January 2007 Archives

Beware! Killer Tomatoes

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Jeremy Strong
Jan 2007
�Anyhow, I must have clipped the edge of the pyramid and it toppled over. The whole thing, thousands of tines of tomatoes. They came crashing down. It was horrible!�

With characteristic good humour and seeming irreverence, Jeremy Strong�s latest novel, �Beware! Killer tomatoes� introduces Jack, a hapless individual whose catalogue of disasters include sitting upon the prongs of a fork � ouch! � swallowing a coin � dangerous! � and, most recently, crashing his bike into a parked car. These mishaps are affectionately termed by his family, Jackcidents.

Belying his most recent Jackcident is the real worry that Jack may unwittingly have killed somebody. His latest stay in hospital, accompanied by the clownish Liam and the surly Kirsty, is characterised throughout by the fear that police will come to arrest him.

The mechanics of observation chugging along beneath this narrative thrust and the comic means of its deliverance lend this � and Strong�s other novels � astute perception. Belying the sorts of question Jack has about the accident in the supermarket, is a character whose sense of self has been eroded by the type of comment made about him through familial influence.

A great warmth and affection arises through the parallels that are made as Jack�s broken leg gradually heals and he learns to walk again, and as his family and friends come to value the contributions he plays in their lives and the unique influence he holds. A subtle, clever book that inspires strength and inner resilience against all of our falls.

The Saddest King

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Chris Wormell
Jonathan Cape
Jan 2007
The prolific and diverse author-illustrator Chris Wormell adopts the feel and form of the fairytale in his latest picture book, �The Saddest King�. Readers are introduced to a country whose populace are always happy, who smile through sun shine, rain and snowfall alike, who are happy with flowers whether alive or dead are equally pleased with gifts whether they be boxes of chocolates or bad apples. Happiness is compulsory, decreed by the King himself.

The decree, however, is broken one day by a small boy who breaks the law by crying. The boy�s isolation through such actions and the strength of his feelings are emphasised through his being, small-in-scale, centred on a blank white page. Nobody is able to cheer him whether with dance, song or food.

Eventually the King�s Guards catch up with him and remove him to the dungeons where it is prophesised he will be tied up in the dungeons and tickled with feathers. Feather in hand, the King greets the boy with the widest smile he has ever seen and asks the reason for his melancholia. The boy explains how his dog has died, upon which it transpires the king is wearing a mask that hides the saddest, most tear drenched face the boy has ever seen.

The King�s own dog died and to cover his grief he made the decree that happiness should be compulsory. Together the King and the boy are able to share their sorrow and their memories of the two dogs. The King then tears up the special order that makes happiness compulsory and everyone has a good cry, the first they have had in many years.

This is an important book that legitimises and validates all feelings. It�s strength in its evasion of the happy ending, everyone cries, is that � at last � the populace are able to express the truth of their emotions. This is to be greatly applauded at a time when as many as one in thirty-three children and one in eight adolescents suffer depression� perhaps, for many, childhood does not represent the �best years of life� as is often purported and that care needs to be given both to listening and to letting tell if the adage is not to shackle and do injustice...

P is for Pakistan

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Shazia Razzak
Frances Lincoln
Jan 2007
Continuing their series of alphabetical introductions to countries and cultures other than our own, �P is for Pakistan� is Frances Lincoln�s A � Asslam-U-Alaikum (hello) to Z Zeewar (jewellery) of the country founded in 1947.

The book�s combination of photographic representation and verbal description provides a vivid, memorable and entirely unprentious tour of the architecture, culture, heritage, religion and geographical landscape of the country.

Insight into food, housing, music, clothing, the Indus Civilisation and the flora and fauna of Pakistan is all provided within this invaluable first introduction to the country. A welcome means for dispelling some of the racist assumptions and stereotypes that the guise of 'terrorism' or parts of the media's interpretation thereof have given increasing rise towards...

Silly School

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Louise-Marie Fitzhugh
Frances Lincoln
Jan 2007
Twice winner of the Bisto award, author-illustrator Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick�s latest picture book tells the story of the seemingly belligerent Beth. It is Beth�s first day at school, however, she is reluctant to exchange the cosy environs of her bed for school when mum awakes her.

