Ages 9 - 11 [Upper Key Stage 2] 2013

Beast Quest, The Darkest Hour. Solak/Kajin/Issrilla/Vigrash/Kama/Mirka. All written by Adam Blade, illustrations Steve Sims

Orchard (ISBN 9781408323960/ 9781408323977/ 9781408323984/ 9781408323991/ 781408324011/9 78140832400 £4.99

Here is the next batch of the very popular Beast Quest series and I am sure that the fans in your classroom have been asking for them. Each book stands alone although there is more fun to be had from reading them all. Good friends Tom and Ellena continue to fight (and conquer) mythical and dangerous beasts in a number of imaginative and demanding situations: a flying machine, a four-poster bed, a walking mountain and, my favourite, a pirate ship. This series has a distinct Tolkien feel with its forests and villages, and the black and white illustrations add to this, but the author has invented plenty of exciting original ideas within it. The writing continues to be as good as in earlier stories; there is plenty of graphic description and straightforward but effective similes. I am sure the books appeal to both sexes. I remember objecting to eleven pages of promotional material at the back of previous books so it was a bit depressing to find up to twenty-four pages in this series. Perhaps the children don’t feel as cheated as their teachers!
Nevertheless, I continue to believe that these titles have a useful role to play in encouraging young readers, especially boys, to develop a real enjoyment of reading and to prepare them for longer texts in the future.
D. J. Holmes, Sexey’s School
Online review 2013

The Bomber Dog, Megan Rix

Puffin ( ISBN 9780141347899 £5.99

This is an exciting and moving story set during the Second World War about a brave German Shepherd puppy called Grey. His owner, Nathan, is a young soldier. Grey joins the War Dog Training School and Nathan becomes his dog handler. Grey is trained as a parachute dog. Nathan wants to stay with Grey and he learns to overcome his fear of heights so they can parachute together. Grey meets Wolf, a more experienced war dog. One day a parachute jump goes seriously wrong and Grey embarks on a dangerous mission going across France to try to rescue Nathan. The ‘Afterword’ is especially interesting as it links the story with the historical background. Megan Rix is very popular with our Year 5 children who like adventure, animals and learning about World War Two. Do try The Great Escape and The Victory Dogs.
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2013

The Broken Spell, Erika McGann

O’Brien ISBN 9781847172969 £6.99

A contemporary tale of trainee witches whose close friendship becomes tarnished when one of them falls under the influence of a new mentor. Can their new teacher be trusted and what are the mysterious links between her and the girls’ other two teachers? The story develops from light-hearted and humorous to dark and tense with some gripping scenes towards the climax. This is a follow-up to ‘The Demon Notebook’. Age range 8 – 11.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2013

Champion Horse, Jane Smiley

Faber & Faber ISBN 9780571299508 £6.99

This book is about horses and the relationships between them and their riders. Strategies and psychological approaches that improve performances are explored, as out relationships between parents and children. The main character, Abby, gains self-knowledge as she reflects on taking her beloved horse, True blue, to a show jumping clinic. ‘Maybe I had been going to the clinic not to learn but to show off.’ Jane Smiley is the favourite author of our Year 6 girls.
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2013

The Daring Escape of Beatrice and Peabody, Kimberly Hewton Fusco

Faber and Faber ISBN 9780571297702 £6.99

Set in dusty mid-century America, Bee is an orphan who works with Pauline on the hot dog stand at a travelling carnival. She is Bullied and made to feel embarrassed about a diamond birthmark on her cheek. One day a scruffy dog befriends her and Bee realises she must find a proper home for them both. This is a story about birthmarks, taunting, courage, imaginary friends and belonging, It is recommended for Years 5 and 6.
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid - Cabin Fever, Jeff Kinney

Puffin Books  ISBN 9780141341880  £12.99
The sixth book in the core Wimpy Kid series, Cabin Fever has been eagerly awaited by Kinney’s fans, including many in my Year 7 class.  It continues with its popular format of interjecting very short paragraphs of amusing first person narrative with cartoon style line drawings to illustrate the action.  The font emulates a non-cursive hand and is both friendly and easy to read.  Boys love this series.

In this book Greg Heffley and his family endure flooding and are snowed in without power.  However, this is not a book concerned with big issues; it is the minutiae of daily life that challenges the Wimpy Kid.  Kinney says the story was inspired by a very tough winter in New England and this book is American through and through.  There are words (jerky, sweatpants, junk-up) and concepts (recess, Thanksgiving, Holiday Bazaar, Presidential Fitness Test) that may need explaining to a younger child, although so many children’s TV programmes are set in USA they are probably already familiar with them.  In any case, the problems (siblings, friends, parents, teachers) are universal.

