NEW TITLES

From magic and monsters to cars and our oceans, this month's selection of reviews by teachers and librarians offers something for all kinds of readers - perfect for starting children on their summer reading!

Level Up
Tom Nicoll

Stripes Publishing

ISBN 9781788950718

Looking for a book to entice a reluctant reader or a young reader who has yet to gain the confidence or stamina to challenge 'real books' independently, then this is the book for you. Level Up has been selected for the Reading Agency Summer Reading Challenge 2019 and after reading it, it is clear why. Who could not love this book? When the book's lead character, Flo, a strong minded, ace video game playing, young girl and her side kick, puzzle-solving, best friend Max meddle with an engineering project that Flo's Mum has been working on, virtual reality becomes reality! Flo and Max suddenly find themselves part of Flo's favourite video game, Star Smasher; facing armies of Space Soldiers, fighting tank battles and flying spaceships, while trying to dodge the lasers and missiles being launched by other Star Smasher players. Flo and Max quickly realise that if they are to have any chance of ever getting home they need to complete the game by finding the Emporor's personal transport ship, the Phoenix, and destroying the Resurrection Gem. However, nothing is ever that simple and after being captured by the Emperor's hapless son Gary, Flo and Max then find themselves up against hacker Rhett Hodges who is prepared to stop at nothing to get the Gem for himself. Help to outplay this cheat comes from a most surprising, less competent player, and together they come up with a way to stop Rhett and his unscrupulous play and hopefully get home. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, particularly as the lead techie-type characters are female, as is one of the senior Space Soldiers, Captain Moretta. So although the action in Level Up is focused on tank and spaceship battles there is no way anyone can possibly suggest this book is at all sexist or written 'only for boys'! This is a book to be enjoyed by all. The fast paced action and likeable characters ensure that Level Up has the potential to be a 'hook book' for many young readers. A chapter book in every sense of the word, effectively 'softened' by some great illustrations by Anjan Sarkar and the use of highlighted Video Game Tips for those of us less familiar with video game play. Aimed at lower Key Stage 2, 8+ years, this book would be a great early independent read; the majority of the text is well within their grasp, the story is easy to follow and interesting, and, as a Primary School teacher, it's great to see some quality vocabulary included, too. 160 pages / Ages 8+ / Reviewed by Sam Phillips, teacher

Level Up
The Sea: Exploring our blue planet
Miranda Krestovnikoff

Bloomsbury Childrens Books

ISBN 9781408889893

The subtitle of this beautiful book is 'Exploring our blue planet' and the reader is taken on a fascinating journey of discovery from coastlines to the depths of the world's deepest seas and oceans. Water covers more of our planet than land, with 96% of that contained in the seas, yet only 5% have been explored. Miranda Krestovnikoff has been passionate about wildlife since childhood and her career has seen her become an acclaimed presenter, as well as travelling and diving around the world. Her skill at communication provides an engaging and informative narrative to the stunning illustrations by Jill Calder, which reflect the variety of marine habitats. These cover the range to be found around the world, from different types of coastline and seabed, to kelp forests, shipwrecks and ultimately the depths of the open oceans. Several spreads are devoted to the creatures to be found above and below the waves. The problem of plastic pollution is also covered. This comprehensive, fascinating guide to the watery world which surrounds us should be in every school and family library. 64 pages / Ages 7+ / Reviewed by Jayne Gould, school librarian

The Sea: Exploring our blue planet
Amazing Transport
Tom Jackson

Bloomsbury Childrens Books

ISBN 9781408889770

This is a wonderfully illustrated journey through the history of transport and looks at all manner of vehicles, from cars and trains to boats and spaceships. Full of interesting facts and figures, this books delves deep into the history of the earliest methods of transportation (5,000 years BC) and brings them right up to date with the latest warships and space rockets. Ideal to just dip in and out of, or settle down and immerse yourself in the amazing and varied history of how humans have pushed the limits to get from A to B. 64 pages / Ages 7-10 years / Reviewed by Andrew Mullen, teacher

