. However, Grindley creates a believable setting and an exciting adventure that I am sure will make many children desire life as an international vet! Recommended for Key Stage 2.
Fiona Dunne, teacher, Shirley Junior School, Southampton
Online review 2012

The Fire Ascending, Chris d’Lacey

Orchard books ISBN 978140831396 £6.99

With a complex plot involving a huge cast of characters and spanning many generations, this is the seventh and final book in Chris d’Lacey’s popular Last Dragon Chronicles series. As the website of the series ( tells us, the series ‘follows the breathtaking adventures of David Rain and his quest to save the tear of the last dragon, Gawain, and protect nature, dragons and humankind from evil..’ As such, it would be best to start with the beginning of the series and follow the adventures and characters as they go on their quest. Fast-paced, tense and involved, the stories will engage confident readers with a love for action and intrigue laced with myth and magic. Age-range: 10-13
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2012

Fire Spell, Laura Amy Schlitz

Bloomsbury ISBN 9781408826218 £6.99

As the thirst for magic-based stories continues, here is one with an original twist in the plot. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are orphans in the care of wicked puppet-master Grisini. They help him perform his puppet shows in the streets and homes of Victorian London, but their lives are not happy as Grisini has only his own interests at heart. When young Clara Wintermute disappears mysteriously after Grisini ‘s puppets perform for her birthday, the mystery deepens as magical secrets are revealed. The two children become entangled in trying to find the missing Clara, with unexpected and chilling consequences. The story moves to Windermere where they meet an old witch who has promised to leave them her fortune, but she too holds on to a potentially devastating secret. This well-written tale has page-turning qualities that will keep experienced readers hooked through a series of tense events. The American author is a Newbery Medal winner and is to be congratulated on the authenticity of both her sense of place and authentic English dialect. Age-range: 9-13
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2012

The First World War, Struan Reid, illustrated, Ian McNeee, Giovanni Paulli and John Fox

Usborne ISBN 9781409537793 £6.99

World War 1 was the first war that was dominated by machines. This set of 30 cards simply presents the tanks, planes, artillery, battleships and motorbikes that the armies used. There is an annotated photograph of each machine on the front of the card and segments of statistics and information on the back offering facts about size, crew, speed, dimensions, weight and range. Children can read about the first tank, the first long range bomber, the first seaplane carrier and the first big field gun. The cards tell interesting stories about how the technology was used after the war such as how Zeppelins, once used for bombing raids on London, became transatlantic passenger ships after the war. They do not focus on the human element from the war. This is not their job. However, two ‘Timeline Cards’ do reflect the staggering statistics associated with anything to do with WW1 such as the number of fatal casualties incurred during one day of battle (27000), the number of shells fired by a type of field gun during 9 months (16 000, 000), the number of ships sunk by one class of submarine (224) and the number of planes shot down by Sopwith Camels (1294). These are balanced with stories of martial chivalry including that of Captain de la Periere, the German submarine commander who always allowed merchant ship crews to escape in lifeboats before sinking their ships.

These cards are about war technology. They have their place in any classroom and they will interest children. I can’t help thinking, though, that in this centenary year children need to read other books that chart the human courage, cost and vainglorious folly that characterized the 1914-19 Great War. Recommended age: 9-11 years old.
Jo Kilpatrick, teacher, Rumney Primary School, Cardiff
Online review 2012

Gold and Glory - Team GB 2012, Ollie M. Pick, illustrated by Mike Phillips

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781122310 £5.99

This is a fascinating book. I am not particularly interested in sport but it had me hooked from the first page. I can see it appealing to children of all ages from eight upwards. My father would enjoy this book…and he ‘s 78! Each chapter deals with a different Olympic or Paralympic event. It explains the rules and scoring and focuses, as the title suggests, on the winners in Team GB, referring to them by their first names so the reader feels they know them. There are statistics, personal anecdotes and exciting descriptions of the competitions all written in the present tense. It has an attractive cover and the black and white illustrations support the text without seeming intrusive. There is a medal chart at the back of the book. By the time I finished this book I felt I was back in the summer of 2012 cheering on our athletes. I am sure the children in your class will enjoy this book and it would be particularly useful for those children who avoid fiction. Reading Age 8+
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2012

Hostage, Malorie Blackman, illustrated by Derek Brazell

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781120798 £5.99

With clear, simple sentences this ‘dyslexia friendly’ story packs in a lot of excitement into only 61 pages and will interest boys and girls around 9-11 years.
Angela Henshaw is kidnapped on her way home from school. Her father is a specialist jeweller and Angela’s kidnappers want his jewels as a ransom payment. Angela, who believes her father cares for his business more than he does for his daughter, especially after their big row that morning (the mother has left the family for reasons unexplained) is not convinced he will pay up. This is an adventure story, very much in the popular and enduring Enid Blyton style and, in the same way that her many books were so popular it will keep readers engaged until Angela, with pluck and intelligence, outwits her kidnappers.

