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Giles Andreae
April 2011
32 pp
Whole book & series read
Read On? YES
During Easter weekend I was made to read aloud all thirteen of these quirky World Of Happy titles in a single sitting. The books are mini modern Aesopian fables in which unhappy situations become resolved, but not in an overly educational way. In The Knitting Gorilla, for example, one of the gorillas' children, instead of growing up to be big and fierce like his daddy, defies convention by developing a knitting habit. The jumpers he knits are too small. To begin with, the other gorillas jeer and mock, but after a while they begin to RESPECT the jumper as an item of distinction. Likewise in The Pink Cricket, instead of playing the violin like all the normal green crickets, the one and only pink cricket takes up the drums. Despite the inevitable ridicule and teasing, the pink cricket sticks to his dreams and ends up playing drums in the band. The books all have randomly capitalised words. Tortoise Football contains "WRONG, MISERY, TOWER, SCRAMBLED..." It's all a little puzzling. You can get a flavour of this on the series website. Whilst most of the titles are witty in a way that will chime with both young children and adults, and all are boldly, simply and accessibly illustrated, one or two of the little books strike a decidedly weird note. In The Elephant And The Spider - SOCIAL ISSUE is capitalised early on - the elephant takes "a JOURNEY into HERSELF" and the whole self-help ambience of the book certainly went way over the heads of my 3 and 5 yr old audience. But I no longer have any of the books in my possession. The three-year-old decided they simply had to go home with her, which probably says more than anything else in this review.

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.

My Dad's a Birdman

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David Almond, ill. Polly Dunbar
Walker Books
Oct 2007
Lizzie misses her mother, however, her dad and his quite literal flights of fancy provide plentiful diversion and distraction, as too do Auntie Doreen�s endeavours to normalise the situation that father and daughter find themselves within through her homely domesticity and the cooking of doughy dumplings!

Dad is eager to enter the human bird competition that is due to take place over the river Tyne and which has attracted international interest � �there�s a fella from France that�s screwed wings to his bike. There�s a lass from Japan with a ten foot pogo stick. There�s a bloke from Brazil with an umbrella on his head and a propeller on his bum��

The archetype whereby the child�s inner-imaginative world is constructed as all-embracing is reversed by David Almond in this latest work, where it is Lizzie�s dad � and his obsession with all things fowl and flight � that drive the story and the attempts to find freedom of flight.

Polly Dunbar�s vibrant illustrations make her the perfect illustrator to collaborate on this book. The building blocks of the story will feel familiar with those who have read Almond�s body of work to date, influences from William Blake continue to abound as too does a preoccupation with the human form and flight. Ultimately, however, this is an upbeat and uplifting story that transcends ideas of social norms through realising the importance of the love than underpins all of this.

Big Ben

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Rachel Anderson, ill. Jane Ray
Barn Owl Books
Oct 2007
Matthew has a deep level of care and respect for his elder brother Ben. He endeavours to protect Ben from the types of assumption and stereotype that he is subjected to by neighbours and his peers. The strength in Anderson�s text lies in its awareness that even the best intentions of his brother Matthew, do not really allow Ben�s skills and abilities to shine through and that accordingly, his departure to a residential school tailored to his needs comes as a liberation.

There is a marvellous sense of joyous celebration towards the end of this short book as we see Ben actively engage and participate, at which points he feels valued and worthwhile. The juxtaposition between this and the opening of the books is a testament to Anderson�s very real skills as an author. In a short work she has created an entirely convincing fiction where characters develop and adapt to the circumstances surrounding them and to the altered situations facing one another when interacting.

Praise must go to Barn Owl Books � who have recently faced financial uncertainties � for bringing back into print this brilliant shot novel, first published under the �Mammoth Read� imprint and given a new lease of life with superb new accompanying illustrations by Jane Ray

The Trouble with Wenlocks

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Joel Stewart
Jul 2007
��What we saw there,� said Dr M, �was an inside thing. Something, a feeling or a fear, that belonged to that little boy. The Wenlock pulled it out and took it away.��

The highly innovative and imaginative illustrator Joel Stewart proves himself equally proficient at the pacing and plotting of fiction for young readers in �The Trouble with Wenlocks�. Travel on a train takes an unexpected turn when everyone slips into slumber save for Stanley Wells who experiences an apparition. This apparition is later revealed to have been a Wenlock, an ethereal being with the ability to remove fear and uncertainty.