Aunty Bea tries to lure her with the prospects of the singing she will do at school. This is to no avail� Sister Ann tries to tempt her with the promise of cuddly-wuddly toys. This falls on deaf ears� Aunty Mel endeavours to entice her with the prospects of painting. This is futile. Uncle Ben and Gran try to appeal to her through lunchtime and storytimes. This is fruitless�

All ask Beth what she wants to do, upon which she replies she wants to play with friends. When it is explained that Beth�s friends are all at school too, Beth goes and is depicted playing with cuddly-wuddly toys, singing, painting enjoying lunchtime and storytimes. Will she be tempted to return home afterwards, however?

Marie-Louise Fitzpartick carefully introduces young children to what can be expected at school and the types of routine that will be followed in this gentle, affectionate book.

After the death of Alice Bennett

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Rowland Molony
Jan 2007
�Just because you can�t hear anything doesn�t mean the air isn�t full of radio and TV and text signals. You have to tune in.�

Being attune to our emotions, to the influences that exert themselves upon us and to beliefs and faith � regardless of empirical evidence � form a key part of the understanding and self-awareness that course through �After the death of Alice Bennett�.

Together with his family, Sam mourns the death of his mother. Desperate to believe in some way that she still remains available to him, Sam gradually convinces himself that the telephone number scrawled in the kitchen is a means for him to contact her. This belief appears to be corroborated after Sam sends a text and a reply is received.

Communications along these lines continue, reaching a head as Sam decides he must travel to Knutsford services to facilitate a reunion between mother and son. Standing alone on the bridge between service areas, watching the traffic beneath him, Sam reaches an epiphany.

The greatest success of �After the death of Alice Bennett� is in the way Rowland Molony intertwines the physical voyage of the trip to Knutsford alongside the magnitude of the emotional journey towards acceptance. That both of these are made in solitude and isolation feels at once realistic and true, though also cripplingly sad. This is a touching, well-documented account of the feelings of loss and uncertainty that accompany all bereavement but that are exacerbated so much more in childhood... It's a beautiful novel and, given its subject matter, is paradoxically life-affirming.

The Thing with Finn

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Tom Kelly
Macmillan Children's Books
Jan 2007
�I didn�t understand why he had to puke out all those words at the time, but now I�m telling you this I think I understand it a tiny, little bit. I think Rumsey just needed to say it so it wouldn�t just be locked up inside his head all the time. I was just the next step up from a smelly old rubbish bin in a school playground.�

Struggling to find a way to make sense of events that seem senseless, the novel opens with incredible pace and drama as ten-year-old Danny relates how he has thrown a brick through Grundy�s window, flattening his stuffed otter.

Through a careful series of revelations, it becomes apparent that some accident has befallen Danny�s twin Finn, leaving the former to host a range of powerful and all-encompassing emotions.

Split into three distinct parts, the first of these constitute two phases of Danny�s bereavement. The final stage, that of �Being�, is characterised by Danny�s meeting Nulty, a former art teacher who has endeavours to assuage his own personal grief through painting a massive mural.

Told using stream-of-consciousness, the novel is given structure as sequences of narration are themed around particular topics. Danny tells the story in the first-person, much of it is reflective, looking back on past events.

Tom Kelly�s deft humour prevents the book from becoming encumbered by the bleakness of its topic. Indeed, it is the humour, understanding and verve for life that makes this story soar, challenging readers to think about life and death and the ways in which we are able to find meaning from both.

The Killer Cat Strikes Back

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Anne Fine
Jan 2007
�Okay, okay. So stick my head in a holly bush. I gave Ellie�s mother my mean look. It was her own fault. She was hogging my end of the sofa.�

Nonchalant Tuffy the cat makes his triumphant third outing in this latest tale by Anne Fine. Tuffy is fast becoming an archetype in children�s literature. In him, Fine has perfectly captured the nuances of cattish behaviour. Just as it is now almost impossible to speak of bear stories, without Pooh or his alliterative counterpart Paddington coming to mind, Tuffy is the forerunner in feline fiction.