I enjoyed this story. The layout is clear and atmosphere is created through plenty of strong verbs and adverbs, although I know the latter seem to have fallen out of fashion. Blackman has created a convincing world in relatively few pages. The story is not particularly original but it draws the reader in until s/he is rooting for Angela to escape. Fortunately the ending is not clichéd or cosy; Angela and her father agree to have supper and talk things over. The illustrations support the text and I think this would be a very useful book for small group work.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2012

Leopard Adventure, Anthony McGowan

Puffin Books ISBN 9780141339450 £ 5.99

Short, pacey chapters lend this conservation novel the feel of a tightly edited film. This is a strength because moving at such speed between scenes is likely to keep the young reader’s interest and at the same time prevent the very earnest and worthy message overpowering a decent quest story.

Amazon and Frazier Hunt, 12 year old cousins, become members of TRACKS, a conservation organisation that protects endangered species all over the globe. In this novel, the first of a series, the children find themselves following trails deep into dangerous wild territory to rescue a rare Amur Leopard and her valuable cubs from a fast approaching forest fire. Not only do Amazon and her selfless cousin have to deal with the hazards of killer tigers and giant bears, they also have a predator trying to kill them in their own hunting party in the form of a ruthless ex-KGB agent. He is working for Russian oligarch who collects exotic animals to hunt for pleasure on his private estate. The book successfully navigates the tension between driving the plot forward and offering a lot of information about the natural world in which the adventure is set. it is self consciously based on the Willard Price series and modernising it with a strong female character, a quest to conserve and strings of last second escapes from the claws and jaws of death, is likely to appeal to junior children (9-12) of the Ipod generation.
Jonathan Rooke, Senior Lecturer, University of Winchester
Online review 2012

Lily and the Prisoner of Magic, Holly Webb

Orchard Books ISBN 9781408313511 £5.99

This is the third book about Lily, a young magician living in an England where real magic is forbidden, so some magicians hide their powers by working in theatres as stage magicians. Those who are found to be possessors of true magic powers are locked away as prisoners, which is where this part of Lily’s adventures begins as she, her sister and forty other children are escaping, helped by friendly dragons. In trying to rescue her imprisoned magician father, Lily and her sister Georgie sail to America, where magic is allowed, to seek the help of a powerful magician named Rose. But the girls’ magician mother is not to be trusted and they have hair-raising adventures as the story unfolds. It will be easier for young readers to become involved with the story if they have read the previous books in the series as the story is continuous. Age-range: 9-11
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2012

Long Jump High, Malachy Doyle

Barrington Stoke Teen ISBN 9781781121375 £6.99

This is quite an exciting book. Pete has a super-power; he can fly. He doesn’t use his power or tell anyone about it, instead he secretly hones it each morning at 4am in readiness for an appropriate occasion. The occasion arrives with the UK Olympics and Pete decides to go for gold. The next few chapters involve Pete winning his school sports day, the schools county championships, county championships and finally the Olympics: high jump, long jump, triple jump. The book is well paced and the build-up is well constructed in groups of three: three jumps, three championships etc.

