November 2006 Archives

Girl, Missing

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Sophie McKenzie
Simon and Schuster
Oct 2006
Fourteen year old Lauren is struggling to make an identity for herself, made more difficult by the knowledge that she was adopted as a small child. She soon becomes obsessed with learning more about the circumstances of her adoption and sets out to find her biological parents. Increasingly alienated from her adoptive family, hazy memories and hard evidence begin to emerge, suggesting that she may have been abducted from an American family and illegally adopted. Lauren is willing to risk everything to learn the truth.

Girl, Missing works best when read as a thriller/ suspense novel. It has an intriguing and unusual premise that was inspired by a real-life missing child case. However, I think that it also taps into one of the enduring archetypes of children�s literature, of the perilous quest that reveals secret identities and a hidden heritage/parentage. A stronger sense of place would have added another dimension to this story; more could have been made of Lauren�s journey from England to New England in search of her family. Lauren is not a particularly sympathetic character, but is probably more plausible because of this (some of the plot devices I found less plausible!). However, the descriptions of Lauren�s instinctive kindness towards her little sister were genuinely touching, and left me wanting more insight into her emotional development.


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Susan Vaught
September 2006

The art of the review is often to circle gently around the crux of the novel without ever giving away the ending. Unfortunately the ending is at the heart of this novel. So in the immortal words of pre-internet newsreaders everywhere, if you don�t want to know the result, look away now.
Blowout is a book about a failed suicide. Jersey Hatch is an ex-jock and golden boy who for some reason took it upon himself to put his dad�s gun to his head and press the trigger.
Although he survived he�s not done himself any favours. Consequences include a loss of verbal control and his short-term memory is� erm shot.
The narrative follows his journey to try and discover just why he might have done such a terrible deed. Blowout tells of his attempts to re-establish his relationships with those who might be able to help him discover more about his state of mind that terrible day.
And while Jersey�s emotional struggle with his situation and continuing dark thoughts is well recounted, some of the supporting characters, notably his mother, are defined solely by their anger.
The author clearly knows her facts, Susan Vaught is a clinical psychologist based in the States where the most common method of adolescent suicide is shooting (in the UK it�s a drugs overdose). She�s treated survivors so she knows just what the consequences, both physical and emotional, are.
A central theme of the book is dispelling the myth that people only commit suicide for big reasons. Blowout explores �the effect that such a terrible act has on family, friends and the person holding the gun�.
The trouble is that while this may be factually correct, the build up to Jersey�s search for reasons leads you to expect the exact opposite. In the end knowing that the reasons behind his actions don�t seem that significant gives a deflating aspect to an optimistic ending.
Books that attempt to fictionalise a �condition� will inevitably be compared to Mark Haddon�s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. This is an interesting read but it�s not in that class.

Alone on a wide wide sea

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Michael Morpurgo
HarperCollins Children's Books
Sep 2006
�We were brought up to know our duty. �Suffer little children to come unto me,� the good Lord said. So we are doing his will, and this we shall train you to do as well. A child is born sinful and must be bent to the will of God. That is now our task.�

Taking its title from �The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner�, Michael Morpurgo�s latest novel focuses on an autobiographical account of Arthur Hobhouse, a man who relates his boyhood but who is unable to provide the beginning to these story for his story remains incomplete at the time when he writes.

With little more than a vague memory of a sister called Kitty, Arthur Hobhouse�s voyage from childhood to a period of forced responsibility to secure his development and future begins. He journeys by ship from Liverpool to Australia to begin a new life.

On arrival in Australia, Arthur is taken to the farmstead of Mr Bacon, a religious fanatic whose fervent faith and the unquestioning nature of his own righteousness makes for a prohibitive and highly volatile environment against which Arthur and his friend Marty grow up.

After eventual escape, the boys are saved from severe dehydration and starvation by Aborigines. Touching scenes arise whereby despite language and cultural barriers, the boys befriend the Aboriginal children and are able to play with them.

Through a series of successes and saddening tragedies, readers follow Arthur�s life to adulthood and to eventual death. A shift in perspective sees his daughter, Allie, take up the narrative and indeed the challenge to learn more about her father�s origins in a voyage of great personal and familial discover.

Perhaps Morpurgo�s most powerful writing in the past, and indeed within this book, arises from a justifiable moral anger and outrage at situations that preclude the �natural� development of the child. In a cultural climate that has begun to openly question the effects modern society has upon �the child�, exemplified in Sue Palmer�s �Toxic Childhood�, this is a timely and thought provoking novel highlighting the plight of child migration.

