May 2006 Archives

Just Like Tomorrow

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Faiza Guene
May 2006
�Maybe that�s why so many estates are mashed-up: not enough on the people on them vote. You�re not useful, politically speaking, if you don�t vote. When I�m eighteen, I�ll vote. You never get a chance to speak out round here. So when you�ve got it, grab it.�

The story behind �Just like tomorrow� is at once fascinating and intriguing. Written by Faiza Guene, the daughter of Algerian immigrants, at the age of seventeen, the novel�s potential was quickly recognised by Boris Seguin, the director of a neighbourhood cultural centre with which Faiza was involved. Seguin showed the opening chapters to his sister, an editor at a French publishing house and Faiza was offered a contract.

Since then �Kiffe Kiffe Demain� � the French title of the novel which appropriates Arabic and more traditional French � has gone on to sell 200,000 copies in France, has been translated into 26 languages and has led to Faiza�s being requested to give numerous lectures, have a monthly radio column as well as voice opinions on the Paris riots.

In spite of the considerable acclaim the novel has garnered and in spite of the insight it offers into high-rise life in the Parisian suburbs, �Just like tomorrow� does not read as a wholly convincing novel. The danger with engaging stories that surround the conception of a book is that they may eclipse the writing itself. That is true with �Just like tomorrow� and rightly so for the compassion, good-humour, warmth and intelligence that Faiza radiates in interviews is entirely deserving of celebration.

Faiza comments that; �not many people from my background, with my social and cultural origins, are represented in the media or have a voice.� It is herein that the intrinsic value of �Just like tomorrow� lies, for it does just that, offering a voice to the underrepresented, if not to the misrepresented�

The story is an account of Doria, a somewhat obstreperous fifteen-year-old, who being female, the daughter of a Moroccan Muslim, disallowed the opportunity to retake a year at school because there are two few places and admired by neeky Nabil has an understandably bleak, introspective outlook on life.

Throughout the novel Doria sees a psychiatrist and it is through these, that possibilities begin to open out for her. Faiza�s narrative offers great insight at points, it can be tender and genuinely touching and it is strength of Doria�s voice that is the real success in this, at-points-frustratingly-non-cohesive book.

�Just like tomorrow� is a book that deserves to be read, it shows great promise and it is the promise that should at once be recognised and regaled here rather than efforts to portray Guene as the Bronte of the Burbs, a difficult claim for even the most experienced writer to live up to. It is certainly to be hoped Faiza Guene continues her writing endeavours for if so, surely a bright career stretches ahead of her� Mention should be given to Sarah Adams translation which, as with the �Golem� series, admirably brings the slang-uage of the suburbs verve and liveliness.


| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Cat Weatherill
Puffin Books
Apr 2006
�Snowbone was outraged. �Why is slavery allowed?� she stormed. �Why has no one done anything to stop it? Doesn�t anyone care?��

Cat Weatherill�s language leaps lithe and lively with the flared flair of a fire-cracker. Like its predecessor �Barkbelly� had before it, �Snowbone� focuses on the world of the Ashenpeakers, a wooden people hatched in fire from eggs.

Like the vestigial veins of snow that cling upon the earth, Snowbone is strong and determined with beliefs at heart that are not easily melted or made to vanish. The world she is born into is one of bias and prejudice where her people serve as stock in the slave trade.

With a greed fuelled by elixir-like tree-sap, as well as imposing servitude upon their waking days, the slavers also desecrate the sacred groves of trees, the entities all Ashenpeakers are destined to become once they move on. With a keen sense of morality and a crew of friends to aid her, Snowbone sets out on a quest to bring about an end to the trade.

Snowbone charst further still the richly imaginative world that was created in the first novel. Although Barkbelly himself makes a cameo appearance, this is very much a story that stands alone. Cat�s written style is fast-paced and lively showing a deft awareness of the story and intrigue that lies behind every situation and each scenario. It is a fast-paced adventure with a profound message about the nature of freedom and liberty.

Like its predecessor before it, �Snowbone� has all the feel of a true classic.

Angel Blood

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
John Singleton
Puffin Books
May 2006
John Singleton�s �Angel Blood� is a book that, to be wholly appreciated, must be read slowly, carefully and be relished. It focuses on four children, X-Ray, Cough Cough, Lights Out and Chicken Angel. As might be discerned from these nick-names, these are no ordinary children and this is certainly no ordinary children�s novel�

Set in what appears to be a medical isolation unit, known to the children as the Bin, language is paramount in this world which is hyper-sensitive to the power relation between children and adults.

