NEW TITLES

It's good to see more illustrated fiction, and picture books, being published for older children aged eight years plus which are included among this month's highlights.

Wall
Tom Clohosy Cole

ISBN 9781783700776

Wall is a most interesting and unique subject matter for a picture book. It is concerns the Berlin Wall, built in 1961 to divide East and West Berlin, and its publication coincides with the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall. Although the book has minimal text the subject matter is definitely for Key Stage 2 pupils. The story focus is a family divided by the wall; the father in West Berlin and the mother and two children in bleak East Berlin. The narrator is the young son who decides he cannot bare being separated from his father, so he digs a tunnel to escape. The book makes mention of the different ways people tried to escape from the East; some more successful than others. This escape has a happy ending as the family are reunited. A real strength of the book are Tom Clohosy Cole's illustrations which are very atmospheric and hold a great deal of the narrative. The book would be an excellent text to explore issues related to divided families, migration and feelings of loss. Picture book / Ages 8+ / Reviewed by Fiona Collins, consultant

Wall
The Promise
Nicola Davies

Walker Books Ltd

ISBN 9781406355598

Few picture books are told in the first person so it's good to find The Promise doing this so effectively. The story is narrated by a girl who tells us what happened to her the day she tried to steal an old woman's bag and how that action changed her life. The woman she stole from made her promise to plant what was inside. The girl promised, but found herself with a bag full of acorns. 'I held a forest in my arms and my heart was changed.' She sets about fulfilling her promise to plant the little acorns and through her actions transforms the city where 'Nothing grew. Everything was broken. No one ever smiled.' into a lush, green and happier landscape. By this point, the girl tells us, she had already moved on to another city and she continues her work of planting trees until she, too, is robbed of her acorns and forces the same promise from another young person. The narrative is delivered beautifully, supported by Laura Carlin's brilliant illustrations which highlight the bleakness of the girl's surroundings and the changes she makes. I'd recommend this for year 1 and 2 upwards for work alongside narratives and the environment. Picture book 48 pages / Ages 6+ / Reviewed by Angela Core.

The Promise
The Sleeper and the Spindle
Neil Gaiman

Bloomsbury Childrens Books

ISBN 9781408859643

The duo behind The Graveyard Book and Fortunately, the Milk, are back with this gorgeous gift book that retells the story of Sleeping Beauty, giving it a strange and terrible twist with the sleeping princess not being what she seemed at all. It begins with a mystery, a terrible sleeping sickness that seems to be rolling through the land, and is resolved by a resolute young princess who abandons her wedding to set forth and find the source of the problem. This she discovers in a tall tower in the middle of an overgrown forest - where the sleeping princess lies. Each spread is delicately and intricately designed and illustrated in blacks and golds, reflecting the gorgeously produced cover. Look out for a re-imagined fairy tale ending, too, as the princess abandons the idea of marriage to a prince and chooses instead freedom and adventure! 72 pages / Ages 8+ / Reviewed by ReadingZone

The Sleeper and the Spindle
Feel the Fear (Ruby Redfort, Book 4)
Lauren Child

HarperCollins

ISBN 9780007334124

Lauren Child may have made a name for herself in creating picture books and the brilliant Charlie and Lola but she writes just as distinctive books for older readers. What I enjoy most about the Ruby Redfort series is finding a central character who delights in action and using her natural intelligence as she cuts her own very individual path through the world. Here's a worthy girl lead character - and one that it would be great to see more boys picking up to read! (although they might find the girl on the cover off-putting, which is a shame). Ruby Redfort is 13 and determined to stay on the books of the Spectrum agency as a trainee spy. Unfortunately, Spectrum has labelled her a liability after her last mission when she nearly got herself killed several times; she is now on trial. Can Ruby solve the mystery of a tight-rope walking, invisible thief and uncover the reason behind the peculiar thefts of a pair of tap shoes and a book of poetry - AND get herself back onto Spectrum's books? The Ruby Redfort books offer plenty of action but lots to think about, too, and are a great introduction to the crime thriller genre for confident readers aged ten years plus. 528 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by Anna Glinn

Feel the Fear (Ruby Redfort, Book 4)
The World of Norm: Must Be Washed Separately: Book 7
Jonathan Meres