Then Doyle introduces Edgar Winter a bullying adult facing his last chance at getting a medal, and at this point for me the morals muddled. Edgar is a mental, emotional and physical bully and so the reader wants Pete, the child victim, to beat him to the medal, but Pete can fly. The playing field (to use a sporting metaphor) is simply not level! Pete wins in an exciting finish, Edgar is caught threatening Pete on the big screen and ends up with the silver medal. Pete doesn’t give in to the bully – fine. But he still has a secret power.
There’s a minor story thread of lucky trainers and self-confidence but still, Pete can fly! I am sure this would not bother a thirteen year old, but it slightly bothers me!
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2012

Meet the Weirds, Kaye Umansky, illustrated by Chris Mould

Barrington Stoke ISBN 978178112-0743 £5.99

This is a tale of two families who live next door to one another: the Primms and the Weirds. Pinchton Primm (a well-behaved boy who is dominated by his busy-body mother) encounters his new neighbours and is both repelled and fascinated by them. He is lured through the hole in the hedge by Otterly Weird to eat chips cooked by their dwarf grandmother, play games with a younger, silent but unsettling sibling and meet the inventor father and stunt-driver mother. Pinchton then has to hide this new ‘friendships’ from his parents. This book is very entertaining. It seems a bit deliberately off-beat for my taste, but I am sure will find an audience in the eight to eleven age range.

The story ends with the Primm parents being invited to a bizarre barbecue in the Weirds’ garden and finding some areas in common. However, this book is barely more than an introduction to the various characters. It would be Chapters 1-3 of a longer book; a mystery clawing ‘creature’ is suggested but not explained. In fact, thought Pinchton, it didn’t matter that he hadn’t found out all the secrets yet. There was plenty of time. There are two books to follow: Weird Happenings and Wildly Weird. If you purchase one for your class library (for individual reading) I would recommend you purchase all three.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2012

Merlin and the Ring of Power, Tony Bradman, illustrated by Nelson Evergreen

Barrington Stoke ISBN: 9781781120736 £5.99

This sequel to Young Merlin has got enough back-story in the opening chapter to ensure it works well as a stand-alone book. Merlin is a boy with developing magic powers (unleashed by a red dragon) driven to fulfil his destiny of fighting the Saxons. He is helped in this story by the Lady of the Lake and other characters familiar from the Arthur myths. This cleverly original story of the building of Stonehenge is full of mystery and magic (druids, a dragon, an ancient library) fused with history; the stones are hewn in the Preseli Hills (true) but lifted by Merlin’s magic powers (hmm!)

The exciting story is told in simple language (the names are the only tricky words to decipher) but there are some very evocative and effective adjectives and similes. This book does not talk down to the struggling reader. The black and white full-page illustrations give a nod to manga but are decidedly British; the cover is stunning.

Inevitably the story ends by promising future titles in the series: ‘Merlin knew he might have won this battle, but the long war wasn’t over yet’, but I am sure that students will enjoy reading the two that are already in print.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Sexey’s School
Online review 2012

The Mystery of Wickworth Manor, Elen Caldecott

Bloomsbury ( ISBN 9781408820483 £5.99

The beauty of The Mystery of Wickworth Manor is not just in its clever storytelling, or its introduction of the subject of slavery in England without ever seeming preachy or teacher-y, although both of these things are true. For me, the characters of cheeky but otherworldly Paige Owens, and her new frenemy, ‘posh boy’ Curtis Okafor, are the true success of this story. The aforementioned mystery surfaces during a Year 6 interschool trip before secondary school, where loner Curtis finds the attentions of Paige as much an annoyance as a help. However, the two are thrown together as partners, and their initial wariness gives way to a grudging friendship as they look into the mysterious painting of a young black servant that Curtis finds hidden under his bed. Their methods may clash, from Paige’s tarot cards and dowsing experiments, to Curtis’ insistence on the internet and the library, but their determination to solve the mystery leads them together into trouble and danger. Fresh, original and bursting with true-to-life characters, The Mystery of Wickworth Manor is another winner from the award-winning Elen Caldecott. Well worth a read. Recommended for 8 to 11 year olds.
Kristina West, Children's Literature PhD student, University of Reading
Online review 2012

Om Shanti, Babe, Helen Limon

Frances Lincoln ISBN 9781847803573 £6.99

Winner of the 2011 Frances Lincoln Diverse Voices Award, this novel shows us modern India through the eyes of teenager Cassia who with Lula, her mum, is visiting friends in Kerala and buying stock for their fair-trade shop back home in London. Cassia is a troubled teenager, low in self-esteem and out of sorts with everyone it seems, and it is not until the end of the book that she discovers she was wrong in her negative feelings about those closest to her. She has learned that it’s not always wise to take things at face value or jump to conclusions without knowing the full story. As the story is told in the first person, we too see Lula as a selfish mother with little time for her daughter, making us identify with Cassia, despite her quick temper, but as the truth becomes apparent to Cassia, so it does to us, and our own feelings towards key characters change. It is worth being aware that we discover the reason for Cassia’s Dad leaving was because he had fallen in love with another man – one of the many potential discussion points the book may provoke. Age-range 9-13
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2012

