Junior Book Reviews

The Beast and the Bethany

Jack Meggitt-Phillips, illus. Isabelle Follath, pub. Egmont

Mr Ebenezer Tweezer has become accustomed to the wonderful things in life though he rarely notices or appreciates them any longer.  When we first meet Ebenezer, he is buying a beautiful and talented “Wintlorian Purple-Breasted Parrot”. As a reader we believe it is to keep him company and to stop him feeling lonely as he approaches his 512th birthday. However, by the end of the chapter we realise the truth.

 

On the very top floor of Ebenezer’s house lives a beast. Grey with “three black eyes, two black tongues and a large dribbling mouth”, he is horrific to look at and smells even worse. The beast is the key to the wonders that fill Ebenezer’s home for after he is fed, he will vomit up whatever Ebenezer wishes for. Gross but important!

 

Ebenezer is beholden to the beast for the potions that keep him looking youthful and feeling young. When the beast asks for his next meal, Ebenezer learns new emotions and must deal with his conscience.

 

Adopting an unruly, rude child named Bethany creates more havoc in Ebenezer’s life. Bethany makes a mess and challenges Ebenezer constantly. He has sealed her fate in exchange for his youth- will he be able to feed the beast?

 

This is the start of a new, dark and twisted series, perfect for fans of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. With moments of friendship, beastliness, danger and learning to stand up for yourself, it is one to watch in 2020!

 

Erin Hamilton

The Boy Who Made the World Disappear

Ben Miller, illus. Daniela Jaglenka Terrazzin, pub. Simon and Schuster

Harrison is a good kid, he always tries vegetables at least three times a day, he is kind to his younger sister, he never lies to anyone, cheats at anything or even steals anything. In fact he is perfect in absolutely every way, apart from his bad temper. Well he couldn’t really be that perfect could he. Harrison has a temper, he has a really bad temper, so bad that his family calls it a code red.

As the story develops the scene is set but we do not know if it is set for Harrison to explode or for an adventure to begin. The class bully is having a birthday party and instead of a balloon he is given a black hole.

 

Harrison realises that with this black hole he can get rid of objects that he doesn't like, so in goes the next door neighbour's dog, broccoli, school books and the local swimming pool. He thinks that this is great and it is all going quite well until he accidentally gets rid of the house next door … before too long it gets even worse when his parents go in.

 

The story becomes a race against time for Harrison to rescue his parents before the black hole shrinks and his parents are lost forever.

 

I am not going to spoil the story by revealing any more of the plot, you will have to read the book to discover if he manages to sort all his mess out!

 

Written by a television personality I have to say I was (and always am) sceptical before I begin these books, I always wonder if they are going to be any good.  Being a personality does not automatically equate to being a good writer. Well, I can tell you that Ben Miller is an amazing author, the book is so funny that you will find yourself laughing out loud, the story is so full of twists and turns that you will also find yourself unable to put the book down. You will be gutted when you get to the end – but you could just read again!  Cleverly you will find yourself being educated about science and black holes without realising it.

 

In addition, the illustrations have been brilliantly drawn and there is so much detail in them that you will be as absorbed by them as by the written words. So much to enjoy in this must-read book.


Helen Byles

Hello, Universe

Erin Entrada Kelly, pub. Piccadilly

This is the story of four young people, who go to the same school, but don’t really know each other.  Their lives come together in a most unexpected way and this leads to great changes in their lives.  The central character is Virgil, a young boy whose family is from the Philippines.  He is the youngest and quietest in the family and really resents the way he is still considered a small child.  Valencia shares one of his classes, but he is too shy to talk to her, so he asks Kaori (who tells fortunes for other children) to help.  The final character is Chet, the local bully, who through his behavior sets the whole incident off.  How these young people come together and resolve the situation makes for a wonderfully simple and yet very profound look at relationships and whether there is such a thing as fate.

 

This book won the American Newbery Medal in 2018, which highlights the quality of the writing.  The story is very low key in many ways and the children themselves are quite ordinary.  It is the way that the author brings together these people and slowly blends the various strands of the story which make it such a wonderful read.  The story is told from the viewpoint of several of the characters so that we are finding out about events at the same time as them; we get a real sense of their individual traits and they become very real to the reader. It is a really excellent read for middle grade children. 