Keen to express her creativity, Ellie�s mother experiments with photography, painting and pottery. Tuffy the cat holds little appreciation for any of this art and accidents befall all but one of the pots as Tuffy �biffs� and �strokes� them. Eager to be rid of the monstrous artwork, Ellie�s father tries coaxing Tuffy to smash the final remaining pot, but contrasuggestible as ever, Tuffy evades each attempt as father places a tantalisingly tempting prawn into the pot and smears it in cream. What resolve, if any, could cause Tuffy to smash the pot�?!

As with the two previous books in the �Killer Cat� series, this book is based upon an urban legend. Anne Fine has augmented this with her own inimitable wit and sense of social understanding making this a riotous, rib-tickling read.

In the Nick of Time

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Robert Swindells
Jan 2007
We�re in the midst of wonders�

Taking a trip to Cold Tarn, Charlotte and her friend Pip discover for the first time a regular concrete base. It is whilst exploring this that the narrative splits, torn in half, as Charlie is transported from the present into the 1950s.

The reader becomes caught in a dialectic between these two ages, in the 1950s struggling to understand just what has happened to Charlie and what might allow her return to the future and to witness first-hand the very real anxiety and grief that family and friends suffer during her absence in the present.

Parallel narratives facilitate consideration into the types of social progress that have been attained across the ages, particularly with regard to standard of living and general health. In an age of increasingly prescriptive educational legislation, it is, however, hard not to envy the classroom of the 1950s with no walls, a boundary-less expanse from which children�s education could take small steps or giant leaps regardless of direction.

Robert Swindells plants the seed for a twist in this tale which creates a lasting and highly poignant ending. The strength of friendships, love and care are depicted clearly here and make for a lasting and moving finale.

Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools

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Philip Caveney
Bodley Head
Jan 2007
�Strangers can be blamed for certain things. Since there is nobody who knows them and can vouch for them, people are often willing to believe the very worst about them � if you catch my drift�?�

Drawing on facets of the fantasy, mystery, comedy, action and adventure genres, Philip Caveney�s great skill in his debut children�s novel �Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools� is bringing together the familiar and the fresh for readers of all tastes, backgrounds and indeed ages.

Son of a jester, Sebastian Darke endeavours to appropriate his father�s occupation and together with his trust buffalope, Max, sets out to seek his fortune. That this aim seems ill-fated is evidenced by Darke�s inability to imbue comedic value to even the most simple of jokes.

Together with the pint-sized Cornelius, Sebastian and Max aid the Princess Karin, thereby becoming ensnared in a web of intrigue and cunning subterfuge. Only through their assistance will Princess Karin be able to ascend to her rightful position as heir to the throne of Keladon, however Brigands abound as obstacles towards this.

�Sebastian Darke: Prince of Fools� is a gripping quest novel that transports readers on a voyage across wide vistas of imaginative lands. Teasing out the elegance and grandeur of epics and energising these with fast-paced modern humour, the novel feels at once wholesome and wicked of wit...


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Bernard Ashley
Orchard Books
Oct 2006
If I were still a teacher, this book would be a tempting choice to get my class engaged in a whole number of fields. Geography, history, current affairs and politics, evolving use of English language� any of these might be approached through DOWN TO THE WIRE. We�re in West Africa here; a fictitious but very recognisable country somewhere in the region of Nigeria and Ghana. Near the coast we have the wealthier part of the nation, the government, the dominant tribe, the strongest western influences. Inland, we have poorer, often-resentful tribal minorities, sharing their cultural and religious allegiances with those in neighbouring countries rather than with their own government and fellow citizens. Yet, as in so many west African states, the nation�s wealth is dependent on one or two commodities. It might be oil, or precious metals, or cocoa: in this case it is HEP, generated through a vast inland dam project (surely modelled on the Volta) and providing power that can be sold abroad, as well as driving domestic industry. But, typically, this resource lies within the territory of the tribal minorities. So when the question of independence for these minorities comes up, the government eyes its precious resource and is more than a little dismayed. It�s a model that recurs constantly, one made possible by western colonization, non-tribal borders and further interference long after any occupying power has fled. The reliance on single resources and erosion of traditional subsistence economies, the wish to exploit natural resources, the wish to sell arms to both the minority �freedom fighters� (themselves often sponsored or controlled by fellow tribesmen in other countries) and to the governing troops, the demented wish to sell nuclear technology to unstable powers (is there any other sort?)� this is what drives the western take on so many developing countries. So, into this bubbling mess drop Ben Maddox, a UK reporter, sent with his cameraman by a canny news editor to get a scoop on possible war and humanitarian catastrophe. Add also a promising young footballer, one of the tribal minority, under conflicting pressures to make his name on the lucrative world stage and to stick by his cultural and religious roots, to keep excellence at home. Stir in a �terror� group that kidnaps children to turn them into soldiers. As a finishing touch add Israelis and others, possibly sniffing out a nuclear market; an Irish ex-football star, ostensibly talent-scouting; a western mercenary, with his eyes on power and wealth. Ashley�s real coup here is that he sets this all up and makes it totally accessible to a teen audience, spinning an easy-read thriller-type plot that is told through e-mails, news reports, the diary of a kidnapped girl, football commentaries and texts, as well as short chunks of traditional narrative. Some of the main characters are a tad two-dimensional or unengaging � there is a whiff of the boys� adventure stories of yesteryear - but as a whole, the book is gripping and sickeningly realistic as we watch Ben and his colleague get drawn steadily across the line that keeps newspeople �neutral�. A recommended, original read, tweaked from four to five chicks by its huge relevance.

