Children’s Books

The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket – John Boyne

Posted in Children's Books on August 10th, 2012 by admin – 6 Comments

The Terrible Thing That Happened to Barnaby Brocket


Doubleday Children’s Books

Source – Amzon Vine

My Rating – 5 stars (for children and anyone who needs reminding of what it feels to be a child)

Barnaby Brocket is no ordinary boy as he defies the laws of gravity, floating off  if he isn’t physically restrained.   His parents cannot accept his differences and go to extreme lengths to keep him grounded, physically and mentally.  One day, Barnaby floats away and you hope he will experience better examples of humanity once freed from the suffocating normality of his earth-bound family.

Before I got the opportunity to “meet” Barnaby he was kidnapped by my two children, aged 8 and 12, and both were engaged by this extraordinary boy and equally enraged by the pompous, creativity-quashing attitudes of  his parents.  “He should have rung Childline” was the general viewpoint!  Having received such a positive reaction from the target audience I was delighted to find my own way into Barnaby’s world.   It’s whimsical, charming with a fantastical story which flows so smoothly you can’t help but be carried along.  There are touches of Dahl and Walliams with quirky characters and dark humour – this feels very much like a modern children’s classic.  Oliver Jeffers’ beautiful cover is the perfect complement to Boyne’s excellent storytelling – highly recommended for children age 8+.

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Wonder – R J Palacio

Posted in American Fiction, Children's Books on May 21st, 2012 by admin – 9 Comments



Bodley Head Children’s Books

My Rating – 5 stars

I read quite a few children’s and Young Adult novels and it’s only rarely that one of them truly fits into the “crossover” category where I can truthfully say anyone of any age will enjoy this novel.  Wonder fits that niche perfectly, its deceptively simple narrative veiling a myriad of depths and insights.

Wonder is mostly about August (Auggie) Pullman, a 10 year old boy with severe facial disfigurement.  Auggie has already been through a multitude of painful operations but his latest experience could well be the most challenging – going to school.  He’s been home-schooled up until now and sheltered from the curious and insensitive eyes of society at large but hopefully the three mentors chosen by Mr Tushman, the principal, will ease his transition.

What follows, in a series of short chapters, is an account of Auggie’s experiences at Beecher Prep, narrated by Auggie himself and, in other sections, by his sister Olivia, his friend Summer, Olivia’s boyfriend Justin, her friend Miranda and Jack who was chosen to be a guide/mentor for Auggie.  The language is simple but the feelings examined are complex – what does it feel like to be different in a world which has such a limited view of beauty/attractiveness?  What is it like for the siblings of someone who doesn’t fit the norm?  Isn’t it really difficult to tread the “middle ground” and neither ignore nor stare?   Auggie represents anyone who doesn’t fit in and all our associated hang-ups when we strive to be politically correct but fail miserably.

There will be those who avoid this book as it sounds like some preachy manifesto and I fully understand their reticence.  Yes, there is a moral message, basically,  ”When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind” and yes, I know it sounds didactic but this isn’t Mitch Albom territory and there is no deliberate pulling on the heartstrings or straying into schmaltz.   Having said that,  we could all learn something by having this little peek into Auggie’s life, and perhaps adult readers have the most to learn from it.

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Between the Lines – Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

Posted in American Fiction, Children's Books, Proofs on April 28th, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

Between the Lines


Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

My Rating3.5 stars (for pre-teens)

I was intrigued when I first heard about Between the Lines, a collaboration between Jodi Picoult and her sixteen year old daughter, Samantha, aimed at a younger audience.   Equally attractive was the idea of fictional characters coming to life, a theme which I loved in Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart trilogy and Jasper Fforde’s madcap Thursday Next series.  I was also keen to see if this would be good enough to join the likes of Cornelia Funke, Sally Gardner and Michelle Harrison and other great writers on my ever expanding TBR pile of future reads for my daughter.

This is quite a light-hearted read with touches of humour along the way.  Fifteen year old Delilah is not a typical teenager and her efforts to fit in with her peers usually end up in disaster.  Instead of dating in real life, she spends her time immersed in reading her favourite fairy tale, wishing and hoping that she could meet someone just like the fictional hero, Prince Oliver.  Well, in this case, wishes do come true but if only the “happily ever after” was as easily attainable – the barrier between fiction and reality is thicker than paper and Delilah has the difficult task of convincing her mother that she isn’t certifiable when she stays cocooned in her room, talking to fictional characters.

