Junior Book Reviews
The Boy in the Post
Holly Rivers, pub. Chicken House
When three siblings from a quiet English village see an advertisement for paid summer holiday work, they know it will be more exciting than spending their school holidays at home alone without their work-obsessed mum. So, Orinthia, Séafra and Taber Shalloo apply for a summer job with the eccentric Grandy Brock who is training a menagerie of animal postal workers. But when Geronimo, a homing pelican, fails to return from a delivery, Taber mails himself to New York in search of the missing bird. Adventure-seeking Orinthia and reluctant, but loyal, Séafra secretly set off to find him. They soon learn that Grandy Brock has a thorny history with the traditional postal service and become embroiled in a stamp collecting standoff with their little brother as the bartering piece.
From the wild and whacky workings of the animals to the cargo hold of a cruise ship and the dazzling energy of New York, The Boy in the Post is an adventure novel that will whisk young readers across the globe. As Orinithia follows in the footsteps of her idol, Ophelia Pearcart – a renowned explorer, she jumps at the chance to send herself to America via a shipping box in order to rescue her little brother. Séafra, always the voice of reason, adamantly objects to the plan, but eventually gives in and off they go on an adventure like no other. Along the way, they are chased, discovered, printed on a wanted poster, but also helped and cared for by an eclectic group of characters. From boats to balloons, taxis to trains, the children will stop at nothing to find Taber and the lost pelican.
Written during COVID lockdown, a tremendous sense of freedom and adventure is prevalent throughout the story. There’s also a good dose of naughtiness – lying, stealing, trespassing, and the like – something that children can experience vicariously through the characters. The children’s relationship with their nearly absent mother is disheartening at first, but pleasantly resolved in a sweet conclusion.
The Boy in the Post is an imaginative, action-filled novel that takes children on a wholly-unique adventure with family at its core.
The Drowning Day
Anne Cassidy, pub. UCLan Publishing
Anne Cassidy is best-known for the ‘gritty’ realism of her young adult novels which include the award-winning Looking for JJ. This is very different: it’s an adventure story in the ‘cli-fi’ genre and is a chilling portrayal of the world we could be heading for if we don’t address the climate emergency as if it is an emergency.
The story is set in the mid-21st Century, when drastic flooding has struck twice, and even in the East Midlands people are fleeing from rising tides. Jade’s granddaddy is one of the elders who remembers ‘past-world’, which, when he describes it to her, sounds like an impossible fantasy, the almost magical force of electricity powering everything from aircraft to toothbrushes. Now life is harsh, and nothing can be taken for granted. Diminishing land and resources have created new inequalities and harsh new regimes; when Jade sets off for North-Hampton to search for her missing sister, she must inveigle her way past checkpoints, and invent lies to protect new companion Samson, one of the ‘Ferals’ who live at a level of society below even that of the Wetlanders. Meanwhile a powerful few have colonised High-Town, where wealth and privilege protect them from the hardship’s others endure.
While searching for her sister Mona, Jade forms new alliances and enlarges her circle of compassion. This is a very successful departure for Anne Cassidy, addressing issues which could hardly be more important while engrossing readers in an exciting story of survival, courage and loyalty.
Linda Newbery’s This Book is Cruelty Free: Animals and Us is published by Pavilion.
Darren Simpson, pub. Usborne
Furthermoor is a parallel worlds style adventure that is absolutely perfect for confident chapter book readers, aged 10+. The story focuses around Bren, a young boy experiencing bullying at high school who finds sanctuary in the imaginary world he created with his sister, who he lost in an accident not long ago, and who awaits his visits to the beautiful world of Furthermoor to see her too. But the harmony of his safe haven does not last when a creepy character arrives, causing destruction at every opportunity, and Bren finds both worlds he exists in feature a bully, and one he does not feel capable of standing up to. Then he makes a friend in new boy Cary, and slowly Bren starts to believe in himself, and faces up to all that he has been avoiding - including grieving for his sister.
This is a powerful read that covers some tough topics such as loss, grief, and bullying, and Darren Simpson does not hold back in detailing the most extreme of bullying experiences, which ensures readers become invested throughout the book as they will Bren to succeed in facing up to them. Simpson portrays the impact of loss and grief on each of Bren's family, which makes this an incredibly poignant read. It is easy to understand why Bren longs to escape to Furthermoor, the place is breathtakingly beautiful, and it offers the opportunity to relax away from those at school that are making life difficult, and readers will definitely enjoy the journey Bren goes on, through both worlds, to believing in himself, and realising he is incredibly special too.
This is such a compelling read, and one I highly recommend.
