July 2008 Archives

Marvin Gets Mad!

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Joseph Theobald
Jul 2008

Marvin the sheep with the big appetite who made his first appearance in 'Marvin Wanted More' makes a second appearance in this picture book. Together with his friend Molly, Marvin happens upon a trees of big juicy apples. Despite the abundance of fruit that the tree is laden with, the very apple Marvin wants most lies tantalisingly out of reach.

Exhausted by his efforts and the patience he has exerted, Marvin falls asleep only to awaken and find that the apple has fallen and Molly is eating it. Transformed and enraged by his anger at this, Marvin sets outon a rampage stamping on flowers, knocking over chicken sheds, frightening ducks and even biting a cows tail - this is one angry, even-toed ungulate.

Amidst a fit of pique, the very grounds open beneath him and the silence, isolation and darkness lead him to consider the folly of his fury. Eventually rescued by Molly, he returns to the pastures where he beholds a fruit laden pear-tree only to discover the very apple he wants most lies tantalisingly out of reach...

Theobold's use of the docile sheep as the cantankerous protagonist heightens the humour of Marvin's rage in this witty book which explores the folly of irrational desires leading those who suffer temper tantrums to feel somewhat sheepish.

The Ship's Kitten

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Matilda Webb ill. Ian Benfold Haywood
Happy Cat
Jun 2008

The poetic diction of the book's opening immediately locates the microcosm of the lilting ebb and flow of sea sounds and of the various comings and goings of lives lived along the harbour lines. At the heart of the book lies a nameless and homeless kitten whose desire for a place amongst peers forms the premise for the book.

Strengths are the deft descriptions of the harbour and its various component parts, these are explored from the minutiae of fish schools, swimming and circling in the surrounding seas, to the domineering image of the cruiser which comes to dock. The polarity of these extremes is captured adeptly in Ian Benford Haywood's illustrations which evoke, the various movements and motion of the sea.

The novel's evocation of the haughty, proud manner and demeanour of the cats inhabiting the various vessels humorously references the archetypes of sea-life. Implicit in these are feline character traits that will instantly provoke an affinity amongst any and all cat-lovers.

Searching for a home to call her own, the cat's tale is one that is appealing and resonant to all who have considered, even in the vaguest terms, their identity and role in society. A satisfying resolve is marred only, perhaps, by the implausibility of its practicality, but these are small faults in a book that encapsulates a whole world, way of life and method for working out our positions alongside that of others...

How to get Famous

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Pete Johnson
Jun 2008

"In my opinion fame is like a giant blue bubble... This blue bubble can quite suddenly come floating and shining towards you, showering you with glory. And it's great being even a bit famous... But the thing is... this blue bubble of fame appears when it feels like it... But I know it can vanish in an instant..."

The frail, fickle nature of fame has been a recurring theme in Pete Johnson's fiction, in 'I'd Rather Be Famous', astute comment was made as to the types of decision that are driven only by outward appearance, by what others think rather than what we ourselves actually feel. In 'The Hero Game', Charlie's idolisation of his grandfather and his sheer determination to immortalise him are challenged by revelations as to his grandfather's past, that he finds difficult to equate with his present perception of his uncle.

'How to get Famous' sees friends Tobey and Georgia desperately seeking the lime-light but learning the bitter consequences that follow failure and rejection. This is exacerbated further still by the crushing humiliation Tobey faces at an audition in which Georgia is successful. Pressures of personal hopes that are defeated alongside the achievement of friends' achievement places friendship into a fragile context.

In a surprise turn, however, Johnson achieves a twist that demonstrates incisively the spontaneous manner via which we affect and influence others through our actions as compared with the forced nature of acting and rehearsal.

Tobey's comic capers, retold through an approachable epistolary style, make for a humorous and affectionately told story that is elevated through the characteristic social comments and human observations that permeate this author's work.

Little Leap Forward: a boy in Beijing

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Gue Yue, Clare Farrow, Ill. Helen Cann
Barefoot Books
Jul 2008
"With music and your imagination you can travel anywhere; you will always be free."

Barefoot Books have drawn upon the self-same creative sensibility, attention to detail and high production values that have earned them the place as one of the most distinctive and stylish picture books lists, in this their first forray into fiction.

