Monthly Archives: November 2007

76 Pumpkin Lane

Chris Mould

Hodder

0340930748

Sep 2007

One of the joys of reading is the paradox of its at once being so personalised and private and yet holding a base for shared experience and understanding. Few books exemplify this in such a multi-dimensional form as Chris Mould’s astounding new work, ’76 Pumpkin Lane’ which combines some of the most innovative paper engineering together with Mould’s signature brooding style of building and beings.
A short introductory text places the structure of ’76 Pumpkin Lane’ into context and provides a tantalising glimpse of the gory and grotesque inhabitants found therein. Character exposition is limited to a scant few details, but this is purposeful, allowing readers to act-out their own stories and scenarios using the figurines included within the setting that Mould has created. Each of ten rooms sport different accessories and accoutrements allowing for imaginative interaction and play. A victory for the delight of visceral fears made visual!

My Dad’s a Birdman

David Almond, ill. Polly Dunbar

Walker Books

1406304867

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.

Chewy, Gooey, Rumble, Plop!

Steve Alton, ill. Nick Sharratt

Bodley Head

0803732260

Oct 2007

Following the processes of digestion and excretion literally from beginning to end, ‘The Gooey Chewy, Rumble, Plop Book’ is a cavalcade of consumption! Taking as its premise the ingestion of ice-cream ‘ and sporting a highly tactile tongue that can be made to waggle in a most disconcerting manner ‘ the book takes us on a voyage around our extraordinary bodies, highlighting key learning areas such as taste, superb stomach statistics, an amazing account of absorption, and a double-page plop-out that will have readers doubled up with laughter! The joy of this book is the meticulous detail that has been afforded to its production. Innovative paper-engineering together with carefully penned descriptions of the processes encountered as parts of digestion and excretion make this an active ‘ and thereby memorable ‘ learning experience. A victory for the voyage of discovery!

Cleopatra

Adele Geras, ill. M. P. Robertson

Kingfisher

0753413590

Oct 2007

The reunion of ‘The Spice Girls’ has brought back into common currency their maxim: ‘Girl Power’. Centuries prior to the historic plight of women’s rights being commodified to a snappy, two-word, slogan, Cleopatra was Queen of Egypt and ‘ with considerable diplomatic powers and prowess ‘ set about forging kinship between Egypt and Rome.
In bringing the story of Cleopatra to life through the eyes of Nefret, a young Egyptian girl who is conscripted to work for the royal household, Adele Geras paints a vivid portrait of this extraordinary, sparkling historical figure. The diary entries of Nefret provide a wealth of colour and detail about Ancient Egypt and ‘ through choosing a first-person narrative told by a girl, Geras easily conveys just what an astoundingly inspirational figurehead Cleopatra must have presented.
Cleopatra’s story links Ancient Egyptian history with that of Ancient Rome, both focal areas in the key-stage two, National Curriculum history syllabus. Production values of the book are incredibly high with M. P. Robertson’s lavish spreads that perfectly capture the movement, tone and time of the period being interspersed with photographic imagery of key historical artefacts. Notes are appended at the end about Alexandria, the Roman army, the river Nile and more, providing valuable factual context to this fictionalised account of Cleopatra’s life.
An accomplished synergy of wonderful writing, illustrative innovation and pride in publishing production values make this a venture that is not to be missed. Whether reading for pleasure or for purpose, this is a tome to be treasured. Look out for Steve Augarde’s ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ which Kingfisher have scheduled for publication in 2008.

Big Ben

Rachel Anderson, ill. Jane Ray

Barn Owl Books

1903015707

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

Mammoth Academy in Trouble

Neal Layton

Hodder Children’s Books

0340930306

Jul 2007

The start of a new term at the Mammoth Academy is immediately greeting by a pledge on the part of the humans from Cave Skool that ‘We is gonna git you!!’. So it transpires that another epic battle between Mammoth and mankind is initiated.
Arabella’s studious nature leads to her developing ‘The Sparklebang Code’, this when combined with the Mammoth Mammoth, a giant model that pupils have made at the academy leads to an explosive solution as the humans encroach upon the Academy.
The inimitable and illustrious Layton’s mixed media illustrations perfectly complement the anarchic irreverence of this latest installment about the Mammoths; fun, friendly and furiously fast-paced, readers will find themselves caught in a frenetic race to the feast at the finale!

Lucy Star

Cathy Cassidy

Puffin Books

0141383267

Aug 2007

Mouse, familiar to readers of Cathy Cassidy’s debut novel, ‘Dizzy’, makes a reappearance and meets with his counterpart in Cat in this latest novel by Cathy Cassidy. The spirit of egalitarianism alongside soulful attempts at self-expression and personal evolution run through ‘Lucky Star’. The novel opens as Mouse, Martin Kavanagh, writes a letter to his headteacher, Mr Brown, apologising for the graffiti art he daubed on the school premises. Mr Brown, however, is unconvinced as to the sincerity of the apology.
Following a meeting with his social worker, Mouse bumps into Cat, whom it transpires is a petty shop-lifter. The two of them form an alliance and are able to relate parts of their past to one another.
Together the pair help Mouse’s mother re-establish the Phoenix Centre, the drugs rehabilitation centre in the ironically named ‘Eden Estate’, following its destruction in an arson attack. Cat and Mouse become convinced that the vicious circle the estate is trapped within can be broken and so they embark upon carrying out vigilante style retribution. Whilst this is, in part, successful, it throws them into the arms of the police whereupon the secrets they have kept concealed from one another are revealed with huge consequences.
The phoenix motif in the novel is particularly apt to this story about rebirth and regrowth. Cathy Cassidy has paired the importance of responsibility against the essential nature of self-expression in this heart-warming, life-affirming tale.