These books seem to be very popular with boys who are otherwise reluctant readers.  The diary format, the many illustrations and the slightly anarchic humour make this a very easy and entertaining read.  I don’t feel that there is any place for it as a class or small group reader, but the paperback edition will be a popular addition to any upper junior/KS2 library.

Debra Holmes   Online review 2012

Eva and the Hidden Diary, Judy Curtin

O’Brien ISBN 9781847175885 £6.99

This fourth book in the Eva series reads very much like an episode from the TV series ‘Who do you think you are?’ When Eva and her friend Kate find an old diary whilst clearing out a shed, its contents set them off on a trail to discover the diary’s author and solve a crime from the late 1940s. Eva seems to have the skill of solving all sorts of problems, including one of her best friend’s, so it’s safe to say that everything ends happily once again. A heart-warming story that girls in Key Stage 2 will enjoy (though this reviewer was slightly annoyed by the repeated use of ‘OMG!’ in the dialogue!) Age-range 9-11
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2013

Fairy Lies, E.D. Baker

Bloomsbury   ISBN 9781408831922   £5.99

Schoolgirl Tamisin, having discovered that she is a fairy princess living in the human world, longs to see her real mother. Whilst wandering in nearby woods, she unexpectedly finds her way back into the fairy world after being kidnapped by those working for Oberon. Tamisin’s mother, you see, is Titania – Queen of the fairies, with whom Oberon is still at war, after all these years. An added complication is Jak, Tamisin’s boyfriend, a cat goblin also living in the human world (she met him at High School). Jak becomes the heroic character, the lovelorn and handsome young man determined to do anything to free his fairy princess. We follow Jak’s journey as he travels to save the lovely Tamisin and discover how she copes living alone in the fairy world, with few memories of her previous life. Dark forests are filled with magical creatures while teen-fairies dust themselves with a fairy powder that makes their skin just perfect! It was all a bit 90210 for fairies; teen romance in an unlikely setting; there were many characters to get to grips with – it was not really for me. However, I know girls who will love it and, to be fair, it is ‘safe’ romance, a fantasy for girls aged 10+. Yet I am concerned by some of the attitudes that permeate; it is all too pink and glittery; Tamisin is not a likeable independent modern day girl that I recognise – except from TV. Jak tells her at one point, ‘I don’t like the thought of you going anywhere by yourself.’ Why not? She’s a modern girl in a fairy worlds and – she has wings! Some girls will love it.

Kaye Wilson, Year 6 teacher at Holy Cross Catholic Primary School, Leicester

Online review 2013

Football Factor Goal Machine, Alan Durant, illustrated by Andrew Chiu

Wayland ISBN 9780750279826 £5.99

Naz is the star goal scorer for Sheldon Rovers, nicknamed the ‘goal machine’ by the football manager who predicts that Naz will play for England one day. But then things start to go wrong, Naz loses his confidence and his place is in doubt for the cup game which is being watched by the England manager. Another player’s injury eventually gives Naz a place back on the pitch where he eventually rediscovers his football skill and this together with some luck mean that Naz wins the match by scoring a fantastic hat-trick. Football Factor Goal Machine is a book in the Freestylers series of reading books, designed to engage struggling readers with a very low reading age and high interest content. The text is humorous and edgy and has a suggestions page for teachers at the end. Reading age 6, Book Band Level Orange, with an interest level 9+
Jo Kilpatrick, teacher, Rumney Primary School, Cardiff
Online review 2013