�Angel Blood� is a novel which evades easy categorisation, in many ways it is a fantasy, establishing its own vividly realised and, at times disquieting, interior world that is embellished and made bold by the language of the children who inhabit it�

Language and perception, they bind the four outcast children together founding the sense of community and kinship from which their friendships are forged. Gradually the interiority of the children�s world and the uncertainty regarding their future prompts them to make a bid for freedom. Toward this end, they are reluctantly aided by Nail and his girlfriend Natalie, whose story has been interspersed amongst those of the children. Disturbing and challenging in parts, �Angel Blood� is a novel that prompts consideration into our perception of the world and of beauty versus difference. The cultural bubble that the children grow up in defies as to the ways children are educated about the world that surround them and the types of accumulated prejudice and tardiness-of-thought that can be inherited. Readers are guaranteed a thought-provoking read and are likely to find their outlook altered... This is a novel that elicits response and whose ideas are deserving of discussion, making it an ideal choice for reading groups.

Little Lucy's Family

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Eleanor Gormally
Veritas Publications
Feb 2006
Lucina, her mum, dad and rabbit together make a family. However Lucy is adopted...

This book�s success lies within the fact that it is first and foremost a book about families and about love and a book �about adoption� second. It does not moralise, preach or condescend through repeatedly stating how �special� it is to be adopted, indeed Lucy has friends who, like herself, are adopted.

In addition to depicting Lucy�s own need to grow and develop within loving, caring family relationships, the book also outlines the need that Lucy is able to fulfil for her mum and dad who badly want a family. The awareness Lucy has of her past is great and the text is unambiguous about the fact that she was too young to remember her time in a Children�s Home in Russia though, nonetheless, having been adopted is clearly an integral part of the person Lucy now sees herself to be.

There is a wonderful double-page spread in the book where Lucy and her father look up at the stars in the night-sky and make wishes together. An intriguing depiction of the bedroom whose walls open out into the night stars forms the backdrop against which Lucy and her father are embraced. It brings to mind beautifully the type of kinship that we as humans are able to attain when our hearts and minds are open to the needs of others and ourselves. A reassuring and life-affirming read for anyone, not just those who have been adopted.

Puberty Boy

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Geoff Price
Allen & Unwin
May 2006
It�s a difficult to write engagingly about the subject of adolescence, growing up and the changes that affect the mind and body through puberty. Geoff Price, himself a councillor, mediator and facilitator at a private practice in Sydney, has done an admirable job with �Puberty Boy�, though nevertheless this is still unlikely to be the sort of book that is fervently read cover-to-cover. Rather it is the sort of book that concerned parents might purchase in good faith for their sons who illicitly dip into chapters as and when that need arises.

A glossary and list of resources make this a particularly practical book � a number of the resources listed are Australia-biaised, this presents few problems for the web-based resources, however, for land-based centres hefty travel costs are likely to be incurred!

Testimony from a number of real life people and detailed yet sensitively written descriptions and explanations of the various stages of puberty and the feelings and anxieties these might elicit, help to normalise situations that can often feel isolating. �Puberty Boy� has exceptionally high production values - it could almost be a coffee table book! � and its considerate, thoughtful written style combine to make this one of the stand-out books on the market.

The Tail of the Trinosaur

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Charles Causley
Jane Nissen Books
Apr 2006
It is perhaps one of the paradoxes of the publishing and pitching of books for children that there are so few novels written in poetic form for new readers when rhythm, rhyme and a sense of time appeal so much providing highly accessible means for first independent encounters with stories and that warming, phosphorescent glow of language presented in its best possible placement�

�The Tail of the Trinosaur� is an epic poem for children written by Charles Causley. It is witty, irreverent and at the same time soft and compassionate. It opens in Dunborough as an articulated lorry brings to the town a container from the Amazon Jungle holding a gift�

Needless to say, the gift is of monstrous proportions! The Trinosaur herself is a lumbering, lugubrious but ultimately loveable vegetarian. It is hard not to let out a celebratory cheer by the end of the novel when, after all of her adventures and mishaps, the Trinosaur successfully makes a bid for freedom, fleeing the army.

Rich and resplendent with onomatopoeia and linguistic play, this is a book that begs to be read aloud as Michael Rosen indicates through his plea towards the end of his introduction �read this pleasure-loving romp out loud, with plenty of cod accents and ham gestures.� This new edition is made available by Jane Nissen books, a small independent publisher who is exciting and commendably bringing back into print numerous classic children�s books from yester-year.