Paranorman, Elizabeth Cody Kimmel

Hodder Children's Books ISBN 9781444909883 £5.99

With a tagline that reads: 'You don't become a hero by being normal', this film tie-in centres around the eleven year old outsider, Norman Babcock, whose claims to be able to communicate with ghosts are ignored by those around him. Until, inevitably, those skills are called upon to help save the town from a bizarre, otherworldly menace. As such, it is as much a celebration of the power of the unconventional as it is a tale of ghouls and ghosts. Featuring all the supernatural stalwarts - ghosts, witches and (KS2 classroom favourite) zombies - all handled in an appropriately comic way, this novel is a fun, often silly, appealingly gruesome, occasionally spooky and good humoured adventure. It also includes intermittent, full page illustrations that help the young reader to anchor the action with the franchises distinctive visual stylings. As a novelisation of a film it can sometimes feel quite light in tone, but the book ultimately proves to be a enjoyable read, with a suitably unbelievable plot.
Chris Bailey, teacher and Assistant Head teacher, Bradfield Dungworth Primary School, Sheffield
Online review 2012

Pegasus and the Origins of Olympus, Kate O’Hearn

Hodder ISBN 9781444910940 £5.99

This is the fourth in a series of stories about Emily and her mythical flying horse Pegasus, and for experienced readers who have an interest in Ancient Greece it would be well worthwhile reading the previous titles before embarking on this lengthy (376 pages) and involved plotline. Emily and her family have clearly had many adventures with the gods of Olympus before, and it would help to know what these are, or elements of the story could be confusing. The text is dialogue-driven which gives an immediacy that some readers will like. In this story the Olympians are struck by a deadly plague which threatens to wipe them out, so Emily travels to earth, joining forces with Stella, an archaeologist’s daughter, in an attempt to save the people and mythical creatures of Olympus. Age-range 9-11
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2012

Polly Price’s Totally Secret Diary: Mum in Love, Dee Shulman

Red Fox ISBN 9781849415422 £5.99

The diary format isn’t going away any time soon since the runaway success of the Wimpy Kid series, and Polly Price takes it to a new level with its cartoon-style drawings, odd photos (where do they find some of those?) and slightly-scribbly font, which attempt to replicate ‘reality’ with some success. The use of colour and the thick glossy paper also help to make it a pleasure to read. So the story is that Polly has been blessed with a horror of a mother, who not only has a much younger, French boyfriend but snogs him in public, drags Polly to stay with his family in France and then pretends that Polly is only her niece, winning the award for one of the more unfortunate mothers in children’s fiction. Once in France, lots of language-related mishaps ensue, with a dash of mystery and possible romance for Polly herself thrown in for good measure. Polly Price’s Totally Secret Diary: Mum in Love is fun, well-written and slyly clever concept for age 9+ girls.
Kristina West, Children's Literature PhD student, University of Reading
Online review 2012

Raven Hearts, Fiona Dunbar

Orchard books ISBN 9781408309315 £5.99

Kitty Slade has an unusual characteristic – she sees ghosts, or as she refers to them ‘dead people’. She is very matter-of-fact about this, as are her brother and sister, but when she becomes involved in solving mystery deaths on a windswept moor, Kitty does something she knows she should never do – actually touch hands with one of the ghosts. Naturally, this leads to further, heart-stopping adventures. Fourth in the series, this is not a conventional spooky ghost-tale, mainly due to Kitty’s total acceptance of her ghostly interactions, but there is certainly tension and mystery which those who like a certain edge to their reading will enjoy. Age-range: 9-12
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2012

Revolting Records, Anne Rooney, illustrated by Mike Phillips

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781120712 £6.99

There are plenty of children who just don’t enjoy reading fiction and this short, dyslexia-friendly book in the spirit of ‘Ripley’s Believe it or Not’ will certainly appeal to them. It is divided into sections: plants, animals, hobbies, jobs etc, and every section contains a number of clearly written paragraphs each describing a specific ‘revolting’ thing. ‘Nastiest Nibbling Things’, for example, describes heron tapeworms that turn fish orange and a particularly horrible tapeworm that makes tadpoles grow extra limbs at odd angles, struggle and die. It is a book full of serious facts presented in light-hearted language. There is a gimmick of sick ratings with ‘five sick splashes being the most revolting’ and readers are asked to consider the ratings and this could encourage small group discussion.
Some of these ‘records’ (I think I would call them ‘observations’) really are quite horrible (there’s an introduction and a safety warning) and at points I stopped reading, so I would let a student self-select this book. There are historical facts and biological facts. I can see this could be a very popular book to have in your classroom library.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2012