The Four Seasons of Lucy McKenzie, Kirsty Murray, illustrated by Florence Boyd

Allen and Unwin ISBN 9781743361245 £6.99

Written by the author of seventeen books for children and teenagers, this story is an engaging and creatively written tale of a young girl’s magical adventures. Set in Australia, the feature character of the story Lucy McKenzie is sent to stay with her aunt Big in a hidden valley whilst her mother attends to her sick sister in Paris and her father works away. A tale of growing up and a teenager’s journey to young adulthood, the story succeeds at capturing the feelings of isolation and uncertainty that can exist at this time in a child’s life. The fictional tale is weaved around Lucy’s magical ability to walk through the walls in her Aunt’s old and mysterious home. These walls take Lucy on an adventure into the past, and through the four seasons. As well as being an enjoyable read, the context offers wonderful opportunities to study the use of imagery in text and some very poetic descriptive writing. The modern setting makes it accessible to a young audience, but the isolated and ancient house gives a feeling of timelessness, which is an interesting concept to explore. There are beautiful examples of the fears we face at different stages of our lives, and the chance to look at the interaction of two very different generations. The author uses lyrical descriptions of colour, art and landscape to paint vivid images of the surroundings, which lend themselves to lessons in literacy, art and geography. Other stories are also mentioned, (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and Alice in Wonderland) ,which offer extension activities. A story which also reflects on life pre and post-war, the book offers many openings for higher-order thinking and philosophical enquiry.
Laura Davies, Project Development Coordinator for Fair Foundations, Chwarae Teg
Online review 2013

Have fun with Arts and Crafts: Tractors and Trucks, Rita Storey

Franklin Watts ( ISBN 9781445126944 £7.99

Bursting with creative ideas based on the popular topic of tractors and trucks, through the pages of this book we learn how to make so many things: a model tractor; a digger picture with moving parts; textured countryside scenes; a magnetic tractor game; a trucker’s lunch; and a mosaic fire engine picture. Each new task is clearly set out over a double page. A brief narrative puts the project in context and is followed by a list of the things that will be needed and then numbered stages leading to completion. There are supportive illustrations and photographs throughout. A contents page and index are included, together with further information, a CB radio glossary and a truckers’ phonetic alphabet. Suitable for children aged 7 – 11 and younger children with support.
Jo Kilpatrick, teacher, Rumney Primary School, Cardiff
Online review 2013

History Showtime: Romans, Liza Phillips & Avril Thompson

Franklin Watts ISBN 978445114842 £12.99

I recently used this book during our Year 2/3 Topic on the Romans. he text is an excellent tool for Year 3 to use to research the Romans both independently and in a small group, of particular note is the very useful glossary at the rear which I used during a Literacy lesson to get the children to find and fill the missing blanks of definitions of key words. The book also has a number of practical activities which are of use in Foundation Stage such as ‘make a golden snake armband’ which the children would enjoy. In a nutshell the book is useful for lower key stage 2 and Foundation Stage, I would however be a little reluctant to use it in Year 5/6 because the text is perhaps a little too simplistic.
Tomos Buttress, KS2 Teacher
Online review 2013

How Brave Is That? Anne Fine, illustrated by Vicky Gausden

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781122433 £5.99

This is a short but compelling story. It bounds along at a rapid pace and has a satisfying, uplifting ending. Tom wants to join the army. He has a clear plan and although he doesn’t find school easy he does his best, focussing on his career choice. Tom’s home life is complicated by his father working away from home on an oil-rig and the birth of triplet sisters, but he never loses sight of his dream. The story is told from the point of view of his friend. Nothing major happens in the book, but the details of school life and home life are well observed and the adult characters are presented as well rounded. The reader can sympathise (and probably empathise) with Tom when he gets into trouble at school and admire his tenacity and lack of self-pity.

This ‘dyslexia-friendly’ book has 48 pages, clear type with plenty of space around it and humorous illustrations. The paper is pale yellow rather than white (as recommended by The Dyslexia Institute). It would generate plenty of discussion in class and is perfect for small group, paired or individual reading in Years 5, 6, 7.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2013

I Am So Over Being A Loser, written and illustrated by ‘Barry Loser’ Jim Smith

 Jelly Pie: Egmont ISBN 9781405260336  £5.99

This book is produced in the, currently very popular, cartoon-style format; the font looks like handwriting and the text is interspersed with cartoon drawings (big noses feature here) humorously annotated, there’s a fast-paced first-person story with personal slang (including some bizarrely inventive compound words) and, as the title would suggest, the plot is roughly ‘loser’ contra-mundum. It is therefore very likely that fans of the Wimpy Kid and Norm books will enjoy Barry’s Loser’s tale of what happens when his mother wins a competition to be the voice (and, it quickly transpires, the face) of Feeko’s supermarkets and effectively becomes public property. The book focuses on the ever-popular theme of embarrassing parents but twists and turns through surreal complication after surreal complication until Barry does, finally, come out on top.