The Great Fox Illusion
Justyn Edwards, illus. Flavia Sorrentino, pub. Walker Books
A unique magical mystery full of task-solving and trickery! The Great Fox has set up a competition. The winner will take over the legacy that he has left behind.
Felicity Lions (Flick) has her eyes set on winning the competition but not for the same reason as the other entrants. Flick wants to win so that she can claim back the Bell System – the greatest trick ever invented – which her father created. Upon the announcement of the Great Fox’s death a television show has been set up to find his successor. Entrants from all over the country have applied to take part in the competition held at the Great Fox’s uniquely designed home in Dorset. After the competition is narrowed down to the final four, Felicity Lions has to work with Charlie, another contestant, to solve the different challenges and they work their way through the levels of Great Fox’s home to win the greatest prize of all – the arsenal of tricks and stunts that made the Great Fox the renowned illusionist that he was.
Flick not only has to race against her opposing team however, as others involved want her out of the competition due to her relationship to Samuel Lions, famous magician in his own right and her father. Will she be able to form a partnership with Charlie which will lead her to what she desires, or will Harry and Ruby (the other team) navigate their way to the prize?
Flick Lions is a terrific protagonist who is smart, determined and forms an unlikely team with Charlie. She represents young amputees incredibly well, and Justyn Edwards has captured the difficulties that people with limb difference face each day, managing prosthetic limbs along with discomfort when moving. This will be perfect for any budding magicians out there – especially with references to David Copperfield and Harry Houdini amongst others!
Skye Mckenna, pub. Welbeck Flame
Cassie Morgan has been left no choice. She has run away. She had to. The trouble is she doesn’t really know where to run away to or what she is going to do now she has run; all she knows is that she doesn’t want to be in that awful boarding school any longer and that she is quite certain her mother is still alive. Cassie’s life is about to get turned upside down and inside out and her new life begins in an alley with a talking cat and a handy broomstick.
With some rather unpleasant magical Goblin nabbers trying to capture her Cassie has no choice other than to trust the talking cat when he tells her to climb onto the broomstick and think at it to make it move. Cassie and the cat escape only for Cassie to learn that he was looking for her and that he is about to take her to the family she didn’t know she had.
Once they reach the enchanted village of Hedgley, Cassie, who has always believed in magic and faery soon discovers that there is much more to it than she could ever have imagined. She is thrown into training and even more suddenly a very exciting magical adventure.
Skye Mckenna’s debut is a true magical fantasy, a book that has you intrigued from its outset, invested in the characters and believing in the world building. Hedgewitch is just the start of some amazing new magical fantasy adventure and I can’t wait to read more.
The Last Firefox
Lee Newbury, illus. Laura Catalan, pub. Puffin Books
Charlie hasn’t got long before he starts high school, for most children this is a scary time, but for Charlie this is going to be worse, Charlie finds life scary and he is not looking forward to it. Charlie lives with his two dads, both dads have different personalities so there family works well. His dads are in the process of adopting a sibling for Charlie and Charlie is doing his best to be brave for his sibling. Charlie is also being bullied.
While out minding his own business Charlie accidentally becomes guardian to a firefox Cadino. We soon learn that Cadino is special because he’s the last remaining firefox and he has a hunter chasing after him. Charlie must find some bravery to protect this newly discovered firefox. Charlie needs to find his feet and discover his inner courage.
There has been some amazing debuts in 2022 and this is another one. This has everything you need in a book. This book is fast paced, engaging true to life with a sprinkle of magic. This book will show you the power of magic, this helps you to empathise with childhood anxieties. It did leave me wanting my own firefox.
Libby and the Parisian Puzzle
Jo Clarke, illus. Becka Moor, pub. Firefly
I really enjoyed this book and was hooked from the first page. It is such a great concept. Libby and the Parisian Puzzle is the story of a young girl being sent to join the Mousedale’s Travelling School, run by her Aunt Agatha. The school is going to be in Paris that term and Libby’s mum waves goodbye to her from the platform of the Eurostar in London. Libby is conflicted, excited to be going to a new school but upset she can’t travel to Ecuador with her photographer mother.
Libby is a brilliant character who jumps off the page. Her love of mysteries, impulsiveness, love of photography and determination to get to the truth no matter what, are ideal traits for this young amateur detective. The concept of a travelling school is ingenious allowing for different settings, a fantastic set-up for this unique new series. At Libby’s new school she meets Connie, also new, and they soon become best friends. They visit all the main attractions in Paris during which her aunt is accused of stealing a distinctive jewelled brooch. Libby and Connie embark on a quest to prove her innocence.
