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Junior Book Reviews

Black Hole Cinema Club

Christopher Edge, pub. Nosy Crow

This story starts with a simple visit to a cinema. Lucas and his friends meet at the Black Hole Cinema Club and they are excited about the show ahead. However, a trip to the cinema for Lucas, Ash, Maya, Caitlin and Finn may never be the same again. The lights go down. There is silence. The screen stays blank. For the reader the anticipation and excitement is building already. Suddenly a tidal wave comes crashing through the screen. The adventure begins as the reader is plunged into a fast-moving battle of fantasy, excitement and action.

 

The friends find themselves inside the film and as the reader of the book you can be the hero in your own story. There is lot of scope to use your own imagination. In fact, Lucas and his friends actually start to question if their adventures are fantasy or are they real. They find themselves in secret hideouts. In lost cities and in the jungle. They face prehistoric monsters and impossible missions. This story really is action packed and will keep readers on the edge of their seats. The action is fast, full of thrills and twists and is non-stop until the very end.

 

As the group reach their last adventure, will they be able to escape back to the cinema? There is still a blurring of fantasy and reality which will continue to pose many questions to readers. Are the group in the cinema? Are they in the jungle? Is this real? Is it fantasy?

 

This really is a fast paced and entertaining book to read. It is a whirlwind adventure and is sure to make the reader seek out Christopher Edge again.

Gary Kenworthy

Cactus Kid and the Battle for Star Rock Mountain

Emmanuel Guerrero, pub. Flying Eye Books

Comic books are becoming more popular, and I find that they are great for reluctant readers. There isn’t too much writing, the illustrations are always big, bright and colourful and when reading aloud children often have different voices for all the characters. You know this one is going to be a great read…its first word is VROOM!!!!! taking you are straight into the action and not slowing down.

 

Join Cactus Kid as he zooms through the Neverending Desert on his sweet ride, seeking the ultimate magical powers so he can become the greatest wizard of all time. Oh, and there are also huge amounts of explosive trouble, deadly motorbike races, and a lot of embarrassing encounters…

 

Life’s not always easy for a cactus. This particular one wants to impress his all-powerful dad with his epic magic skills, and he’s not about to let anything stop him on his solo hero’s journey. All he needs is a chunk of star rock to level up his potions. There’s just one problem – there’s none left. The only way to get a single slice of the stuff is to enter the deadly MotoBrawl race; try to stop accidentally turning bugs into giant fire-breathing creatures; befriend the lizard gangs that roam the desert, maybe make a friend along the way. But does a lone hero need any of this? This young cactus just wants to be a hero, nothing else. He sets off on his own, on a hero's journey to become a great wizard. Along the way, he is going to meet others who could help him…but they all want something from him and let’s not forget the bad guy…

 

Cactus Kid and the Battle for Star Rock Mountain promises plenty of laughs. The illustrations are amazing, the colours suit the story perfectly and the whole has great detail helping to tell the story. I just adore how different fonts have been used too. Aimed at Middle Grade readers, this is an ideal book for children who are new to graphic novels. This copy already has a really long waiting list at school.

Helen Byles

Diary of a Big Bad Wolf

Ben Miller, illus. Elisa Paganelli, pub. Simon & Schuster Children's Books

Ben Miller is a well-known actor, comedian, director and writer of magical stories for all the family. This is his unique spin on the story of Big Bad Wolf. Meet Wolf, living in the Fairytale Woods, he is the local bandit that everyone knows and no-one fears, despite his bluff and bluster. Written for age 8+ this is an amusing psychodrama being acted out and recorded by Lawrence, commonly known as The Big Bad Wolf. His diary reveals perceptive childhood anecdotes that help us to understand why he has become a big bad wolf.

 

Lawrence has been outlawed by his pack as they don’t feel he does his fair share of their communal hunting. This comes as a shock to Lawrence who lives the dream of being the biggest and baddest wolf in the woods. He always wanted to impress his father who was constantly disappointed by his son and his lack of killer instinct. Lawrence explains that he is a sensitive wolf not a soft one, which unfortunately makes his position as the biggest and baddest untenable.

 

The diary begins on the 21 March with Lawrence misguidedly looking forward to his packs first barbecue of the year. He starts a fitness regime in anticipation of his planned hunting itinerary and arrives at the barbecue only to find he has been excluded by the pack. The one wolf who tries to befriend him is Squirt the runt, who is industriously making veggie pies rather than meat. Twice he offers them to Lawrence but feeling obliged to react as the biggest baddest wolf should do he tells Squirt to get lost. Secretly Lawrence reflects on the desirability of a pie in which nothing has died, and conscience stricken feels sorry for humiliating Squirt in front of the pack but says nothing as his image is at stake here.