I imagine confident readers (who like these fallible, comic anti-heroes) in the 7-10 age bracket will find Barry’s slapstick antics entertaining. I got a bit lost and would recommend buying the first book in the series (where I presume a certain amount is explained) and the second (which won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize 2013) before buying this one. There is also a website ( and two free e books) to support the series.
D. J. Holmes, Sexey’s School
Online review 2013

It’s Good to be Me!, Louise Spilsbury

Wayland ISBN 9780750278447 £8.99

This book is very inviting and child friendly and would be suitable for those between the ages 9 – 11. This book explores a range of topics that from a child’s perspective could be difficult to deal with and experience. Examples are, body image, eating disorders, school work and self esteem, very personal topics that affects children in different ways. The book is split into various sections with an easy to read index so children can dip in and out of the book as they please. As a professional working with children it can be difficult to communicate and deal with such issues as sometimes children are reluctant to confide in adults therefore I think this book is a fantastic resource to have within the classroom as it has the potential to support children in becoming very positive, confident and happy young people.
Anna Clay, Primary School Teacher
Online review 2013

Leave it to Eva, Judi Curtin

O’Brien ISN 9781847173478 £7.99

This fast-paced novel about the trials and tensions of friendship between three young teenage girls presented with some difficult situations to deal with and problems to solve, makes for an enjoyable read. The main story revolves around Kate, who Eva got to know on her holiday the previous year, but when she returns to the small Irish village for this year’s trip, she finds Kate’s circumstances have changed for the worse and she struggles to know how best to help her friend. The resourceful Eva also comes to the rescue of her friend Ruby, in quite a different scenario. Third in a series with Eva as the central character, each book can be read independently of the others, but once they have met feisty Eva, readers may well want to seek out the other titles. Age-range: 9-13
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2013

LOOK! Really Smart Art, Gillian Wolfe

Frances Lincoln ISBN 9781847804143 £8.99

Really Smart Art is the fifth book in the LOOK! series by Gillian Wolfe. It focuses on a variety of techniques used in art to create different effects such as high-speed movement, 3-D, texture and computer graphics. Wolfe highlights an interesting selection of well-known artists and discusses the technique they have used, what affect it has on the observer and how they achieved their desired effect. There is such diversity in the pictures that this book really does spark the interest of the reader. From Van Dyck to Lichtenstein, the captivating pictures implore you study them closely and read the accompanying text in order to find out more information. Wolfe writes without pretention and addresses the reader directly, asking questions such as ‘When you go to sleep, do you sometimes dream?’ (referring to Chagall) which cleverly involves them personally and encourages an opinion on the subject. More often than not the readers are left wanting to go and try the technique out for themselves or, at the very least, investigate further.
At the end of the book there is a summary of all the artists featured with brief biographical details. This book would be most suitable for children in key stage 2 and a useful tool within the classroom when teaching Art or, indeed, a valuable addition to any library. Although a paperback, the book is of excellent quality with large pictures and varied fonts throughout.
Hannah Skottowe, key stage 2 and 3 teacher
Online review 2013

Ninja Death Touch, Chris Bradford, illustrated by Sonia Leong

Barrington Stoke ISBN 9781781122105 £5.99

Chris Bradford has come up with another winner for Barrington Stoke. This dyslexia-friendly book is perfect for older but less experienced readers, especially boys. We follow a group of young trainee Ninjas, under the wise guidance of their Grandmaster, as they use their newly-acquired skills in their first battle against the Samurai. The fast-paced text is set out in easily digested short paragraphs. But the intended audience doesn’t compromise the writing style. At no time do you feel you are reading an ‘easy’ text. With several manga style black and white illustrations this second short book of the series will be hugely enjoyed by readers with a taste for an action-packed story. Age-range 8-12.
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2013

Out of This World, Ali Sparkes

Oxford University Press ISBN 9780192794123 £6.99

When teenager Ty finds an unusual glowing of lump of rock he is able to tap into the power of the universe and use his mind to move objects like cups, paper and, very usefully, concrete and wooden sticks when he is attacked by school bullies.
His new superpowers don't go unnoticed by the authorities and soon, together with his country ranger friend, he is on the run pursued by government agents and the mysterious alien who owns the rock and wants it back.