The age range is set flawlessly for lower middle grade readers. This book has plenty of intrigue and red herrings to keep young readers turning the pages. Well-developed, believable characters have their own distinguishing features. Vivid descriptions of Paris brought back memories of my own visits. My hankering for macaroons and hot chocolate increased during reading this book! Becka Moor’s illustrations, from Connie’s long flowing red hair to Libby and Connie’s shared bedroom, perfectly complemented the text with their superb detail.
I recommend this book to all young mystery lovers. Several mysteries to solve, as well as the case of the missing brooch, are included. The build-up to proving her aunt’s innocence and exposing the guilty party is cleverly and sensitively plotted. The final conclusion was realistic, convincing and a delightful climax to this outstanding debut novel. I also enjoyed the sneak peek chapter for the next book in the series, Libby and the Highland Heist.
Reviewer’s Website: www.anitaloughrey.com
The Ogress and the Orphans
Kelly Barnhill, pub. Piccadilly Press
Everyone agreed that Stone-in-the-Glen used to be a lovely town, the trees blossomed, the kindly townsfolk looked out for one another, all roads led to the book-filled library. The day the dragons flew over and the library burned to the ground started all manner of calamities. The school and park were lost, the town fell to ruin. It was the fault of the Ogress they said, putting their faith in the charismatic, smooth-talking Mayor, his glib promises of help. Only the fifteen clever and caring children in Orphan House saw the truth. They knew the Ogress was hardworking, kind and generous, secretly delivering gifts to the townsfolk with her flock of crows. When a child goes missing, the finger of blame points again at the Ogress. The children know they can save the town - and the Ogress, but how can they reveal the real villain of the piece to the deluded townspeople when they refuse to listen to the truth?
Barnhill has a phenomenal gift for storytelling. This is a stunningly skilful example of her talent: perfectly paced, beautifully told, character-driven and with a real fairy tale feel. The unusual, all-knowing narrator draws readers in, speaking directly to them and imploring them to “Listen” from the very first line. The cast of characters are captivating, neither all good nor all bad. The real power of this profound and thought-provoking modern classic lies in its themes and messages, brought to life through the plot and the characters without patronising or preaching: found family, importance of community, transformative power of kindness and generosity, being a good neighbour, not judging by appearances and welcoming outsiders. The many heroes highlight the power of an individual to make things better for another but also that people need to come together to create change and build a better community. “The more you give, the more you have” is a constant refrain.
The Ogress and the Orphans would make a perfect class book with its spellbinding, storyteller-style narration and timeless messages and themes. Hopeful, magical, making readers of all ages believe that a better future is possible, this is another award winner for sure!
Sharon Creech, illus. Sarah Horne, pub. Guppy Books
A story and self-discovery and wonderment, One Time is a feel-good story for any child that has ever felt like they don’t belong.
This book tells the tale of Gina Filomena, a schoolgirl with an imagination that knows no bounds. She has been mocked and looked down upon by others for her flamboyant clothing and even more outrageously colourful view on the world. That is, until she meets the new boy, Antonio, someone whose mind is just as colourful as hers. Upon meeting this unique new friend Gina starts to open up again, her creativity having been quelled by people who didn’t understand her. Things take a further turn for the wonderful when Miss Lightstone steps into Gina’s classroom and opens her mind to the world of writing. Miss Lightstone is the teacher all writers, young and old, can only dream of. She isn’t interested in grades and conformity, her mission in life appears to be purely to spark the flame of creativity within her pupils – a mission which not everyone approves of.
But, as with most stories, the life of Gina Filomena isn’t all fantasy and fun. When, one morning, Antonia doesn’t turn up to class her world suddenly gets a little less vibrant. Though with a family who are obsessed with all things Italy- cue enough pasta to feed a small army- Gina is never short of writing material. A precocious little girl, who often seems to be more together than her parents, Gina is a literary lead that will inspire children to be their best, and most authentic, selves.
As a child who could often be found with her head in a dreamworld I really gelled with the character of Gina. For some reason, somewhere along the line, daydreaming seems to have gotten a bad press and I am happy to see that Creech is championing children with vivid imaginations. One Time is a wonderfully uplifting read and would be a perfect read for the creative youngster in your life.
Rosie Cammish Jones
Mitch Johnson, pub. Orion Children's Books
Spark, by Mitch Johnson, is a fantasy adventure novel set in a dystopian future, and its story follows Ash and his outcast companion Bronwyn as they traverse the destroyed, desolate landscape that surrounds them. Ash's village is hot, arid and suffers from a lack of water. Waking up after a ferocious storm, he discovers the water has run dry and the other villagers have all disappeared. Together with Bronwyn, he sets out in search of the 'Kingdom,' a magical place beyond 'The Wall' where life still flourishes.