The Poacher's Son

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Rachel Anderson
Barn Owl Books
Sept 2006
Growing up in the early years of the twentieth century, Arthur witnesses the disintegration of his family as a series of unfortunate incidents forces them from marginal respectability towards abject poverty.

Thankfully, the hand-to-mouth living described in The Poacher�s Son will be utterly remote from most modern readers� personal experience. Arthur becomes increasingly alienated by the rigid social and moral structures of the time, failing at school (his sister thrives there, but her prospects are absolutely defined and limited by her background). Instead, he is utterly absorbed by the natural world; it is this solitude that allows Arthur to become completely himself. It is a shock when the narrative lurches into the First World War and towards its bleak conclusion. Anderson allows Arthur as the narrator to seem much more eloquent than the younger self he describes; this imbues him with dignity, but it also has a distancing effect on the reader. A subtle, sombre book.

The Greatest

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Alan Gibbons
Barrington Stokes
Sep 2006
�Keane hates Muslim kids. He hates anyone he thinks is different. He picks on kids with red hair or glasses. Most of all, he picks on kids like me. He calls me a Paki. He says I�m a terrorist. He says I�m like Osama Bin Laden. But I�m no terrorist. I�m twelve! I�m just a normal kid. I like football, computer games and boxing. I just want to be left alone. I want to be a man of peace. I want to be like Muhammad Ali.�

In little over sixty pages, Alan Gibbons has subtly interwoven this story of violence and race-conflict with concepts of restraint, tolerance and peace. This is an exceptional work and one worthy of wholesale praise.

Twelve-year-old Ali is a boxer with a healthy respect and knowledge of his hero Muhammad Ali. His latest fight sees Ali pitted against arch-rival Chris Keane. Keane has tormented Ali in the past. The fight for Ali becomes one not so much only to win, but to assert his beliefs, to overcome initial hatred and ultimately to affirm his value, worth and humanity.

Taut in pace and tempo, the main thrust of the story is suffused throughout by biographical information about Muhammad Ali and his deeply humanist approach to life. The cumulative effect of both strands of the book combine to create a highly inspiring insight into the ways it is possible to escape becoming locked in by hatred, prejudice and intolerance and to utilise these to enhance and enrich our lives and the society within which we are located.

Dirty Bertie: Worms

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Alan MacDonald, Ill. David Roberts
Sep 2006
It is easy to see why the mischievous child has a lengthy tradition in children�s literature. What an ideal vehicle with which to exercise struggled liberation from the constraints childhood often is culturally hemmed within and to implicitly present didactic ethics and morals.

High-jinx and japes can be traced from Mrs Sherwood�s �The History of the Fairchild Family� down through Nesbit�s well-intentioned though oft-misguided Bastable children, Blyton�s �Naughtiest Girl�, Crompton�s �William�, Dorothy Edward�s �Naughty little sister� and the recently televised �Horrid Henry�. This tradition is continued with �Dirty Bertie�.