Sparkes has a knack of sustaining the pace, moving Ty smoothly across a lot of terrain on boats and trains and in cars and helicopters. She keeps the story fresh by filtering in entertaining new characters along the way to become his fellow fugitives. The lucid descriptions of outdoor survival skills are particularly enjoyable. Sparkes has clearly researched how someone could live in the woods. She explains what you could eat and how you would cook it, how you could build a shelter and how could you find your way across dense woodland using special maps. Readers can imagine themselves building a smokeless fire to avoid detection, arranging sticks over the flames to hang and cook the fish they have caught themselves. These are very attractive aspects of the book which really capture readers’ interest and she does well to linger over them so children can experience it for themselves in the landscapes of their minds.

A satisfying combination of comedy, science fiction adventure and outdoor survival skills suitable for 9+ and likely to appeal to boys and girls.
Jonathan Rooke, Senior Lecturer, University of Winchester
Online review 2013

Rebecca Rocks, Anna Carey

O’Brien ISBN 9781847175649 6.99

14-year-old Rebecca is a girl with lots going on in her life. She finds her parents and their amateur dramatics embarrassing, her older sister annoying, and the need to revise for end-of-term exams frustrating. On top of that, she is ‘between boyfriends’, something which causes her no little concern. But when summer comes she and her rock band ‘Hey Dollface’ go to an arts camp in their native Dublin and the focus of her life changes. She learns a lot about making music, but also about other people. Her friend Cass reveals that she is gay and Rebecca witnesses boys watching porn videos, both of which come as a surprise. But she also learns that she has not always judged people accurately, as she discovers that friends, new acquaintances and even her own family have positive traits that she had not been aware of.
Through the pages of Rebecca’s own diary, Anna Carey uses an authentic teenage girl’s voice, encompassing humour, angst and an honesty which readers will empathise with and perhaps learn a little from themselves. Age range: 11-14
Pam Dowson, retired primary teacher and PGCE tutor
Online review 2013

R is for Russia, Vladimir Kabakov, photographs by Prodeepta Das

Francis Lincoln Children’s books ISBN 9781847804273 £6.99

A photographic alphabet, which provides a colourful introduction to modern day Russia. The alphabetical format means that a wide range of the aspects of Russian life, culture and history are included. It goes beyond the brief illustrated sentence format of similar books, attempting to provide the reader with factual background to the items selected for inclusion such as astronauts, ballet and chess. The language is authentic, well written and quintessentially Russian: it is all there – samovars, hats and matryoshka (Russian dolls)! A interesting, appealing book that would be suitable throughout Key Stage 2.
Kaye Wilson, Year 6 teacher at Holy Cross Catholic Primary School, Leicester
Online review 2013

The Skull in the Woods, Sandra Greaves

Chicken House ISBN 9781908435620  £6.99

There are echoes of Cold Comfort Farm in this spine-tingling tale set on a remote Dartmoor farm. The dire prognostications of Gabe, the old farm hand seem to come from another age, where the wild hunt ranged and bayed across the moor, seeking its victims. There are immediate tensions between cousins Matt and Tilda when he comes from London to visit his mother’s old home. Each is struggling to come to terms with the loss of a parent – Mat through separation and Tilda through her mother’s death in a car crash. The discovery of a curlew skull buried in a box by a standing stone on the moor sets off a trail of events that none could have predicted – except perhaps old Gabe, with his warnings about the legendary gabbleratchet. This is a real page-turner of a book. The Dartmoor landscape is skilfully evoked, with scary and mysterious episodes keeping the reader fully involved as the story is driven towards an epic finale. I wish it had been called The Gabbleratchet though – an intriguing word, and a much more imaginative title! Age-range: 11-14
Brenda Marshall, Head of English, Port Regis, Motcombe Park, Shaftesbury
Online review 2013

A Smuggler's Kiss, Marie-Louise Jenson

Oxford University Press ISBN 9780192792808   £6.99

The story is set in Southern England, in the 1700s, when the smuggling of goods from France was a means of income for many of the poor.  As the tale begins, Isabelle, a wealthy and beautiful 15 year old girl, walks into the sea in an attempt to end her life.  What has driven her to this desperation is unclear.  Miraculously, she is rescued by the crew of the notorious Invisible, a smuggling vessel, and her new life begins.  Slowly, Isabelle grows accustomed to life on board ship with its many challenges, including wearing men’s breeches, and she discovers an inner strength and courage.  In time, she earns the respect of the skipper and a particular friendship forms with Will Marlow, who also has a secretive past.  It is not until the excitement of the concluding chapters that we discover the link between them.  The story is fast-paced and exciting from start to finish, bringing a bygone age back to life.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and would recommend it for girls in their early teens, wishing to read of daring deeds, dicing with the law and a heart-warming romance.  A great introduction to the world of Daphne du Maurier.  Recommended for Upper key stage 2.

