Review policy

I am very happy to review any novel that fits in with the theme of this blog: novels aimed at 9-14 year olds, preferably with a fantasy/ speculative world setting. However, I will make clear in the review that I was sent the book by the publisher and I will write my honest opinion. Please feel free to contact me via Twitter or Facebook, or fantasticreads at gmail dot com.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Review: North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler

Disclosure: I am very grateful for to the publisher for sending me a copy of North of Nowhere. This review however is my honest opinion.

Image: foyles.co.uk

North of Nowhere by Liz Kessler is absolutely wonderful. The story of Mia, who is dragged away from her friends at February half term to the tiny seaside town of Porthaven when her grandad goes missing. Porthaven is a fishing village more than a holiday resort, although the council are trying to promote fishing trips, and her grandparents' pub doesn't even have internet access, let alone mobile reception, and Mia veers between anxiety about her grandad, sadness for her gran and boredom, until she makes two friends- Peter, who she meets on the beach, and Dee, a girl with whom she starts a sort of pen friendship when she accidentally finds her diary while rescuing Flake the dog from a boat. However, when Mia and Dee plan to meet, Dee doesn't show up. Later, she claims that she was prevented by bad weather- but the sea is calm...

This compelling and magical novel is hard to write about without spoilers, but I recommend it highly to readers of 9+, especially for fans of adventure stories with a fantastical twist. It's wonderful, and I'm passing it on to a 10 year old who I hope will love it.


Sunday, 13 January 2013

I'm looking for a book about...

I am in the middle of a very busy time at work at the moment, so unfortunately no blog this week. However I'm contributing an old post to http://www.playingbythebook.net/'s roundup on books about the environment. Do check it out tomorrow!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Funny books

One of my favourite books is Stella Gibbon's Cold Comfort Farm. I have read my way through a copy- I look after my books, but a copy that I have had for 30 years fell apart two years ago, and I was delighted to receive a new copy for Christmas, since I loaned a copy to someone and not received it back. It is a delightfully funny book, poking fun at over-written "rural novels" such as those by Mary Webb, but you don't  need to have read the books to enjoy it; the grotesque characters and the heroine Flora Poste's deflating of the ridiculous situations are enjoyable on their own.

Somehow, in our society, we don't prize comedy enough. We don't take it seriously; yet any writer will tell you that writing successful comedy is one of the hardest things you can do. I get annoyed with lazy comedy for children, with authors who think that references to bums and poo are enough; I was extremely disappointed to hear an author I really admire say that the only thing he has to do to make teenagers laugh on school visits is to use a mild expletive. (I suspect that the students are actually laughing at what they see as a sad old man trying to be "cool".) Therefore, I have added "funny books" as a genre for my teaching students to explore in children's literature, and I have promoted the Roald Dahl Funny Prize to them.

Image: foyles.co.uk

For a long time I avoided Utterly Me, Clarice Bean as I am not a great fan of Charlie and Lola. I was urged to read it by Melanie Library Mice, and she was quite right. I adored it! Clarice is a wonderful creation, with her big, noisy family, problems with friends and school, and her bemusement at daily life. I can imagine children reading along and getting the enjoyment of seeing the pratfalls and getting the jokes that Clarice doesn't quite. 

The premise of the story is that Clarice and her best friend, Betty Moody, are great fans of books about a girl detective, Ruby Redfort, who is a secret agent as well as being an American school girl. (Wonderfully, Lauren Child had so many readers asking her where they could read more about Ruby that she has written a book about her!) Clarice's unsympathetic teacher Miss Wilberton thinks that the Ruby Redfort books are rubbish, and isn't impressed when Clarice and Betty decide to do their Open Day book project on them. But Betty is mysteriously absent from school, Clarice is told that she must be bad boy Karl Wrenbury's partner, and she can't explain what she has learnt from reading Ruby Redfort- and if she can't, she will be assigned a boring book by Miss Wilburton. Then the book project winner's cup goes missing, and Karl is blamed. Can Clarice put into practice the detective skills that she has learnt from reading Ruby? Where is Betty Moody? And will Miss Wilberton learn the value of reading for pleasure? A brilliant, fun read for 7+, with great graphics and illustrations as you would expect from Lauren Child.

Image: foyles.co.uk

Poor Clementine. Bubbling over with energy and enthusiasm, things just seem to happen to her. She accidentally cuts off her best friend's hair, tries to draw it on again, and then to make Margaret feel better, she cuts off her own. She is sent to the principal's office almost every day because she just can't sit still. Can Clementine's creativity and ingenuity help her supervisor father solve the pigeon problem in their apartment bock? I adored Clementine, and recommend this book to readers of 7+. Adult readers who grew up on Beverly Cleary's Ramona will enjoy sharing Clementine's adventures with the children in their lives.

Image: foyles.co.uk

I must admit here that I was introduced to Kjartan Poskitt's Agatha Parrot and the Floating Head by my friend whose daughter was the "model" for Agatha's crazy hair! The first in a series by the Murderous Maths creator, the story again is told in the first person by Agatha, and involves Agatha's attempts to ensure that a promised school trip for perfect attendance goes ahead when her friend Martha has an unfortunate incident with an octopus paste pizza. Agatha decides to make a decoy Martha out of a balloon, a coat and some rolled up newspaper stuffed into trousers. The book is very funny, and the illustrations by David Tazzyman are as zany as you'd expect. A highly enjoyable book, again for 7+.

Finally, I can't list my favourite recent funny books without mentioning that absolute grimster, Mr Gum. The first in the series, You're A Bad Man, Mr Gum has had me hooting with laughter on public transport.

Image: foyles.co.uk

Mr Gum lives in a village called Lamonic Bibbler. He is an appallingly horrible man, with a beautiful garden that he must keep neat or the fairy who lives in his bath whacks him with a frying pan. A lovely dog called Jake, however, also likes Mr Gum's garden as a place to roll in the flower beds and leave "presents" on the lawn, so Mr Gum and his dreadful friend Billy William the Third the butcher, concoct a plan to kill Jake with poisoned meat. Luckily a little girl called Polly, with "a smile as happy as the Bank of England", and her friend Friday O'Leary are there to save him. This book involves brilliant word play, crazy imagery, David Tazzyman's illustrations, and Chapter 4, "Mr Gum has a cup of tea", reads: Mr Gum had a cup of tea. A wonderful read for 7+, and a fantastic book to read aloud- if you can manage it between laughing!

The pleasure to be had from reading books that really make you laugh of course cannot be understated. We want to do what gives us pleasure, so children will naturally read something that they enjoy. However, as Clarice Bean reminds us, "And it is amazing what you can learn from any books you enjoy, and you don't necessarily realise you are learning something because you are so busy enjoying it."