Book Review: The Book You’re Not Supposed to Have (Timmy Failure #5), by Stephan Pastis

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_timmy_failure_the_book_you're_not_supposed_to_haveThis is book number five of a popular series that mixes ‘scribbly’ illustrations with first person narratives. It’s been created in the style of the equally, if not even more popular, multi-story treehouse books and Diary of A Wimpy Kid.

Timmy and his mates this time remind me a little of those characters like Dennis The Menace from the old Beano comics – short, squat, simply drawn but instantly recognizable. Their characters arrive fully formed because they are based on every cartoon that gone before them. They, and Timmy, are instantly recognisable as subservient but rebellious kids who want to buck convection and the adult world – ‘because they say so!’.  It’s an age-old ploy trick, used from everyone from Enid Blyton to RL Stine and the author of Captain Underpants.

The storyline picks up from number four – Sanitized for Your Protection (they all have names stolen from the adult world and repurposed). Banishment from Timmy’s calling as an amateur sleuth can’t keep this comically over-confident detective down. ‘This book was never meant to exist,’ claims the strapline.

No one needs to know the details. Just know this: there’s a Merry, a Larry, a missing tooth, and a teachers’ strike that is crippling Timmy Failure’s academic future. Worst of all, Timmy is banned from detective work by his over-protective mother. Not that that stops him! It’s a conspiracy of buffoons. He’s recorded everything in his private notebook but then his manuscript was stolen! So if this book gets out not only will he will be grounded for life but there could be even more dire consequences – beyond Timmy’s mom marrying Doorman Dave.

This is a great series, especially for getting new readers into chapter books.  I recently read an essay by Neil Gaiman that argued that kids just need to read. Just give them everything you can get your hands on. Don’t judge the content for the maturity or the language. Just get them reading. I’d have to agree. This is a great ‘gateway drug’ into the bigger novels and it is superb, silly fun. I suspect Pastis might be a secret Monty Python fan because here and there are theses little surrealist moments.

So, if your child likes Diary of a Wimpy Kid, or any of the books of that ‘genre’ then I think they will love the Timmy Failure books. My 6- and 8-year-olds love them. That’s why it took me so long to write this. They’d read them and passed them around the classroom!

Reviewed by Tim Gruar

The Book You’re Not Supposed to Have (Timmy Failure #5)
by Stephan Pastis
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406373653

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Book Review: Gecko, by Raymond Huber and Brian Lovelock

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_geckoAs well as being the story of a gorgeous wee fella named Gecko, this book is complemented by all sorts of wonderful information about Geckos themselves, thereby covering two bases at once.

We join Gecko on his adventures as he lives the Gecko life, especially his desire and need for food. It isn’t all plain sailing as he encounters those for whom he would make a delicious meal.

We traverse Day and Night, rocks, leaves and various trees and surfaces that Gecko encounters, each accompanied by a fact that adds to our knowledge. Gecko has a rich, vibrant text, coupled with beautifully detailed illustrations. The colours used are mixed with a very creative hand, and the shadings are exquisite.

A delightful book that should find a home in both a child’s bedroom and a school/public library, it can be used in any reading environment and as a shared read it would work wonderfully.

Reviewed by Marion Dreadon

Gecko
by Raymond Huber and Brian Lovelock
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781925126556

Book Review: La La La, by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Jamie Kim.

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_la_la_la.jpgLa La La is a somewhat unique and quirky book and a very modern take on the power loneliness has on children. Rather than text, the book uses illustrations of the natural elements in our environment to fine effect in telling its characters’ story. La La La being the only words that are used. To most the using of these words is generally an expression of joy, but in this book their contextual use is a little less joyless, and a little more plaintive. A desire for a response threads through the book and motivates the character to keep persevering.

A rather remarkable book for it’s powerful message and unique style and setting, it offers the opportunity for thoughtful and nuanced conversation and would be most suited to the 7 upward age group. It could be very well used as a shared reader introducing the topic of loneliness to children in a classroom setting. In it’s own quiet way this book offers it’s readers an opportunity to reflect on loneliness and the skills that can be developed to counteract it.

Review Marion Dreadon.

La La La
by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Jamie Kim
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406378009

Book Review: The City of Secret Rivers, by Jacob Sager Weinstein

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_the_city_of_secret_riversWho knew there was a maze of secret magic rivers flowing underneath London’s streets? Certainly not Hyacinth Hayward, the young heroine of this contemporary fantasy adventure. When she ‘fixes’ the plumbing and inadvertently releases a single drop of magic water she finds herself caught in the middle of a centuries old struggle for power.
A knock at the door reveals the strange Saltpetre Men who work for the Royal Mail. Slow moving and sibilant, they are the first of many strange characters she encounters in her race to recover the magic droplet and save her mother.

Aided by her neighbour, the elderly and feisty Lady Roslyn, the pair escape down into the sewers and into an underground escapade full of twists, peril, surprises, double crosses and riddles. Hyacinth has to trust her instincts in order to work through the situations she finds herself in. As her adventure progresses she uncovers a family connection to the magic which adds to her determination.