Melanie Hendy, Literacy Consultant, Leicester City Council, 2013

Stephen Biesty’s Cross-Sections: Castle, Stephen Biesty

Dorling Kindersley ISBN 9781409382416 £9.9

This tremendous book with its truly remarkable illustrations captured my own enthusiasm instantly twenty years ago and is still a real winner with children. The extraordinary cross-sections provide fascinating detail, with dozens of figures engaged in every possible pursuit in and around a castle, while the text is served in bite-size portions, keyed into the illustrations to capture most young readers. A much-thumbed old copy was already on display in my classroom when I received this new edition: in a slightly smaller and improved format, it now has even more, including photographs of reconstructions and actors in medieval costume. A stunning way to enjoy learning about history.
Leslie Smith, Head of History, Port Regis
Online review 2013

Sweetness and Lies, Karen McCombie

Barrington Stoke ( ISBN 9781781121993 £5.99

Short, sassy and to the point, Sweetness and Lies explores the anxieties and issues associated with starting a new secondary school and making new friends. Tilly is less than impressed when she passes the entrance exam for the prestigious Beech Cliff School and has to leave her trusted and reliable friends from Primary School behind, as they all move together to the local Secondary School. At first, Mia seems like the perfect new ‘best friend forever – already’ or BFFA, but things start to change when Amber, a new girl, starts school at Beech Cliff. Amber appears to have the perfect life and Tilly is made question whether it could all be too good to be true. However, it doesn’t take Tilly long to realise that things are not always as they seem. A lovely story which explores friendship, emotions, bullying and what it means to be brave and stand up for what is right. The language used provides charismatic character descriptions which are supported by illustrations. The story is one that many young people will be able to relate to. Publication in a dyslexia-friendly format ensures that all are able to access the narrative.
Mary Bennett, Initial Teacher Education Lecturer
Online review 2013

Sword Of Legend, Jonny Zucker, illustrated by Cosmo White

Franklin Watts ISBN 9781445118024 £7.99

Sword Of Legend is a title in the Slipstream series of great stories, designed to engage and support struggling readers. In the land of Atara, King Galleon is desperately ill and the wicked Sir Murdlan is waiting to seize power and to become king in his place. In order to defeat Murdlan, the king’s son, Hans, will need the Sword of Legend which only appears on one night each year in the cave of Golden Valley. Will Hans be able to find the sword and unlock its special powers in time? This is an exciting story which is told through easily accessible words and phrases and supported by comic style graphics. A page for teachers at the end of the book makes some suggestions about how to ensure that the text is used to its full potential of providing a rich reading experience that will accelerate progress and close the reading gap for older struggling readers. A high interest fiction book with a reading age of 7 – 7.6, book band level Turquoise, that will appeal to children aged 8 – 12.
Jo Kilpatrick, teacher, Rumney Primary School, Cardiff
Online review 2013

Taff in the WAAF, Mick Manning and Brita Granstrom

Frances Lincoln Children's Books    9781847800930   £11.99

This book is every bit as absorbing as its companion volume Tail-End Charlie.  Written in the first person, it tells the story of Mick Manning’s mother, who decided to leave her greengrocer’s job in Wales to join the WAAF, eventually becoming a listener in the Bletchley Park code-breaking team.  After sixty years of silence, she now tells her compelling and very personal story.

Detailed research is evidenced on each page as every part of the book, including the end papers, is crammed with information about life on the Home Front and the role of women in the War.  Formal documents, postcards, pictures and posters are overlaid on a cartoon version of the story as it unfolds.  The formal text, speech bubbles, text boxes and images all inform the reader about rationing, clothing, blackouts, entertainment and bombing raids, as well as the more formal aspects of women’s wartime work.

Taff in the WAAF would be useful in a range of KS2 contexts – to support a World War Two topic (in particular the Home Front and the role of women) in the classroom, for personal reading and research and for group and paired reading and discussion.  The combination of image and text appeals to a wide ability range and it would be an informative and fascinating text to share in guided reading.  My Year 6 class queued to borrow it and it proved to be a resource that the children returned to regularly throughout our World War Two theme.