Amazing Transport
Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day (Starfell, Book 1)
Dominique Valente

HarperCollins

ISBN 9780008308391

Coming from a magical family who can do extraordinary things, Willow Moss's talent of finding things does not seem very special. Her sisters, with their 'proper magic', take after her mother; Willow, with her long stick-straight brown hair and brown eyes, takes after her father. So whilst her mother and her sisters visit the Travelling Fortune Fair, Willow is left behind to find things for those in need of her services. However, she finds her queue of customers vanished and the most feared witch in Starfell, Moreg Vaine, in their place. Last Tuesday has gone missing and Moreg needs a 'finder', like Willow, to help her. And so an unwilling Willow finds herself embarking on a quest to locate the missing day, finding friendship, adventure and a lot of self belief on the way! This is a wonderful story in so many ways. Full of fabulous characters, the story romps along at an enchanting pace to a very satisfying conclusion. Willow embodies those feelings of not being quite good enough that we all experience from time to time and her realisation that real skill and talent doesn't have to be showy or exciting to be valuable is a pleasure to see. Her courage, determination and vulnerability make her a very likeable character- one the reader is willing to succeed. Her 'sidekicks' in her quest are no less appealing! There's Oswin, the monster from under the bed - who bears a striking resemblance to a cat, Nolin Sometimes, Essential Jones, Featherling and Calamity... each is well developed and engaging. The world of Starfell is full of detail and colour. Wisperia, the largest, most magical forest, 'an unpredictable place with magic fizzing about', the Midnight Market full of 'dangerous and deadly looking goods for sale',Troll Country where few apart from trolls venture - each location is beautifully imagined and described. The perfect read for those who enjoy adventure with a touch a magic, Starfell and its heroine, Willow, are sure to be a hit and I look forward to reading the next in the series. 288 pages / Ages 8+ / Reviewed by Sue Wilsher, teacher.

Starfell: Willow Moss and the Lost Day (Starfell, Book 1)
Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay
Alexandra Stewart, illus Joe Todd-Stanton

Bloomsbury Childrens Books

ISBN 9781526600769

From the gorgeous, stylised imagery to the conversational tone of the text, I loved this book about the two men behind the first ascent of Everest - Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. As the book explains, their experiences and strengths made these two the perfect team to ascend the summit, but author Alexandra Stewart also reminds us that the attempt was very much a team effort, from the porters and kit suppliers to all those who had made attempts previously and so broadened the knowledge of mountaineers about Everest. What stood out for me was learning that neither Hillary nor Tenzing had privileged backgrounds, but overcame their modest backgrounds through determination and single-mindedness. It's a strong message to give young people, not to let anything stand between you and your dreams - and that hard work will be needed to get you there. The book is formatted into sections, beginning with the two very different childhoods of Tenzing and Hillary, then an exploration of earlier attempts, before taking us through a detailed exploration of their ascent, including the near disasters and reminding us of the dangers and resourcefulness they needed in their attempt. Finally, we discover what happened to each of the men after their successful ascent of Everest. This is a book that demands to be poured over. The text is hugely readable and delves into each man's story with sensitivity and respect, and you do come away feeling that you know something about their characters. And although it is written retrospectively, you still feel the tension that the climbers must have experienced in the run-up to and during their attempt. The illustrations, meanwhile, glow off the pages - the white snow and blue skies transported me to the Alps, and I loved the scenes describing Hillary and Tenzing's lives beyond the mountains. This is definitely a book to share with able and reluctant readers alike, young and old, and those who love going out to find adventures - as well as those who love reading about them at home. Highly recommended. 64 pages / Ages 9 - 90 / Reviewed by Ellen Green

Everest: The Remarkable Story of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay
The Maker of Monsters
Lorraine Gregory

