Category Archives: Series

Spotlight On Sunny

Keris Stainton

Catnip

9781846471872

March 2015

paperback

You’d be right if you thought this wasn’t going to be quite my cup of tea. But, hey, I find it amusing to read pink-jacketed teen fiction when travelling, and this was pleasingly slim enough to fit in an already full camera bag. Also, since this author has quite a reputation and a following, I thought it high time I read one of her books.
Early on I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. In fact, I feared I might hate it and have to give it a bad review. It seemed to be trying so hard to cover all types of diversity (illness, disability, race, religion…) and I was quite fearful for the direction the reader seemed to be being taken with regard to one of the characters.
But this is actually rather a clever little book. Light but not frothy. Non-judgemental and managing a depth of emotional resonance that is unusual in books of this type.
Three fourteen-year-old girls come down to London to attend a two-week summer film-making course. It’s a neat device for placing such young teens away from family ties in the middle of a capital city. (London’s landmarks feature prominently in the book.) These are girls who have previously appeared in Starring Kitty, the first in a ‘Reel Friends Series’. The London course was a prize in a film-making competition the girls collaborated on in the first book. Presumably, book number three in the series will be all about Hannah, the third girl.
Sunny is an observant Moslem. She prays regularly and her head is always covered with the hijab.
The three girls find that they are having to share their room with a fourth, slightly older girl, Danielle.
Danielle is presented very negatively. She is cast as a selfish sloven, and Sunny is particularly critical of the way she dresses.
One of the boys on the course suffers from Hypermobility Syndrome and Sunny and Danielle find themselves in conflict for his attentions.
The book’s style is highly readable. I liked the way it was written in the third person, but from the central character’s rather than an omniscient narrator’s perspective. I wish more books would eschew the pervasive first person continuous present for this more classical voice. It is clearly popular.
Is it a true teen/YA novel, whatever that may be? Not according to my definition.
I’m not suggesting this distinction particularly matters, but I fancy the readership level of a book such as this is more 10-14, than 12+. Once readers have passed the age of the participants, one would hope that they have already grown up sufficiently to not require the lesson in putting yourself in another’s shoes that the plot so gently but firmly delivers, with the reader, as well, as the girls, eventually seeing Danielle in a new light.

World Of Happy: The Knitting Gorilla

Giles Andreae

Egmont

9781405258463

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.

Eye Of The Crow

Shane Peacock

Tundra Books

9780887768507

September 2007

250 pp

Whole book read

Read On? YES

Andrea Deakin sent me this Canadian winner of the 2008 Arthur Ellis Best Juvenile Crime Novel Award quite some time ago, but I only recently picked it up. And enjoyed it. It is well-written and well-paced, though on balance I would have preferred the narrative in a traditional past tense, rather than the rather stylised continuous present used by Peacock.
The dustjacket of Tundra’s hardback edition shows a detailed Victorian streetmap of central London on the reverse, and the city details in the story are amongst the features that make this an enthralling read.
Young Sherlock – depicted here at times almost like a Spiderman hero – sets out to prove a man wrongly accused of murder innocent of the crime. It’s a colourful tale involving crows, glass eyeballs and several quite harrowing scenes. For Conan Doyle aficionados there are familiars in the cast, including the name Lestrade.
The first book in a series.

Cows In Action: The Ter-moo-nators

Steve Cole

Red Fox

1862301891

May 2007

Anarchic wit and inventiveness are shaken (not stirred!) to perfection in Steve Cole’s latest series, ‘Cows in Action’. A herd of agents and adversaries play out the action and adventures from the base of a time-travelling cowshed, invented by the bullishly brilliant Professor McMoo.
This first story sees the cattle careering back to Tudor times where they must foil the Ter-moo-nator’s attempts to install a cow-counterpart in place of Henry VIII’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleaves.
Milking the thrills of time-travel alongside the spills of a history, plotted to have gone somewhat awry, this series presents bovines at their brilliant best kowtowing to none and to nothing.

Mister Monday

Garth Nix ill. by Tim Stevens

Collins

1904442714

Jan 2004

‘He couldn’t believe he was in this situation. He was supposed to be some sort of hero, going up against Mister Monday, and here he was without any pants on, worrying about being bitten somewhere very unpleasant by Nithling Snakes. Surely no real hero would end up in this predicament.’
Arthur Penhaligon is a rather ordinary boy; much too ordinary to be any sort of hero. He has just moved to a new town and the first day at his new school is not going well. He has asthma, he can’t tell the ultra-cool kids from their opposites, and the PE teacher is making him go on a cross country run. When he collapses in front of everyone, surely things can’t get any worse?
Well actually, they can. As Arthur lies dying in the park, he finds himself in possession of a minute hand from a clock, and a peculiar notebook, thrust on him by Mister Monday who expects to retrieve them as soon as he dies. Unexpectedly he lives and becomes the target of sinister men in bowler hats while around him a plague erupts and threatens the population. Arthur is forced reluctantly into the role of hero as he enters the House and an alternative world. Here he is dependent on a scrap of Will which disguises itself as a frog, and an Ink-Filler Sixth Class called Suzy Turquoise Blue if he is to survive, find a cure for the plague and return to his own world and family.
Readers who are familiar with Nix’s Sabriel trilogy should not expect a re-run in this first part of The Keys to the Kingdom series. Unlike Sabriel and Lirael, Arthur comes from a world which is essentially our world. The fantasy world of Mister Monday is not the same as the Old Kingdom of Abhorsen. The good news is that if you did not enjoy Sabriel, it is still worth giving Mister Monday a go. On the other hand, if you loved Sabriel and are hoping for more of the same, you may initially feel disappointed. But ‘different’ is not the same as ‘bad’. There is a wry humour to the book, an active imagination and at its heart an uncertain, vulnerable hero who resoundingly proves himself up to his task. Well worth the read, and with the next two volumes in the series already published, if you get hooked you can move straight on to Grim Tuesday.