�Dirty Bertie: Worms� is the first in a series of young fiction titles � �Stripes� � published by Little Tiger Press. Indeed, �Dirty Bertie� himself will be familiar to readers through his appearance in two picture books �Dirty Bertie� and �Pooh! Is that you, Bertie?�. In this young fiction book, three tales are presented, �Worms�, �Manners� and �Rubbish�. The highlight of these is definitely �Worms�, wherein Bertie makes a highly unusual fancy-dress appearance at next-door-neighbour Angela�s pink party. In typical irreverent Bertie style, our hero finds if he can�t wriggle out of the party, the best thing is to wriggle into it�

More endearing than a certain child-terror, Henry, these tales feel to be more led by character than by mischievous deeds alone. It is hard not to feel endeared to Bertie who, once more, is brilliantly realised in full-fiendish detail by the talented David Roberts. Fans should also look out for �Dirty Bertie: Fleas� also now available in Little Tiger Press� distinctive new fiction label.

The Fables of La Fontaine

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Jean De La Fontaine, Trans. C. J. Moore, Ill. Jean-Noel Rochut
Floris Books
Sep 2006
A well developed literary palate has a taste not only for fiction and fact, but also for folk-tales, for poetry, for drama and for fables. French poet and fabulist Jean La Fontaine (1621-1695) took inspiration from Aesop, Horace and the Panchatantra for his own three collections of fables.

A selection of over one-hundred of these has been translated by author and linguaphile C. J. Moore. They are made available, illustrated in full-colour throughout, by Floris Books. Incisive, satirical and always insightful, this selection includes such classics as �The Two Mules� one with his load of salt and the other of sponges and is told with lyrical, rhyming, poetic diction.

Perfect tales with bite at their beginnings and the characteristic sting of the moral at their ending, these translations of the fables are fresh, fun and filled with verve and vitality.

The Story of Everything

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Neal Layton
Hodder Children's Books
Oct 2006
Neal Layton�s �The Story of Everything� is just that. This vibrant and dynamic pop-up book charts the history of the universe from the big bang through to the earth�s conception and the gestation of first life � underpinned by a brief explanation of Darwinism told through the inclusion of a miniature edition �Fish Fins and Fings�.

The dominance of dinosaurs and their eventual extinction is relayed as too is the evolution of mammals and more latterly, a double-page spread about apes including those with bigger brains!

Fans of Layton�s �Oscar and Arabella� series will be pleased to note that his penchant for the prehistoric include a self-referential mammoth during the ice-age. The development of homes and habitations is depicted and this section is concluded through realisation of the importance of recorded information and discovery in books. The book ends pondering the next phase of the story asserting that readers will have to �wait and see� conversationally adding through a pull-tab that it might take a million years or so�


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David Wiesner
Sep 2006
With artists such as Anthony Browne, Dave McKean and Joel Stewart as its main proponents in the United Kingdom, surrealism is an under-represented style within the picture book form. A peculiar occurrence given the creative thought and imaginative freedom that surrealism�s �seeded� style nurtures and develops�

An undoubted bastion of the form in America is the innovative and accomplished David Wiesner. His latest picture book, �Flotsam� sadly like so many of his picture books unpublished here in the United Kingdom, is a tour-de-force.

Told wholly through the visual narrative of illustration, the book opens with a full page close up of a hermit crab and an eye caught in the act of observation � a meta-narrative against the reader�s own active engagement with this scene.

A double page spread then zooms out to show the boy examining the hermit crab through a magnifying glass. A backdrop of play and of observation provides shifting scales and perspectives as we witness sandcastles, parents reading, a microscope and a pair of binoculars. A storyboard of framed images sequentially narrates the boy as he spots another crab, sets off to collect it, chases it and � finally � is caught off guard by a rogue wave.

Narrative flits to another double page spread showing the waves as they ebb away, leaving the boy saturated looking at the evasive crab and also at an ancient underwater camera that has been washed ashore.

The boy removes the film from the camera and his fervent keenness to have this developed is brilliantly captured by Wiesner through a series of framed images inlaid upon the climactic image of this double page spread depicting the boy�s eye in close-up looking at one of the developed photographs � an image from which we are excluded at this point building a real sense of dramatic tension and intrigue as the reader turns the page.