Jodi Picoult’s trademark style of multiple narration is at play here with three separate narrative strands each in a different font, Delilah’s story, Oliver’s story and the actual text of the fairytale, Between the Lines.   The pencil and silhouette illustrations are exquisite and really complement the whole notion of stories as living, breathing entities with characters climbing up the margins and objects made of actual words.

This is a clever, wholesome romance probably best suited for the pre-teen reader as older readers might prefer a bit more bite (not always of the vampire sort!) to their reading consumption.  Not as dark as the Inkheart trilogy, it will appeal to fans of The Princess Bride and The Neverending Story

Jodi and Samantha

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The Killables – Gemma Malley

Posted in Children's Books, Dystopian Fiction, YA Fiction on April 2nd, 2012 by admin – Be the first to comment

The Killables (The Killables, #1)

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (29 Mar 2012)
  • Language English
  • My Rating – 4 stars

    One could be forgiven for thinking that a dystopian setting is compulsory for all YA novels being published at the moment and with the huge success of The Hunger Games both in print and on screen, this is one trend which is staying put.  Gemma Malley has already proven her worth in this genre with her excellent Declaration trilogy and she continues to demonstrate her impressive storytelling skills in this, the first of a new trilogy.

    I must admit that I was quite worried that this new series would seem too samey and fail to stand out amongst the plethora of other dystopian reads on the market but what makes it shine is its quiet, understated nature – thank goodness there are writers who realise it doesn’t have to be all singing, all dancing, all flailing limbs to attract the reader’s attention, sometimes less is more.

    Our “new world” is The City whose citizens are graded from A to D and (shock, horror!) sometimes K depending on their good citizenship and obedience of the rules established by the System.  The head honcho is the omniscient, omnipresent Brother who seems to have your best interests at heart – you really don’t want to end up outside the City gates at the mercy of the Evils, an allegedly subhuman species.

    There is an intriguing love triangle involving our three main protagonists, Evie, Raffy and his “much” older brother, Lucas.  I liked the fact that none of these characters are particularly likeable and you feel like shaking some sense into them most of the time – it’s a trilogy after all, they have time to evolve and change, hopefully for the better!  I also loved the semi-scientific slant on the new Society where all the good citizens have had their amygdala, the ”evil” part of their brain, removed – all done to deliver themselves from evil of course.

    Like all first books in a series, a large portion of the novel has to be devoted to world-building but the author has succeeded in also building characters and a plot which engage the reader and will make you want to read on.  If you’re aged over 13 and you like your dystopian fiction restrained, intelligent and thought-provoking then this is your next stop.

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    The Prince who Walked with Lions – Elizabeth Laird

    Posted in Children's Books, Historical Fiction on March 19th, 2012 by admin – Be the first to comment

    The Prince Who Walked With Lions


    Macmillan Children’s Books

    My Rating 3.5 stars

    I’m almost ashamed to say that before reading this I had never even heard of Elizabeth Laird but an examination of her back catalogue has revealed a veritable Aladdin’s Cave of children’s literature – much to add to the never-ending wishlist both for my children and I.   She has certainly had a full and varied life, working and travelling in many different parts of the world – a multicultural cornucopia which she has drawn upon to produce a range of intelligently written novels for young people.

    Based on a true story, our narrator is the young Prince Alamayu, son of Emperor  Theodore of Abyssinia (now known as Ethiopia).  He tells his story as he lies on his sickbed during his time as a student at Rugby, via a series of flashbacks to his early childhood.  What follows is a detailed, interesting tale of an exotic lifestyle brought to a sudden end by the death of his father at the hands of Queen Victoria’s troops in 1868.   Torn from his native country, he is brought up and educated as a typical English gentleman but he finds it hard to fit in with his peers.