Amazing Mr Zooty

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Emma Chichester-Clark
Andersen Press
Apr 2006
�Get out, help out�

That is Mr. Zooty�s motto. Sam, Lucy and Mrs Taylor have little money and are out collecting leaves one day for luck. Luck favours them, as Mr Zooty, a philanthropic feline, happens to be in the vicinity.

Mr Zooty pretends to be a hobbling old cat and feigns fainting. The family take him home whereupon he reveals his true persona, giving each of the family a wish. Sam wishes for pancakes, Mr Zooty adds maple syrup, Mrs Taylor wishes for a ruby red purse to help alleviate her worries, Mr Zooty adds a new hat, but when Lucy makes her wish a hot air balloon arrives which was not what she wished for� perhaps this will take them to her wish? Eventually the group arrive at a kitten which was what Lucy wished for, but Mr Zooty�s generosity and perception into the needs of other knows no bounds as his additions to Lucy�s wish show� Mr Zooty explains how, everybody needs a little help sometimes.

There is a marked juxtaposition between the dark and overcast illustrations of the flat and the bright and cheerful illustrations that portray nature and depicting Mr Zooty's generous nature, these provide colour light and life. Characters are brilliantly realised and respond to their environments in a way that will resonate emotionally with young children heping to show the importance of helping those who surround us...

Mark II

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Chris Farnell
Tindal Street Press
May 2006
�The clone wasn�t stupid, but he didn�t know the rules, and I had a horrible feeling I knew who would be teaching him.�

New technologies have stretched further still the enigma of The Ship of Theseus, which has puzzled philosophers for centuries� What if Theseus himself were to be recreated atom, by atom and his memories replicated? How would we discern the �true� Theseus? Taking cloning as its preserve, this is a question that runs central to �Mark II�,

Suffering from a degenerative illness, Mark is dying. Understandably his family have difficulty coming to terms with the imminent loss of their son, so it is that they approach Laz-R-Us, a company who are not only able to recreate loved ones, but also to replicate the basic memories believed to have structured that person�s character using a patented system known as Kwik-Learn.

Advances in modern day science and technologies have posed new ethical dilemmas for society. �Mark II� is very much a tale of our time, it challenges concepts of individuality, of love, memory, learning, mortality, commercial profiteering and Godly irreverence.

Poignant and moving, it is impossible not to feel combined pathos and empathy for Mark�s clone who, in outward appearance and expectations, is the equal of the deceased Mark. This, however, is discordant with the low levels of understanding and comprehension that Mark holds for the world that surrounds him, and it is Phil�s endeavours to teach the clone of his best friend worldly-wisdom, whilst at once simultaneously grieving the loss of his best friend per-se, that form the novel�s most powerful and memorable sequences.

It is friendship and its depiction that are the lynch-pins of this novel, its ending forces consideration as to whether Mark�s clone has been assimilated into the person whom Mark was held to be, or whether his future is made free by the friendship he is able to continue with Phil� Highly gripping, highly thought-provoking and highly contemporary in both theme and approach this is definitely one to watch!

Set in Stone

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Linda Newberry
David Fickling Books
May 2006
�How can you begin to know? I have hidden my feelings so very cleverly, have I not? Well enough to keep you in ignorance, you who thought you knew me? But how can I live otherwise � without keeping my feelings in suppression?�

Fourwinds is the self-designed manifestation of its affluent owner, Ernest Farrow�s controlling nature. Set around the turn of the twentieth century, the novel opens as Samuel Godwin arrives at the house having successfully gained employment as art tutor to Ernest Farrow�s daughters the wild Marianne and Juliana.

Named Fourwinds because of a sculptural enterprise that would have seen four depictions of the wind � Northerly, Easterly, Southerly and Westerly, the Westerly wind was apparently never completed. On Samuel�s approach to the house, he encounters for the first-time Marianne, who is desperately searching for the Westerly wind, believing this holds the key to securing her family�s happiness� Indeed, the fourth wind is a key, it is central to the mysteries and the secrets that each Farrow family member holds and around which the story of this novel is woven.

Told jointly through the shifting view of Samuel and Charlotte Agnew � governess to the girls � and with brief epistolary interludes, the book keeps readers guessing and in anticipation of its shocking revelations. It�s narrative form bring to mind the novels of Wilkie Collins and Samuel�s position as aspiring artist in position of tutorage to two siblings is reminiscent of �The Woman in White�.