The One Tree

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David Pierce Hughes, ill. Richard Perrot
Seasquirt Publications
Nov 2006
�I knew you would not let me down. I knew that one day you would come and help me to grow back into a tall strong tree.�

This highly illustrated work paints human worries and preoccupations as transitory against the span of existence that trees have traversed. Impressive in magnitude, it charts the millions of years that trees have grown, been maligned by ice sheets and fire, but yet have struggled to survive. It maps out the millions of years over which evolution advanced. It arrives at a present day that is at once timeless and enduring.

At the heart of this present day, not far from anywhere yet near somewhere, stands a lone tree. This touching tale tells of the special kinship and closeness that develops between the tree and a boy. The tree sees the good and the utility in all things and from him the boy is able to learn and, at last, to no longer feel lonely.

When the boy and his family are due to move to a new town hundreds of miles away, the boy resolves to visit his friend one final time. Torn into the hillside, however, are deep tyre tracks and when the boy arrives, all that is left of the tree are a few roots and broken branches, the tree has been cut down.

Timescale shifts again within the work and the boy becomes a man and grows older, never able to feel fully at home or at ease. Eventually he journeys back to the site where his friend tree used to live and weeps at the memory of all they had and shared. The tears feed the earth and from it grows a shoot of a tree that grows firm and strong.

Centred around man�s relationship to his environment and the key importance of remaining responsive to this in all of our actions, �The One Tree� is an unusual, highly distinctive, timeless tale. Richard Perrott�s earthy, organic illustrations wonderfully augment the story and the vivid green of new growth adds considerably to the sense of mysticism and magic engendered within nature�s vitality.

Politics: Cutting Through the Crap

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Bali Rai, ill. Chris Riddell
Walker Books
Sep 2006
A humorous and thoroughly humane guide to politics. Necessarily implicated through his own politicised opinions and views, Bali Rai�s candid explanations of the mechanics of politics are both engaging and accessible. Together with expert illustrations by Chris Riddell, who as political cartoonist for �The Observer� is no apprentice to illustrative political satire, Bali Rai provides an insight into systems of governance.

Divided into two distinct sections, in the first of these Rai imparts an introduction to politics, explaining its application and constituent parts in the United Kingdom. An overview is given of the major political parties, of political ideologies and the relationship between politics and the media. The second part of the book arose from responses to a questionnaire Rai held with young people whereby he probed whether there were other areas of politics they would like to know about. A succinct outline of the Iraq war, the war on terror, global warming, education, racism, asylum and immigration are provided within this portion of the book.

Written in the demotic, it is hard not to feel at points that the profane use of language will not detract from some of the lucid points being raised here for some readers. Whereas in Rai�s novels this lends credibility to his characters and the situations they are implicated within, here it may serve to marginalise his work from key sectors of the market, most particularly perhaps in more staunchly traditional education settings.

As well as the clear elucidations that he presents, one of the most enviable elements of the book is the way Rai stimulates and challenges further thinking on the part of readers. This is aided through provision of a list of web-sites and books. Rarely have politics been presented so palatably and with less jingoism and jargon.

Star Dancer

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Beth Webb
Sep 2006
�I will find a way to take the power I deserve, he thought. Even if it means I have to work in the dark.�
Ancient magic, mysticism and darkness run rife through Beth Webb�s debut novel, the first in a quartet, �Star Dancer�. An evil is coming and it has been prophesised that a Star Dancer will protect the people. The Star Dancer is to be born beneath the stars and Druids are awaiting the fulfilment of the prophecy, praying to the spirits and the Goddess.

Tegen, child of Clesek and Nessa, is born beneath the stars, brought into this world by Gilda, but the possibility of her being the Star Dancer is rejected by and is abhorrent to Witton, chief druid, and his followers who cannot except the role who might be executed to a woman. Preferring to believe themselves to have been forgotten and left without salvation rather than to accept the truth, fear and apprehension predominate within their society.

On discovery of her ability to dance, Tegen begins to realise and to practice her powers. So it is that when Witton falls ill and his death seems inevitable, Tegen is able to nurse him back to health.

The sonorous nature of Webb�s prose together with the complex and convoluted relationships she intertwines between persons in the novel makes for an at once rewarding and absorbing read. Skilful craftsmanship imbues the natural with an energising electro-static charge� here is a book with a genuine buzz!