 

Lawrence’s self-respect continues to nose-dive as he fails to take advantage of the troll on the bridge; capture the three little pigs; eat little Red Riding Hood. Wackily packaged and culminating in plenty of feel-good factor this book proves that you don’t need to be the biggest, best, most ferocious to succeed. By May 1st Lawrence is doing 75-star jumps, 75 press-ups and 75 pull-ups too. Beat that if you can!

Elizabeth Negus

The Girl who Dreamed in Magic

Maria Kuzniar, pub. Puffin

The Girl who Dreamed in Magic is the latest book written by Maria Kuzniar, the author of The Ship of Shadows. It follows Saga Thorolfsdottir, an orphaned girl who lives with her Afi and pet bear Bjorn. After Saga’s parents died wielding powerful runes, Saga has been so afraid of magic that she would do almost anything to avoid it. However, Saga’s luck gets even worse when her village is attacked by ruthless mountain trolls who take over her village, capturing every villager in sight – including Afi and her best friend, Dag. Saga soon learns that the only way to save her village is by entering the Fifth Winter contest, a series of difficult challenges for the bravest of warriors. The prize? A horn full of magic, the only way to save the village.

 

The moment you open the book, you are greeted with a map of the book’s setting, with a close up shot of Saga’s village. The map also features all the exciting locations visited and mentioned during Saga’s journey. Throughout the book, you can see Saga’s transformation from a scared and hesitant young girl into a brave girl who is willing to face her fears to save her village. Saga is not alone on her quest, however, as she is joined by two new friends – Ruvsa, a fiercely loyal girl from a winter camp, and Canute, a mysterious boy from another village.

 

Whilst the story was slightly short on exciting twists and turns, the plot is intriguing and easy to follow. If you enjoy books about magic, facing fears, and heart-warming friendships, then this book is for you. I would recommend this book for ages 9-13.

Mya Grant (age 11)

The Letter with the Golden Stamp

Onjali Q. Rauf, pub. Hachette Children's Books

What an absolute thrill to have been given the opportunity to receive an advance copy of this latest book from the incredible Onjali Q. Rauf - writer of The Boy at the Back of the Class, and I can honestly say that The Letter with the Golden Stamp did not disappoint! Like her previous books, this is yet another tale with a powerful and important message – looking into the hidden world of child carers.

 

In the heart of Swansea, Wales, nine-year-old Audrey regularly misses school and is dealing with some huge secrets. No-one would ever imagine that she is the sole carer for her sick mother whose mobility is gradually failing due to osteoarthritis. Nor that Audrey must also care for her two four-year-old siblings Peck (as in Gregory) and Kat (as in Katherine Hepburn). Audrey worries that if anyone found out her secret her family might split up. So, when a mysterious new neighbour moves in across the street Audrey is convinced they are spying on her, and that mum could be taken away.

 

Desperate to protect her family, in dire need of money for medical equipment, and determined to find a way to help her Mum, Audrey decides she must take matters into her own hands. Inspired by her beloved collection of stamps and Mo, her friendly neighbourhood postman, Audrey sets out on a mission and finds herself on an adventure that will change everything.

 

Told from Audrey’s point of view this book made me cry, both happy and sad tears, and really opened my eyes to the pressures that young carers have to deal with. This sensitive topic, so rarely dealt with, is heartwarmingly told with understanding and compassion. Far from being a bleak tale, it is a tale of love, hope and kindness and highlights the support and structures that can be there to help those in need.

 

I cannot recommend it highly enough!

Tracey Corner

The Magic Callaloo

Trish Cooke, illus. Sophie Bass, pub. Walker Books

Paying homage to her ancestors, Trish Cooke creates a magical story where all the enchantment comes from the cultural gifts, listening to the wise ones of the community and from the magic within us; with Trish’s flow of words and Sophie Bass’ vibrant artwork to go along with it; the reader steps into the engaging story of The Magic Callaloo.

 

The Magic Callaloo is a wish fulfilling tree in an African village. Whoever eats its leaf can ask for a wish, the villagers live peacefully content, taking care of and receiving from the magic tree; however, greed overtakes the wicked man who steals the tree and eats all but one leaf. What happens next, is what you should find out by reading the book. The folktale genre is highly engaging as a bedtime story for kids. It can be used to highlight the beautiful aspects of African culture, on which the tale is based. For instance, inclusion of the character of the wise woman:

“One evening, while Mister was sitting under the moon contemplating, a wise old woman appeared from Nowhere…she told Mister how she knew where the Magic Callaloo was.”