�Set in Stone� is about secrets that have been submerged from society to aid appearances of acceptability and decorum, it is about the strains these exert upon family ties and the ways in which, under these circumstances, families can tie us down. Ultimately, �Set in Stone� is about avoiding the past petrifying or paralysing our present, thereby denying our future. It is about healing and is an intensely admirable and intriguing novel.

Red Moon

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Rachel Anderson
Hodder Children's Books
Apr 2006
�They call them by so many names. The refugees. The sans-papiers. The stateless. Whatever they call them, they cannot leave them without shelter. That would not be correct.�

All too often reportage by the popular press of those seeking asylum presents the public with an image laden only with leaden value judgements � asylum seekers are seen solely as vagrants. Little surprise then that such instantly reactionary accounts all-too-easily fuel the types of hatred and intolerance that the far-right breeds.

Through their ability to make us think and feel vicariously, stories offer us the opportunity to explore more fully backgrounds and circumstances to the events that surround us everyday� they offer us an ever-widening outlook for our world-view. Guardian Children�s Ficton award winner Rachel Anderson�s latest book, �Red Moon� is one such title. It is a richly textured novel with an unadorned prosaic style that belies its intense emotional impact.

Fathered by the Scottish Douglas and French Anne-Marie, Hamish is an unusual, thoughtful boy. Never having played football, suffering from asthma and always handing his homework in on time, it is perhaps small wonder he has no friends amongst his peers and thereby has a somewhat insular approach to life.

After Douglas is killed by blacks, Hamish and his mother move to France where she is able to work upon her dissertation. The move appears a successful one and their new life seems � initially � idyllic, although it quickly becomes apparent that this calm is the eye-of-the-narrative-storm�

Running in tandem alongside this is the story of Ahmed or � slightly less politely � Ali, as he later becomes known. Academically gifted, Ahmed�s ambition for his future is to become a respected teacher. This is shattered, however, once the militia take over the teaching compound. From a community that is able to offer no assurance of safety to its citizens, Ahmed begins a journey to seek refuge, shelter and protection. His voyage takes him by truck and by boat, eventually depositing him, washed ashore onto a French beach near the university where Hamish and his mother are staying.

Inevitably, the eventual union between the two boys is initially a difficult one, Hamish is frustrated by Ahmed�s reticence to communicate and later by the increasing demands that Ahmed begins to make of Hamish.

�Red Moon� is a novel that challenges consideration into perceptions of our fellow-beings, its clever shifts in perspective avoid it becoming moralising and yield from the reader unbridled compassion not only towards Ahmed, but also towards Hamish. Both boys have faced trauma and loss, but through the geography and social positioning of their respective births, one has been supported and nurtured, whilst the other left to fend for himself, to find for himself and fight for himself, for his own freedom. That the two interwoven narrative perspectives shift from being recorded in different typographical fonts towards the same by the end, provides oblique reference that this has been successful.

Through its multi-layered scrutiny of �language�, �residency� and �asylum�, concepts of �nationhood� and �race� are necessarily explored and assumptions challenged through the story. This in itself is enviable given the recent YouGov poll carried out prior to the local elections on 4th May which found 7% of people were ready to vote for the British Nationalist Party and 24% had either considered doing so before, or thinking about it now. Compassion can serve as both prevention and cure to intolerance; it is present here in abundance.

John Burningham
Jonathan Cape Children's Books
Apr 2006
Twice Greenaway medal wiiner, author-illustrator John Burnigham makes a welcome return with �Edwardo the horriblest boy in the whole wide world�. Poor Edwardo, is an ordinary boy subject to much the same angers and annoyances as anyone else� However, this is an imaginative and affectionately told cautionary tale, twisted to be directed towards the teller � to adults. Children will delight in listening again and again as it warns against the dangers of hyperbolic exaggeration when children misbehave...!

When Edwardo kicks, he is called rough, �the roughtest boy in the whole wide world� and so it is he becomes roughter and rougher. When he makes a noise he is called very noisy, when he is nasty to other children he is called a nasty bully, cruel, messy, dirty� Poor Edwardo faces a catalogue of castigations. With Burnigham�s typical deftness of hand, things begin to change when he kicks some flowers and they land on a patch of earth and a passer-by believes he is starting a garden� Gradually attitudes towards Edwardo begin to change until he becomes the loveliest boy in the whole wide world!