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

Tuesdays at the Castle, Jessica Day George

Bloomsbury books ISBN 978408831984 £ 5.99

Dear reader, I will be very honest with you; I did not like this book at all. I tried, I really tried to like it. Promise! At first glimpse, I was hopeful – good basic ingredients: a fairy tale with a plucky princess and a basic idea so brilliant that I wish I had thought of it myself! For this book features a magical castle – with a life of it’s own. For on a Tuesday, it changes, adding rooms or decorating depending on its mood or opinion of residents and guests. No-one knows what will happen or why; Luckily one person, the plucky Princess Celie, understands the castle and can figure out the changes. Fantastic. Great idea! When Celie’s royal parents and brother disappear, the castle tries to tell her and her siblings something as they battle to hold onto the kingdom before it is too late. I should have enjoyed this book but I didn’t; for me there were just too many characters, too much unnecessary detail and dialogue that prevented the narrative from moving along convincingly. Aimed at 9+ readers, it seemed too grand in its use of flowery language while still being a little ‘young’ in its basic premise. But try it – you will probably disagree with me!
Kaye Wilson, Year 6 teacher at Holy Cross Catholic Primary School, Leicester
Online review, 2013

The Victory Dogs, Megan Rix

Puffin Books ISBN 9780141342733 £5.99

My daughter’s Year 4 Evacuation Day prompted me to read The Victory Dogs, the second book from Megan Rix on the heroism of animals during the Second World War. As already proven with The Great Escape, Rix can tell a good story, and is most proficient in teaching about the war without ever being preachy. The Victory Dogs focuses on two puppies born in the London Underground during the Blitz, whose life story comes to stand for both the quiet heroism of search-and-rescue dogs at the time, and the daily loss of life on every level. However, the real strength of the story for me lies in the portrayal of Daniel, a soldier demobbed suffering from shell-shock, who managed to fall through the system until he finds Howl, just another waif and stray who, nonetheless, shows him the way back. A beautiful, though very moving and occasionally harrowing, story. Recommended age: 9+
Kristina West, Children's Literature PhD student, University of Reading
Online review 2013

Waiting for Gonzo, Dave Cousins

Oxford University Press ISBN 9780192745460 £6.99

Waiting for Gonzo is a brilliant and funny teenage novel from the author of 15 days without a head. When Meg and Marcus (or Oz as he is known to his friends) reluctantly move away from their bustling urban home town just outside London to a new home in the countryside, there are lots of challenging adjustments to make. Good friendships feel like a distant memory and the rural surroundings feel unfamiliar and inconvenient. Suddenly everything requires lots of adjustment and effort. Oz has developed a reputation as an experienced joker and cannot resist the lure of a well-executed prank, although he soon discovers that being laughed at on your first day at a new school isn’t much fun. Everything changes when a seemingly harmless practical joke opens a huge can of worms…

I very much enjoyed reading this book and found it difficult to put down. Dave Cousins has developed his characters brilliantly and readers will be able to relate to the feeling of having to start out somewhere new and establish yourself with a new group of people. I suspect that many children can relate to the upheaval of moving home and school because one of their parents has a new job and the difficulties associated with making new friends. I would wholeheartedly recommend this book to teenage readers and believe that the lively and fast-paced narrative would appeal particularly to those who might sometimes be reluctant to pick up a book.
Mary Bennett-Hartley, Initial Teacher Education Lecturer
Online review 2013

War Dog, Chris Ryan

Franklin Watts ISBN 9781445123455 £5.99

The theme of this book immediately would appeal to male readers in Key Stage 2 as the texts focuses on the role of dogs in war: in this case Afghanistan. This story remains topical as the author introduces children to the topic of Afghanistan (albeit in a simplistic way). The text explores the theme of friendship and camaraderie by telling the story of how a ‘War Dog’ helps to save a life in the midst of a battle. It is a short story that maintains pace and has lots of references to helicopters, soldiers and of course dogs (themes that I’m sure many reluctant male readers would find interesting). It is a text that would make a fine addition to any book corner!
Tomos Buttress KS2 Teacher
Online review 2013