    This is an engaging, poignant tale of a proud young royal striving to adapt to extreme changes in circumstances.  Laird captures the turmoil of a young boy caught between two worlds, slowly forgetting his Ethiopian heritage yet not quite achieving the status of a perfect young gentleman despite his associations with Queen Victoria herself.   Reading this has encouraged me to find out more about this particular part of history – what a bonus if it could incite the same curiosity in younger readers.  Off now to check out Elizabeth’s previous novels – Kiss The Dust  and  A Little Piece of Ground are particularly catching my eye.

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    All Fall Down – Sally Nicholls

    Posted in Children's Books, Historical Fiction, YA Fiction on March 19th, 2012 by admin – 3 Comments

    All Fall Down


    Marion Lloyd Books

    My Rating – 5 stars (if like me, you love excellent historical fiction for children)

    Award winning author Sally Nicholls won me over with her wonderful debut novel, Ways To Live Forever,  a poignant contemporary story which was published in 2008.  She has since written Seasons of Secrets (2009), contemporary fiction with a taste of magic, and her latest, All Fall Down, is her first foray into historical fiction, set in Yorkshire during the Black Death in the mid 14th century.

    At the moment so much Childrens/YA fiction is concerned with post-apocalyptic dystopias but, as Sally Nicholls points out in a note at the end of her novel, “The Black Death was the single biggest catastrophe in historical memory. The exact number of casualties is unknown, but was probably somewhere between a third and a half of Europe.”  This historical period certainly provides a compelling and dramatic backdrop for the story of Isabel and her family. 

    Our story begins in the summer of 1349 and events are narrated by fourteen year old Isabel who lives in the tiny village of Ingleforn in Yorkshire.  She and her family are “villeins”, tied to the land which they rent from the lord of the manor so they can’t just up sticks and leave at the first sniff of pestilence.  Thus, they begin a game of waiting, a tense time during which Isabel and her siblings have to grow up very quickly and cope with whatever fate hurls at them.

    Told in the present tense, this is a gripping, vivid tale which will appeal to a range of ages especially those who appreciate interesting, believable characters and writing which immerses you right in 1349, capturing the idiosyncrasies of village life and the burgeoning fear which takes root in the hearts and minds of the villagers.  Will caring for friends who have lost family to the plague end up endangering your own family?  How quickly can mistrust and deceit thrive in this atmosphere of malevolence and decay? 

    A lot happens, we get to know many different characters and we experience a variety of settings, town and country, abbey and village church but Sally Nicholls demonstrates such an ease in her writing that the reader never feels rushed or manipulated.  An excellent historical novel with a lot of human heart, highly recommended for readers of all ages and one which will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Pat Walsh’s Crowfield series.

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    Itch – Simon Mayo

    Posted in Children's Books on March 6th, 2012 by admin – Be the first to comment



    Doubleday Children’s Books

    My Rating – 4 stars – pleasantly surprised…

    To be completely truthful, I didn’t expect much of Itch, falling prey to prejudices about celebrities turning their hand to writing but I thoroughly enjoyed this entertaining adventure story.

    Fourteen year old Itchingham Lofte (what a fabulous name!)is science mad and has a tendency to blow up things as a hobby – that explains the missing eyebrows then… He’s determined to collect all the elements of the periodic table and he has used an array of ingenious methods to pursue his scientific quest. Alienated from most of his classmates, he hangs out with his cousin Jack (Jacqueline) and his younger sister, Chloe, both of whom have endless reserves of patience – an essential trait when dealing with the unpredictable and unconventional Itch. When a previously undiscovered element ends up in Itch’s hands, all hell breaks loose as both good and evil factions strive to obtain this extremely powerful substance.

    This is an extremely impressive action-packed debut and ideal for any young person with even a slight interest in science. Itch isn’t a typical young hero – he’s not into being the alpha-male, gung-ho type reinacting Call of Duty – he’s a charming, loveable nerd whose scientific escapades thoroughly engage the reader.

    Itch appealed to the slightly nerdish side of my personality and Chemistry continues to fascinate me even though I took a more literary route post-16. I think a lot of 11+ boys and girls will identify with and be charmed by Itch – looking forward to reading more of this series.