The Emperor of Absurdia

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Chris Riddell
Aug 2006
The commonplace and everyday form the backdrop to Chris Riddell�s latest solo outing, �The Emperor of Absurdia�. Extending the intriguingly imaginative worlds established in his earlier works such as �Horatio Happened� and �Mr Underthebed�, �The Emperor of Absurdia� is firmly grounded amidst the familiar landscape of a child�s bedroom.

Elevated to monarchical standing, the Emperor of Abusrdia awakes from a most extraordinary dream to be ably assisted in the act of dressing by a wardrobe monster, alas however, it becomes apparent his scarf is missing, a scarf hunt is embarked upon, the fruits of which are the finding of his snuggly scarf in the nest of the pointy bird.

During lunch, the Emperor�s egg hatches into a dragon that flies off. Ensnared within the excitement, the Emperor now embarks upon a dragon hunt. After riding his trusty tricycle through the flower beds, the umbrella trees, the pillow hills and over the bouncy mountains, the Emperor is on the verge of giving up when he spots a series of footprints leading to a deep dark cave, the contents of which lead to an Emperor hunt!

There is a wonderful sense of absurd symmetry as the Emperor is chased back across the bouncy mountains, through the pillow hills, under the umbrella trees and towards the flower beds. Saved by the pointy bird who captures the Emperor�s snuggly scarf in his beak, the Emperor makes a bid for freedom, tumbling through air into the arms of the Wardrobe monster. Deciding to look for his scarf again tomorrow, the Emperor goes to sleep and has the most extraordinary dream bringing the tale neatly to its conclusion but also back to its beginning.

Much pleasure is to be had looking at the bedroom and determining those objects which branch off into the surreal to form the dreamlike land of Absurdia. Observant readers will discern the details of the endpapers as they spring from the apparently sombre and sobre to the delightfully lively and diverse. From beginning to end - and back again! - this is a picture book that will enthrall, enrapture and enrich with its enchanting depiction of the imaginative worlds of early childhood.

The Yuk Factor

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Tracey Turner
Hodder Children's Books
Sep 2006
A little knowledge can sometimes go a long way�! Have you ever wondered how many decibels the loudest burp on record registered? Are you eager to learn which animal urinates down its legs to keep cool? Could you stand to learn about the horrible habits of the frigate birds?

If you want to avoid the perils of luncheoning on head-cheese, ensure you�re not subject to the vomit-inducing Scottish cure for worms or circumvent a trip on a �violet cart� �The Yuk Factor� is essential reading.

Impress your friends with your wide, varied and frankly disgusting diction with key terms such as entomophagy, micturation and oncychophagia. With four hundred questions covering all you could ever hope to know � and a great deal you really would rather not � about the gruesome, the grim, the grotesque and the grisly, �The Yuk Factor� is guaranteed to inject bilious brilliance to any quiz. Though indigestible, this informative book will make an indelible mark upon mind and memory... Doubtless most would be diabolically delighted to find it lurking at the bottom of their Christmas stockings!

The Making of Me: A writer's childhood

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Robert Westall ed. Lindy McKinnel
Catnip Publishing
Sep 2006
�there is a freedom in ghostliness. You break the surface of life and let the underside come out. If even life is a flat plane, the ghastliness gives depth and height. It�s a new dimension.�

Without question one of the foremost talents in contemporary children�s literature, the collection of memories and reflections that have been sensitively collated and assembled to form �The Making of Me� offer unique insight, awareness and allow greater understanding of the formative years of writer Robert Westall offering a rare glimpse at the root of many of the concerns and preoccupations rooted throughout his body of writing.

A remarkable book, in equal parts because of its method of conception and its content, the musings and memories collected here make for a remarkable legacy. Upon Westall�s premature death in 1993, his literary agent Laura Cecil and partner Lindy McKinnel discovered several autobiographical pieces amongst his papers. Placed in chronological order alongside previously published autobiographical stories, the collection provides the closest equivalent to an autobiography for Robert Westall and offers a fascinating and rare insight into the author�s childhood and the ongoing influences this exerted over his writing.

This a book to be relished by aficionados of one of the most extraordinarily diverse, prolific yet consistently assured children�s authors of the past century, it is a book to be valued by scholars and an invaluable resource that needs to be read by all with an interest in the field and development of children�s literature.