The Windvale Sprites, Mackenzie Crook

Faber & Faber ISBN: 9780571304080 £6.99

Have you heard of Mackenzie Crook? He’s that actor from The Office, you know, the one who plays Gareth. He’s also in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, in case you were interested. So who knew that he was also a writer and an illustrator? Some people just have too much talent; but celebrity books aren’t always as good as you might hope, so I did approach this one with some trepidation. Happily for me, all doubts were swept away by the retelling of the true story about the weather forecaster, Michael Fish, who was allegedly informed by a lady that there was a hurricane on the way and who laughed it off, on TV, in front of the whole country, and promised it wouldn’t happen. Oops. He didn’t make that mistake again this time. Anyway, in Crook's story, a boy called Asa Brown went into his garden the day after the enormous hurricane to find a strange, fairy-like creature floating dead in his pond. Asa sets off looking for more of the sprites, and his search takes him on a hunt through his town, out onto the moors and into a strange adventure. Despite the subject matter, don’t think this one is just for girls – give it a try, and enjoy Crook's wonderful illustrations too. Recommended for age 8 - 12.
Kristina West, Children's Literature PhD student, University of Reading
Online review 2013

Wonder, R.J. Palacio

The Bodley Head ISBN 9780370332284 £12.99

After 10 years of multiple operations on his face, 10 year old August attends regular school for the first time. His journey through his first ever year at mainstream school, the way he adapts to this new community of children teachers and parents, and the way they adjust to him, are sensitively and frankly written by R.J. Palacio. This American book deftly handles the shifting feelings and emotions of August and his classmates as he enjoys both their friendship and animosity, each child struggling to learn how to deal with August’s striking condition. The cleverly shifting narrative viewpoint allows readers to understand not only August’s determination and bravery to be accepted for who he is, despite his face, but also the struggles of his loyal friend who sticks by him, his classmate who bullies him and his confused friend, Jack, who makes a mistake under pressure to be popular with the other boys but, in the end, fights by his side. It is all so human, honest and completely recognisable for a young reader. Palacio, by representing a very visible disability that affects identity in a concrete way, has achieved something quite special in helping children and teachers consider our own reactions to people who are different in our school communities and to understand a little better something about acceptance, identity and friendship. This book is well suited for Y6. The easily accessible first person voices, the humour and the sharp observations of children’s experience in school are a rich seam for booktalk in the classroom.
Jonathan Rooke, Senior Lecturer, University of Winchester
Online review 2013

The World of Norm May Produce Gas, Jonathan Meres, iIllustrated by Donough O’Malley

Orchard ISBN 9781408323601 £5.99

My heart sank when I saw this book as I immediately thought it was jumping on the ‘wimpy kid’ bandwagon, but I was wrong. The third one in a series, it is original and, in my opinion, much funnier and more accessible than the ‘wimpy kid’ series.

Norm is almost 13 and the book deals humorously with the subjects that concern pre-teen boys: parents, sibling rivalry, hormones, girls, bullying, the death of grandparents and avoiding shopping. Adults will enjoy the jokes – once it mentioned IKEA it had me hooked! Much of the comedy is derived from Norm’s misunderstanding of the various figures of speech his parents use in a tradition that goes back to Richmal Crompton.

There is a balance of narrative and dialogue and the text is well spaced for the less-assured reader. Most words are easy to read, although the meanings of a few may be unfamiliar (‘non-negotiable’, ‘shrewd’) and the pages are dotted with black and white cartoon images. Orchard recommend it for readers of 9+ and I would agree the subject mater is unsuitable for younger children. I would offer it to my 10 and 11 year olds. One thing that annoyed me was the repeated use of ‘flipping’ which seems to be Norm’s trademark word. I may be out of date but I don’t think children have used ‘flipping’ since the sixties. It smacks of soaps substituting a made up word for a swear word and, I feel, would be better avoided. But this is one small criticism of a book that will entertain children (particularly boys) and deals with relevant ‘teen’ issues in a humorous and age-appropriate way.
Debra Holmes, English teacher, Sexey’s School, Bruton, Somerset
Online review 2013

You Choose If You Live Or Die – Jungle Crash, Simon Chapman

Franklin Watts ISBN 9781445113623 £5.99

This is an original adventure book where the reader is part of the story from the outset. As the hero in the interactive escapade, Jungle Crash, it is up to the reader to make the decisions which will result in survival or death. There are deadly predators, drug dealers and a highly dangerous terrain to contend with. At the end of sections within the story, the reader must make a choice and that choice will lead to a different section of the book. The wrong decisions could cost the reader their life. If death becomes a reality, then the reader must go back to the number given and learn from their mistake. This book is one in a series published by Franklin Watts EDGE, which produces range of books to encourage children to read with confidence. The action aspects and the variety of possibilities for storylines would be good starting points creative writing. Suitable for ages 8 – 11.
Jo Kilpatrick, teacher, Rumney Primary School, Cardiff



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