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    A Waste of Good Paper – Sean Taylor

    Posted in Children's Books, Contemporary Fiction, YA Fiction on January 5th, 2012 by admin – Be the first to comment

    A Waste of Good Paper

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Frances Lincoln Children’s Books (3 May 2012)  I was initially attracted to this YA novel as I used to teach French to a wide variety of pupils from top stream to those who faced severe behavioural and emotional challenges on a daily basis. I was keen to see how an author would recreate the voice of a youth who struggles to fit into “mainstream” education and I think he’s got it spot on.

    The novel takes the form of a journal/diary written by young Jason who has the opportunity to move onto a mainstream school if he’s on his best behaviour but as we gradually discover, it’s rather hard not to LOSE IT when his mum looks like she might go back on drugs, when he is continually riled by his classmates, when he has to listen to the platitudes of the teachers. At first he treats the diary project as some sort of joke, a way of fooling his teacher, Pete, into thinking he’s actually doing some work but gradually he puts down in words the truth about his home situation…but the diary is confidential so how can anyone else help?

    As well as gaining insight into Jason’s home life we also see life in school, warts and all with the tiniest slight sending some pupils over the edge. One scene reminded me of the time a chair was thrown in my direction…but I had the good sense to duck! I have so much admiration for teachers who can draw on infinite amounts of patience and creativity to help disadvantaged and disaffected children and are happy to see progress on a day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute scale rather than throwing in the towel. I think the author does an excellent job of representing the work done by such professionals.

    This is a very honest portrayal of one boy’s life, with a fair injection of humour too – well worth reading and recommended for both young teens and adults in need of a hefty dose of empathy.


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    Liesl and Po – Lauren Oliver

    Posted in Children's Books on October 12th, 2011 by admin – Be the first to comment

    Liesl and Po is the first of Lauren Oliver’s novels to be targeted at middle grade readers (age 8-12).  Following the sudden death of her best friend, Oliver wrote this book in a two month period as a type of confessional and a way of exploring her grief. 

    The title immediately reminded me of Hansel and Gretel and it does have that ethereal, fairytale feel.  Liesl’s beloved father has just died and she is locked up in an attic room by her cruel stepmother, Augusta.  One night she is visited by Po, a ghost of indeterminate gender and his animal companion, Bundle (cat,dog, hamster?).  She enlists Po’s help to contact her father on the “other side”.   This is the story of Liesl’s quest to lay her father’s spirit to rest, a quest which is thwarted by other characters such as her stepmother, an evil alchemist and the redoutable Lady Premiere. 

    The characters inhabit a grey and murky world, almost Dickensian at times although the time period and location are deliberately uncertain.  The wonderful grey, pencil illustrations complement this vague, dream-like world perfectly. 

    All in all, a very charming tale but, unfortunately, the characters never really emerge from their initial pantomime like introduction.  Yes, they are beautifully drawn, but they lacked depth (both the ghosts and the living ones!)  and I would have loved to have discovered more about their back stories – an opportunity missed?

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    The Devil Walks – Anne Fine

    Posted in Children's Books on September 16th, 2011 by admin – 2 Comments

    “The Devil Walks” is a gothic thriller for older children and just the right kind of book to curl up  with as the nights draw in.  Our tale is narrated by Daniel who has spent his childhood years sequestered in his bedroom, a reclusive invalid cared for by his widowed mother.  However, all is not as it seems, it turns out that Daniel’s background is shrouded in secrecy and as his story progresses, we discover what dark and dastardly skeletons lurk in the family vaults.

    I’m deliberately not giving away any of the plot – suffice to say that those who love a touch of gothic will be very impressed this wonderfully eerie tale.  Family secrets, a mysterious dolls house, a psychotic uncle holed up in a creepy old house – everything to tempt the Gothic gourmand!

    Daniel is a really engaging character, not one for snivelling and whinging, he just gets on with things and is determined to discover what motivated his mother to hide him away from the world.  Each revelation serves to further increase his emotional turmoil.  His uncle Severin is evil personified, switching between benevolent and malevolent at the drop of a hat. 

    The plot moves swiftly with lots of twists and turns and the language is exquisite, ideally suited to the period setting but not too convoluted as to dissuade young readers.  An extremely well crafted, atmospheric tale which will appeal to all ages.

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