 

Margaret Pemberton

Lena the Sea and Me

Maria Parr, trans. Guy Puzey, pub. Walker Books

Lena the Sea and Me follows a year of adventures with Trille and his next-door neighbour and best friend Lena. To emphasise this, and help the story develop naturally, Lena the Sea and Me is split into seasons. 

 

This book is the much-awaited sequel to Maria Parr’s debut novel Adventures with Waffles (also published under the title Waffle Hearts), which was translated into twenty languages and won several awards around the world. Both books are set in Mathildewick Cove in Norway and portray a realistic relationship of the highs and lows of friendship and growing up.

 

Written from Trille’s point of view we learn a lot about both Trille and his next-door neighbour and best friend Lena’s characters and families. The stage is set for a dramatic year ahead, dark clouds are looming and a horrific storm hits Mathildewick Cove, Norway. Trille and Lena have to fight the elements and their own emotions in that Lena has to wrestle against the new football’s coach sexism and nepotism when she is benched from her position as goalkeeper, even though she is by far the better player and Trille is infatuated with the new girl, Brigit, who has moved into the bay but when his grandfather has a serious injury on his boat, Troll, Lena is there to help him and refuses to let Grandpa or Trille give up hope. 

 

All the characters are well formed and seep under your skin, staying with you long after you have finished the book. The reader feels like they know them and understand them. I would like to read more about the lives of Trille and Lena.

 

Anita Loughrey

 

Reviewer’s Website: www.anitaloughrey.com 

Anita Loughrey’s most recent books are a series of picture books based around the seasons, called A Year in Nature, published by Quarto and illustrated by Lucy Barnard. Rabbit’s Spring Gift and Frog’s Summer Journey were released on the 17th March 2020. Squirrel’s Autumn Puzzle and Fox's Winter Discovery have been rescheduled to be released September 2021.

Midnight’s Twins

Holly Race, pub. Hot Key Books

Fern loathes her twin brother Ollie and is jealous of his popularity. Ollie hates her in return. She bears terrible scars to prove it, the result of being set alight by one of his friends in his presence. What’s more, her eyes are red. People recoil from her because of her appearance. She is bullied and lonely.

The twins’ mother Una died when they were just months old. It is only now, at the age of fifteen, that Fern finds out that her mother’s death may not have been the peaceful one they have been led to believe. The reader has already intimated this, since the book starts with Una’s last moments, as she attempts to return to her babies from some unexplained parallel London that is fraught with danger. She nearly makes it, but then encounters a terrifying monster. Fern struggles to unearth the truth. She discovers a mirror world, Annwn, which has the landscape of modern London and many of the buildings, but transmogrified into the stuff of legend. Only a very few humans can move back and forwards from their normal life in Ithr through portals into Annwn. Fewer still can join the ancient order of knights, a position Una held, as Fern has found out. Both she and her brother gain the coveted role. Both turn out to have extraordinary, supernatural abilities. They begin their lengthy training to become effective warriors against the terrible dangers humans face in dreamworld. For the first time ever, Fern makes friends. She is accepted. But she learns some hard lessons, aspects of herself that are far from comfortable. Gradually she and Ollie start to trust each other. And they need to. Charismatic populist Sebastien Medraut is gaining influence in both Ithr and Annwn. His great power is thought control. He is building a culture of hatred against anyone perceived to be different. Both worlds are in peril. There are thousands of deaths.

 

This is a complex novel that runs to over four hundred pages. The characters, the twisting plot and the mirrored settings are intriguing creations. Lovers of fantasy will find lots to enjoy in this first of a trilogy, provided they do not mind violence and death. Interesting and important issues are explored: sibling dynamics, bullying, betrayal, the responsibilities of power, the dangers of populism and one-party politics. 