Sam and Ruby’s Olympic Adventure, Tony Bradman, illustrated by Martin Remfrey

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781842999493 £5.99

Initially I thought this short (60 pages), dyslexia-friendly book had been written to tick boxes: strong, black female lead character, male friend in wheelchair, progressive head-teacher etc, by committee (54 young people of Hackney are credited with ‘helping’) but as it moved swiftly into the storyline, referencing Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Doctor Who and the ‘…for Dummies’ series of books it began to grip my imagination. Sam and Ruby build a time-machine and travel back in time to research the Olympic Games (ancient and modern) for a school project. I learnt a lot about the history of the games. The dialogue was generally quite funny, although poignant when it mentioned the 1936 (Berlin) and 1968 (Mexico City) games and racism, and 1972 (Munich) and the hijacking.
Given the subject matter it’s not surprising to find some politics sneak into the story, but taken as a whole the book is pretty well balanced and could be used as an individual reader or with a small group to stimulate discussion. It will hold the attention of both boys and girls.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2012

Secret Breakers: Orphan of the Flames, H.L. Dennis

Hodder Children's Books ISBN 9780340999622 £5.99

Billed in the blurb as 'The Da Vinci Code for Kids', this book positions itself as an exciting, code-cracking mystery for KS2 age readers. It certainly features plenty of chases, mysteries and plot twists to keep any young reader engaged and the story becomes increasingly likeable as it progresses. As the second book in 'The Secret Breakers' series, it would perhaps be better read in sequence, rather than in isolation (as this reviewer did), as the reader would certainly benefit from the background knowledge on the characters and their motivations, presumably outlined in book one. Nevertheless, enough clues were given to the backstory to enable me to pick up the action without encountering too many troublesome plot holes.

At 323 pages it feels a reasonably substantial tome for younger readers, but it should engaging enough to encourage progress. The abrupt ending is clearly designed to leave an appetite for the third book in the sequence, and it is destined to be a series that gains a significant following. Orphan of the Flames opens with a bang and the action continues throughout as a dramatic series of events that would make an engaging film if transferred to the big screen.
Chris Bailey, teacher and Assistant Head teacher, Bradfield Dungworth Primary School, Sheffield
Online review 2012

Secret of the Shadows, Cathy MacPhail

Bloomsbury  ISBN 9781408812686  £5.99
There’s something about the old-fashioned spookiness of Cathy MacPhail’s stories that I really love.  In an age where YA adult fiction is all about insidious fears of how our society will develop in the future, a thumpingly good ghost story is a refreshing break.  Secret of the Shadows is the sequel to MacPhail’s Out of the Depths, and although they can be read independently, reading them in sequence is a help.  Tyler Lawless is back as the intrepid heroine who appears to attract the dead as they seek to tell their stories of woe, and who has a singular talent for turning back time and changing the past.  This time, the death of her grandmother leads her to a beautiful little house that is hiding a gruesome secret.  The shadowy presence in the corner of Tyler’s bedroom made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck (especially as I was somewhat foolishly reading this in bed), and the last few chapters made me hide under the duvet in fright.  My husband had to turn the bedroom light off.  A cracking read!  Recommended for children aged 9-13.

Kristina West   Online review 2012

See If I Care, Judi Curtin and Roisin Meaney

O'Brien Press    ISBN 9781847170217    £3.99

 This is an imaginative and entertaining read for both adults and children. Filled with believable characters, it also contains an interesting boy/girl perspective in the letters which the two main characters, Elma and Luke, send to each other.

It is engaging from the start, involving the reader in the situation of Luke, bringing to life the reality of a child living with stressful family problems. Luke's class is asked to write letters to another class in a different school, and the correspondence with Elma begins, based on lies at first: 'Luke feels he "couldn't tell the truth. Nobody would want to hear that", and decides to lie, pretending he goes mountain climbing with his father, which is fr from the truth.'