This light-hearted but heartening picture book shows the importance not only of moderation in behaviour on the part of children, but moderation in the way that we as adults treat that behaviour, a warmly affectionate tale.


| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Kate Petty
Frances Lincoln
Mar 2006
The 'Around the World' series of books feature a full page, brightly coloured photograph of children with different hair styles, each picture gives a brief explanation about where the child lives thereby demonstrating unity in people�s lives regardless of the geography of where they live. Speech bubbles on the pages provide an insight into the depicted children�s lives and show a range of thoughts and feelings that are instantly recognisable to all regardless of background.

A map at the back of the book features indented photographs of the children showing the areas in which they live. The book highlights the way childrens�s environments affect their upbringing with regard to climate, culture and familial position.

Kate Petty is shortlisted this year for the Aventis Junior Science award with "The Global Garden". Look out for �Bicycles�, �Playtime� and �Home� which are available as part of the same series as "Hair", published in association with Oxfam who aim to raise awareness of lifestyles and culture across the globe through their publishing arm.

As wioth previous Frances Lincoln books,"Hair" features well-targetted guidance on the cover to aid its integrated use within the classroom.

Meredith Costain
Allen and Unwin
Jun 2006
If you�ve ever wondered about the existence of ghosts, whether there are aliens in outer-space and if they might have abducted people, what has happened at the Bermuda triangle and whether or not you might have extra-sensory powers then �Hauntings happen and ghosts get grumpy� is the book for you.

It offers a fascinating and highly readable guide into the worlds of the paranormal, giving you all the lowdown and presenting all the facts impartially leaving you to decide for yourself what to believe. The various rationale that have been suggested to explain ghostly encounters are provided, alongside well-researched and detailed facts � did you know for example that UFO sightings aren�t a modern occurrence and way back as long ago as 1492 a sailor on board Columbus�s Santa Maria saw glittering things in the distance appearing and disappearing? With verified web-links and practical definitions to its more specialised diction � would you know a catopromancer from a coscinomancer? - the book is a great spring-board to finding out more and developing independent research skills .

Published by Allen and Unwin �Hauntings happen and ghosts get grumpy� is one book in a great series called �It�s true!� access website for more details on these compelling non-fiction books, rarely have facts been so flavoursome!

The Penderwicks

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Jeanne Birdsall
David Fickling Books
Apr 2006
�parents almost always want what�s best for their children. They just don�t always know what that is.�

Strong of mind, sometimes of body and certainly in determination are the Penderwick sisters � a children�s literature dream-team comprising of four children and, of course, the obligatory dog. Rosalind is the eldest, next in line is Skye, following by Jane and the youngest Batty, not forgetting Hound (who, perhaps needless to say, is the dog).

Elements of this timeless feeling novel will doubtless feel familiar to keen readers in the field of children�s books. The children�s eagerness to help and to suffer mishap and misadventure along the way is highly reminiscent of Edith Nesbit�s Bastable family; middle daughter Jane�s writing ambition and the sisterly bonds between the girls bring to mind Louisa May Alcott�s March family, Arundel�s gardens a place for exploration, growth and healthy development bring to mind the grounds of Frances Hodgson Burnett�s Misselthwaite Manor and the novel�s decidedly child-centric story is undoubtedly Blyton-esque!

It is strength of character that makes �The Penderwicks� exceptional. Mrs Tifton becomes a genuinely formidable and fearsome arch-rival just as her son, Jeffrey, becomes a true friend and somebody whom the girls seek to rescue from the grasp of his over-bearing mother. �The Penderwicks� boasts the familiarity of finding oneself amidst old-friends and has the feel of a classic.

Under The Persimmon Tree

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Suzanne Fisher Staples
Walker Books
Oct 2005
As every storyteller knows, it is the tales of individual people which bring real events to life. The sanitised vocabulary and politicised angles of the news can make the realities and complexities of recent world events difficult for young adults to access.

Set in Afghanistan in the months following September 11th and endorsed by Amnesty International, here is a book to contribute to a better understanding. Alternate chapters give us the stories of two heroines. Najmah, an Afghan girl, sees her father and brother conscripted to the Taliban, and her mother and baby brother killed in an American air raid. Lost and alone, she begins the dangerous journey through the mountains to Pakistan, where she hopes to find her family again. Elaine, an American woman, is also alone. Living in Pakistan after converting to Islam and marrying an Afghan doctor, she has not heard from him since he left to establish a hospital. Whilst she waits she teaches refugee children under the persimmon tree in her garden.

