Helen Ward

Templar Publishing

ISBN 9781848775053

Republished to tie in with a new children's dance theatre show, Varmints is one of those books that intrigues when you pick it up and stays with you after you've read it. It carries a sophisticated message and can be read on many different levels. 'There was once only the sound of bees and the wind in the wiry grass and the song of birds in the high blue sky. But every day the city grows larger and louder, until there is so much noise that no-one can hear themselves think....' There is one creature within this noise and industry who has nurtured a secret - plants, which he has kept safe until the time is right to let them grow outside the city once again. Beautifully illustrated, the story asks of the reader whether you are being observed or whether you are the observer; the text grows and shrinks as the message shifts; the text is simple but there are questions raised in the imagery. Above all, Varmints lends support to the concept that, if you have strong values and beliefs, you need to follow them, no matter if it means that you have to leave all that is familiar and comfortable behind. The story, finally, ends with the words, 'The Beginning'. Ages 7+ / Picture book format / Reviewed by Louise Gahan, teacher

Alex and the Watermelon Boat
Chris McKimmie

Allen & Unwin Children's Books

ISBN 9781743310076

This story, which describes a world turned inside out and upside down by flooding, is delivered through a child's-eye perspective. When a boy, Alex, loses his toy, Rabbit, he sets off in a watermelon boat to find it. The story is highly illustrated and delivered in a 'scrapbook' style as we follow the boy's chain of thoughts and comments. There's a bike in the tree, a cow on the roof and Scarlett floating away in her bathtub. The central idea - the boy journeying to find his Rabbit - keeps the momentum of the story but the story is delivered through snippets of text, jotted images and a scrapbook collage. It reminds us what is at the heart of creativity - snapshots of ideas that can be loosely held together by a single thread - and as such it is a wonderful book to use with children to remind them how stories and ideas begin. They could be encouraged to jot down their thoughts in a similar way, through single words or sentences, drawings and jottings, and from these build an idea for a story. These could be amalgamated across a whole class to see what kind of story might emerge. Ages 6+ / Picture book format / Reviewed by Louise Gahan, teacher

Alex and the Watermelon Boat
Monster Odyssey: The Eye of Neptune
Jon Mayhew

Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

ISBN 9781408826300

Monster Odyssey: The Eye of Neptune is the first book in a new series by Jon Mayhew and published by Bloomsbury Children's Books. A departure from the macabre, Victorian setting in Mayhew's award-winning Mortlock, The Eye of Neptune begins when Prince Dakkar, an Indian Prince and heir to the kingdom of Bundelkhand, is abducted by Count Oginski, a Polish nobleman in exile from his home country, and taken to Oginski's castle somewhere in Cornwall. Here, Dakkar finds that the Count has been working on a top-secret machine, the world's first submersible. It is a dangerous world of spies and secrecy where someone, it seems, would do anything to capture Oginski's invention. When the Count is kidnapped and Dakkar is left for dead, the boy escapes in the submarine and then has to face terrifying creatures of the deep, the lethal giant squid, sharks, monsters and above all the sinister Cryptos who is determined to take over the world. Not for the faint hearted! Dakkar goes on his journey determined to rescue the Count and defeat such evil but can he do it without becoming a monster himself? This is a fast-paced adventure story set in a fairly realistic historical setting with action and fantasy added in! The Eye of Neptune takes inspiration from Jules Verne's novel, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, as Prince Dakkar grew up to become one of literature's best known characters, Captain Nemo. In the book Dakkar also meets two characters who aren't fictional - Jean Lafitte, a notable American / French pirate - and the real inventor of the first Nautilus submarine, Robert Fulton, who is Georgia's uncle. Mayhew is presently working on the sequel to The Eye of Neptune; there will be many who will be impatient for it to be published! Ages 9+ / 256 pages / Reviewed by Valerie Christie, librarian.

Monster Odyssey: The Eye of Neptune
Jeanne Willis

ISBN 9781848123151

Darwin the dinosaur badly wants a little brother or sister so hes thrilled when his stegosaurus mum lays an egg! However, when the egg is switched by an early human called Ozzi and then a T-Rex decides to take the egg hostage, it is time for Darwin to go on an extra challenging egg hunt. He might be small, but hes cunning and no one comes between this little stegosaurus and his sibling.... This is the third book in the Downtown Dinosaur series by author Jeanne Willis whose sense of make-belief runs riot as herbivore 'steggies' try to muddle through a life overshadowed by their meat-eating downtown neighbours, the T-Rex's. There are some hilarious treats in store in this story, including a T-Rex trying to organise a wedding, a dinosaur pretending to be a jester and some jealous dino ex-girlfriends. With their bold text, shortish chapters and black and white illustrations, this book would suit readers aged 8+ who are gaining confidence as readers. Ages 8+ / 192 pages / Reviewed by ReadingZone.

Big Change for Stuart
Lissa Evans

Corgi Childrens

ISBN 9780552561952

Small Change for Stuart was a quirky and charming book. Big Change for Stuart - which is now available in paperback - looks set to follow suit. The first book was a fast-paced action adventure which found its way onto a number of children's book award lists so its follow-up has a reputation to live up to. Stuart Horton is 10 but he looks younger and he is now the proud owner of a magician's workshop. The only problem is that Stuart can't prove he is the owner as he doesn't have Great Uncle's Last Will and Testament. Actually that isn't the only problem. There is someone else after the shop and that someone has a lot of money. Stuart is very disgruntled that he is often assumed to be very young, so when he gets the chance to make something of himself and prove himself he leaps to it. This time his chance comes in the shop. Along with his neighbour and friend - April - Stuart finds a riddle left by his great uncle, the only problem is that the whole of the middle section is missing. This is a challenge Stuart cannot resist, and it involves magic too; what could be better? One of the most enjoyable things about this book ... after the brilliant writing and engrossing story which it is hard to put down for fear of missing something important ... yes, so one of the most enjoyable things is that all the clues Stuart finds or is given are there for the reader too which means you too can turn detective and try to solve the riddle, can Stuart do it in time? Can you do it in time? An intelligent and highly engaging second story from a new talent and a rising star in fiction for junior readers. Ages 8+ / 352 pages / Reviewed by Louise Ellis-Barrett, School Librarian

Big Change for Stuart
A Twist of Fortune
Barbara Mitchelhill

Andersen Press Ltd

ISBN 9781849395625

Barbara Mitchelhill is on a real winning streak with her historical novels, which are perfectly suited to upper KS2. She follows Run Rabbit Run, set in WW2, and Road to London, set in Tudor England, with this incredibly evocative portrayal of what it is really like to be a poor child in Victorian Times; which of course makes it invaluable from a curriculum point of view. We have a really engaging trio of siblings, left to fend for themselves by their hapless aunt and unscrupulous and feckless uncle. Their mother dead and their father trying to earn his fortune in America means that it is now down to the eldest, Sam, to look after them all. Their aim is to find their estranged paternal grandfather and persuade him to give them a home, but first they have to escape the grim surroundings of Devil's Acre, the most criminal infested and poverty stricken corner of London. Their adventures and setbacks make for a truly thrilling read. At one stage they are even accused of murder and facing execution as well as a rat infested prison. This is an unflinching look at the way children were neglected and exploited in Victorian society, but in true Dickensian fashion there is a heart warming and satisfying conclusion, just as there was in Sam's favourite book: Oliver Twist. Without doubt a very valuable addition to class libraries. Reviewed by Joy Court, School Librarian Services

A Twist of Fortune