An inspiring and life-affirming work, it has stimulated a new desire to re-read a number of Robert Westall�s novels again, an opportunity in itself aided by publisher Catnip who have simultaneously made a new edition of Westall's supernatural thriller, �The Wind�s Eye� available.

Nemesis: Into the Shadows

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Catherine MacPhail
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Sep 2006
�I could recognise the places on these walls: a map of the British Isles, another of the Middle East, the countours of Australia. How could I remember that? Had I travelled to these places? Where had I learned about them? But nothing came. No matter how hard I concentrated, nothing came. Not even the sliver of a memory.�

Urban, gritty and urgent in pace and tension, Catherine MacPhail�s first novel in her new �Nemesis� series, �Into the Shadows� asks as many questions as it answers, it cranks up levels of uncertainty, danger and desperation cleverly interspering the power that knowledge brings with the powerlessness that accompanies ignorance in whichever of its many forms...

Discovered in a lift with the victim of a murderous assault, things look bleak for Ram, who is unsure as to his identity, his past and, what with his current predicament of what his future might hold� Unsure what to believe about himself, Ram becomes wanted as a suspect in the murder investigation, with a man purporting to be his father attempting to make contact and the murder victim�s true killers planning a deadly assassination attempt against him, the chase is on and the clock is ticking.

The net tightens around Ram in a manner that is excrutiatingly exciting. Much of the action takes place at nights upon the streets of Glasgow. This places bold, brilliant adventures against a black backdrop that makes a stunning visual impact upon the imagination. Heart-thumpingly paced adventure strands are skilfully interwoven with the tectonics of shifting self perception and self identity.

Catherine MacPhail has crafted that rare thing, a gripping and urgent thriller with staggering depth, motivation and characterisation. Many questions are left wholly or else part unanswered in readiness for the second novel in the �Nemesis� series, which will be eagerly awaited�

Dust 'n' Bones

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Chris Mould
Oct 2006
�In the daylight I was happy, but darkness seemed to pull a sinister cloak around my room and the uneasy feeling I had had in the beginning would not let go of me.�

Told in a frame-setting reminiscent of Chaucer�s �The Book of the Tales of Caunterbury�, the reader assumes the role of a stranger, lost amidst travels, aided by a black-clad figure who will tell tales to pass time along the voyage...

A decalog of ten deadly, dark ghost stories, in this volume Chris Mould has collected and retold ready for modern audiences, five tales of haunted happenings including Washington Irving�s �The Legend of Sleep Hollow� and Edgar Allan Poe�s �The Tell-Tale Heart�, interspersed between these stories, readers are, at last, treated to five of Chris� own chilling tales. Proving himself adeptly equal to the challenge of the chilling, readers find themselves gripped in the hands of suspense and uncertainty, unsure whether its vice-like clamp will be released or whether it will close in, ever tighter, until we are crushed to the constituents of dust and bones�

Exceptionally high production values, an astounding level of attention to detail and a beautiful lovingly packaged gift box including ghastly stickers and a gruesome skeleton to hang, make this a spook-tacularly special gift set to give to ghouls and boys aike...

Chris Mould extends the influence of his self-branded �consumer friendly, politically correct, grotesque� and of things that fester and are feared in this marvellous anthology by the master of the macabre. A perfect book to read during long, cold, dark evenings�

Snail's legs

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Damian Harvey, ill. Korky Paul
Frances Lincoln Publishers
Sep 2006
Potential for animosity and rivalry is instantly outlined in �Snail's Legs� as Damian Harvey explains that whilst Snail was the fastest runner in the whole wood, Frog had been in his younger days� Despite this, however, the two athletes are firm friends. Spirited, though good-humoured teasing is a benchmark of their supportive kinship.

This comfortable idyll, however, is shattered when the King�s Chef relays his need for an animal with very strong legs to help celebrate the King�s birthday. Competitive Frog is desperate to meet the King and it is agreed that a race should be held to discern the fastest runner. Subtle, analogous reference to Feudalism, power and class struggle, form the base to this competition.

In the course of the race, Snail remembers the friendship the two share and, conscious of Frog�s eagerness to meet the King, slows down allowing Frog to win. The King�s Chef escorts Frog to the palace, though Harvey describes with euphemistic abstraction how despite this visit, he never actually got to meet the King�

A heartbroken Snail resolves to wear his running hat on his back and hide his legs inside it by day. Early in the morning, however, one might just see a tiny trail left by the fastest snails as their feet polish the floor on moonlight runs.