The photographs provide a snapshot into a rich and varied underwater world, inhabited by clockwork aquatics, schools of fish presided over by wise, old, octopi, puffer fish hot air balloons, turtle tenements, starfish spread eagled and submerge but emerging as islands and atolls. The final photograph depicts a girl holding a photograph of a boy, holding a photograph of an image caught in ocular recursion. Puzzling over this, the boy puzzles over this and scrutinises the photograph more closely using his magnifying glass showing a girl holding a photograph of a boy. Time spans and geographical space are transcended through the representation of these photographic images The boy�s microscope offers even greater opportunity for examination first at ten times magnification, then at twenty-five and through until seventy times magnification when we see a boy on a beach dressed in Victorian attire and shown in sepia tones.

The boy sets up his own photograph using the camera to take a picture of him holding the picture. He then casts the camera back into the ocean whereupon it becomes caught up in the marvels of the marine before finally being washed up upon the shores of a palm lined beach and picked up by a girl...

A magnificent expose of the art of observation and representation, Wiesner has created a masterpiece of reflection and imagination.

Mandy Archer and Jenny Arthur
Hodder Children's Books
Sep 2006
A welcome pop-up edition of one of Hodder's �(Not so) Scary Monsters� series, �The Marvellous Monster Muddle� opens as Malcolm, who loves to give presents, sadly has none left to give. So it is that lolloping, puffing and peering he sets off on a quest to find new presents. Finding a treasure chest of potential gifts, Malcolm delights in giving these out to his friends along with sloppy kisses. Each of the presents, however, serves to cause a number of frights as, using the gifts as fancy dress, the monsters are no longer able to recognise one another. Laughing at the realisation of who each monster is, Malcolm is delighted that his gifts have brought so much mirth and merriment.

Focusing on the experiences, the possessions, the disguises and masks that are erected before us throughout life, �The Marvellous Monster Muddle� outlines the shared commonality of life that forms all of our foundations�

Actual Size

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Steve Jenkins
Frances Lincoln
Dec 2006
The natural world, its size and scale, can be a difficult thing to accurately convey in a book until� �Actual Size�. Measuring a scant 26cm by 31cm, it is an amazing thought that this book illustrates nineteen creatures ranging from the lilluputian dwarf goby � measuring in at a diminutive 9mm � to the gargantuan giant squid which, together with its tentacles, has measured in at a phenomenal 18 metres.

The confined space of a large hardback picture book is hardly conducive for accommodating the sheer scale of many of the beasts included here and Steve Jenkins has adopted the novel approach of depicting to scale parts of the featured creatures, illustrating the eye of a giant squid, the head of an Alaskan brown bear, the egg of an ostrich etc.

The book is appended with information on each of the featured animals providing location, food preference and other areas of interest. An impressive and innovative approach to introducing some of the world�s many inhabitants.

The Story of the Wind Children

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Sibylle von Olfers
Floris Books
Sep 2006
Born in East Prussia in 1881, Sibylle von Olfers� highly adept naturalist style places her work firmly in the vein of Beatrix Potter, Kate Greenaway and Elsa Beskow. On publication of �The Story of the Root Children� in 1996, Floris Books in Edinburgh made this classic of European children�s literature available in the United Kingdom. It seems fitting that ten years following this they should reaffirm commitment to Olfers prestige in the children�s literature world through publication of �The Story of the Wind Children�.

The story opens as George endeavours to sail his boats amidst still conditions. Willow the wind child watches and cups her hands together blowing and setting the boats bobbing and racing along the stream. Keen to feel the wind on her face, Willow sets off on a sprightly sprint with George. Laughing and exhausted, the two of them arrive in an apple orchard whereupon Willow conjures a gust of wind causing the apples to tumble. These are collected by the mysterious Roeship children who give George some of the juiciest fruits. Further downwind the Leafchildren play, turning somersaults in the wind. Entranced by the sounds of two cloud horses, George and Willow ride these bareback across the sky leading George back home to his garden gate, a reference so familiar it leads readers to postulate whether the adventures have largely been of an imagination that transcends external constraints...