 

Anne Harding

My Name is River

Emma Rea, pub. Firefly Press

Dylan is devastated to learn that his family farm in Wales has been sold off to a multinational corporation called BlueBird. His friend Floyd’s Dad works for BlueBird, but he’s currently in Brazil with Floyd’s little brother, and Floyd and his Mum are worried that something is wrong as they have lost touch with him. Dylan and Floyd hatch a crazy plan to fly to Brazil, bring Floyd’s brother home and save Dylan’s family farm. En route, they meet the charming Lucia, a resilient street child with a peculiar range of vocabulary (because she learned English by reading a thesaurus), and her Great Dane, Pernickety. Their quest takes them to Manaus and on a boat up the river and deep into the Amazon Rainforest to confront a heartless villain with a horrifying agenda.

 

My Name is River evokes the same sense of adventure as Eva Ibbotson’s Journey to the River Sea, through a more contemporary lens. It is a gripping story of friendship and courage, saturated in the sights, sounds and scents of the rainforest, with a vitally important message about environmental conservation. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

 

Rebecca Rouillard

Nowhere on Earth

Nick Lake, pub. Hodder Children’s Books

This story starts with a plane crash. A small plane crashes into the side of a snowy mountain. There are survivors; Emily, a teenage girl and her younger brother, Aidan. There is also the pilot Bob. At the beginning this is all we know, but there is an immediate sense that this is going to be an exciting adventure. We don’t yet know what happened before the plane journey. We know very little about the characters. There is a sense of intrigue and still that feeling that this will develop into something more than a simple survival story.

 

As the story develops there are hints that some of the characters are not what they seem. Something has happened to Emily before the plane journey and there is definitely something strange about Aidan. As the characters start to interact and find out about each other, their first aim is to escape from the mountain alive. As they attempt to do this, it is evident that they are being pursued by some men with guns. Who are these men and why are they desperate to track down Emily and Aidan?  The plot very soon becomes more complex than a simple chase. With each chapter we learn more about the characters and eventually we find out what happened before the plane journey. We learn about Emily’s parents and her relationship with them. They do eventually arrive on the mountain, searching for Emily.

 

This is a story full of questions, intrigue and excitement. It could have been a simple fight for survival after a plane crash, but it becomes far more than that. It develops into an account of family and relationships. The parents become more involved later in the story, as we find out about past events. This is an action and adventure story with a message. There is a dramatic plane crash, but there is much more to discover.

 

This story will appeal to younger teenagers, both boys and girls, looking for an adventure with a twist. The plot develops with each chapter and there are answers towards the end. The story is about the struggles to survive from the elements, from some sinister pursuers and from the past. It also tackles the relationships between a teenage girl and her parents, a strange young boy and an older pilot.

 

Gary Kenworthy

The Pear Affair

Judith Eagle, pub. Faber and Faber

When Penelope Magnificent’s terrible parents announce they are taking a business trip to Paris, she begs to come along with them. But Nell has no intention of staying docile for too long – she has an agenda of her own. Paris holds something dear to Nell: her beloved au pair Perrine, who left her position under mysterious circumstances... But Pear has kept in contact with Nell, reassuring her that she will one day come to rescue her from her money-obsessed parents. So, when Pear’s letters suddenly stop, Nell is determined to find her. At the same time, Paris is facing a crisis of its own: a strange type of mould is attacking the boulangeries, putting the famous Parisian cuisine at peril! Is there a link between Pear’s disappearance and this disease? With the help of the hotel bellboy and some other friends along the way, Nell takes to the tunnels below the city of Paris to find Pear - and is swept up in a bigger mystery than she bargained for.

 

Reminiscent of Madeline and Matilda (with a touch of Alice in Wonderland for good measure!), this is a fun and quirky tale teeming with wonderful characters. Judith Eagle beautifully evokes the atmosphere of 1960s Paris, balancing the glamour, chic designers and mouth-watering boulangeries with the darker underbelly. The Pear Affair revolves around some endearing character relationships as a band of unlikely friends are thrown together in a common cause. With their help, Nell learns more of love and camaraderie than she could ever have thought possible. On her journey to find Pear, Nell navigates the underground networks with resolve and determination, facing her own personal fears of love and rejection… as well as subterranean darkness and even catacombs! 

 

Perfect for fans of Katherine Rundell’s Rooftoppers, this is a highly enjoyable mystery bursting with French charm and enhanced by Kim Geyer’s beautiful chapter heading illustrations.