The two different viewpoints work well. From Najmah we get a picture of everyday life in rural Afghanistan. Staples draws on her experiences as a UPI reporter in Afghanistan and Pakistan to paint a picture of day-to-day life rich in fascinating and evocative details. Set against this normality the accounts of the death of Najmah�s mother and baby brother are particularly powerful and moving. From Elaine (known as Nusrat) we get a view of the contrasts between Western and Middle Eastern culture. By giving us an insight into two hearts and minds Staples also shows us the similarities, in a wonderful celebration of our common humanity.

When at last Najmah and Nusrat do find each other, their shared feelings of anxiety and loss, plus their shared interest in the stars, gives them the comfort and strength they need. Don�t expect a happy ending, Staples is a realist. But she shows that hard truths can be accepted, with courage and dignity.

Lost and Found

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers
Harper Collins
May 2006
Last year's Nestle Prize (0-5 category) Gold winner, Lost and Found, has just come out in paperback, prompting me to finally get round to reviewing it. Being rather a fan of penguins, I was immediately drawn to the cover, which depicts a boy and a penguin looking lost whilst floating in an umbrella not far from an iceberg. Jeffers's quirky, contemporary style puts me in mind of another promising young author-illustrator and former Nestle winner, Mini Grey, which is no bad thing. Both manage to convey huge amounts of energy and expression using stylised, simplistic drawings and unpretentious, child-friendly text. Before even opening the book, I was intrigued and expectant.

The story drops straight in, without any pre-amble, to an unnamed boy opening his front door to find a penguin. Presuming it must be lost, the boy sets out to return the penguin to its rightful location, not knowing where that might be. After rowing to the South Pole and dropping the penguin off, the boy finally realises that the penguin just wanted a friend, and a heart-warming reunion follows. Lost and Found is a touching, subtly moral story that encourages the reader to think beyond the seemingly obvious. One is utterly endeared to the silent penguin as he unquestioningly follows the boy, unable to convey his true desire for company. The unanymity of the boy is sure to appeal to young readers who will enjoy filling in the gaps, or indeed placing themselves in the starring role. Similarly, the uncluttered, open spaces between the pictures and text, and the big blocks of colour across double-page spreads leaves room for the imagination to breathe. Appealingly simple, gently atmospheric and pleasingly reassuring, Lost and Found is certainly deserving of its acclaim.

Chew on This

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks
Eric Schlosser
Puffin Books
May 2006
The ACHUKA Big Burger Bonanza

Ray Kroc, brainchild behind the franchising of the McDonald�s name claimed �The organisation cannot trust the individual; the individual must trust the organisation.� Through exploring fast food, and the world it has made, this book questions how far individuals are able to trust the vast power-wielding multi-national organisations who have so much become a part of familiar high-street iconography.

�Chew on this� is written by Eric Schlosser, author of the best-selling �Fast Food Nation�. It is very much a book of our time, and is a constituent of the back-lash that the fast-food industry � perhaps embodied in the fullest by McDonald�s � is currently suffering.

On June 19, 1997 Justice Bell delivered his verdict on the McLibel trial carried out against activists Helen Steel and David Morris. Despite having won the case and being awarded �60,000, in the verdict against allegations that the company�s marketing �exploit[s] children by using them, as more susceptible subjects of advertising, to pressurise their parents into going to McDonald�s� was deemed to be true.

�Chew on this� is the highly political and politicised reaction against this. Aimed specifically at the 12+ market and backed by a major educational and promotional campaign which has seen �Chew on this� packs sent to over 5,000 schools, a soon-to-launch microsite with both adult and children�s zones , serialisation through the Guardian and extensive media coverage elsewhere, the book provides an important defence against one of the frightening statistics Schlosser provides for readers in the book � the staggering �300 million British food companies spend annually on advertising aimed specifically at children.

Split into bite-size chapters focusing on aspects including the development of the fast-food phenomenon, advertising and marketing aimed at creating consumers of children, food additives, meat production and obesity, �Chew on this� makes decidedly chilling facts digestible. Surprisingly this makes for compulsive, though frightening reading, and the observation that every pound spent in a fast-food restaurant is a vote in-favour of the politics and actions these companies have are imbued within provides food-for-thought that outweighs the �convenience� such vendors purportedly provide.

The Toxic Toadburger Conspiracy

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks
Ian Hills
Wizard Books
Aug 2005
The ACHUKA Big Burger Bonanza

Former food marketer Ian Hills� debut novel, �The Toxic Toadburger Conspiracy� opens dramatically with 14-year-old protagonist Eddy Tumble choking to death on a roast potato. This book is a frenetic blend of fantasy and realism. Following an at once unfortunate and unceremonious demise amidst grey bread sauce, Eddy Tumble is resurrected by alien Interferons who supply him with a super-powered stomach. His quest is then to assuage the megalomaniacal Marcellus Guzzle�s, president of Gut Bucket Holdings, plans for world domination.