Orchard Books

ISBN 9781408329511

The World of Norm books are gathering a loyal following and will be enjoyed by fans of Tom Gates, Wimpy Kid etc. The books follow Norm's everyday life after his father loses his job and the family are forced to sell their house and move into a small flat until their fortunes revive. Norm escapes his family life on his bike and with his friends but many of the Norm books focus on what is going on at home where, for Norm, life is frequently very unfair.... In Must Be Washed Separately, Norm is forced to abandon plans to go on a bike ride with his friend as his mother has already planned to spend the day with his too-perfect cousins. Not only that, but the cousins have the latest X-Box game which Norm doesn't even get the chance to get to play. The everydayness of the stories along with the humour and illustrations make this a great book to tempt reluctant readers as well as those growing in confidence. The stories are perfectly pitched at 8+ children, boys particularly. 280 pages / Ages 8-12 years / Reviewed by ReadingZone

The World of Norm: Must Be Washed Separately: Book 7
Moone Boy: The Blunder Years
Chris O'Dowd

Macmillan Children's Books

ISBN 9781447270942

I was pleasantly surprised by this book; it's not just another copy-cat Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Martin Moone is a kid with plenty of problems and no imagination. He is overwhelmed by his three sisters, his mum and dad seem have given up on him as a general disappointment, and he has the Bonner Brothers bullying him at school. His only friend Padraic is not much help as he spends most of his time ploughing fields. What he needs is someone he can rely on to watch his back and generally help him through life, and what could be better than an imaginary friend? This is where the book's gentle, and at times bizarre, humour really kicks in. Martin's life certainly gets more interesting and more complicated as he meets a raft of new characters including two trees, a clown who tries too hard and then decides to get revenge and a customer service representative. Should have mass appeal, but also hook in some reluctant readers, partly due to the Sky series and partly because of its visual appeal with cartoon sketches and footnotes to break up the text. 370p / Ages 8-12 years / Reviewed by Melanie Chadwick, librarian

Moone Boy: The Blunder Years
Opal Plumstead
Jacqueline Wilson

Doubleday Children's Books

ISBN 9780857531094

Opal Plumstead is bestselling author Jacqueline Wilson's 100th published book and demonstrates that she remains perfectly tuned to how to keep her readers gripped by her story. Like her recent books, Opal Plumstead is again set in the past, this time the Edwardian period. 14-year-old Opal is a scholarship girl who is doing very well at school until her father steals some money from his company and is sent to prison, forcing the family he leaves behind to earn their own living. This includes Opal who has to leave school to go and work in the local Fairy Glen factory making sweets. While the story is written simply enough to make it readable for children aged eight years plus - and many Wilson fans will no doubt want to read it - the themes of the story make it better suited to older readers. Opal's story revolves around her relationships at home, school and work and particularly the relationship between Opal, her sister Cassie and their mother which are well drawn. The setting also means that there is much to explore in terms of the Suffragette movement, the early days of unionisation and the treatment of workers and Wilson does so without weighing down the story. Opal gets some very lucky breaks during the time she spends at the factory, including falling in love with the factory owner's son, but it doesn't all end happily for her as the looming war casts a long shadow over all their lives. All in all, a very satisfying read that brings to life many aspects of the Edwardian period. 528 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by ReadingZone

Opal Plumstead
The Wrong Side of the Galaxy: Book 1
Jamie Thomson

Orchard Books

ISBN 9781408330265

Dispensing with explanation, Thomson's hero Harry wakes up very confused - we as readers know as little as Harry does. Luckily Harry has watched lots of sci-fi on TV, and he's pretty clever, and ironically 'down to earth' which means he manages to escape and navigate his way around aliens, spaceships, more aliens, inter-species communication, alien crime and even a little hint of romance in this fast-paced humourous action-scifi hybrid. The Wrong Side of the Galaxy is designed I think as a Hitchhiker's Guide for younger readers, with lots of silliness through 341 pages. The plot is simple (although sometimes unexpected) but the space jargon Thomson employs might make it a harder read - maybe best read aloud to a child, or for that good reader who is still young enough to appreciate the silliness of it all. For instance, you will need an adult reader who can manage to say things out loud like 'whatever happened, he had to be on board the Fartface Banana Nose'; (as Harry names his spaceship). The illustrations are a lovely addition -- Thomson is fond of physical character descriptions, which lend themselves to Jamie Lenman's fantastic cartoony artwork. This combination of word and picture will feel very familiar to fans of The World of Norm, which feels like a similar target audience. Clearly designed as the first of Harry's adventures, this book does not read satisfy as a standalone, because it does not resolve at all in the end. Fans of the acclaimed 'Dark Lord: the Teenage Years' may be disappointed. 341 pages / Ages 8-11 years / Reviewed by Helen Swinyard, librarian