 

Jess Zahra

Poems Aloud

Joseph Coelho, illus. Daniel Gray-Barnett, pub. Wide-Eyed Editions

Written by Joseph Coelho and illustrated by Daniel Gray-Barnett, this is an absolute delight of a book. 

Its premise is that "poems are for reading aloud" and it contains tongue-twisters and riddles alongside performance poetry. There are plays on words and sounds, tips to help you bring the poems to life and techniques to help you build your confidence. All with bright, vibrant and amusing illustrations.

 

The contents page has a key indicating poems that are "hot" (one chilli) or "extra hot" (two chillies) - highlighting those that may have difficult words or themes so you can build up to them. Impossible to choose a favourite; the Chilly Chilli with its clever use of homophones? Speedy Rocket that you have to read as fast as you can? This Bear (this heavy bear, this happy bear, this home bear) with its slower reading pace and soft gentle pages depicting a glowing sunset? The Shockadile Crocodile that encourages audience participation? or Say How You Feel, a poem that engenders children to explore their emotions? 

 

Each page reveals a new delight. 

 

For anyone who has had the pleasure of watching Joseph Coelho perform, the vibrancy of this book will come as no surprise. Definitely one for every library, every classroom and everyone who loves to read aloud …

 

Barbara Band

Rebel with a Cupcake

Anna Mainwaring, pub. Firefly Press

In Anna Mainwaring's novel her narrator Jess explores the impact of fatphobia, where society constantly devalues and targets fat bodies. We see clearly how this process builds a harsh internal world of self-criticism in women of all ages.

 

Jess dwells on the ways society constantly tries to convince us that weight and a person's worth are linked, but even though she is aware, she still struggles with many negative beliefs about herself. They continue to resurface, fully convincing Jess of her lack of worth even against her efforts to the contrary. 

 

It is extremely emotional and powerful to read this familiar feeling, of how stuck and low it is possible to feel having absorbed fatphobia - even when we feel we have growing awareness of it.

 

Indeed, the relationship between Jess and her sister, who eats very little and diets restrictively, is initially one with problems coming from both sides. Jess initially struggles not to be critical of her sister for her dieting, but their communication develops well through the novel, as she tries later to help encourage a more intuitive approach to food for both of them. Hopefully seeing Jess' sister in the restless place of never being satisfied or comfortable with her own self, always finding another imperfection, will help readers be kinder to themselves.

 

There are several scenes of public harassment and bullying in the novel. These powerfully show the lived experience of trauma resulting from fatphobia. However, for a book directly examining western society's obsession with thinness, it would do well to acknowledge how this obsession served British colonialism. This is not to say Jess' narrative isn't valuable. But when directly discussing the 'invisible rules' governing body image in western society, its crucial to recognise that cis white women and girls retain other privileges. Their experiences sit among those of many others who must be foregrounded.

 

Jemima Breeds

Sofia the Dreamer and Her Magical Afro

Jessica Wilson, pub. Tallawah Publishing

"My hair is a symbol of power, declares the woman, raising her fist." This beautiful exclamation from Jessica Wilson's book reminded me of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's exposition on hair as a symbol of power and the award-winning animation Hair Love, all sharing the message of hair as a means of self-expression for womxn and mxn of colour.

 

Sofia, the titular character, is a little girl with a flourishing afro hair, she dreams a lot and travels through the astral realm each time she dozes off; there she meets her ancestors as a Rastafarians, and activists and plantation workers; come alive from the past, narrating how hair has been styled and presented to show an individual's and a culture's expression. The message of love that comes through the ritual of hair care is one of heartfelt acknowledgement-

 

"Sofia dozes and floats  up through  her  open window, keeps rising until the  world is a dot and she is hovering by the moon...The galaxy is  a spiral, just like her curls! Up above, Sofia thinks of her mum and realises what respect and unity have in common.

 

 Sofia knows it is love.

 

Love washes your hair and combs through the tangles. Love is joy. Love empowers. When you are unwell love buys you flowers. Love is a gift from the ancestors to their sons and daughters."

 

Coupled with these expressions is the breathtaking artwork by Tom Rawles. I definitely recommend Sofia the Dreamer and Her Magical Afro, to be shared with all ages, to help everyone relish the diversity in hair as well as in lives along with the message of acknowledgement and awareness of people of colour and their rich and powerful socio-historical narrative, culture and expressions of selves.

