Another cracking month with the odd tear-jerker in amongst the general silliness.
My Worst Book Ever by Allan Ahlberg, illustrated by Bruce Ingham
An entertaining book about the process of writing, illustrating and publishing itself. This would be a great book to introduce children what goes into producing a book, but is equally enjoyable in its own right.
Archie’s Unbelievably Freaky Week by Andrew Norriss, illustrated by Hannah Shaw
This was one of those books which I warmed to gradually. Things just happen to Archie. Some things are due to the choices he makes but some things…just happen. This has a cumulative effect where they start off quite tiresome, but end up mildly funny (and relate to each other in a way which is wholly unbelievable, but somehow satisfying). I wouldn’t count it as a must-read, but I am glad I persisted with it.
Frozen Fish Fingers by Jason Beresford, illustrated by Vicky Barker
I so nearly gave up on this as I found its mixture of silly puns and madcap adventures frankly quite exhausting, but I am so glad I didn’t. Whether I got used to it, or whether the style of story writing calmed down I am not sure, but either way I found myself being drawn in to the adventures of the 4 superheroes and their utterly ridiculous enemy. The book managed to combine a bonkers adventure with some friends-related soul-searching, but the mushy stuff is not over-done. Like ‘Kid Normal’, their superpowers tend to be of the niche variety (Slug Boy! The girl with the magic pocket!) which adds to the knockabout feel. This is the second book featuring the 4 Fish Fingers: the first is called The Fabulous Fish Fingers and the follow up is Fish-Fingers vs Nuggets.
Clover the Bunny by Jane Clarke
Boy, am I glad this series was not around when my daughter was aged 5 or 6. She would have LOVED the combination of simple animal stories with illustrations combining pastel drawings with photographs…and it would have driven me nuts. This is one in a series entitled Dr. Kitty Cat is ready to rescue…in which the eponymous cat supplies first aid advice and treatment to an assortment of immensely careless pets who can barely look at something exciting like a paddling pool without falling over/ getting stung/ succumbing to heat stroke. At this point Dr Kitty Cat comes to the rescue with a first aid kit and a series of really annoying homilies about how to play safely. I’m sure all the safety advice is correct, and I like the fact that proper terms are used for the equipment, but it makes for very formulaic story-telling. None of which will put off the animal-mad 6 year old. There are 6 books (so far) in this series. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Mimi and the Mountain Dragon by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Helen Stephens
Strictly speaking this is a Christmas story but I was intrigued by the title and wanted to see what a Morpurgo was like in a more fantasy-based setting than his usual stories. This takes the form of a legend-within-a-story and manages to wrestle a cosy moral ending from the jaws of threatened violent destruction. An engrossing story told without fuss, and charming illustrations.
The Day War Came by Nicola Davies, illustrated by Rebecca Cobb
As you would expect, this was a difficult and heart-rending read, but still highly recommended. The story of a child made homeless through war, it uses the metaphor of an empty chair to show at first how the child is excluded from a new community, and then how she is welcomed into it. The illustrations match perfectly with the text, and this is a classic example of a picture book for older children – probably age 6 and up. It is so sad that this book has a reason to exist. But it does illustrate the situation in a beautiful and compassionate way, and I would recommend it for any child who has questions about what they have seen on the news or heard around them.
Marvin Redpost: A Flying Birthday Cake? by Louis Sachar
You would expect veteran author Louis Sachar to write an interesting and nuanced story for the junior age range, but I was really impressed by the emotional depth he put into this simple story about a visiting alien in the guise of a lonely school boy. This short story maintained a good balance of action and humour, with unrealistic events taken place in a very realistic setting. I wouldn’t hesitate to read any of the other 7 books in this series.
Cogheart by Peter Bunzl
For me this story had almost everything – an intriguing setting, richly-drawn characters, an exciting series of events without too many unbelievable escapes, and some thought-provoking situations. I loved the steam punk setting and the concept of airships taking over from trains, at least for those wealthy enough to afford them. There is a feisty heroine, an adorable (mechanical) fox, a truly hideous boarding school and some memorable villains. My only serious quibble would be that the gaining of sentience by the mechanical creatures and companions is never explained – being a talented engineer is not enough to create a conscience! The setting and style of Cogheart owes something to ‘His Dark Materials’ and you could see it as a sort of starter companion to that magnificent series. Further adventures are called Moonlocket and Skycircus – the titles are something else that I love!