 

And description of the beautiful afro of Lou and its braiding by the Wise Woman as a powerful expression of the cultural symbol:

“Lou, grew to be a fine young girl. She had beautiful hair with luscious Afro curly locks…”

“The wise woman combed the tresses of Lou’s hair with a comb made of maple wood until the tangled hair was loose and flowing… Every line was marked with tenderness, love and care.”

 

This is a five-star read, for kids aged 5 and above. Pick it up to discover, love and get wiser with the magical tale of The Magic Callaloo.

Ishika Tiwari

Peregrine Quinn and the Cosmic Realm

Ash Bond, pub. Templar

A new feisty character has materialized in the person of Peregrine Quinn, and a fresh and distinctive voice has made a strong debut in the fiction for children field. Ash Bond’s debut book fizzes with energy, humour and it is laced with enough mythological material to delight any young reader keen on the tales of ancient deities.

 

Peregrine is aware of the magic and wonders within reach of her Terran Realm. After all, she has listened carefully to the stories about the Cosmic Realm told by her immortal godfather, Daedalus Bloom, hoping one day to meet some of the fantastic creatures that populate those tales. Daedalus’ kidnap at the hand of menacing thugs forces Peregrine to spring into action, making the best use of Daedalus’ teaching and that of her archaeologist mother. She is joined in her adventure by Rowan, a dryad librarian, and Cal, a faun also working for Olympus Inc, the technological branch of the Cosmic Realm. As if searching for Daedalus was not already a complicated mission, Peregrine must also look after a plant called Bernadette, following Daedalus’ strict instructions.

 

As the three unlikely companions join forces using their own skills, it becomes clear that Daedalus, the creator of the network that connects the Terran and the Cosmic realms, is instrumental in a plan that aims to restore Discord, banned from Olympus, and her Chaos Magicks. Travelling from Oxford to Alexandria, Peregrine and Rowan must discover who is plotting to overturn the order of the Cosmic Realm, and stop that plan, before it is too late for Daedalus. They do so in a story that is peppered with cliff-hangers, witty dialogues and jokes, references to ancient history and mythological figures and a good sprinkling of technology. The heroes are not perfect and must fight against their own best judgement and instincts to continue in the quest and to stay true to what they believe in, revealing to themselves and others their real strengths.

 

This is a thoroughly engaging and splendidly written book, and hopefully only the start of the adventures of Peregrine. It would be lovely to hear more about her and her friends and to see where Ash Bond will take her readers next.

Laura Brill

Pirate Academy: New Kid on Deck

Justin Somper, pub. UCLan Publishing

This is a story full of adventure, mystery and above all friendship. It is a fun story set on the high seas and featuring pirates of the distant future. It will make the young reader want to be a pirate. The year is actually 2507 and it is a very different world. Ocean levels have risen, and the shape of the world has changed. There is more ocean and less land. It is set in a new golden age of piracy where the Pirate Federation controls the oceans. This is a worldwide organization of leading pirate captains. The Federation runs nine schools around the world, and each admits only fifteen students a year. These students are what the story is all about. They come from the fiercest pirate families. The students receive ten years of training and graduate as Captains and Deputies.

 

The book is very much about friendships. The students support and look out for each other. The school has students aged 7 to 17 years, but this tale centres on the 11 to 12-year-olds from Barracuda Class. The main characters are Jacoby, Jasmine and Blunt. Their official motto is ‘wound one Barracuda and you wound us all’ and their unofficial motto is ‘never underestimate a Barracuda’. This group has been together from a very young age and their friendship has grown and blossomed. They work and play together. Their lessons include Knots Class, Sailing and Combat Workshop. Then the new kid comes along. He is Neo Splice. Suddenly everything changes and the daggers are out. The adventure becomes more intense as the new kid introduces mystery and danger. There are unexpected twists and turns. The students are battling a new enemy and are working hard to uncover the truth. Can they save the school from attack? Can they defend the Pirate Federation?

 

New Kid on Deck is the first book in the brand-new Pirate Academy series and it becomes more intense as it builds towards an exciting ending. The reader is left looking forward to the next adventure in the series which promises more multiple plots and plenty of action.