 

Ishika Tiwari

The Strangeworlds Travel Agency

L D Lapinski, pub. Orion Children’s Books

12-year-old Flick Hudson is far from impressed by her family’s move from a city tower block to a sleepy rural village in an attempt at a better quality of life. Her parents work long hours to make ends meet leaving Flick to look after her demanding but frequently hilarious baby brother. Escaping these big sister duties to explore her new village one day she stumbles upon a dilapidated old travel agency and is inextricably drawn inside.

 

What lurks inside is stranger still - walls lined with teetering piles of old suitcases rather than glossy brochures and posters of far-flung holiday destinations, and a surly, initially unwelcoming, teenage boy with a special talent for performing magic tricks who seems to be in charge.  He reveals that these suitcases hide strange magical worlds - all you need to do is jump inside and follow the magic rule (“don’t lose your suitcase!”). Discovering that Flick has hitherto undiscovered magical powers, Jonathan invites her to join the Strangeworlds Society and to travel through the multiverse with him. It is on one of these visits, to the central world of Five Lights, that the pair become separated and Flick is left in a race against time to solve the sinister disappearance of Jonathan’s dad and to prevent the magical multiverse she has journeyed into from collapsing, taking our world with it.

 

Portal fantasy fiction is nothing new but Strangeworlds is in a league of its own in terms of the meticulous mechanics of travel, inventive world-building, huge imagination and stunning attention to detail. This is far from being just a series of visits to other uncharted worlds via a suitcase however. With every visit to another world, each with its one carefully devised set of rules, we discover more about the characters - Flick largely left to her own devices by hard working parents struggling to make ends meet, burdened with extensive childcare duties but not scared to stand up for herself when she needs to, Jonathan mourning the death of his mother and sudden disappearance of his father, previous Head Custodian of the Strangeworlds Society and now struggling to cope with his new responsibility. Both are lonely but for very different reasons and we come to care deeply about them. There are flashes of very real edge-of-the-seat danger too, threatening characters and humour - chiefly in the character of the witty receptionist of Five Worlds - as well as strong themes of family and friendship and important environmental messages about the dangers of wasting valuable and irreplaceable resources.

 

Strangeworlds is brilliant escapism; a classical fantasy adventure brought bang up to date. It unfolds like a film, perfectly balancing real-world issues and magic, exploring the extraordinary to be found in the very, very ordinary. There’s something for every kind of reader here. Fantasy fans will adore the epic world-building, realism readers will love the completely believable characters and their ever-changing relationships, thrill seekers will love the dangerous rescues and the pacey race against time to save the world. Best of all, though complete in itself, this quirky debut is left wide open for a sequel - I can’t wait!

 

Teachers and librarians need to know that a brilliant pack of “classroom ideas and cross-curricular activities around themes of travel, world-building, magic and environmental issues” is available, backed up by youtube author videos of writing prompts and instructions for making your very own Strangeworlds suitcase (https://www.ldlapinski.com/learning-resources).

 

If you’ve enjoyed the Wondrous Society of Nevermoor, have journeyed on the Train to Impossible Places, joined The Polar Bear Explorers’ Club or visited the Land of Roar you definitely need to visit The Strangeworlds Travel Agency to see where it will take you!

 

Eileen Armstrong

That Time I Got Kidnapped

Tom Mitchell, pub. Harper Collins

Fourteen-year-old Jacob wins a competition to feature in a superhero movie.

 

“Don’t miss your connection,” warns his father as he sets off towards snow-bound Chicago where he has to change on to a plane to Los Angeles. He misses his connection - and gets kidnapped by Jennifer and her mysterious package.   

 

There is no romance or sex in this story or in the connection that forms between the two characters but there is affection, eventually, and a growing relationship. Jacob and Jennifer are pitted again the grown-ups. This probably makes the text suitable for younger teens. 

 

Jacob is naive. Jennifer is badass. Both characters mellow and grow as the story is told. 