Oxford University Press

ISBN 9780192768834

Brat is an orphan, plucked from the waters and treated as a virtual slave by Lord Macawber, a magician and necromancer. Lord Macawber uses his magic to create monsters who will help him attack the city that threw him out but something goes wrong and his latest monster, Wrath, gets loose and frees all the other creatures. Brat must get to the city to warn the people of the impending attack and find Macawber's daughter, the only person who can stop these monsters. Brat, accompanied by his only two friends in the world - both early examples of Macawber's work - must negotiate the perils of the sea and the world beyond his island. He is expecting hostility and distrust, because that is what Macawber led him to believe, but is surprised to find friendship and support to carry out his dangerous task. This story is perfect for the young reader looking for an exciting adventure. The descriptions of the attacks by the terrifying looking patchwork monsters are suitably scary, Brat and Molly are both appealing characters (brave, loyal to their friends and determined), and the comical characters of Tingle and Sherman with their constant bickering and unquestioning love for Brat provide moments of humour as well as one of the most difficult moral dilemmas for Brat. In fact, that moral dilemma becomes even more difficult following an unexpected plot twist that will have readers on the edge of their seats. The book is written from Brat's perspective so the reader is given an insight into his thoughts and fears, his moments of despair and hopelessness in the face of what look like insurmountable difficulties, his loyalty to Tingle and Sherman - which endangers his life on more than one occasion, and his horror at the way he had been deceived and misled by Macawber's lies. The action races along keeping the reader gripped until the very end with its message of hope or, in Brat's words; "It won't be like this forever". 256 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by June Hughes, school librarian

The Maker of Monsters
Runaway Robot
Frank Cottrell Boyce

Macmillan Children's Books

ISBN 9781509851775

Inspired by a real mighty robot called Eric, this story, set in a future with driverless buses and robotic cleaning devices, is a comic adventure with real heart. Alfie has lost his hand in an accident and rather than spend time at the Limb Lab learning to use his new robotic hand, he swerves school and ends up at the airport. Here he finds Eric, missing one leg, and their adventure together begins. It is illegal to have humanoid robots so Alfie has to hide this huge robot. To make things worse, Eric interprets things completely literally which leads to humorous misunderstandings and further trouble. As you might expect from this author there is a depth of feeling beneath the humour. Alfie gradually remembers, and comes to terms with, how he lost his hand. We find out about Eric's past and see into his future. Shatila, to begin with one of Alfie's fiercest enemies, turns out to have a painful history of her own. This is a story that will have wide appeal- warmly recommended. 288 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Heather Bignold, school librarian

Runaway Robot
We Won an Island
Charlotte Lo

Nosy Crow Ltd

ISBN 9781788000413

This is a jolly romp of a story with underlying seriousness and poignant moments. It has resonances of Enid Blyton and hints of The Durrells and is bound to be a hit with readers of adventure. Luna is the central character. Her boundless enthusiasm and never-ending optimism will earn a place in the heart of every reader. When life for Luna and her family is at its lowest ebb, Luna discovers that she has won an island! The family set off to one of the remotest spots on the globe and discover the power of determination, reslilience and most of all, love for one another. There are madcap adventures of slapstick quality - Mum's valiant attempts to run a yoga sanctuary, thwarted by runaway goats and camouflaged ice-cream vans for example, intertwined with heart tugging moments of the harsh reality of coping with grief and the impact of depression. Luna and her siblings are crazy, quirky and totally endearing. The reader will love and empathise with them whilst laughing out loud at their antics. You can't help but root for Luna in her attempts to make everything right and, when events seem to spiral completely out of control, you just want to roll up your sleeves, climb in a rowing boat and get out there to help them. I really wanted the secret festival to be a success, I desperately wanted the donkey sanctuary to become a reality. I had my fingers crossed that Margot would eventually fly a plane and above all, I really, really wanted Dad to emerge from the darkness of his depression to see how amazing his children are. This is a quick and jolly read. Children will relate to issues of sibling interactions, moving home and making new friends. They will be swept along by Luna's love of life and her positive spin on the world. This is a book that has a real feel-good factor and will delight readers of eight years and above. It will put a spring in your step and a smile on your face for a long time after you've finished reading it. 208 pages / Ages 8+ / Reviewed by Jo Clarke, teacher