A magical convergence, somewhere between a fable and a �just-so� story, �Snail Legs� is one of those rare books that leaves readers feeling privileged to have accessed a secret, hidden world of the 'maybes' of imagination.

Raffi's Surprise

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Julia Hubery, ill. Mei Matsuoka
Simon and Schuster
Sep 2006
Pastoral pleasures, long swishy grass, the sparkling stream and rustling, rippling trees are associated by Raffi racoon with his home. Out of all of these, his most treasured, and best loved surrounding is Old Father oak who emblemises the love and attachment Raffi feels for his homeland. It is amongst Old Father Oak�s branches that Raffi has learnt to climb and it is in the shade of his leaves that Raffi plays.

On the first day of Autumn Raffi awakes early to play but is distressed to see no leaves, only an ethereal, silver mist. On closer inspection he finds the leaves are still there, a single gold one drops and twirls away into the midst of the mists. Raffi chases this believing it to be a gift from Old Father Oak, but more and more begin to fall, causing Raffi concerns as to Old Father Oak�s well-being. Is he cold, or is he crying?

Raffi�s mother explains the leaves falling signals that Autumn has arrived and that winter will soon be coming. The holistic nature of the seasons for the animals is presented as leaves provide a blanket for sleep, nature�s bounty provides a feast to fatten ready for the winter sleep, acorns are hidden beneath the ground and Old Father Oak himself provides sanctuary from the snows and chills of winter, a place where the racoons are able to sleep. The racoons awake as the first tingle of spring, with all its vivid awakenings, stings through the air.

Movement and motion is beautifully realised through Mei Matsuoka�s distinctive, vivid illustrations. Old Father Oak presents as a paternalistic protector as a provider and godhead illustrated with emphatic, far-reaching scale and scope.

Measle and the Slitherghoul

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Ian Ogilvy, ill. Chris Mould
Oxford University Press
Sep 2006
�It was a mass of shiny, brownish-yellowish-greenish substance,a bout the size of a coffee table. It was quivering slightly, like jelly on a palte � and it was moving slowly towards him.�

A sneeze, and the substance thereof, starts the fourth story featuring the hapless Measle Stubbs. The bones of this story are set some eight-hundred years ago when a precocious young wizard, Sheepshank, whilst endeavouring to bring a dead spider back to life, sneezed, and inadvertently created a ravenous monster from his mucous.

Having been safely secured in the dungeons of the Wizards� Guild building, the creature makes an unfortunate bid for freedom and sets off on a sticky rampage. Hungry for humans, and having devoured most of Measle's entourage of enemies and assimilated their desires and aspirations, most especiall for Measle, will our hero escape the beast's gluttonous clutches?

Measle's fourth outing is a characteristically, disgustingly addictive adventure told with pace and panache by Ian Ogilvy. As ever a more perfect choice of illustrator than Chris Mould could not be found for this series, his sublimely subversive illustrations breathe life, atmopshere and infinite expression to the array of situations and character studies.

The return of old adversaries and accomplices makes this a tour-de-force for those infected by Measle!

Miss Fox

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Simon Puttock, ill. Holly Swain
Frances Lincoln Publishers
Sep 2006
Niceville is a safe haven, an idyll of neat gardens, tree lined-roads and quiet streets� that is, until Miss Fox, substitute teacher strolls into the comfortable complacency surrounding the conurbation . Miss Fox, carries the weight of self-recommendation, her easy-going approach to education � treats, eats and lazy sleeps � ensures instant popularity from all of her class bar the cross, annoying and nimble Lily Lamb.

Events reach a head when Miss Fox leads the class on an expedition to a high cliff-top, whipping a napkin from her handbag she asks who wants to be eaten first. Unexercised, tired and with tardy minds the class are oblivious to the gravity of their situation and giggle Assertive as ever, Lily Lamb offers herself up, mindful of the fact she will be no sacrificial lamb to the slaughter led� Drawing on resources of cunning, guile (and a good hearty shove!), Lily is able to escape the peril of Miss Fox.

This deliciously dark tale, illustrated throughout with a warmth and good humour by Holly Swain, has a serious warning at its heart, it cautions against those we entrust with the education and welfare of our children. A more disturbing and brooding interpretation is possible when the desires of those who are entreated with the safety and well-being of children are recounted as dangerously as here�

Little Red Train Race to the Finish

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Benedict Blathwayt
Oct 2006
Benedict Blathwayt�s popular Little Red Train returns under full steam in this latest adventure which pits the loveable locomotive against one of the new Swish Trains. Elements of the story mirror Aesop�s fable of the Hare and the Tortoise won here by a determined, hard-working engine. Character and personality are juxtaposed with the bigger, the better, the faster and the now, now, now of change and technological progress.