The story is full of clever plot points, many of which relate to real London monuments and events in the city’s long history. The characters are funny and unique; from the charming huge pig who communicates via printed cards, to the Saltpetre Mailmen and some who are seen here in a totally different guise than normal – I’m talking to you, unicorn!

Readers who enjoy magic and adventure will surely enjoy The City of Rivers and will be drawn into this engaging and well-paced story. The ending, while closing off this adventure, leaves you with a hint of further mysteries and questions to be answered in a follow-up sequel, which I am hoping is in the pipeline (pun completely intended!).
Now that we have been introduced to the magical world existing below the city streets, a visit to London will never be the same again…

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

The City of Secret Rivers
by Jacob Sager Weinstein
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406368857

Book Review: I want to be in a Scary Story, by Sean Taylor, illustrated by Jean Jullien

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_i_want_to_be_in_a_scary_storyHello, Little Monster.
What do you want today?
Can I be in a story?

Imagination is a great thing and most children role play making up their own stories.  I witnessed this over a weekend recently with two of my grandchildren, aged 6 years and 3 years.

Monsters feature in most children’s imagination at some time or another. This monster wants to be in a story – but does it want to be a scary monster scaring other people or be the one being scared? The play around these concepts is wonderful. 3-year-old Quinn liked this idea, often playing hide and seek: a “boo” is always the goal, surprising the person trying to find you.

The illustrations are bold but use simple colours. You can’t have a scary story without a witch – or perhaps a ghost?

A very much enjoyed book, highly recommended.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

I want to be in a Scary Story
by Sean Taylor  Illustrated by Jean Jullien
Published by Walker Books
ISBN 9781406363463

Book Review: Tell it to the Moon, by Siobhan Curham

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_tell_it_to_the_moonAs much as my English teachers would cringe to hear the word ‘lovely’ used to describe a book, that really was the first word which sprang to mind when I finished reading this story of life, friendship and relationships.

This story is about four girls heading to their late teens who have forged a strong bond through their private club (I know, it sounds a bit twee but go with it) the Moonlight Dreamers. What makes this group of ordinary girls work so well is the very fact that they are both ordinary and unique at the same time – as are we all.

There is Oscar Wilde-worshipping Amber who is suffering a writer’s block and wears vintage men’s clothes (I think she was my favourite), Rose who as the child of a famous actor and former super model dreams of being a baker with her own cake shop, Maali who is an Indian girl whose worry about her ill father causes her to question her faith in her gods and Sky the poet, who after being home schooled all her life finds herself at school for the first time. An eclectic and charming bunch of girls, much like any you might find in many high schools.  Tell it to the Moon is the second story featuring these characters, with the first (Moonlight Dreamers) relating how the girls met and became such close friends. This book picks up their friendship when they are separated over Christmas holidays, missing each other and looking towards the promise of new challenges and dreams to work towards for the coming new year.

The point of view moves smoothly from one girl to the other and each character is genuine and likeable; you find yourself encouraging them to keep going and not give up as they work through their personal challenges. The diversity of both the protagonists and secondary characters adds interest and gives deeper resonance to the story. They take strength from their friendship and this gives them the courage to be honest with themselves, to share their problems with each other and in turn grow in confidence.

As a coming of age story, it is a gentle and real one; it makes for a refreshing change of pace from the typical intense and gritty YA stories. The issues the girls face and work through are valid, their dreams are big and they are well on the way to understanding their worth.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Tell it to the Moon
by Siobhan Curham
Published by Walker Books 2017
ISBN: 9781406366150

 

 

Book Review: Ten Pound Pom, by Carole Wilkinson and Liz Anelli

Available from 1 October in bookshops nationwide.

cv_ten_pound_pomCarole Wilkinson and her family emigrated from the UK to Australia under a scheme known officially as The United Kingdom-Australia Free and Assisted Passage Agreement. Post World War II, Australian industry was thriving and the Australian Government decided to encourage immigration, particularly from the UK. Ex-servicemen came free, others paid ten pounds, with children under 18 coming in free. These immigrants became known as Ten Pound Poms. The scheme continued until 1982.

The book is written in the present tense, from Carole’s perspective (of course!) and illustrated brilliantly by Liz Anelli. All of the experiences of long-distance ship travel are captured delightfully and will resonate with many older readers. For the younger readers, and I hope there will be many, it’s a great personal story, and the child’s voice comes through clearly. It has great appeal – there are lots of points of interest, and because of the episodic nature, it can be taken in small doses and thus enjoyed over a longer time.

It would be a great addition to school libraries and could be used successfully in social studies classes, I think.  It would suit able readers in the middle school years, or it would be a happy addition to home libraries.

Reviewed by Sue Esterman

Ten Pound Pom
by Carole Wilkinson and Liz Anelli
Published by Walker Books
9781925381214