The construction of childhood presented here is a decidedly pastoral one with its kite flying competitions, trips to market and sibling cookery sessions. Behind the surface of this, however, are the shifting political tectonics that lead to Mao Zedung's Cultural Revolution of 1966.

Ramifications of this are both clearly and cleverly drawn through the capture and subsequent decline of a bird which Little Leap Forward keeps trapped in a bamboo cage. The bird's refusal to sing and its inability to fly are consequences of its being held captive away from the natural influences that allow its replenishment. The creeping oppression whose reach is felt towards the end of the novel is wholly juxtaposed by the real sense of hope and liberation that the bird's release and free flight signify.

Gue Yue and Clare Farrow's text is marked by its reflective lyricism. This is complemented beautifully by the sights of Beijing, captured so evocatively through Helen Cann's full-colour illustration plates that intersperse the novel. Combining freedom of thought, action and imagination, this is a welcome first fiction offering from Barefoot Books that leaves one eager in the hope that a subsequent, more regular publishing plan might follow in a similar vein.

The Bare Bum Gang and the Football Face-off

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Anthony McGowan
Red Fox
May 2008

Watch out people here they come
They are the gang with the big bare bum

The brilliance of this book is its bare faced cheek in taking the Blytonian ideal of a secret society and bringing this bang up to date with Smartie-fart-tube traps, a sassy and irreverant gang name and battle for supremacy against rivals 'The Dockery Gang' played out in a frenetic football face-off.

Following the success of his irreverant style in the teen arena, Anthony McGowan transposes that self-same humour, yet understanding of child social groupings to a younger age range. Fans of 'The Secret Seven' will no doubt recognise several reference points here, not least, Jennifer Eccles, a sister who like Susie is keen to join-up.

Latent concerns about the toilet humour can be flushed aside against the vicarious access here granted to a secret society replete with its own covert initiation rituals... Despite its exclusive membership, this is an inclusive romp that developing readers will race through.

Mrs Muffly's Monster

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Sarah Dyer
Frances Lincoln
Jun 2008

Generous helpings of monsters, mystery and the eponymous Mrs Muffly are baked together in this tasty treat of a picture book by monster maestro, Sarah Dyer. Warmth and affection belies the type of hearsay and hyperbolic assumption that lead to the conclusion that Mrs Muffly must be harbouring a monster at home! Alongside a deliciously different twist in the tale, the book introduces imaginative interpretation and concludes through the juxtaposition of these with a much more rational, though terrifically tempting explanation. A definite must read for those keen to develop ravenous readers.

Sherman Alexie
Andersen Press
Jun 2008

If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing.

Personal aspirations and cultural expectation converge in this, Alexie Sherman's first novel for young adults. Junior exists as an outsider, from the world as a Native American living on a reservation, to his peers as an individual whose thinking, behaviour, actions and reactions are slower than with many because of excess cerebral spinal fluid at birth.

Through the course of the novel Junior battles against the prejudices of those around him, ultimately resulting in a decision that ostracises him from his people. The challenge then becomes proving himself, his worth and talent both intellectually and physically.

Junior's unique perspective on life results in the gradual acquisition of firm friendships and he battles towards a position whereby his individuality is recognised and acknowledged. At points painful, partly positive but always poignant, this an accomplished and astoundingly life-affirming novel.

Kid Swap

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Michael Lawrence
Orchard Books
Jul 2008
Another welcome and wit-filled outing for Jiggy McCue sees the hapless protagonist assume the leading role in a new television series 'Kid Swap' where children from families with different socio-econimic backgrounds and systems of belief are brought together in a 'light-the-blue-touch-paper' and watch the chaos ensue type fashion...

The near-universal base of Jiggy's various mishaps and humiliations will make these familiar for many and thereby extending a sense of affinity towards him. Underlying the laugh-out-loud plot-lines, lies a caution as to the importance of privacy in adolescene, the ability to make our own mistakes, to fall prey to our doubts and emotions and ultimately to develop and grow because of that. Accordingly, as an adult reader, it is hard not to breathe a sigh of relief that Jiggy attains some form of reprieve by the end of novel and that his late childhood remains his own, not sold-off or commoditised.