For Ash and Bronwyn, venturing out of their respective villages in search of life in the 'Kingdom' is a big deal, and despite details about them being quite vague in the story, it is interesting to see how they each act and behave differently given their circumstances. Until a major plot point, their individual worlds are relatively quite small. Although the reader learns how Ash and Bronwyn's ancestors influenced their future, the two protagonists never fully learn it themselves. Stories of humanity's past are almost mythological to them, and the arid world provides plenty of twists and turns as they realise that other people can be more dangerous than storms.
While Spark is a fast-paced story, it also explores different belief systems, and how the ideologies of faiths can conflict with the stark realities that people face in the real world. The human characters have seemingly receded into a medieval lifestyle - instead of relying heavily on technology, like in many other novels. Interestingly, this particular fictional world and its harsh living conditions raise important questions about the future effects of climate change, and it makes Mitch Johnson's Spark a refreshing take on the dystopian-future theme.
It is an ideal book for young readers with an interest in the Earth's climate, or to study and encourage discussion in the classroom.
Chris J Kenworthy
Stick Boy and the Rise of the Robots
Paul Cooney, pub. Little Tiger Press Group
Imagine if you were a 2-D kid in a 3-D world, well that’s Stick Boy for you. This book is the second novel in a fantastic series by Paul Cooney. The story features a young boy (a stick boy) trying to balance between being two dimensional amongst his teenage 3-D peers. Managing friendships whilst also trying to solve a mystery about a suspicious baron and some even more suspicious robots.
This book is a fantastic mystery story, ensnaring you within the first few pages. Covering a mix of emotions and detailing how it feels to forgive, fall out of friendship and suddenly fall right back into it again. A storyline that also includes neglectful parents and daring deeds all within a 248-page children's book. This book is packed with vibrant, colourful and comic book style illustrations that help to create atmosphere and intrigue. It is also filled to the brim with relatable content.
The lovely relationship between the main characters is so funny but beautiful at the same time. I recommend this book to everyone, and it would probably be suitable for all ages. But I would specifically recommend it to an age group of 8-11.
To summarise, this book is amazing, and I really think you should give it a go.
Archie Sewell, age 11
The Thief who Sang Storms
Sophie Anderson, pub. Usborne
A fantasy adventure awaits readers in this middle grade book, which takes us to the island of Morovia, a place where division is the most apparent feature, and is something that is both present in the civilians that dwell there as well as being encouraged by those in charge too.
Morovia is home to humans on one side, and Alkonosts (people with bird like features) on the other side, and there is one rule that stands out to all that call this place home, there is to be no magic used. All of this is difficult for the youngest generation that live there to understand, perhaps none more so than Linnet, who longs for her powers to become a part of who she is, but that all takes second place in her priorities when her dad is captured. Linnet already lost her mum at a young age, and she is determined not to lose her dad as well, so she braves awful environments as she journeys toward her dad’s place of captivity, and along with some friends she makes along the way she perseveres in the face of danger to ensure she is successful in her mission.
This is a beautifully written book that immerses readers in amongst the world of Morovia and those who live there, as you will Linnet to succeed, and long to find out whether she will unlock her magical potential within herself too. Chapter by chapter readers will find themselves captivated by the story unfolding before them. There is much to enjoy from this book, as I did whilst reading it, and Sophie Anderson has undoubtedly written another popular title with this island-based adventure book.
Wilder than Midnight
Cerrie Burnell, pub. Penguin Random House
This story is about the re-invention of some of the very familiar fairy tales. It is full of fairy tale magic with many twists. What makes this book different is that the author puts a new spin on the traditional fairy tales. The fairy tales that we know are weaved together, resulting in an enchanting tale full of wonder and magic. It is a book about girls and heroines where the traditional princesses turn out to be strong, brave and brilliant girls.
Among the characters are Saffy, a good girl who follows the rules, but is curious to take the unexpected and unexplored path; Aurelia a defiant girl, locked in a tower but planning her escape and Wild Rose who us the fierce girl raised by wolves. An exciting group of characters who together change Silverthorne forever. They are a group of strong and feisty heroines. A theme of the story is how our differences make us special. For example, Wild Rose has a disability. The excitement is maintained, as these characters are locked in a tower, lost in the woods or left to the wolves. There is everything that children love about fairy tales.
As well as featuring these characters, the story is packed with locations that we associate with fairy tales. There is a castle of locked doors. A village trapped between unknown terrors and a forest of trees and tangled thorns. The kingdom of Silverthorne is full of long kept secrets. The story contains everything we have come to expect from fairy tales to make it an exciting read with wonderful characters and fascinating places.