With parents living apart, and voyages made between their respective home, Stanley has been the subject of great change. His train ride extends as a metaphor for the journey of his own life, one that he must travel, arriving at difficult decisions alone with regard to his outlook and intended destination...

Delightfully idiosyncratic and whimsical, Joel Stewart captures that sense of the surreal that accompanies feelings experienced for the first time. Caught, on the one hand, between the enigmatic Dr Moon's careful guidance and sage advice and, on the other, Joel Stewart's intriguing first novel, readers could not be in safer hands.

Jack Stalwart: The Pursuit of the Ivory Poachers

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Elizabeth Singer Hunt
Red Fox
Apr 2007
Continuing his missions with the GPF (the Global Protection Force), and in so doing desperately seeking information concerning the current whereabouts of missing elder brother Max, Jack Stalwart is called to Kenya to protect the African Elephants which have been being slaughtered as part of elicit ivory trading.

Although sometimes overt in the narrative�s placement of moral and ethical standards, the story nonetheless makes for a fast-paced, action adventure that will doubtless find a legion of fans foremost of these are likely to be those who are savvy with the fast evolving worlds of gadget and computer aided technologies. With often exotic and far-flung locations, an increasingly enticing array of spy gadgetry and the promise of top-secret assignments, this series has enough hooks to capture the imaginations of even the most reluctant of readers�

Ivan the Terrible

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Anne Fine, ill. Philippe Dupasquier
Jun 2007
Greetings to all you lowly shivering worms

Assigned the task of looking after new pupil, Ivan, by headteacher Mrs Blaizely, Boris finds himself constantly trying to veil darkly threatening comments and a deliberate flouting of authority when translating his new class-mates comments from Russian into English for the benefit of teachers and pupils alike at the highly convivial St Edmund�s school. Throughout the course of the day, the problem escalates in magnitude, placing Boris into ever more cringe-worthy, difficult circumstances as he tries to meet and match Ivan�s menace with good manners.

Anne Fine�s trademark black humour is laced with a delicious sense of precision and of timing throughout the novel. As concurs with the author�s body of work per-se, however, underpinning this humour are keen observations as to the functionality of communication in modern life, the need for expressing one�s wants and desires across whatever boundaries we encounter in life � whether these be geographical or based around engaging with those from different ages or backgrounds to our own and a tendency for children�s voices to be marginalised alongside the egalitarian intents of those imbued with their education and wellbeing.

Publication of this admirable and compelling short novel is the flagship for Anne Fine�s revised and rejacketed backlist with Egmont books.

The Tortoise and the Dare

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Terry Deary, ill. Helen Flook
A&C Black
Mar 2007
�Slow and steady wins the race�

Books of instruction have played a seminal role in the history and development of children�s literature. Arguably, children�s literature has never � and perhaps can never � fully escape its didactic and pedagogical base. Aesop�s fables have been amongst the most enduring of fiction for children since first publication in English translation by William Caxton in 1484.

Terry Deary brings both ardour and aptitude to his new series, published by A & C Black, �Greek Tales�. Opening with morals gleaned from Aesop, the books utilise new stories to expand upon and make modern the premise of these fables.

Opening with contextual information, the book tells how Heracles won a race at Olympia, proving himself to be the strongest, fastest hero the world has ever known. Remembrance of this achievement is held through the Olympic Games.

Using the fable of the tortoise and the hare as its ideas base, Deary creates a modern fable that will resonate with many disillusioned siblings as Cypselis uses his sister as a wager on a bet that he will beat Bacchiad in the school Olympics. The trouble is, Ellie knows her brother is not a strong winner� How can they secure her safety and future?!

Witty and wise, this is a cleverly penned series for first readers that will have readers themselves racing to the finishing line�

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.