Gut Bucket are purveyors of the triple-tiered-toadburger (served with tadpole relish), a culinary concoction laced with rabbit juice an ingredient whose powers prove hypnotic against children.

This book is a curious mix of gut-wrenching and nausea-inducing horror and the horrific, of humour, fast-paced action and insightful social comment and expose about the fast-food industries that have developed around us. There is much here to entertain yet also much to think about.

If social pressure is to be exerted in order that the ethics and morals of multi-national fast-food outlets are to be developed more responsibly, fiction forms an ideological club through which knowledge and awareness can be disseminated effectively to young people. A sequel �Revenge of the Refuse Rats� will follow and further details on the book, its inspiration and author can be found at

Burger Boy

| 1 Comment | No TrackBacks
Alan Durant, ill. Mei Matsuoka
Andersen Press
Jun 2006
The ACHUKA Big Burger Bonanza

A �super-size me� for the small of stature. Benny doesn�t like vegetables, not carrots, peas, broccoli or any of these� No, Benny is a boy who loves burgers � he just can�t get enough of them. In fact, burgers are the only food Benny will eat. Then, one day his mother warns he will turn into a burger and one day that prophecy comes true, so begins a day in the life of a burger, no!, a boy...

�Burger Boy� is a playful and good-humoured reworking of �The Gingerbread Boy� made modern for generations grown up on happy meals. Interplay between talented new illustrator Mei Matsuoka�s hugely appealing, brilliantly colourful and zany illustrations together with established critically-acclaimed author Alan Durant�s wryly humorous text creates a wonderfully accessible, much-needed-child-friendly treaty on the importance of a balanced diet posing as defence against the findings published in a paper on June 11, in the British Medical Journal stating �a junk food dietary pattern at age three was significantly associated with obesity at age seven�.

At the rough cost of only two fast-food children�s meals, this engaging picture-book with poetic diction, making it perfect for reading out loud, might just be one of the best purchases you make! As the ending will prove, this is not so much a book about abstinence as one about moderation and balance.

It moved

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Anne Fine
Walker Books
May 2006
Time for reflection, for thought and for the development and exploration of individual imaginative worlds are constantly impaired and impinged upon by the bombardment of visual and audio stimulation that assault children�s senses at every turn demanding their occupation in the ceaseless cacophony of �modernity�. Perfect remedy can be found in �It moved� a short, but delightfully witty tale that challenges us to see the extraordinary in the everyday.

Lily faces a dilemma, it is show and tell but, as computer games are now banned, as the chocolate rabbit upon her dressing table is - or rather Lily feels should be - for the delectation of her taste-buds alone, she wonders what best to take to ensure the enlightenment and entertainment of her fellow class-mates. Solution comes in the form of the pleasingly lumpy stone, with the rich grey colour, weird little pockmarks and faint wavy lines that trips her dad up on his way home from work each day� sadly her class-mates appear to be geological philistines .

�Mrs Bentley! Mrs Bentley! Please tell us we didn�t have to get out of bed and come all the way to school this morning just to look at an old stone!�

Lily tells her peers that the stone moves � a comment that is not entirely fallacious as astute readers will discern. Some of her class firmly uphold belief in the geode�s perambulatory capabilities, others are sceptics whilst others still remain uncertain preferring to rely on empirical evidence rather than gut feeling�

With characteristically deft and sparing prose Anne Fine paints an instantly recognisable school setting. Though Lily�s story enquiring readers are provoked to question the nature of truth and of belief. The stone acts as a wonderful focal point for the children�s powers of imagination and wonder serving as a potent reminder that though not wielding wands, we are all nonetheless magicians, made of and making magic.

Jacqueline Wilson et al
May 2006
Current children�s laureate Jacqueline Wilson has made her campaign focus during her tenure, the promotion of reading aloud. Last year�s announcement that the government would fund BookStart�s three book interventions make this both a timely and admirable drive.

�Over 70 Tried and Tested Great Books to Read Aloud� does exactly what it says on the tin. Within this practical and highly affordable little book � priced at only a pound it really is a snip � is an endorsement by Jacqueline Wilson who is - as any of her fans will testify - an avid reader, a brief overview of the benefits of reading aloud providing by Guardian children�s literature editor Julia Eccleshare and some top tips for reading aloud.