Boundaries are established, yet at once are constantly being transgressed in Blathwayt�s incomparable illustrations. This allows a world of possibilities to be presented. Natural and human influences exerted upon the landscape Blathwayt portrays are shown as being at once in flux and in symbiotic harmony. Industrial and urban landscapes rocket into the rural and motifs make repeated self-reference to Blathwayt�s earlier works�.

Fans and followers will discern and unravel from the panoramic pictures echoes of the blue tractor, of Tig and Tag, of Kip, Bella, Pebble and Bramble all of which combine with symphonic magnitude to a most beautifully orchestrated, highly inspiring visual masterpiece that through careful perusal cannot fail to inspire a love of life, to engender a liking for lighting and that together instil a lasting sense of liberation.

Young Dracula and Young Monsters

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Michael Lawrence
Barrington Stoke
Sep 2006
A compendium volume of Michael Lawrence�s two books for Barrington Stoke; �Young Dracula� and �Young Monsters� the former of which was shot into the public consciousness as the inspiration for the series featured on Children�s BBC.

�Young Dracula� focuses on Wilfrid, son and heir to the infamous count himself. The story follows a �Prince and the Pauper� styled mishap drawing question to the importance of child-rearing and nurture against genetic inheritance in a book that extends the Vampiric legends of Transylvania.

Expanding the above ideas of child-rearing and nurture to include formal education, �Young Monsters� sees Lon packed off by his father to Dr Ffelix Ffurter�s School for Young Monsters. Lon�s unease about the institution is increased initially by the head, who quite literally is a disembodied head, and once again by the attempted application of a bolt through his neck! After successfully preventing this, Lon is befriended by another boltless pupil, Omar, together the two of them struggle to escape the notice of the pupils and teachers at Dr Ffelix Ffurter�s but for how long will they succeed and what other surprises lie in store when the school Spectre visits�?!

Characters and situations are depicted in dastardly detail by Chris Mould whose art always revels in the revolting with assured resplendence! Collaboration between Lawrence's anarchic stories and Mould's subversive illustrations guarantees readers fiendish fun!

The Three Legged Mummy

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Vivan French
Barrington Stoke
Sept 2006
High-jinx immediately ensues in this story of Ancient Egypt. Attempting to evade a dare challenged to him by best friend, Bebi, Kenefer pours a horribly gelatinous medicinal compound from the roof, unfortunately saturating Nefret with said potion in so doing�

As an act of vengeance, Nefret herself sets the boys a dare, to visit the place of purification to go to Seneb�s tent and to bring back a charm of the dead. Whilst so doing, Kenefer comes across what appears to be a three legged mummy and is caught by Seneb, the austere embalmer� Through a surprising and enlightening twist, Kenefer is able to make Seneb laugh and therefore is able to attain the charm of the dead he sough.

An addition to Barrington Stoke�s �FYI� series, �The Three Legged Mummy� provides insight and understanding about the culture, and sociology of Ancient Egypt. An invaluable aid to all with an interest in Ancient Egypt, particularly those studying the subject under the Key Stage Two National Curriculum.

Purple Class and the Flying Spider

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Sean Taylor
Frances Lincoln
Oct 2006
A welcome return of the zealous and zany pupils that together constitute the chaos that is� Purple Class! The four stories in this latest volume see the class battle against the eponymous flying spider, see Leon manage to misplace thirty violins (much to the consternation of Mrs Powell), sees the loss of the class guinea-pig and the discovery of suspected munitions in the class�s new vegetable patch!

Worthy of particular mention is �Goodbye Joyce� where the escape of the class guinea-pig is sensitively and, in parts, hilariously juxtaposed with the decease of much loved dinnerlady Joyce. The story succeeds in embracing life � and freedom! � whilst at once grieving absence and loss.

Malapropisms and mishaps abound in these genuine, laugh-out-loud, short stories set in the modern multicultural classroom. Let�s hope another school outing is allowed for the irrepressible Purple Class!

Story Cat

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Julia Jarman
Educational Printing Services Ltd
Sep 2006
Arthur the canine author is candid as to where his strengths and weaknesses as a writer lie. He has the ability to come up with beginnings but is unsure as to how best to develop these adequately in crafting a story to suspend the disbelief and make dance, the imagination of readers.