 

Tom Mitchell keeps us on the edge of our seats as calamity follows calamity for Jacob. Will he get to the studio in time? What will happen when he gets there?  Perhaps importantly what will happen next? Mitchell not only gives us a satisfying ending but leaves it open for a whole new story.  We hope he will write it. 

 

This is an easy book to read. Its twists and turns provide tension. The chapters are short and almost all end on a cliff-hanger and thus pace is maintained. There is much humour. Jacob’s convincing voice keeps us engaged throughout.  

  

Gill James

Gill James’ Girl in a Smart Uniform is published by Chapeltown Books.

We Are Bound By Stars

Kesia Lupo, pub. Bloomsbury Children’s Books

In We are Bound by Stars we once again return to the richly imagined, magical world of the Valorian Continent, but this time to Scarossa, home of Mythris and the masked temple.

 

The two main protagonists, Livio and Beatrice, alternate in telling their story. Both are struggling to accept the path they’ve been told is their future, both wonder if there is another life available to them, one of their own choosing. Livio is belligerent about his position as descendent of the most powerful Scarossan family and the mapped out destiny this entails for him. He much prefers his adopted persona of Vico, who feels more at ease amongst the people in the town than being tucked away in the Palazzo. Beatrice is the middle sister of triplets, taken at birth and irretrievably tied to the temple of Mythris to continue the unbroken line of mascherari mask-makers, creating masks of special powers. Beatrice yearns for a different life in which she can travel and explore the world outside, as all she’s ever known is the mascherari house.

 

Lupo deftly draws the reader into the differing, yet similar, worlds of Bea and Livio and as their respective stories evolve fate steps in to unite them in a quest to stop a deadly revolution, designed to bring down everything they’ve been raised to believe in. The fantasy worldbuilding is fast-paced, full of detail, intrigue and suspense with some surprising, and unexpected, plot twists. Lupo unfolds the story gracefully, adding little nuggets of detail which set the scene for later, but without distracting from the main plotline.

 

Kesia Lupo’s stunning sequel to We Are Blood and Thunder is nothing short of spellbinding. I raced through it, eager to learn what happened to Bea and Livio. Ultimately, it’s about choosing your own future and determining your own destiny. For those who haven’t read the first book this still works as a standalone, although it will likely have you reaching for We Are Blood and Thunder as soon as you’ve put it down. 

 

I defy any reader not to be bound to this story as surely as a mascherari mask to its owner or Livio to the stars.

 

Sasha Roth

Willow Wildthing and the Swamp Monster

Gill Lewis, pub. Oxford University Press

This story is about the adventures of Willow and her dog Sniff-a small and scruffy rescue dog with one eye, wonky teeth and a brave heart. Willow lives with her mum and dad and little brother Freddie. Her adventures take place in the wild woodland beyond her home. This is a great adventure story full of magic and secrets. The great thing is that adults cannot see the wilderness; everything is about the imagination of the children.

 

As soon as she crosses the river behind her garden Willow meets the wild children-Fox, Raven, Hare and Mouse-and her adventures begin. There is Green Slime River with flesh eating piranha fish and crocodiles waiting to eat children. ‘You won’t be anything but bones by the time they’ve finished with you.’  There are mountains, a misty bog, deep ravines and fast rivers. The young adventurers travel from the unexplored Forest of Forever Night to Dragon Gardens. They tackle the Valley of Killer Plants, with strange plants and huge leaves and they explore Skull Rock. They fight with the killer plants and are attacked by green tendrils and are bitten by razor sharp teeth.

 

As if the amazing and exciting encounters with nature are not enough, there is more. Is there a monster in the Wilderness? Is it a swamp monster? There is a huge walking mass, stinking of rotting plants and boiled cabbage with sludge-coloured eyes. There is also a witch, who lives in a hut in the woods. She is short and plump with wild, yellow hair. She can open magic doorways into other worlds. She can walk in steamy jungles and tread on frozen icebergs. She can use magic potions.

This story has everything. It is amazing and imaginative, helped by the stunning but simple illustrations by Rebecca Bagley. Friendship and kindness features and questions are asked. Little brother Freddie is in hospital and the wild children all send a nature gift for Willow to take to him. As Willow leaves the Wildthings, she asks. Who are they? Where do they live? When are they coming back? It had been scary for Willow to move to a different house in a different town, but she finds new friends and a new world to explore. She cannot wait to go back to the Wilderness and explore again.