A soiree of celebrities have endorsed the book providing personal anecdotes and favourite books for reading aloud. Whilst some of the celebrity choices seem a little arbitrary � though effusive Cherie Booth QC says little that does more than to add to the overall cumulative effect that reading aloud with children is good � those which work best are perhaps the authors - their recommendations and anecdotes at points provide real insight into their work and reading habit serving to genuinely inspire.

Needless to say with just over 70 recommendations, this is far from being a comprehensive guide, nonetheless some excellent titles are recommended here and they come with the assurance that they have been �tried and tested�. There are, however, some shocking oversights, any of Philip Ridley�s books should be featured here, they lend themselves perfectly to being read aloud and in many instances the lyricism of his text is best appreciated when audibly read. The brilliant and highly innovative picture books �The Wolves in the Walls� and �The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish� are carefully crafted by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean so that they can be read aloud with alacrity � the illustrations help allow for really dynamic readings! Any of Jan Mark�s wonderful and highly diverse collections of short-stories make for a real treat when read aloud. The Portuguese poetry collection �The Moon has written you a poem� stretches mind and imagination alike and has a superb, dream-like quality that lends itself to being read aloud in hushed-tones prior to bedtime� [Which books would you recommend? Why not click here and go to ACHUKACHAT to have your say?!]

In short this is a great collection of recommendations to read aloud and offers some worthwhile guidance notes. It is still no substitute for browsing and trying and testing books on one�s own children, the children one knows, or any child who can be introduced to their local library or bookshop where a whole world awaits them�

Henry Tumour

| No Comments | No TrackBacks
Anthony McGowan
Apr 2006
�I mean, a talking brain tumour? Pah!�

Based in and around The Body of the Christ high school, a setting familiar to readers of Anthony McGowan�s first anarchic adventure for adolescents, �Hell Bent�, this second novel, �Henry Tumour� sustains the distinctive and perhaps to many adults repugnant narrative voice which has proved itself so resonant with teenage boys.

The novel opens with the singular and perplexing comment, �Arsecheese�. If this serves to bewilder readers, puzzlement is matched by that of the book�s protagonist, Hector Brunty.

Hector is, in many ways a typical teenager; self-conscious, part-tortured at school by bullies and holding a burgeoning interest in girls � most especially for Uma Upshaw� Ostensibly the novel is about Hector coming to terms with, and learning to cope with his alter-ego, Henry, a talking brain-tumour. Values lie more definitely, however, in the development of Henry�s character, his increasingly assured self-belief and his desires and wants which at points � when not tempered � make for a genuinely disturbing and challenging read.

An irreverent and some might say a highly suspect idea from the stand-point of political correctness, the novel is actually highly thought provoking and genuinely very funny. Anthony McGowan is bringing similar freshness of voice and barrels-of-belly-laughs to boys� novels that Louis Rennison did for girls� Unlike Rennison, however, more �serious� issues are interwoven here, not following moralising or overtly pedagogic means, but constantly pinioning these through the thoughts, feelings and often confusions of Hector.

The sensitive exposition of Hector�s character belies the profanities of this novel�s telling and readers are left wondering as to the exact nature of the tumour. Whether malignant or benign, can a part of ourselves that influences our actions and reactions be marginalised from us? Read �Henry Tumour� and decide for yourself�

Elizabeth Singer Hunt, Ill. Brian Williamson
Red Fox
May 2006
The Jack Stalwart series, written by Elizabeth Singer Hunt and originally self-published, is a collection of fast paced page-turners for a generation grown up on gadgetry and gizmos. At the heart of the series�s premise is Jack Stalwart, a secret agent with the Global Protection Force, an organisation to which his brother, Max, belonged prior to his mysterious disappearance whilst on duty. Ever the dutiful brother, Jack embarks upon many-a-mission ever hopeful that the next will bring him closer to learning the whereabouts of Max.

The latest sees him travel to Cambodia where his contact one Kate Newington�s mother, chief archaeologist at the Temple of Angkor Wat, has been kidnapped by criminals who seek the map of the Central Well which conceals the sacred treasure of the god-king, a priceless source of power to its possessor. Will Jack be equal to this latest challenge that faces him?

With Anthony Horowitz�s first Alex Rider film, �Stormbreaker� due for general release this summer and the public library network�s theme �The Reading Mission for this year�s summer reading challenge this series is the �must read� of the summer. The books�s travel-based themes also make the ideal for holiday reading.