Arthur�s malaise is aided at midnight by the appearance of Story Cat, an intrepid feline with a feel for what works best in books and in stories. Conversation between Story Cat and Arthur outline the key factors in crafting a story; the plot, settings, suspense, characterisation whilst simultaneously applying these to the meta-narrative of Arthur�s own story.

This book is a powerful force against the paralysis blank pages can induce upon creativity. The story brilliantly architects the creative process that Julia Jarman here makes available to young readers and potential young writers... In all senses, an empowering book.

Starring Tracy Beaker

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Jacqueline Wilson ill. Nick Sharratt
Oct 2006
The level of popularity Jacqueline Wilson has attained has quite literally been phenomenal. If any contemporary children�s author holds success and output that is comparable with Enid Blyton�s, it is surely Jacqueline Wilson. Both authors� works share an ease of accessibility, the familiar, assumed-child-colloquial tones whilst also perhaps at once being subject to the same questions of �merit�.

Underpinning early works such as �The Suitcase Kid� and �Double Act� are subtle, well-observed situations and social interaction. In books such as �The Lottie Project� a careful symmetry is constructed between child lives in the contemporary and Victorian ages. By comparison, more recent works, �Love Lessons� and �Candy Floss� have felt lacking in the types of astute vision that previously belied Wilson�s crisp, easy prose. In these latter books, the dynamism of storytelling feels to have been submerged by the �issues� presented.

A return to Wilson�s self-professed favourite character � a certain Tracy Beaker � seemed an opportunity to return to novels led by punchy storylines and feisty, strong characters. Sadly, the promise of this is not entirely fulfilled.

The indomitable Tracy Beaker is cast by art and drama teacher Miss Simpkins as the lead, Ebenezer Scrooge, in the school production of �A Christmas Carol�. Preparation for the play alongside schoolyard squabbles, Christmas shopping and the eventual performance of the production make for a pedestrian and fairly cynical-in-feel Christmas tie-in. Credibility is stretched to belief and beyond when Cam, Tracy�s potential future foster mother, proceeds to facilitate the girl�s intoxication using a bizarre concoction of red wine, honey, dandelion leaves, cinnamon, sugar and stale ginger biscuits.

More positively, considered reflection is given to dependencies and expectations in child-mother and mother-child relationships. This occurs most revealingly and indeed touchingly when Cam relays an encounter with her mother following the request that she brings someone along on Christmas day. In typical Jacqueline Wilson style this is related over a temptingly sumptuous box of chocs.

Ironically, given Wilson�s championing of shared reading during her tenure as Children�s Laureate, the lack of chapters in �Starring Tracy Beaker� allows no natural pauses, making it a difficult and, at points, clumsy book to read aloud. The careful expose on the continuing significance of parental influence holds much promise for a book more subtle and soulful than this. It is hard not to feel disappointed.

Dead Man's Close

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Catherine MacPhail
Barrington Stoke
Feb 2006
�You know what I think? I think it�s stories that keep the whole world together. From Lewis looking for monsters in Edinburgh, to Shahrazad telling stories about magic lamps in Arabia. Everyone loves a good story.�

A school trip around Edinburgh centre careers into a desperate chase through time for siblings Spider and Lizzie. Resolved to play a trick on his sister, Spider slips into a doorway planning to leap out on his unsuspecting sister. Separated from the group as a consequence of this, Lizzie worries the pair might have taken a wrong turn�

A welcome addition to Barrington Stoke�s �FYI: fiction with stacks of facts� series, Catherine Macphail weaves a tight web of spills, thrills and plenty of chills seamlessly interspersing information, detail and local colour about the history of Edinburgh. Readers experience first-hand the sights, smells and sounds of the city as Lizzie and Spider aid Lewis in escaping the clutches of a broken-toothed felon and assist his endeavours to learn more about his mysterious neighbour�s nocturnal endeavours.

Appended to the adventure is a notebook, purportedly by Spider�s hand. Catherine MacPhail�s passion, understanding and lively delivery of details together with the personalised, over-arching epistolary form in which they are written makes for a reading adventure and story-arc that is in equal parts profound and impressive.

Cracking Up!