Lissa Evans, pub. David Fickling Books
Wished is a glorious novel –funny, imaginative, clever and heart-warming, with important life messages embedded with the lightest of touches.
Ed and his younger sister Roo (her given name is Lucy but Ed could not say that when he was little) face a dreadful half-term week. Holiday club has been cancelled, building work has turned their tiny house upside down and now they’ve been told they’ve got to spend every day with their boring, elderly next door neighbour Miss Filey. Roo tries suggesting their week might be interesting. Ed knows better. Only he’s wrong. It is extraordinary. Beyond imagination.
Miss Filey hasn’t kept up with the times. Her home has not changed in decades. She looked after her ailing parents there through her teens and into adulthood. It is full to bursting with old things, among them a beloved book she was given for her tenth birthday and ten birthday cake candles. It’s not long before Ed and Roo and Willard, an annoying boy who lives in the house behind, discover that each candle grants a wish connected in some way to the book. Not long either before they realise how important it is to think before they wish. Otherwise, things can go disastrously wrong. Miss Filey, who turns out to be anything but boring, quickly gets involved in their amazing adventures. They find themselves hurtling through space, journeying underwater and facing one terrifying challenge after another. Miss Filey manages to solve a crime. Emboldened by Ed’s suggestion that she should do things while she still can – he uses a wheelchair and no longer has a lot of physical strength – she makes a massive life change, one that has exciting implications for them all.
This is a truly lovely book with a great cast of characters (not least Attlee the cat, who combines Eeyore-like gloom with deepest sarcasm). Humour abounds. Imagination takes centre stage. Children will love it. They may pick up along the way some valuable thoughts about assumptions, about friendship, and about physical and emotional abilities and disabilities.
The Wondrous Prune
Ellie Clements, pub. Bloomsbury Children’s Books
A fantastic book about a young girl with an interesting name and an even more interesting superpower!
Prune, her older brother Jesse and Mum have had to move town to live in their grandmother’s home. She has passed away and this is the chance for a fresh start, especially for Jesse as he seems to have fallen in with a bad crowd. Jesse and their mum argue a bit, and this causes Prune to be distressed. She just wants a happy home life. When she begins to see floating colours, she is concerned that something is wrong with her vision. Dismissing it initially, she tries to settle into her new school but it becomes obvious that Violet has taken a bullying interest in Prune. Using her sketchbook as a way to escape, Prune loses herself in her art and can scarcely believe it when her drawing leaves the page and comes to life. Those colours were just the beginning. Prune can now make the choice whether to use her superpower to protect herself from the bullies at school, or to help Jesse who is still troubled by the so-called friends they left behind.
Sharing her power with her family and friends won’t be easy and she will need support, in the same way she will need support in dealing with the bullying she is subject to every day. Both Jesse and Prune need to break the cycle they seem stuck in before it all goes too far.
This is the beginning of a new series focusing on children with unique superpowers living in the same area. The Wondrous Prune is just the beginning, and it will be an eager wait for book two!
Yesterday Crumb and the Storm in a Teacup
Andy Sagar, pub. Orion Children’s Books
Now, everyone loves a good cup of tea, or cup of cocoa, or cup of something hot don’t they? It is comforting after all. Don’t forget that with it you need to have jam sandwiches too, the perfect antidote to any situation. Of course, if you are a tea witch then you can also brew a tea which will act as an antidote to any situation too.
Yesterday Crumb is not a tea witch at least not yet but she is about to become an apprentice. Having been rescued from a circus cage where she has been kept as an oddity owing to her pointy fox-like ears marking her out as different. Yesterday has no friends and only a book of faery to keep her company, the only clue to who her parents may have been. A talking raven rescues her but, a thieving crook leaves a spike of ice in her heart. All is not lost for Miss Dumpling, the travelling café of Dwimmerly End and its quirky customers and staff are there to help Yesterday, if they can and they are quite certain that they can.
Yesterday has no idea who she is, why she has strange ears and who all these people are but she soon learns they are her people whilst we learn that the nasty crook is out to get vengeance and steal something very precious. Yesterday must battle Mr Weep and his cronies, prove to a raven that she is true of heart and intention and prove to the Royal College of Witches that she can brew tea and then there is the matter of the rose she must find. With the help of all her new friends, including the wonderful Jack, Yesterday finds her new powers, her new family and some new strengths.
Andy Sagar writes with such warmth and humour that I feel in love with this new world, the new family of characters and the story. I read it from cover to cover in one sitting, I was so very absorbed. I hope you will enjoy it too.