The Snow Goose

Paul Gallico, ill. Angela Barrett

Hutchinson

0091893828

Oct 2007

Similar in tone and tempo to ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and in feel and form to ‘Wuthering Heights’, Paul Gallico’s modern-classic, ‘The Snow Goose’ is sumptuously re-defined in this sumptuously produced edition published by Hutchinson.
‘The Snow Goose’ follows the plight of Philip Rhayader, an artist living out a solitary existence on the Essex Coast. Blighted by a physical deformity that distances him from the society surrounding him, his tenderness and love find purpose only through nurturing injured wild-fowl back to well-health.
An injured snow goose brings the feisty young Frith to Rhayader, and together the two of them nurse the creature. The other-worldly aspect of the Great Marsh is purged by current affairs as news of the war and the situation facing soldiers in Dunkirk spreads. With this, human devastation infiltrates the ebb-and-flow of the natural, wild environs of the marsh.
Rhayader resolves to sail his boat across to Dunkirk whereupon he plans to rescue the soldiers stranded upon the beach. From this point, the remainder of the story becomes piecemeal, gathered from a variety of sources and puzzled together arriving at a conclusion laced with pathos, unfulfilled desires and things unsaid.
The salt-sting of the sea air and its desolation are captured brilliantly by Angela Barrett’s majestic illustrations which evoke the wild untamed, atmosphere of the book with a raw, untamed power and grace that proves entirely equal to this haunting tale.

Looking for Enid

Duncan McLaren

Portobello Books ltd

1846271150

Oct 2007

As well as being ubiquitous in the children’s literature field, Enid Blyton’s legacy has been highly influential. With around 8 million copies of her various titles sold annually and a body of work that embraces some seven-hundred-books, Blyton was and remains a true phenomenon in children’s publishing.
Purporting to guide readers through the ‘mysterious and inventive life of Enid Blyton’, Duncan McLaren’s ‘Looking for Enid’ documents the geography that lay behind much of her life and attempts to place this in context of her work. The major initial problem with this line of thinking is that the hypothesis it posits is reliant upon the weight of emphasis and significance that McLaren places upon particular works and characters at the exclusion of others that are in contravention of his pre-defined ideologies, making this a curiously single-sided work. Only those out of the many tunnels and secret passages that fit with McLaren’s slightly aslant psycho-analytic reading, only those towers which fit with the autobiographical detail he feels permeates the works are granted accord, the remainder meanwhile are dismissed.
In spite of this, parts of McLaren’s work are revelatory and parts of his research ‘ where it is grounded and does not involve flirtatious theorising that seems to serve its apparent primary purpose, the titillation of his travelling companion Kate ‘ are to be applauded. This, however, is too dilute and embedded within too much supposition to be of major interest.
With the literary equivalent of a nervous-twitch, McLaren appropriates Blyton’s characters and lives out parts of his own thoughts, feelings and desires and those that he projects upon Blyton herself. This occurs most inappropriately when Enid and first husband Hugh have an imagined bed-time conversation as rabbits, Binkle and Flip discussing the hope for a fully-developed uterus’ ‘Oh, it wouldn’t have to be a fully developed one. Not an arterial road running right through me! But perhaps I could wish for the uerus of an 18-year-old girl. Do you think that would be too much to ask for?’ It becomes hard not to recoil!
Blyton’s position within the children’s literature world and the sheer mass of work she produced means that further consideration ‘ and that which travels beyond the shifting trends and tectonics of political correctness ‘ is needed, but this title is unequal to that. Barbara Stoney’s official biography is far more engaging, more precisely written and of lasting interest than the current work.
Portobello must be praised for the high-production values on this work, however, whether the self-indulgent content in its current form warranted publication is certainly questionable.

From Where I Stand

Tabitha Suzuma

The Bodley Head

0370329066

May 2007

Tabitha Suzuma has the rare skill to breathe such life and motivation into her characters that they burn bright and indelibly upon the brain. In ‘From Where I Stand’, Raven is suffering severe trauma that drives a wedge between himself and others. His resultant vulnerability leads to his being taunted at school.
Raven’s grief, despair and guilt moves through stages as the novel progresses. He denies the reality of what has happened, weaving around himself a protective film of lies and half-truths. Though the stigma of mental health problems are encountered through the levels of misunderstanding and of miscomprehension that surround Raven, the mind is depicted here as resilient, strong and in a process of renewal and of resolution.
Suzuma’s willingness to draw from a reservoir of biographical experience to colour her characters with credibility makes this a courageous novel and, in an age when one in four people experience mental health problems throughout their lives, a highly worthwhile and contemporaneous one also.