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Sandra Glover
Educational Printing Services Ltd
Apr 2006
�Fantastic! Wonderful! Wasn�t that just my luck? They�d finally got a lollipop lady and she�d turned out to be a member of the raving loony society!�

Anxious about his mother who is hospitalised awaiting the birth of a new baby, Jamie suffers at the hand new teacher, Mr Barron�s, caustic humour. However, following an dispiriting day in the classroom, Merry (Meredith in full) Christmas appears in the guise of a lollipop lady purporting to help Jamie cross the road whilst at once claiming to be a fairy godmother.

Reluctantly and abashedly, Jamie makes wishes, but Merry becomes the victim of a road-traffic accident when saving Jamie from a similar fate. Unsure what to think or to believe, Jamie confides in best friend Taz, and together the two track down Merry Christmas who now claims to be an alien.

One particularly satisfying episode suggests Meredith has transformed Mr Barron who�s crushing comments have made his pupils feel like worms, into one of the self-same lowly nematodes! Once again Sandra Glover astutely keeps readers guessing, actively engaging them in issues of trust and belief.

Enna Hittims

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Diana Wynne Jones
Barrington Stoke
Aug 2006
�When she thought about it later, Anne thought it must have been because her legs under the duvet made a shape like a landscape with two long hills and a green jungly valley in between.�

Suffering from a frightful case of the mumps, purple cheeked and swollen, Anne Smith is confined to bed. To allay the tedium of the sick-room, Anne begins drawing pictures of a hero, Enna Hittims (Anne Smith spelt backwards with an additional �it� � because Htims is too hard to say!).

The power of Anne�s imagination imbues life and character into the felt-tip drawing of Enna, a fearful, though diminutive warrior, whose magic sword and cavalier attitude places her firmly in the spirit and mould of the Amazonians.

Bed-linen becomes laid out as the landscape upon which Enna Hittim and her associates� battles and adventuring are played out. Explorations are charted around Ankle Bend, following Fold River and ascending Left Toe Mountain.

Enna is far from being a malevolent hero. She suffers a violent disposition as becomes apparent when, in a fit of pique, she lops the head from an unsuspecting hermit. Alas, however, in setting Enna�s quest to find the dragon, Anne modelled the monster upon Tibby her cat. An onslaught between Enna and her comrades and Anne and Tibby begins seeing the scaling of the staircase. A symmetry exists between the assault in Anne�s abode and her immune system�s battle against mumps. An epic tale played out in household environs with a miniature hero at its heart.

The Beastly Things in the Barn

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Sandra Glover
Educational Printing Services Ltd
�I knew the countryside would inspire me,� she said, dropping two horrible straw hats onto our heads. �You two are perfect. You�ve got that lovely simple, country look.�

Chaos and comic capers abound in Sandra Glover�s latest novel. Life in the countryside seems set for radical change when the Beesley Trings from London, less affectionately known as the Beastly Things, move into the barn that Mark�s dad has converted.

Mad, the mother of the family is a painter of modern art, son Robinson is an aspiring actor who makes his debut appearance shortly prior to striping down and posing in a scanty pair of boxer shorts, the Beesley-Tring father is a collector of bones and skulls and Penny and Benny are the twins whose friendship is bestowed upon unwilling neighbour Mark.

Perception and preconceptions are explored and examined through the course of the novel, with pastoral notions of the countryside juxtaposed with those of modernity and the city. Glover skilfully evades the narrative siding with either set of stereotypes leaving two distinct interpretations to the novel and a satisfying challenge for readers as to whether the Beesley-Trings truly were Beastly Things, or whether Mark�s judgement is entirely to be believed�


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Close-Up by Sherry Ashworth
Simon & Schuster
September 2006
Told in alternate chapters by Jimmy and Liz, co-workers at the Coffee Corp coffee bar, this is a richly compelling novel of interpesonal and family relationships. If there is not much that is original about the subject matter - broken parental relationships with a suddenly reappeared father on the one hand, and a less than enthusiastically received new partner on the other - there is much that is admirable in the way the author depicts the developing relationship between her two main characters. My heart sank temporarily three-quarters of the way through when what appeared to be an unnecessary issue-based element entered the narrative but this proved to have important implications for both Jimmy and Liz and was therefore integral to the storyline. Film fans will enjoy the freqent references Jimmy makes to set scenes from movies. There have been other books featuring movie-obsessed characters, but few of them have so successfully conveyed the way such an obsession affects a character's inner monologue. Particularly effective are those passages in which Jimmy predicts the way a pending encounter is likely to go. Also highly effective is the way Ashworth uses the coffee-bar workplace, rather than school or college, as the main venue for her teenage characters.