Gary Kenworthy

Pirates of Darksea

Catherine Doyle, pub. Bloomsbury Children’s Books

From his home in Galway Christopher writes a letter to a legendary pirate ship begging for an adventure but hears nothing back for two years. When the invitation to join the Stolen Sunset finally arrives, it is Christopher’s little brother Max who goes on the adventure. He does this because Christopher is in hospital fighting for his life. The quest, the invitation which has come in the care of a bright red parrot, tells him this is going to be a dangerous quest but Max knows that the magic of the secret kingdom of Darksea is the miracle that Christopher needs to be healed. That is his intention for taking on the adventure!

 

What follows is a surprise as the captain has changed and the magic has dwindled to nothing. Max will need to do all he can to fight for his brother and bring home the miracle they need. Nothing is what it seems in this story, nothing from the secret kingdom deep in the heart of the Atlantic Ocean to the pirate ship and its captain or the threat from the invisible and deadly monster. The people are not what they seem either and Max soon discovers that he is going to have to navigate some high-seas adventure and magic, thievery and explosive danger but this is a pirate adventure that he is on and you will not be disappointed in the action…

 

A mutiny, fleeing mermaids and a shark man will be the very least of Max’s worries as he joins the crew of the legendary pirate ship! Spectacular scenes of bravery, determination and pure love for siblings is dotted throughout this book and it may be my favourite book from Catherine Doyle yet!

Erin Hamilton

Shadow Fox

Carlie Sorosiak, pub. Nosy Crow

From the writer of I, Cosmo comes another story in which the main character is an animal – this time a fox called Shadow.

 

Shadow is alone in the world; her family having gone missing after developers destroyed their home. She has been befriended an elderly woman who occasionally feeds her fish out on the porch of a nearby motel, but when her food source vanishes, Shadow finds herself faced with a man and a young girl called Bea who it seems is the old woman’s granddaughter. The man captures Shadow and the fox soon learns that Bee’s Nan has gone missing, possibly drowned, although neither Bee nor Shadow believe that to be true. But there’s something more - Shadow doesn’t trust humans and yet she finds herself inexplicably drawn to Bea; the pair can even hear what each other are thinking. Soon they’re on a magical adventure to find Nan and to uncover what’s happening to the secret islands of the Great Lakes. Unbeknown to Shadow she is in possession of magical powers which she must learn to use if they are to save both the islands and Bea’s Nan.

 

Shadow’s view of the world is deeply cynical, and her observations are sharp witted and at times cutting. Told though her eyes this story touches on so many themes, the special bond between grandparent and child, the loneliness of losing a loved one, our responsibility to the natural world, and how we must believe in ourselves and stand up for what is right. A heart-warming and magical tale, it is beautifully told and laced with just enough perfectly timed humour to make you laugh out loud at times.

 

With exquisite, detailed and vivid description it is so easy to picture the story scenes as you read and once begun, I found this story impossible to put down. Perfect for readers of 9+ this book is yet another triumph for Carlie Sorosiak.

Tracey Corner

Starminster

Megan Hopkins, pub. Harper Collins Children’s Books

In all her eleven years Astrid has never set foot outside the rhubarb shed on her mother’s farm, and never met anyone other than her loving and protective mother. There are terrible dangers outside, she’s told. The shed is the only place she can be safe. She tries not to resent her situation. After all she has several visits and lovely food from her mother every day, good schooling from her and lots of books to read, even sometimes videos they watch together. But Astrid longs to see the stars. She just wants to get out for one night t0 watch the Perseid meteor shower.

 

Secretly she digs a hole through the floor. She is baffled and frustrated to find a layer of impenetrable concrete beneath the shed. Stirring from a dream the next night, to her amazement she finds a stranger by her bed, a woman with bright makeup and feathered turquoise wings. Mrs Wairi introduces herself. She’s a Librae. Astrid will be one too she tells her once she’s fledged. She must leave the shed though to learn to fly. The choice is agonizing, but Astrid cannot resist the lure of freedom and of flying. New worlds open up to her, the world of ordinary people, which is bewildering enough but which she has at least come across through books and films, and the secret world of the Librae and the fledglings, the city of London Overhead, invisible to non-Libraes. Starminster – St Paul’s Cathedral to normal humans – is the only building in both worlds. This is where the Fledglings are educated, at night so they are not seen.

 

For the first time Astrid meets other people and makes friends. Life is exciting. Then she finds out that children are being kidnapped from London Underfoot, their likely fate a hideous one. Her mother was right. There are terrible dangers. Can Astrid thwart the demonic plot she has discovered?