We Won an Island
I am a Jigsaw: Puzzling poems to baffle your brain
Roger Stevens

Featherstone

ISBN 9781472958198

In his introduction to I am a Jigsaw, Roger Stevens welcomes the reader to 'a book full of puzzling poems and words that would rather play hide-and-seek than be sensible and sit in a chair to be read quietly'. What a lovely, apt welcome this is! Stevens goes on to tell us that riddle and puzzle poems are not new, explaining that the first known riddle goes back 2,500 years to the Ancient Greeks. For this 21st century collection, Stevens has compiled a wonderful collection of puzzle poems - old and new - with which the reader can play hide-and-seek. The first puzzles to fit together are 'Easy Peasy' rhyming riddles with solutions as varied as a sneeze, a computer mouse and Buckingham Palace. 'Tricky Teasers' follow. There are different patterns here that children will enjoy using in their own efforts: Liz Brownlee's 'Find me' (p. 14) takes the 'The first', 'The second' structure (leading us skilfully to 'magic' by the way); Tony Mitton's repeated question - 'What kind of ants?' - shapes his 'Ants' teaser (p.17). There's more challenge in the 'Tough Cookies' section: Roger Stevens' 'Lost at Sea' (p.24) will really have the children puzzling and, as he confesses, it's a trick anyway! After the famous St Ives riddle (250 years old) and a modern take on its structure, the section on 'Keeping with tradition' encourages careful scrutiny of words as the reader has to puzzle out the solution from clues about the words and letters: 'My first is in head and in program / My second in hands and in neck'('And I'll be with you soon', Philip Waddell, p. 31). The answer is 'android'! Again, this is a rich model for children to emulate offering productive thought about words and spelling. The section on 'Poetic Styles' is a refreshing take on the apparently urgent need to introduce children to as many different poetic forms as possible. (Please note: I have nothing against children learning about different forms as long as that understanding is used to empower their writing and enhance their reading rather than ticking a 'I can write a haiku' box.) Celia Warren charms with 'Haiku' (p.35): 'Under the pillow / part of a six-year-old smile / left for the fairies'. And children will have such fun generating more 'Spot the fairy tale' haikus, following on from the four James Carter gives us here (p. 36). And the puzzling continues: through sections on 'Conundrum fun', 'Playing with words', 'Metaphoricals' (lots of challenge in this section) and 'A Mixed Bag' of final riddles. Spike Gerrell's sparky illustrations add to the fun of the puzzlement: there's a recurring rhino as well as other quirky animals, galaxies of shooting stars and quizzical cartoons of children. As well as the poems he has contributed, Roger Stevens' voice runs reassuringly throughout the collection, offering helpful tips with the trickier puzzles and concluding with a practical section that teachers and children will find invaluable. His step-by-step suggestions for writing riddles, kennings and more are incredibly helpful. This anthology is fun, informative and interactive. I can see teachers and children wanting to enjoy a riddle a day and being inspired to start collecting and writing their own for a class anthology. 112 pages / Ages 7-11 years / Reviewed by Alison Kelly, consultant

I am a Jigsaw: Puzzling poems to baffle your brain
The Umbrella Mouse
Anna Fargher

Macmillan Children's Books

ISBN 9781529003970

In war-torn London, 1944, a family of mice live in an antique umbrella in the window of the umbrella shop, James Smith & Son. The shop suffers a direct hit from a bomb and in an instant, life changes altogether for sole survivor Pip Hanway, young umbrella mouse. With the nearest family she is aware of living in an umbrella museum in distant Italy, Pip drags her - miraculously undamaged - antique umbrella with her on a journey to Europe, but plans change as she encounters brave animals and dangerous situations on the way. An adventurous story aimed at 9+ readers, The Umbrella Mouse is inspired by the true stories of animals caught in the conflict of World War 2, however it is unclear where the true elements appear, while the pacing/timescale of the book is also confusing, making it somewhat difficult to suspend disbelief. Perhaps an information page at the end of the novel would help with this. The animal characters were also slightly at odds in that sometimes they were portrayed as rather human - drinking tea, operating radios and in the case of pigeon Bernard Booth, wearing horn-rimmed spectacles and leaning on a walking stick - but in the majority of cases are standard woodland/city creatures. Pip does not reach her end destination, choosing instead to fight alongside her new-found friends in Noah's Ark, the French animal resistance. It should be noted that some content may not be suitable for more sensitive readers due to the graphic nature of some of the wartime themes. This would be an interesting novel to read alongside history lessons on the topic of the Second World War and perhaps in English as a comparison to the war/animal-themed works of Michael Morpurgo. 274 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Rhiannon Cook, school librarian