Autumn and nature are brilliantly personified in this beautifully detailed work.

Pick Me Up

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David Roberts and Jeremy Leslie
Dorling Kindersley
Oct 2006
�Pick Me Up� was the showcase new publication by Dorling Kindersley, offering a new means for cataloguing the information of the traditional children�s reference encyclopaedia that draws upon the tangential sensibilities of web-browsing. This makes it possible to follow interest areas from Mohandas Gandhi (1869-1948), through to colonisation, to World War Two, arriving at the prehistoric via a journey of oil! Linkage between knowledge area and these �learning trails� make for a particularly impressive journey of discovery.

As with any reference work whose knowledge-base and scope is so wide, �Pick Me Up� deals, for the most part, with its topics quite cursorily as such the book provides a useful �backbone� to reference collections and a springboard from which it is possible to garner that all-too-rare and real context and understanding to given topics and to leap-frog into more in depth publications and websites as the desire takes.

As with a standard encyclopaedia, the work is structured under disciplinary subject areas � �Science, technology and space�, �Society, places and beliefs�, �History�, �The natural world�, �People who made the world�, �Arts, entertainment and media�, �You and your body� and �Planet Earth�. This gives options for more standard usage by readers alongside those who wish to meander along �learning trails�.

The highly illustrated, magazine-style content, makes the book both easy on the eye and quick to engage with and from which to assimilate knowledge. A wide-reaching and thoughtfully structured development to the often seemingly static reference genre, a picture perhaps of the future?

Believe it or Not! 2007

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Ed. Rebecca Miles
Oct 2006
Continuing the global quest for what is always strange, often unsavoury and sometimes sordid, �Ripley�s Believe It or Not! 2007� is the third annual compendium that draws upon the wide history and geography of oddities, following the tradition established by sports columnist for the New York Globe, Robert Ripley. Much like Ripley�s own work, the success of this book is achieved through its documentation of the unusual and extraordinary and its ability to avoid reproach or reprove.

Thematically arranged under eight headings, �Strange World�, �Weird and Wonderful�, �Breaking Boundaries�, Amazing Animals�, �Larger than Life�, Impossible Feats�, �Simply Unbelievable� and �The Final Reckoning�, the book provides a perfect antidote for times when life feels humdrum.

Archive features tap into the rich historical vein of Ripley�s meticulous research, in depth features provide interviews and background to a number of participants and interludes showcasing features from amongst Ripley�s 29 museums in 10 different countries relay the type of geographical spread of the phenomenon that �Believe it or Not� has become.

�Believe It or Not! 2007� is one of those rare books that is genuinely so engaging that it can be opened at any page and guaranteed to entertain, to educate and to enrich. There is Jim Mouth, the man with the outrageously outsized mouth � able to fit 157 straws in it at once � Wang Yide, the lick artist from China, Bruce the goldfish who meausres in at an enormous 17.129 inches, Cathie Jung aged 68 who has worn a corset for over 20 years and now sports an incredible 15 inch waist and much, much more�

Our world is often a peculiar one dominated as much by the exceptional as by precedent. There can be few better ways to celebrate this uniqueness and colour than through perusing this astonishing volume.

Oranges In No Man's Land

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Elizabeth Laird
Sept 2006
The tragedy of this book is that it feels so contemporary. Set during the civil war that Lebanon appeared to have put behind it, last summer�s military stand off between Israel and Hezbollah gives it a very �now� feel.

Oranges In No Man�s Land tells the tale of Ayesha, a young girl whose mother was killed in the war and now lives in a crowded squat along with a host of other fugitives from the fighting.

With her father abroad trying to find work, the key figure in her life is her granny. But when granny�s medicine starts to run out with serious implications, Ayesha has to visit the doctors to restock her supplies.

The problem is that the doctor who supplied them lives on the other side of town, in enemy territory.

This is a book that portrays well the bravery required by those who live in such tragic circumstances and the quick wittedness needed to stay out of trouble.

For adults who grew up on the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew this book redefines those adventures as the stuff of comics. For the target audience it puts any complaints that �life�s not fair� into their real perspective.

There�s been a fair bit of comment about teen books that portray the darker side of life but this book brings the reality of war and displacement home to a much younger audience.