 Elma also has a difficult life as a carer, and also decides to lie. We see their lives in contrast to the letters. Eventually the letter writing helps the children in ways they could not have imagined: ideas to help each other, improving self esteem, the cathartic effect of unburdening themselves to another child experiencing problems too.

This book could help children going through difficult family life situations. From a teaching perspective, it would be a good tool for encouraging children in letter writing, demonstrating what the power of the written word can achieve especially to Y5 and 6 children, as well as being an enjoyable read in itself.

Shelagh Bleakley, English 4-11 Number 37, Autumn 2009

Star Fighters Series, Max Chase Illustrated by Sam Hadley

Bloomsbury ( £4.99 each
Crash Landing ISBN 9781408815816  Evil Star ISBN 9781408827178 Secret Weapon ISBN 9781408827161 Space Wars ISBN 97814088158305 Lethal Combat ISBN 9781408815823 Pirate Ambush ISBN 9781408827154

This is an exciting series that tells of the adventures of Peri (part bionic and modified by his parents), Diesel (a half Martian) and the rest of the crew of the Phoenix, the most advanced space vessel known to man, as they try to defend the Milky Way galaxy from a number of attacks. The series opens when Peri and Diesel are first year cadets and are picked for a demanding mission. In subsequent books the team face even greater dangers. Each book has an eye-catching cover featuring a moment of combat from the book (usually Peri facing a vicious looking space monster) in strong colours. Black and white illustrations support the text and there are collectable cut out figures in each book. The series is supported by a very attractive website with character profiles, maps, character cards and wallpapers – even a game. Readers can download chapters of the books and sign up to receive a newsletter. I feel this series has been well thought through and I think it would appeal to KS2 boys (the characters are mostly male, although one female Selene is described as logical and fearless) who would enjoy the fast-paced action and be keen to read all the books.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2012

Super Soccer Boy and the Raging Bodies, Judy Brown

Piccadilly Press  ISBN 9781848121621  £4.99

This is the eighth Super Soccer Boy book (Harry Gribble is struck by a freak bolt of lightning and is given amazing soccer skills) and is probably best suited for readers who are already familiar with the series.  It does stand alone, but I think the reader would need to like and understand football to really enjoy this book.  The story has plenty to satisfy and amuse young football fans.  It also features soccer clichés and linguistic humour that will entertain any adults who are supporting the reading, but this does result in some long, tricky words.  This is not a book for struggling readers.  At the end of the story there are two pages of footballing facts and the website promises fun football related activities.  The line drawings are clear and support the plot, and the back-story (a rich but frustrated Eastern European player turned club owner substitutes poor players with robots to win matches, then kidnaps key players from other teams, replacing them with badly behaving robots to sabotage their chances) is provided via a lively cartoon strip.  Harry and his friends (and his mouse, Ron) foil the plan, fight the robots and save the day!  This book would work well for small group or individual reading for football fans aged eight to eleven.

Debra Holmes
Online review 2012

Wartman, Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Joanna Carey

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781120873 £5.99

Well, this is Michael Morpurgo so we can make two assumptions: firstly, the storyline, characters and setting are going to be convincing and secondly, the ending won’t necessarily be a completely comfortable one. Dilly (Billy) Watson has a large wart on his knee. He is embarrassed by it, covers it up with a plaster, lies about a more glamorous injury and inevitably is found out and teased. This is a book that makes a point about teasing. Dilly is teased by his older brother at home and unkind students at school, and Morpurgo shows the reader just how hurtful this teasing can be. All good.

There’s a range of interesting stock characters: kind teacher, a particularly nasty girl, Penny Prosser, well-meaning but ineffectual parents and an old man, a ‘sort of witch doctor’. The book was written in 1998 and its references to Ryan Giggs and the fact that no one thinks to try to treat Dilly’s wart with one of those many effective products one sees advertised all the time on t.v. make it feel a bit dated. But the thing that unsettled me was the moral of the ending. Dilly doesn’t learn anything about himself, the wart is passed on by magic/curse/karma to the teasers and Dilly himself then enjoys the power of teasing his brother. Yes, I agree that this is typical human behaviour but it seemed a great pity to advocate it. Nevertheless, this book will generate plenty of useful discussion and could therefore be used for small group work or added to your class library for paired reading.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2012

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