The Umbrella Mouse
No Ballet Shoes in Syria
Catherine Bruton

Nosy Crow Ltd

ISBN 9781788004503

Eleven year old Aya has arrived in Britain from Syria. She has left her homeland behind, lost her father and is holding the rest of the fragile family together, responsible beyond her years. When she glimpses the dancers in the community centre's ballet class, she longs to dance again - ballet was one of the things she left behind. As Aya finds herself drawn into a new community and slowly begins to find her feet, her difficult journey is told through a series of flashbacks. As the reader follows her preparation for an audition, new friendships blossom but the tension faced by Aya and her family as they wait anxiously to find out whether they can stay or face deportation is tangible. Bruton states she wants her readers to see beyond the label of 'refugee' and 'asylum seeker' and with this story she has succeeded in generating compassion, empathy and understanding. Aya's hopes, dreams and fears are the same as her peers, yet she carries another layer of sadness and trauma as she seeks to make sense of her past. Bruton skilfully draws us into Aya's life; past, present and future but without being 'preachy'; Aya is a girl, just like you or me. With tears running down my face, I held my breath as the story approached a deeply satisfying conclusion. Not all wrongs can be righted, but there is always hope, and above all this story is a hopeful one. Highly recommended for mature readers of 9+, this story contains emotive descriptions of the refugee journey, familiar to most adults but alien to most youngsters, and tragic events occur. 272 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Lucy Russell, teacher

No Ballet Shoes in Syria
The Longest Night of Charlie Noon
Christopher Edge

Nosy Crow Ltd

ISBN 9781788004947

Charlie, Dizzy and Johnny all have their own ideas about what lurks in the woods beyond the edge of their village. Dizzy thinks it might a spy, Johnny, old Crony - the child-eating monster and Charlie, her imagination piqued by secretly reading spy novels, is just intrigued. Setting off after school to investigate, Dizzy and Charlie get ambushed by Johnny and when Charlie hits her head a disturbing chain of events is set in motion. As night begins to fall, the children realise that they are lost amidst the strange sounds and under the dark canopy of the trees. Already frightened, their fear intensifies when they are struck in turn by disconcerting flashes of their future and past lives. When Charlie hears a voice calling her and is finally confronted by Old Crony, the strange strand of events begins to come together and Charlie realises how lost she has been feeling and how being brave can change everything. I am a huge fan of Christopher Edge so began reading this book with very high expectations. First point to note is that I was nearly half-way through the book before I realised Charlie was a girl! I thought it was very cleverly (and presumably deliberately) not mentioned. As ever, the writing is clear and precise and it's such a pleasure to read. As with his other books, the author is trying to convey big ideas in an accessible manner and whilst as an adult I could follow this, my only gripe would be that some younger readers might find the time-slip passages a little confusing. However, I would urge anyone to persevere with this book because it is another short and emotionally-powerful read - and the absolutely brilliant epilogue explains everything! 183 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by Clare Wilkins, school librarian