The Wrong Side of the Galaxy: Book 1
Beyond The Stars
Sarah Webb

HarperCollins

ISBN 9780007578467

The twelve stories in this collection, published in support of the Fighting Words creative writing centre in Dublin, have been contributed by best-selling and award winning Irish authors and illustrators. From space dogs to an invisible cat, from the ghost of a girl to a brave soldier, there is a hint of magic in them all and something for everyone. Each story conjures its own complete small world, drawing the reader in to savour the writing of authors such as John Boyne, Eoin Colfer, Judi Curtin and Derek Landy. With accompanying illustrations by artists including Alan Clarke, Tatyana Feeney and Niamh Sharkey, this is the perfect way to introduce new writers to children, delectable morsels leading to the main dish of a longer novel. The last story in the collection, Discovering Bravery, is by fourteen year old competition winner Emma Brade. From the quality of her writing, I would say she is a name to look out for! This is a lovely collection for home and school. 352 pages / Ages 8+ / Reviewed by Jayne Gould, librarian

Beyond The Stars
The Parent Agency
David Baddiel

HarperCollins

ISBN 9780007554492

'The Parent Agency -- pick your perfect Mum and Dad. Remember, choose carefully, you'll be stuck with them forever...' Barry Bennett hates his name; it is just one more thing he blames his parents for. It is number two on a list which also includes "being boring" and "always being tired". And Barry is sure that his parents prefer his younger twin sisters, known to himself as The Sisterly Entity, they always seem to be allowed to do what they like. So when the profound disappointment of his dad buying the wrong DVD version of Casino Royale for his birthday triggers a family row, Barry stomps off to his room wishing out loud that he had better parents. And wishes do come true, as Barry finds himself transported beyond his bedroom, to a world which is not quite familiar. At The Parent Agency, Barry is allowed to try out five new sets of parents, but he must make a decision before the day he turns ten, otherwise something dreadful will happen. Being careful what you wish for is wise advice, as Barry finds out. Each experience with his prospective parents is not quite what Barry had hoped for and he learns a valuable lesson about love and acceptance. Funny and fast moving, this is an entertaining read which doesn't labour the point it is making. As Dorothy once said: "There's no place like home". 384 pages / Ages 8+ / Reviewed by Jayne Gould, librarian

The Parent Agency

ISBN 9780571308095

This story provides a funny, off-beat look at zombies when 12-year-old Adam dies after being stung by a bee and returns to life as a zombie. As well as having to return to school with a somewhat new look, he decides to take on the mystery of the bee that fatally stung him even though tests had proved he was not allergic to bee stings. Adam soon discovers he's not the only weird thing happening in his town; there is also a vampire and a chupacabra about and when the three of them team up to uncover what's going on at the local research centre, trouble soon follows. Adam - who has an obsession with cleanliness, something of a drawback for a decomposing zombie - is a very likeable character and there is plenty of boyish humour in the story, including vampire puns, digestive jokes and footnotes that wire us into Adam's odd and funny perceptions of the world. 243 pages / Ages 10+ / Reviewed by ReadingZone.

Impossible!
Michelle Magorian

Troika Books

ISBN 9781909991040

A rollicking adventure of kidnap, ruthless villains, and mistaken identity. Josie has always wanted to act and be on the stage like her older brother and sister, so she's thrilled that her Aunt Win is paying her fees at a London stage school. She soon realises that she hates school as the acting and dance lessons are truly terrible. She gets kidnapped, but being a plucky, brave, level-headed girl guide she manages to escape. The police and her aunt try to keep her safe from the kidnappers and the arch villain Mr Lovatt-Pendlbury, but as events unfold she gets into more and more danger. Meanwhile she is oblivious to most of this and is concentrating on learning as much as possible from Joan Littlewood and the Theatre Workshop Company with whom she takes refuge. In the dramatic finale, there is more than one life at stake, but the plucky Josie, brave old Aunt Winn and her friends along with the Frenchman (black Mr. Beauvoisin) manage to save the day, despite the incompetence of the police force and the scheming of Josie's headteacher. It's a long book, but Michelle Magorian has packed such a lot into it. You get a great sense of the excitement of the rapidly developing world of theatre, TV and film in 1959, when acting was moving on from being dominated by stiff upper class white actors with RP voices to a freer, more vibrant and representative world incorporating new jazz and dance styles and new approaches to roles. There is a lot to think about too in the way the women and black people are treated and how far this has changed in Britain since then. Magorian's magic is that none of this detail gets in the way of the story which speeds ahead. It has all the makings of a future classic. 585 pages /Age 11+ / Reviewed by Melanie Chadwick, librarian

Impossible!