Rabbit and Bear: A Bite in the Night by Julian Gough and Jim Field
A charming story with plenty of illustrations to help the less-fluent readers. The story is a bit less predictable than you might expect, but all ends happily. This is the fourth in a series of 4 (so far). It would be a good choice for budding engineers or architects, as well as animal fans.
The Cut Throat Café by Nicki Thornton
This book is number 3 in the Seth Seppi Mysteries series – which you won’t fail to notice as there are repeated re-caps of both plots and the subsequent emotional fallout throughout. The series is very popular, but its charms were lost on me as I found the plot to be repetitive, the characters largely uninvolving and the world building insufficiently convincing. The pace of the plot picked up in the final quarter, but it was too late for me by then. A shame, as the blurb was promising and the other books in the series have highly evocative titles (The Last Chance Hotel and The Bad Luck Lighthouse).
Mole Hill by Alex Latimer
A truly delightful picture book which deploys the classic formula of a smart animal outwitting the greedy folks who want to take his home away from him. In this case the smart animal is a mole (a Daddy mole, as it happens) whose home is threatened by the building of a new shopping mall. He uses his superior knowledge of paleontology to trick the mechanical monsters and order is happily restored in time for bed. This would be a great sharing text for siblings with a bit of an age gap, as 2 – 3 year olds will just enjoy the story at face value, while older ones will enjoy getting ahead of the story and maybe identifying which dinosaurs have been discovered. The illustrations are very clever (a cutaway view of Mole’s home; dotted lines to show where the mall would go) and the rhymes satisfyingly accurate. You can see the book and hear the author reading it here.
Oliver and Patch by Claire Freedman, illustrated by Kate Hindley
Another gem of a picture book, this time by Claire Freedman, most celebrated for ‘Aliens Love Underpants’ and its various off-shoots. This one is more gentle and lyrical, a story of friendship and doing the right thing with charming illustrations by Kate Hindley who excels at individual vignettes as well as detailed street scenes. This has just the right level of pathos and peril to make it an involving story without upsetting anyone. And it features a fantastic ice cream – always a bonus! There is also a sequel ‘Oliver and Patch: the Lost Penguin’. Highly recommended.
The Garden of Lost Secrets by A.M. Howell
Alas, another dud, despite high praise from other quarters. This had extremely promising elements – an intriguing set-up, clearly defined characters, an interesting setting (an evacuation-type story, but in 1916 rather than World War 2) – but was very repetitive and the solutions to the puzzles in the story did not match up well enough to their resolutions to be satisfying. On the plus side, some of the issues relating to grief, guilt and the consequences of war were well handled, and the map showing the manor house and gardens was beautifully drawn and very useful.
There’s a Monster in Your Book by Tom Fletcher, illustrated by Greg Abbott
This book has a great premise, which it carries off very successfully. The text asks the reader to carry out various simple tasks in order to get rid of the ‘monster’ (a cute rather than a scary one), such as tipping the book or blowing, ensuring much laughter but also with a reassuring happy ending. Probably not an ideal bedtime book, unless you have a more calming follow up ready!
Do Not Disturb the Dragons by Michelle Robinson, illustrated by Sharon Davey
Saving the best until last, I absolutely loved this book! I was worried that I was being over-critical of story books, having not enthused about The Cut Throat Café or The Garden of Lost Secrets, but this one restored my faith in the power of a book written for youngsters to make you both laugh and think. Set in the land of Wondermere where the people live in a somewhat uneasy relationship with dragons, the book achieves two tricky balances. First, it manages an element of tension without being either totally predictable or completely unbelievable (assuming you buy into the idea of playing a kind of polo with unicorns to ride on and a troll as a willing target). Secondly, it celebrates the ambition of girls who want to rebel and do their own thing, but it also shows that rebellion can have a cost, and that it is OK if you want to conform instead – the world is wide enough for all sorts. The key to this book is that it challenges its characters without being cruel or dismissive – and it is also very funny along the way. It is the first of a brand new series and I will be eagerly looking out for the rest.
Sincere thanks to Potton Library for keeping me in reading matter for the last month!