The Longest Night of Charlie Noon
The Golden Butterfly
Sharon Gosling

Stripes Publishing

ISBN 9781788950329

It's 1897 and Luciana is mourning the loss of her beloved grandfather. Returning from his funeral, Luciana and her grandmother are confronted by Thursby and his mob who ransack the house in search of - what? Luciana realises that her magician grandfather, the late, great 'Magnificent Marko' was the keeper of a much sought-after secret and she is determined to discover what it is. The Magnificent Marko was a magician unlike any other until he stopped performing with no explanation. He was also the father figure in Luciana's life, having lost both parents when she was only two. It is Marko who taught Luciana to perform mind-boggling card tricks - a skill considered to be most unladylike in an era where it was thought that women were unable to perform magic and therefore not permitted to. This injustice is a central theme to the book and Luciana is determined to prove that she is not to be held back because she is a girl. With help from her friend Charley, the son of a housekeeper, Luciana sets out on a quest to discover the mysteries that surround her. What is it that Thursby is looking for? Why did the Magnificent Marko cease to perform so abruptly and what is the secret of 'The Golden Butterfly'? Her adventures take her to grand houses, theatres and inns. She meets many people along the way, some whom she can trust, some who set out to deceive and some who are not quite as they would seem. Luciana is a girl who refuses to give up. She will not let anyone scare her off and she will not be defeated by the puzzles that her grandfather has set in order to secure his secret. It is a race against time and a battle of good over evil as others strive to claim 'The Golden Butterfly' before Luciana can truly understand it and all of its importance. This is a story with many themes. We see how Luciana has fears but learns to understand and overcome them. She lives in a society full of prejudice; she is dissuaded from being friends with Charley as it is perceived that he is beneath her, but Luciana loves him like a brother and will not let society's rules dictate her friendships. It is a story of love and loss and the power of grit and determination. It is also a story that chooses to dispel the myth that girls 'can't' just because they are girls. This is an exciting read with strong characters and a plot that twists, turns and slides into place just like one of the Magnificent Marko's puzzle boxes. It is a page turner which will appeal to readers who like adventure, mystery and intrigue. The Magnificent Marko would be proud - it's simply magical. 256 pages / Ages 9-12 years / Reviewed by Jo Clarke, teacher

The Golden Butterfly
Anna at War
Helen Peters

Nosy Crow Ltd

ISBN 9781788004718

Daniel's class at school are learning about the Second World War and the teacher asks if anyone in the class knows someone who lived through that time. Daniel (the narrator of Chapter 1) volunteers that his grandmother came to England from Germany before the war but, on realising how little he knows about his grandmother's past life, he resolves to ask her. Chapters 2 to 48 are narrated by Anna, Daniel's grandmother, as she tells him how she came to England before the war and what her life was like during it. The final two chapters are again narrated by Daniel as he prepares a special celebration for his grandmother's 90th birthday. Anna begins her story on the 9th of November 1938, a date which became known as Kristallnacht, when life for Jews in Germany became even more difficult and dangerous than it had ever been. Anna's parents send Anna to England on the Kindertransport while they sort out the necessary papers to join her in due course. The outbreak of war, however, puts paid to that plan and Anna remains with her foster parents in a Kent village. Life in Kent is also touched by war and, one day, Anna and her friends discover a man in the barn with a suspicious story which leads them into contact with the army, Winston Churchill and much danger. This is one of those excellent books that combines an exciting, gripping story with an emotional and moral backdrop. There are so many 'what would you do in this situation?' moments when Anna and the people around her find themselves swept along by events and forced to make choices. The author's research into the lives of children brought out of Germany on the Kindertransport is extensive and there are little details here and there in the story of Anna's journey to her new foster family which will make it so real for the book's young readers. The writing is crisp and direct and does not flinch from describing a terrible period of history in a way that its young audience will understand. The prejudice Anna faces in England following the start of the war is well described, as is the way even her friend Molly is manipulated into doubting her. There is a satisfying ending, though perhaps not the obvious one, which does not compromise the reality of the situation. Confident, independent young readers will quickly become absorbed in Anna's story and it would work brilliantly as a class novel in support of the curriculum on the Second World War with its particular slant on child refugees. Adults too should read it as an excellent example of how to broach horrific world events with young people. 320 pages / Ages 9+ / Reviewed by June Hughes, school librarian

Anna at War