 

This is a highly imaginative, exciting middle-grade fantasy adventure with lots of thrills and surprises. The concept of a covert society of winged humans is intriguing and well developed. London Overhead is a fascinating invention, beautifully brought to life. Astrid is a great protagonist, brave, resilient and resourceful despite self-doubts, and open to learning, not least about herself and the value of friends.

Anne Harding

Twice Upon a Time

Michelle Harrison, pub. Simon & Schuster Children’s Books

I have been reading Michelle Harrison’s books since she started writing them and have met her many times so it wasn’t possible that her latest book would pass me by! You may know her from her Pinch of Magic series, now she is back with an adventure that perhaps steers gently away from her usual magically themed stories, bringing us an exciting and mesmerizing adventure. There is a form of magic woven into the threads of this tale, I am not sure Michelle Harrison could write a story from which it is missing, but it is magic of a different type.

 

Time is important to us all but to this story it is of the utmost importance and so it is that we begin with a Once upon a time. But this one does not take us to a magical land or a fairytale land but to the city of London one frozen winter, a winter so cold that icicles hung from rooftops. And, taking us back to the question of time, it was New Year’s Eve, just. It was the wrong time for the twins to be born and not only because they were four weeks early. But, at two minutes to midnight on the always auspicious last day of the year Meredith Morrow was born. At nine minutes after midnight and now in the new year her sister Rose was born (she becomes Spike as we will discover). The twins, as far as the eye could see, looked the same, nothing odd there but what was odd was the way both clocks in the house had stopped, each at the exact time of one of the twins’ births. Now we begin to see that there must be magic at work for the twins are a pair, but they were born between night and day, on different days, in different months and years…

 

When it comes to Meredith and Spike there are stranger things yet to come and all of them are linked to time… So it is that we meet them, arriving at the dusty and old Fox House for their holidays. Both are certain it is going to be dull, but first impressions really don’t do this house, or anything for that matter, justice. In fact, what this story will definitely teach you is first impressions are wrong for Fox House is a house full of secrets from missing people to abandoned babies and the locked study. So many mysteries that the twins soon find themselves investigating whilst at the same time hiding a secret of their own.

 

A spellbinding, adventure-packed mystery, take your time reading this one but beware for time may not be all that it seems.

Louise Ellis-Barrett

The Whisperwicks: The Labyrinth of Lost and Found

Jordan Lees, pub. Puffin

It all begins with a strange crack in the wall. From the crack a voice speaks to Edwid convincing him that it needs his help. There’s something unsettling and slightly creepy about the voice and I was immediately drawn in, wondering if perhaps Edwid’s decision to help would turn out to be a good or bad thing. However, we are left with some uncertainty as to Edwid’s fate as the story sweeps us from his world into the world of Benjamiah Creek who lives above a bookshop in Wyvern on the Water and firmly does not believe in magic!

 

On the brink of divorce, Benjamiah’s parents have gone away to see if they can resolve their differences, leaving him in the care of his grandmother. When a strange parcel arrives with no note, Benjamiah assumes it’s a gift from them, but he can’t believe what he sees, why would Mum and Dad have sent him a doll – he’s eleven! The doll, known as a poppet, is more than it seems and, able to transform into a mischievous capuchin monkey or a bird, it leads Benjamin through a doorway into a world unlike anything he could have imagined – the world of Wreathenwold. There he meets a girl, Elizabella Cotton, whose twin brother Edwid has been missing for some time. Before he knows it Benjamiah is caught up in a quest to find the missing Edwid, a quest that will lead them on a journey of discovery, through a labyrinth of strange places and chilling dangers.

 

The cover of this book, with it’s wonderful illustration by Vivienne To, is enticing and promises magic within its pages, but I had no idea of just how magical it would be. In his debut book, Jordan Lees has built an incredible world of unique and fantastical characters, full of magic and wonder. It is, I might say, the most complete magical world I have read about in a long time with such rich detail it reminded me of Pullman’s Dark Materials or Rowling’s Harry Potter. The characters are likeable, their motives understandable, and the plot is tempered with just enough darkness to make this a truly compelling read.

 

The size of this book, currently available in hardback, might be off-putting for some readers but I urge you to try it. It’s magic and mystery at its very best and has the most enchanting, detailed illustrations. I also hear tell that it’s the first in a trilogy, which for me is amazing news, as I can’t wait to go back!

Tracey Corner

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