 

Remember, the best adventures always have another adventure waiting at the end.

 

Gary Kemworthy

Wonderscape

Jennifer Bell, pub. Walker Books

While investigating some mysterious exploding garden gnomes on their way to school, Arthur, Ren and Cecily are sucked through a portal to another planet, 400 years in the future, and find themselves in the Wonderscape—an in-reality adventure game featuring famous historical characters.

As they play their way through the various realms, they must learn to conquer their own fears as well as their prejudices about each other so they can work together to find a way to escape and get back to their own time. But behind the entertaining facade of the Wonderscape, there is something sinister going on—can Arthur, Ren and Cecily solve the mystery of the missing founder and help the others trapped in the game before their time runs out?

Wonderscape is a fun, fast-paced and immersive story, perfect for fans of the new Jumanji films and Anna James’s Pages and Co. series. Jennifer Bell creates the sense of being in another dimension in a way that will appeal to gamers, but with real-life stakes. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of the futuristic gaming-theme with the fascinating stories of real historical figures—some more obscure than others.

And I love the beautiful cover design by Paddy Donnelly—it perfectly encapsulates this thrilling world of imagination and possibility. Highly recommended. 

Rebecca Rouillard

The Worst Class in the World

Joanna Nadin, illus. Rikin Parekh, pub. Bloomsbury Children's Books

The Worst Class in the World is a raucous, fast-paced, joy of a book, that if it doesn't get your child snorting before the turn of the first page, I will personally and LITERALLY eat my imaginary lockdown hat.  Stanley Bradshaw and his hapless classmates from 4B, are frequently reminded by their frequently annoyed headmistress, Mrs Bottomly-Blunt, that they are LITERALLY the worst class in the world.  For example, there was the time Penelope Potts the Playground Monitor, reported them all for trying to tunnel to Finland, and the time they went on a school trip to Grimley Zoo and Harvey Barlow smuggled a penguin back on the bus. And try as they might, class 4B certainly don't win any prizes, unlike the exemplary 4A led by class captain Eustace Troy, president of chess club, first violin in the school orchestra and team leader on the Shining Examples competitive spelling squad. 4B's class captain Bruce Bingley on the other hand, can amongst one thing, burp the national anthem. But Stanley Bradshaw is eternally optimistic, because according to his form teacher Mr Nidgett, everyone excels at something...they just have to look very hard to find it, and anyway Stanley usually has a FOOLPROOF (i.e., it will almost certainly go horribly wrong) PLAN up his sleeve, just in case.

 

The book features two madcap tales, The Biscuit King and Show and Tell.  These are narrated by Stanley using the type of communication so beloved by children under the age of ten, i.e., a stream of consciousness.  In The Biscuit King, Stanley and his best friend Manjit, determine on making their own special brand of Patented Manley Biscuits (half Manjit, half Stanley). A sure-fire way of excelling at something so even Mrs Bottomley-Blunt will be pleased. However, this sets off a biscuit king war amongst their classmates, resulting in a spectacularly vomitus conclusion.

 

In the second story, headmistress Mrs Bottomley-Blunt swoops into class 4B for a SURPRISE INSPECTION of their Show and Tell. Appalled by their feeble offerings (crisps are neither informative, interesting nor OUTSTANDING) she announces there will be a Grand Show and Tell during assembly the next day, against their rivals 4A, for which they had better up their game, because whoever wins will get a prize. This leads Stanley to wonder whether it will be the Joy of Winning again. What follows next has the beleaguered Mr Nidgett proclaiming that he will 'LITERALLY resign from teaching and become a lion tamer, because it cannot be harder than this'.

 

A story that marches to the beat of its own bonkers drum, The Worst Class in the World captures the chaos and excitement of primary school with touches of real heart.  Its eccentric cast of characters are brought to life by the illustrations of Rikin Parekh, which crackle and fizz with punchy energy. This is a book that will excite children about reading and there's no higher praise than that. I have my fingers crossed that Joanna Nadin will bestow on us further adventures of the irrepressible class of 4B.

 

Highly recommended.

 

Matilde Sazio

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